ESXi 5.1 and 5.5 potential desktops

I've been doing research on various options for a server to run ESXi 5.1 and 5.5   From most of my reading it looks like a Dell Optiplex 7xx series is usually a pretty safe bet.  I'm looking for a desktop to run this on since they are much quieter, chepaer, and do not draw as much power.  Anyone know if someone has put a list together of recommended "off the shelf" desktops that will run ESXi 5.1 and 5.5 without much hassle?  I will probably post my luck with the Dell Optiplex 780 I bought off Amazon.  I got it for around $350  with 16 Gigs of Ram.  Unfortunately that's the max memory it can hold.  I heard that the HP Microserver is pretty good but the ones I looked at onlys upported 16 Gigs.  Once I get the hang of building out the lab I might want to upgrade to something with 32 gigs or more of RAM later on.  If someone has seen a list or has had pretty good luck with a specific model feel free to comment.  I plan to use the INE labs for the full scale labs.  The home lab is just to get used to running the commands and playing around with different show commands.  I will not be using switches at home probably.  I'll use the INE switches for that.



  • If you want to have 10 routers running on the ESXi, You need to have 32G of ram. Each router will take about 2.5G 

  • Thanks.  I know I will need more RAM.  That's the reason I am posting this thread.  I am hoping the 780 loads without issue.  This will give me an idea of how well this is going to work for me.  I was hoping to get some responses by then as to the next step up deskktop that can hold at least 32 gigs of RAM and loads ESXi 5.1 or 5.5 without much of a headache.  The 780 max memory is 16 GB but people say it loads ESXi pretty easy.

  • Hi Ken,

    If you're serious about doing the ESXi/CSR1000v virtual route, you may want to consider a used server that can support the extra memory.  I, too, was in the same situation as you and decided to go for a used Dell C1100 and have loved it ever since.

    I have seen the C1100 on Amazon fairly recently with 72GB RAM and one hard drive for $599, which is about what I paid once I upgraded RAM.  I even have the Ikia coffee table that *perfectly* fits the server and have wheels on it and everything.

    The biggest issue you will have with 16 or 32GB RAM is Memory Ballooning on ESXi.  The underlying issue is that the CSR1000v doesn't have a VMWare Tools option.  So when you first start up your CSR it will ramp up resources and eventually calm back down after five minutes or so.  The problem is that once the system utilization goes back down, the ESXi host has no way of reclaiming the now-unused memory back from the VM, so the allocated memory will be permanently in use by the CSR.

    So once you eat up all your 16/32 GB RAM, it starts using hard disk space instead (this is the ballooning part).  This of course impacts performance and is not optimal.  But to be honest, if all you're running are these ~10 CSR's for lab purposes, I guess it doesn't matter much.  But once you have your own Host I guarantee you'll start wanting to play around with other VM's on the side or run your own DNS, TFTP, Wireshark cap, etc.

    All of this is based on the trails and errors I went through getting my lab setup.  Food for thought.  Hope this helps.

  • Which version of ESXi are you running?  Did you have any issues getting it to install?  I was wanting to stay away from servers, but maybe I could alternate between the optiplex 780 when I'm just praticing commands, and the C1100 when I want to do the labs with more then 7 or 8 CSR"s. 



  • ESXi 5.1, I am also running vCenter. For my single-host environment, I don't have much reason to upgrade to 5.5 or 6.
    I have 2x XEON L5520 2.26GHZ QUAD CORE CPU'S -- be sure you get the L55xx series as this is the minimum for hyperthreading.

    I have 72GB RAM and have at least 2 Windows OS's and 2 Unix OS's running in addition to 10 CSR's, but have booted up to 18 with no issue.  With my normal usage, my CPU utilization stays at ~20%.  Once I power down the CSR's, it goes down to 5-7%.

    I also have 4x SATA drives with a H700 Raid Controller, which you don't need.  For budget, you can get by with one SATA drive.

    No issues getting it installed.  Before I powered down the host last weekend due to severe thunder storms, it was up for almost a year.


  • JoeMJoeM ✭✭✭

    How loud is this server?

  • lol, 7.  Not sure how to quantify sound without a meter.

    It's not a quiet desktop, that's for sure.  I have a spare bedroom and it's in the closet with a small space fan blowing for circulation.  No issues so far.


    Edit:  Link to picture of my setup.  C1100 is on the bottom of the shelf.  Cabling for switches follow INE guide.


  • I
    got the 780 Dell desktop.  Of course it didn't boot out of the
    shipping box.  Hard drive had crashed.  Anyways...Once I
    replaced the Hard drive I installed ESXi 5.1 using the ISO from the
    VM website.  Luckily it installed with no issues.  Once
    installed I then watched a few YouTube Videos on setting up ESXi for
    the Cisco Lab version 5.  So a few notes to add.  

    will want to use the 60 day evaluation period.  If you install
    the trial license, you will be able to setup the serial method to
    "console" into the devices.  Otherwise you are
    required to have the "enterprise" license.  So keep
    that in mind.  

    documentation on the VM ware site is not 100% accurate.  It says
    to type telnet://(port number).  However, the true format is
    telnet:///(ip address):(Port number).  The method I used I put
    the Management IP of the VM Host.  

