The overall goal of the lab is to expand the options available to me to try new technologies, especially those that exist with the VMware vCloud offerings. The lab also needed to incorporate the two old hosts that I currently had. The motherboard and CPU currently in those systems was older. I researched upgrading some of the components but it wouldn’t flesh out the way I really wanted the lab to ultimately become.
- Take the two existing hosts and turn them into a management cluster for the lab. This means I would have to do nothing to them for them to still be viable in the lab. RAM could be upgraded later if necessary but 32GB should be enough across two hosts to run all management services required.
- Add three new hosts over time for Cloud resource consumption. This will provide a plethora of abilities in the lab. This would also provide the ability to test other products like VSAN down the line with some simple additions of components to the hosts.
Since this stuff is still going in a home lab, there are some requirements that have to be taken under consideration. I want to create the smallest, most power-efficient, and feature-friendly hosts I could.
- The systems have to remain power usage friendly. I’m not running a datacenter so I don’t want a power bill that resembles one.
- The systems have to be as quiet as possible. I sit right next to my lab. The two Cisco switches are loud enough as it is so I don’t want to hear more noisy fans.
- The systems have to support at least 32GB of RAM, have an IPMI-type of interface (I don’t want to have to plug a monitor into it but the one time to configure), and have at least dual onboard NICs and an expansion slot for any other need.
- The systems should be able to fit into a 13.1” x 13.1” space if possible. The IKEA Expedit shelf I currently have has one open spot for putting these into. The cases will have to be as airflow efficient as possible as that is a very small space to put three hosts into.
The requirement list is pretty extensive however I was following @FrankDenneman on Twitter and ran across a conversation he was having with @wazoo a few weeks ago and about the new Asrock C2750D4I motherboard. Doing a quick search on it I found that it was basically everything I wanted in a motherboard for this expansion. I found some great reviews of this board on ServeTheHome.com. That article then led me to another great ServeTheHome article about the Supermicro A1SAi-C2750F. Given that I already have two Supermicro motherboards and love their products I began to do a comparison of the two boards.
- Would need another NIC if I wanted to keep 4 in each host. While 2 1Gb NICs are good enough, the applications are limited with fewer NICs. Also would take up the only expansion slot ensuring that nothing further could be done with the hosts.
- Could be maxed on RAM immediately for maximum benefit. Also uses standard ECC UDIMMS that other lab hosts use currently.
- Could use the expansion slot for something else, i.e. SAS JBOD card for VSAN configuration.
- Uses SODIMMs which are non-standard and couldn’t be re-used anywhere else in the lab. Also can’t be maxed currently as there are no 16GB ECC SODIMMs currently available for purchase so lab would be stuck at 32GB per host.
With all of those comparisons done, I decided it was time to find the right case to put all of this in. The case that I settled on is BP655.200BL from In Win.
The biggest need it meets is that its 3.9” wide and 10.40” tall. The fan is on the side of the case as well. This means I can stand the case up on end, have the fan blow the air out of the top of the case with enough room to spare and fit three of them side by side with 1” to spare in the last section of my shelf. It has a 200W power supply which is more than enough to run either motherboard which both run ~35-40W under load.
I figured at this point it was time to do some comparison shopping and look at what I’m getting for the price. I took these screens today since they are relevant now and not a few weeks ago when I first thought of this and prices have fluctuated since then.
Both boards are great and fit the needs very well. You really have two amazing choices to choose from that should be able to give you a nice quiet, power-efficient and feature-rich lab host. As I stated before, it really does come down to splitting hairs. Much love to the crew over at ServeTheHome. There’s a tremendous amount of information out of that site and they’re directly responsible for a ton of info that I found to help make my decisions. If you didn’t know about them, I suggest you go fill yourself in. In the end I’m settling on the Supermicro board. The availability of the expansion slot to be used for something other than another NIC was the compelling reason. Another post coming later after I get the parts and put it all together as well as my vision of this platform with some VSAN theorycrafting.