That’s right, in the search for the perfect hardware to run a home lab I have somehow wound up with a Mac mini. Not really where I thought I would be when I set out to build a Private Cloud lab but lets see how we got here and just why this might be a great solution for a lab to run at home.
For a home lab it was important for me to have a machine that not only supported lots of RAM, but also was not loud and occupied too much space. We live in a fairly small apartment, so the last thing I wanted was to have something humming away in a corner, looking ugly or generating heat under my desk. Having been to some Microsoft IT Camps, I was really into the Dell Presario power workstations. These bad boys support up to 32GB of RAM, but they are quite monsterous towers as a result. After pricing a model on the Dell website with just 6GB RAM fitted (but an i7 Core, 750GB Hard Disk, Windows 7 etc.) I was looking at $2500 already. Even though this supports up to 32GB RAM, for the price of that RAM I would probably never buy it anyway. With a PC, all machines were not-very-portable either. Any laptop I considered didn’t support more than 8GB RAM for what I’d consider a reasonable price and it’s not something you can just leave on at home either. It would damage the battery over time and I don’t trust laptops as an always-on machine anyway. Just a personal fear of something burning out or something!
So we consider the Mac mini.
The Mac Mini with an i7 Processor, 750GB Hard drive and standard 4GB RAM was priced at around $1600. The Mac Mini is available from Apple with up to 8GB RAM, however, it actually supports 16GB. So, about $500 and an order from Crucial Memory later and I have 16GB in a small, silent form factor up and running.
Using the Bootcamp utility with Mac OS, I repartitioned the disk to save just 50GB for the Mac, just in case, the rest was made available for Windows. Bootcamp is a really good tool, it repartitions the existing hard drive and downloads drivers needed to run Windows, creates a bootable USB with your Windows Media and leaves you ready to go. Experimenting with a few OS Versions I found the following:
Hyper-V 2008 R2 and Windows 2008 R2 Datacenter: OS installed with no issues, however, there were no drivers installed for Network and Display, so networking wasn’t working at all and the display was the standard resolution. It was possible to locate these drivers on the USB created by Bootcamp and manually install them however.
Windows Server 2012 Preview and Windows Server 2012 Release Candidate: Installed with no issues. Bootcamp was able to install the OS with Network adapters (no wireless) and all other drivers required for the server to run.
So after all that I now have a small form factor, silent device running Windows Server 2012 Release Preview with Hyper-V and 16GB of RAM to run the VM’s for various labs (Private Cloud, Identity Management, AD Management tools) that I require. This is more than enough to run a small Microsoft Private Cloud Infrastructure for learning and testing purposes and I am in the process of doing just that. I am certainly not a Mac OS fan by any means but you can’t deny they make great hardware – hardware that now runs Windows and doesn’t leave your home office looking like a comms room. Credit where credit is due, if you’re looking for some hardware to run a home lab then definately consider the Mac Mini – if you’d rather not have something at home, there is always www.cloudshare.com.
Thought it would be useful to add this section to show how I intend to use the Mac Mini in all this. Please be aware I am still experimenting so this may end up changing. Also, it’s definately not a best practice design, it’s just functional for a home lab. As you can see, my main laptop runs the System Center servers that I can power up and down as needed without causing any real issues. The Mac Mini hosts Hyper-V and AD DS for the domain and will be always-on.