VMware HomeLab: SuperMicro E300-8D

Well the day is finally here, the day that I can share that I’ve successfully purchased my very own HomeLab! This has been a source of struggle for me, since I’ve always wanted a HomeLab. I entertained and researched various setups, including the Intel NUC. During my search I came across the SuperMicro E300-8D, which supports up to 128GB of RAM. For more information on the E300-8D, check out SuperMicro’s Website.   It was the perfect price point and it allowed me to get the most out of my investment. It fit what I was looking for, which was a small footprint server that didn’t require much power. Additionally I wanted something quiet. While some have complained about the noise, I don’t believe it’s an issue with the stock fans, so long that it isn’t located within a sleeping area. The Server is setup in my Home Office.  I also wanted to ensure I had plenty of memory so that I wouldn’t have any issues when provisioning a nested ESXi vSAN Lab.

Why a HomeLab?

Nothing beats hands on experience. There are several technologies I have been wanting to keep up with, specifically vSAN and VM encryption using an external KMS. The main driving factor in this decision was vSAN and Networking. I’ve always enjoyed working with storage technologies. Nothing beats physical hardware that you can put your hands on and tinker with. Something about having something on-prem makes your learn and grow more. I believe you take more ownership and invest more time when you make a big purchase such as this. I am also a believer in being able to ‘keep’ your progress. While VMware HOLs are great, you don’t get to build something that persists like a HomeLab does.

In the past I’ve always tried to do a HomeLab on PCs/Laptops, but I didn’t get that real world feel that I would get in traditional enterprise environments. Additionally, I recently got into the world of Presales. With this job comes many areas of technology that one must be competent in. Having a HomeLab would allow me the opportunity to keep up to date with new VMware offerings, Backup/Storage Technologies, and provide an mechanism to show customers specific interfaces of the various products our company offers. It’s a win for all involved, and with that I made the easy yet difficult (money) decision to purchase my very first HomeLab.

My goal and end result is simple: Create a simple yet powerful HomeLab that will allow me to take advantage of today’s technologies while also giving me the ability to prepare for the technologies of tomorrow (Hybrid and Public Cloud, Containers, etc)

Michael Ryom has  a FANTASTIC website that was invaluable in my purchase making decision. Be sure to check out his blog here.  Give him follow at @MichaelRyom.

BoM (Build of Materials)

  1. Supermicro SuperServer E300-8D – Mini-1U – Xeon D-1518 2.GHz
  2. Supermicro SSD-DM016-SMCMVN1 16GB SATA DOM (for ESXi install)
  3. NEMIX Ram 64GB (2x32GB) DDR4-2133MHz PC4-17000 ECC RDIMM 2Rx4 1.2V Registered Memory for Server/Workstation (This Memory Works and is priced nicely. I was nervous it wouldn’t work since it was about half the cost of other products). 

  4. Supermicro RSC-RR1U-E8 1U Riser Card (for additional NVME/SATA Drives)

  5. StarTech.com M.2 Adapter – 3 Port – 1 x PCIe (NVMe) M.2 – 2 x SATA III M.2 – SSD PCIE M.2 Adapter – M2 SSD – PCI Express SSD (PEXM2SAT32N1) (for above riser card, holds additional NVME/SATA Drives).
  6. WD Blue 3D NAND 250GB Internal PC SSD – SATA III 6 Gb/s, M.2 2280, Up to 550 MB/s – WDS250G2B0B (for nested vSAN Cache Device)
  7. WD Blue 3D NAND 500GB Internal PC SSD – SATA III 6 Gb/s, M.2 2280, Up to 560 MB/s – WDS500G2B0B (for nested vSAN Capacity Device)
  8. Samsung 970 EVO Plus SSD 250GB – M.2 NVMe Interface Internal Solid State Drive with V-NAND Technology (MZ-V7S250B/AM) (for management VMs and Nested ESXi VMs)

While my lab is complete, I don’t plan on stopping here. Due to budget constraints I wasn’t able to purchase all 128GB of RAM. So to complete my HomeLab, I will need to purchase the rest, which is currently on my WishList.

***Wish List***

  1. UPS for Battery Backup
  2. Additional 64GB of NEMIX ram.
  3. Additional 1TB NVME M.2 drive
  4. Synology RackStation

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This is the small rack for the Server install.

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The server itself was very small, and arrived in a small box.

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Here’s a picture of all the items together, before installing.

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Some people jokingly gave my grief about using SATADOM over USB. I wanted to use SATADOM for 1) Better endurance if I decide to make this node part of the vSAN cluster and 2) Maximizing all available USB ports, which is only three if you count the one within the internal motherboard. While it’s a bit pricey, it was neat to try a technology that isn’t widely used, but is unique within the VMware ecosystem.

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This NVME M.2 SSD is used for the Nested ESXi host and my management VMs. The server comes with the ability to have (1) NVME M.2 SSD. With the riser card and PCI Express Card you get an additional (1) NVME M.2 SSD slot and (2) SATA M.2 slots.

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While the E300-8D comes with a riser bracket, it doesn’t come with the right angle riser card, which is why I purchased this.

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I struggled a bit removing the metal filler blank on the server. You must remove this in order to have room for the low profile card to attach. The can best be described as a “punch out” blank. I had to be gentle since the metal was very malleable.

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Once I got the blank out, I was ready to install in the server. Again this was a bit of a struggle.

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I also struggled some when mounting the additional SATA M.2 drives. The screws required to properly secure the M.2 devices to the card were small and extremely difficult to fasten into place.

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I was ready to boot once I installed (1) Samsung NVME M.2 SSD (motherboard), (2) 32GB Memory Modules, (1) Riser Card, and (1) SATADOM device. Thankfully no issues or audible beeps were observed during boot-up!

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All devices were also recognized by the server! This was a huge relief.

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Once booted, I was able to get the ESXi install rolling.

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Once ESXi installed, the server was ready to go. Success!

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Since I have a Meraki Stack, I am able to VPN to the HomeLab and access the server. I also have IPMI access on the SuperMicro Server itself, which is an added benefit for those times you mistakenly and incorrectly configure your VMware networking.

Meraki Stack

Overall I am satisfied with the way everything turned out. I was very nervous at first spending this much money on a HomeLab. I know this will be a great investment if I take the time and effort to invest into continued learning.

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