    followed the youtube on setting up the switch and enabled the
    VMKernal network for all vlan's and promiscuous mode.  You ALSO
    need to do this for the switch settings where the management IP is.
     Perhaps there is another way to do it, but took me a while to
    figure out.  

    when the Cisco OVA created devices first boot you MUST choose the
    Serial connection (created before powering on the VM Router).  You
    can use the VM Client to view the console or the virtual serial
    connection created but not both.  It will boot a second time.  

    of these initial creation settings take a LONG time.  You don't
    want to do to many at once with the 780 Dell Desktop.  I tried
    doing to much at once and I had to manually power cycle the VM Host.
     After the initial builds are done you can start and stop them
    without to much of an issue.  

    just the initial building that takes a lot of the CPU and memory
    resources.  The OVA defaults to 4 Gigs of RAM.  I started
    with 2 Gigs but kept getting an error message that they were running
    out of RAM so I bumped them up to 2.5 Gigs or 2560 Megs of Ram.  

    the 2560 Megs of RAM  I can have 5 of them running.  

    state with the 5 Routers it is sitting around 1.1 GHz used out of 2.9
    GHz of processing power.  Used memory is 14,232.00 out of
    15259.54.  I am using On-board video so that is eating up some
    of the RAM I believe.  This model desktop can only hold 16 Gigs
    of Ram.  So its maxed out.  

    choice would be 5 routers or 4 Routers and a VM to run some of the
    other tools like a sniffer.  I just took a snapshot of the VM's.
     Storage wise I'm using a 2 TB Physical HDD.  5 Routers
    with the Snapshots taken is sitting around 10.27 GB used of the
    Storage.  Not sure how much ESXi takes up but I imagine you
    could get away with a 64 Gig SSD.  

    going to try loading it on a SSD next.  Noise wise its not bad
    at all.  Some heat average to any desktop.  And I imagine
    the power draw is standard for desktops.   Probably a little
    less if I can get the SSD to work.  



  • So I just reinstalled with a SSD.  WOW.  I mean...WOW.  its incredible how much of a difference in made.  I don't think it will really impact my lab work.  Since I'll just be typing in commands to a virtual router.  But the ESXi install and configuring all the devices took 10% or less of the time it took with the HDD.  So for anyone building out a small lab you are wasting time if you put it on a HDD.  The only reason I built it with HDD to start with is I wasn't sure if I would have issues with ESXi and a SSD.  Loaded with no problems.  

  • To share, I build my home lab with Asus P9X79 mobo with 64GB of RAM + SSD HD and this mobo can expand up to 128GB using a different type of RAM but 64GB is enough for me and tested to run 40 routers, UNL, F5, and many more. Anyone have limited budget can use this an alternative :)

  • Thanks for the info, Joey.

    This peaks my interest due to the fact that I could fit this in a Tower rather than a 1U server chassis.  The biggest drawback for me would be the lack of dual CPU support, but I run more than just the networking VM's.

    I definitely like this option for a quiet tower-chassis server option.


  • JoeMJoeM ✭✭✭

    To share, I build my home lab with Asus P9X79 mobo with 64GB of RAM + SSD HD and this mobo can expand up to 128GB using a different type of RAM but 64GB is enough for me and tested to run 40 routers, UNL, F5, and many more. Anyone have limited budget can use this an alternative :)

    Hi Joey,

    What is the minimum to build this setup from scratch? Can you give a basic shopping list with estimated prices for your hardware setup?

    I am leaning toward the idea of a used Dell pizza-box server setup. But I am also interested in the option of having a good quiet desktop.


  • I was in the same boat but ran into the issue of not all desktop grade CPU's can support 64Gb of RAM. Therefore I ended up spending a bit more than I had hope but built something that will last long term and has a lot of expandability. For reference: Xeon E5-2630 v3 - Supermicro MBD-X10SRL-F - Kingston 64Gb ECC - 2x 2TB HDD - 1x 120Gb SSD. This runs VIRL and 20 CSR's plus two other VM's. It's a bit punchy with VIRL spun up as my RAM is close to max'd out. I'll be adding either another 32Gb or 64Gb to fix that problem.

  • I use 2x Mac Mini 2011 Core Quad Server i7 2Ghz with 16 Gigs Ram and 1 HDD + 1 SSD installed in each. I simple made an ESXi 5.5 (directly installed on the 'naked' hardware, without OS X) cluster. That gives me ~15 Ghz of a CPU power and ~31Gb RAM



    I use it in a system with GNS3 + real switches. If I'd need to have more power, I'll buy 1 or 2 more Minis 2011 or 2012 from eBay and add them to the cluster.

    They are small, affordable and pretty fast.

    The most important thing (from my point of view and for an residential environment) - they are EXTREMELY QUIET! I can put them even into the bedroom =)

  • Another consideration would be to pick up an older HP xw8600 tower. I picked one up off of ebay that has 64GB DDR2, Quad core Xeon processors for under $500.00, and I can run 20+ CSR1000v routers with no problem on esx 5.1 bare instillation. This setup coupled with four 3560v2 switches running ios 15+ allows me to perform everting that is on INE labs. It’s a great setup and super easy to drop lab configs in as you progress.

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