ControlUp Ultimate Labs: A Home Lab in Paris with Sam Legrand

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ControlUp is a technology company powered by technologists who love to find the answers to questions and who love to tinker. That’s what inspired our own Benny Tritsch to write this blog series: ControlUp Ultimate Labs. Now you can see what goes on behind the scenes and get some tips on building your own labs.

Imagine, if you will: you’re living in a small apartment in beautiful, resplendent Paris with your spouse and young daughter… and you are also a hands-on ControlUp subject matter expert. This is exactly the profile of independent consultant and Citrix CTP Sam Legrand. He has a terrific home lab setup that strikes just the right balance between performance and family compatibility, taking success criteria, such as noise, heat (or cooling), cabling, location in the flat, power consumption, acceptable lab time / work hours, and budget into consideration.

During a recent video chat, Sam shared some secrets on successfully planning, building, and maintaining a home lab infrastructure that is powerful enough to satisfy his professional requirements without ignoring the family acceptance factor.

Sam’s setup can be described as a mid-size lab with some extras that take advantage of today’s technologies, while also giving him the ability to prepare for the innovations of tomorrow. His low-noise and low-power home lab is compact enough to live in a cabinet next to the apartment entry door. But it’s important to note that some of Sam’s tips and tricks are also valuable both for smaller and bigger lab setups.

Here’s an overview of Sam’s lab hardware:

  • Physical host machines: 3 x Intel NUC Kit NUC6i7KYK (“Skull Canyon”)
  • CPUs: Intel Core i7-6770HQ @2.6GHz base frequency, 4 physical cores (8 threads)
  • Memory: 64 GB per NUC
  • Storage: 2 x 500 GB M.2 SSD per NUC (no central storage, such as vSAN)
  • Networking: 1 x physical port 1 Gbps + 2 x USB RJ45 adapter (USB to Ethernet)
  • Power and cooling: Silent fans as a replacement for the original fans
  • Embedded GPU: Intel Iris Pro
  • Network switches and routers: Netgear GS116Ev2, 16-Port Gigabit

The LegSam home lab specs in Sam’s words: “I wanted to be redundant, at least two or three servers… and I’m focused on multi-tenancy. I like to test things at scale, so I needed multiple virtual LANs because I wanted to simulate multi-tenancy. This meant I needed an enterprise-grade switch that is capable of managing VLANs connected to my Intel NUCs… the prerequisite was low noise, so I selected the fanless Netgear switch.”

The virtualization platform used in Sam’s home lab is VMware vSphere installed on all three NUCs and managed by a vCenter virtual appliance. The NUCs have one physical network port each. Adding one or two USB RJ45 adapters to each NUC makes additional network ports available. To enable 1Gbps in full duplex mode, it is necessary to download and install a USB network native driver for VMware ESXi from VMware Flings.

All backend infrastructure components are installed on one NUC and the Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops environment on another. Virtual machines with ControlUp components are spread across multiple NUCs to distribute the load. The low-cost Netgear-managed switch establishes multiple separated virtual networks, allowing Sam to assign virtual machines to one or more of these VLANs as needed. In addition, he created a free WANem virtual appliance that can emulate a wide area network between two virtual LANs. Please watch the video where Sam walks me through the configuration details and shows the resulting effects in ControlUp EdgeDX.

Another fascinating detail of Sam’s home lab is a network proxy, which is, again, a free virtual appliance on one of his NUCs. This proxy can be used to analyze network traffic on the LAN and outbound communication when connected to resources in the cloud. This allowed him to analyze all details of the network traffic between his lab on one side and the ControlUp Real-Time and EdgeDX cloud backends on the other.

Sam shared a little secret with me: A regular mandatory lab maintenance task is dust removal and fan replacement since the lab lives in a cabinet. If not done properly, the NUCs may overheat and die—a fact that Sam had to learn the hard way. Other challenges of Sam’s lab are the absence of an uninterruptible power supply and the lack of a KVM switch. There is also no Intelligent Platform Management System. As a result of this truly “headless” lab setup, Sam connects the family TV to one of the NUCs in case he needs a screen. No kidding! As you can imagine, this leads to interesting family conversations during lab maintenance periods. So, a KVM switch with monitor, keyboard, and mouse attached permanently is high on his (and his family’s) wish list.

The LegSam home lab is a fascinating example of what an expert can do with only limited infrastructure components in a family-friendly home environment. Three NUCs in a cabinet, a managed switch, a hypervisor platform, a bunch of virtual appliances, and ControlUp in the right hands are sufficient to build an abstracted version of customers’ real-world EUC environments. Sam’s lab mimics reality in such a way he can prepare sufficiently before giving his customers proven advice on how to setup their production environments properly – and we all can learn from that. A true ControlUp Ultimate Lab!

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