My RSS and Twitter feeds seem to have a higher than usual mention of home labs in the last couple of days.

There we have Mike selling his old rig to make room for new kit, maybe for a Haswell-based home lab, like Chris suggests? And let’s not forget the awesome VMware Tools for ESXi. I’m very happy VMware decided to release this gem, even after all this time.

My home lab

It’s no secret that many virtualicionados run their lab from a smallest amount of physical hardware. That stuff needs power, cooling, makes noise, and generally doesn’t come with the WAF. My home lab is completely based on a single laptop, a Dell Precision M4600 with a powerful processor, 32GB of RAM and an SSD. Topped off with a VMware Workstation license and VM Templates (about which I wrote here), there’s really not much my lab can’t handle.

Dell-Precision-M4600

Now, to be fair, I do run a non-profit IaaS platform (check out klauwd.com for your off-premises home lab needs) for all lab efforts that don’t fit on the laptop, such as the Infinio Accelerator which requires a whole bunch of RAM that my laptop can’t adequately provide. More on that later, by the way.

Why use a home lab?

I’ve been using my lab primarily for testing new software-defined storage solutions and host-based flash accelerators in the last year or so, with a hint of a Veeam v7 lab here or there. There’s always an element of staying on top of my game during these lab-time nights with a healthy mix between keeping my knowledge and skills up to date and just having a bunch of fun testing out new stuff.

So no matter if you use your home lab for fun, education and training, off-production testing, it’s the ultimate freedom in such environments that make it really worthwhile. Clunky remote access to a work lab that you ultimately can’t really break is just not as valuable. Brain Suhr articulates this message very nicely in “The Importance of a Home Lab to the IT Professional“.

Which home lab will you choose?

So whether you use a hosted service (like the Bare Metal Cloud or my own klauwd.com), roll it yourself using whiteboxes, AutoLab and VMware Workstation, use deprecated hardware from customers or your employer (like my good friend Robbert Erents, who built the Vintage Hardware Stack containing at least 2 full racks of bladeservers, HP, EMC and NetApp storage and more) or simply hope to win this awesome ‘Ultimate New Year’s Resolution 2014‘ gear sponsored by Veeam, I think it is essential for any IT Pro to keep themselves on top of their game. So what present will you ask for this Christmas?