My home lab isn’t actually some server that I’ve got lying around. As I’m on the road a lot, I need to have my VMs with me at all times. That’s why I came up with the ‘bag lab’. A laptop mobile enough to carry around with me on a day-to-day basis, but powerful enough to provide me with the resources to build a complete VMware vCenter Site Recovery Manager setup (which requires 5x Windows 2003, 2x ESX, 2x NetApp Sim) on the laptop.

As I explained earlier, the machine I’ve chosen is a Dell Latitude E6500. While maxed out specifications-wise, I’ve even added some extra tricks, like the SSD and the tray to accommodate the second hard drive. I’ve used this laptop for a few weeks now, and I’m thoroughly impressed. I’ll try to explain how I’ve organized the OS, applications and various types of data to my liking, as well as experiences with the weight & size while on the road.

Software layout

The laptop has two storage devices. A 80GB SSD (SSDSA2MH080G2C1 with 02HD firmware for TRIM support) from Intel is used to accommodate the operating systems, all applications, virtual machine templates and linked clones based on these templates. Also, it runs a 10GB iSCSI Target (using the free StarWind iSCSI Target software).

The 250GB 7200RPM 2,5″ SATA disk (Seagate ST9250410ASG) is used to store data that does not need high transfer speeds, such as application installers and ISO’s (a semi-complete library of all VMware software), my music, video and picture collections. Also, a (slower but bigger) iSCSI Target of 25GB is placed on this disk.

With the virtual machines placed on the SSD, they are lightning fast. Because I am using the linked clone technology in VMware Workstation in combination with template virtual machines, I do not have to worry about used disk space. Cloned VMs only use a little bit of storage. A complete SRM setup, which requires five Windows 2003 VM’s, two ESXi machines and two NetApp Simulator take up only 14GB’s of disk space, including the parent template VMs.

From a disk performance view, the laptop is more than capable to run the aforementioned VMware vCenter Site Recovery Manager configuration. As always, the amount of available memory is a problem. Too bad this laptop doesn’t accept more than 8GB…

Weight and size

The E6500 is a big laptop. Measuring in at 14.1″ (358mm) wide, 10.1″ (257mm) deep and 1.5″ high (38mm) and weighing in at 6.6 lbs (3kg), you’ll notice you are carrying a mobile datacenter around. That God I’ve got just the right item for lugging it with me:

Comparing the weight and size with its performance, I have to say that it’s worth the trade-off:

Obviously, the laptop lacks serious strength in the graphics department. As I’m not a gamer at all, frankly, I couldn’t care less. More graphics power will only drain the laptop’s battery power even faster.