I like the idea of the NUC cluster, but I wanted to find something that would hopefully be a little more cost effective - and I found the Dell Optiplex 7050.
Reasons for looking at this as a candidate was mainly its size, i5 processor, ability to have an M.2 SSD as well as a SATA 2.5" disk, RAM expandable to 32GB and the Intel NIC (I was hoping to avoid having to search for drivers for another NIC and was hoping and preying the NIC would covered by the Intel drivers included in the base ESXi image).
Unfortunately to increase the RAM, both slots are already used - so both DIMMs need to be replaced with 16 GB DIMMs (not cheap!)
I installed a 256 GB M.2 SSD for a cache tier (I bought this one which seems to work well despite getting HCL warnings)...
Already it's starting to get expensive to get the 32 GB ram, 256 GB M.2 cache and consider upgrading the storage from 256 GB to maybe 1TB... but still maybe more cost effective than an NUC!
To install the OS, I wanted to try and use the VCF CloudBuilder VIA (VMware Imaging Appliance) but as that seemed to be expecting some specific hardware which my Optiplex didn't meet, although I got the PXE boot working, the build didn't complete successfully. The only place I had an Ethernet socket and an HDMI device was in my living room - the size of the Optiplex next to a 55" TV...!
Eventually I build the machine from USB key using these instructions & was so relieved to see that ESXi had found its NIC...! View from vCenter:
There are some steps you need to jump through to configure a cluster which vSphere 7 has made a little simpler than previous versions.
To see if this is viable as a lab candidate, I wanted to see what performance I got. As this is a single node vSAN cluster, the first attempt at deploying a VM was the below; I knew this would be a problem but wanted to check the starting position before changing FTT and stripe settings.
Sam McGeown has done a great write up on a single node vSAN cluster here which covers these settings well and despite being written is 2017, still works for vSphere 7.0.
I was eventually able to deploy the HCI Bench which is a VMware Fling stress test utility to see what performance you can expect to get out of your cluster (albeit mine currently is a single node with half the RAM and a much smaller storage SSD than I would want).
It's configured through a very familiar UI. The HCI Bench site has a good walk through guide to show how this is configured.
When you start a test, in addition to the HCIBench_2.3.1 VM that is deployed through the OVA downloaded from the VMware Flings site, additional VMs are created which run the actual load tests.
There is an 'easy' option which I used which specifies a number of predefined workloads and I managed to get between 8k and 15k IOPS depending on the workload profile which I was quite happy with (considering when I started sizing VMware clusters on VI 3.0, 10 IOPS per VM was used as a starting point for an average VM!)
The Dell Optiplex 7050 is definitely a good alternative to an Intel NUC, but I thought the cost savings would be greater than they probably will be, especially as I am looking at a memory upgrade a lot sooner than I thought I would need to (below is the memory consumption of just the hypervisor and vSAN!)
Thanks for reading and happy labbing!!