Help me decide on a home lab virtualization server

Hi All,

Let me apologize now if you find this a little long-winded.

Just wanted to give some context to my environment and mindset.

I’m hoping to get some guidance on setting up a home lab server.

Here is my current setup, which works very well for me:

  • CPU Ryzen 9 3900X
  • 4 x 16GB DDR4 3200
  • Asus X570
  • 1 NVMe 512GB will be upgraded
  • 1 NVMe 2TB
  • 1 2TB spinner
  • 1 GeForce RTX 2070
  • 1 Synology DS1815+ 8 4TB spinners
  • Network all Unifi
    • UDM Pro
    • 2 USW 16 POE
    • 1 USW Lite 15
    • 2 USW Flex
    • 1 USW Flex mini
    • 4 AP, Pro, lite, mesh, U6-lite
    • House is wired cat 6e and lots of IoT stuff

I currently running Windows 11 Pro hosting VMWare 16.2 Workstation.

Would like to get back to just video editing, game playing, etc. on this system.

I have several VM’s hosted like homeassistant, ubuntu-desktop and workstation, several windows install, along with Plex and other media servers. I use the Windows VMs for testing and trying new stuff. The Linux VM’s are used for desktop stuff and the workstation lite weight development and Dev Ops practice. This works well for me, but I have concerns about the direction that VMWare might go soon. Also, I hate windows updates and having to take down all my VMs to reboot. Also, I need a near-line backup for my Synology NAS.

So, I don’t know which way to go XCP-ng, TrueNAS, or Proxmox. I have been reading and watching videos as we use to say technology is like drinking from a fire hose, but for me, it’s like a flood gate, I’m so confused. The easy thing to do would be a server with windows or Linux and installing a VMware workstation. Since I have already become an expert on it (LOL). But concerns on the direction of VMware.

I would like a solution like a VM workstation with virtualization management and hardware via the host OS. Is it XCP-ng or TrueNAS or Proxmox?

I’ve been using vmware workstation for almost 20 years now that I think about it, it’s an excellent product.

Currently, I’m running it on a Linux laptop and it works without too much trouble.

I was in the same boat as you a while back, I basically went the Proxmox route, because it looked easier to setup than XCP-ng and as it was on bare metal I could squeeze out the maximum from the RAM.

The issues I ran into were:

  • PITA to migrate vm’s from vmware to Proxmox format, it might have gotten easier now but I gave up on this in the end.
  • The networking with Proxmox can be a bit tricky to get working with a Quad NIC card.
  • I haven’t found a comparable user environment to vmware, if I wanted to run vm’s locally that have come from Proxmox.

I have the same issues with vmware I shall not pay for annual subscriptions.

I would just test out Proxmox and XCP-ng, see which you prefer, I don’t think the difference is so big for your needs.

Neogrid thanks for your input. I have a Proxmox VM now, we see how it goes.

It’s worth noting that for home lab and personal study applications for VMWare, I recommend that people check out their local VMUG (VMWare Users’ Group). If you purchase a VMUG Advantage $200 yearly subscription, you get licenses for pretty much all of VMWare’s products. In addition you get discounts on training and certification exams too.

I’ve got short arms and deep pockets :grinning: That $200 is a bit steep unless it’s your day job.

I have been caught out with vmware not working on old processors, it has been a great product to run on laptops but I think they want that annual cash payout instead of every couple of years. For a homelab I think Proxmox / XCP-ng offer a lot for the home user, though in my case my homelab morphed into my actual network so squeezing as much as I can out of the RAM is pretty vital.

If you want to build a home lab to practice and prepare for the certification tests, then the $200 a year is worth it. Especially when you look at the cost of the exams. But I agree with you that the $200 is better spent if you have no interest in the certifications.

I also agree with your statement that newer VMWare ESXi versions don’t support old CPU’s is annoying.

Well, four years ago when I started to play around with home automation a friend suggested that I start using VMware after one day I did something that blew up my desktop, and I had to completely restore it from backups. It was painful.
So, once I started using VMs, it made it so much safer and easier to develop and try out new stuff without worrying about breaking my workstation.
Well, what I have decided to do is go with xcp-ng for VMs. I will also host TrueNAS on it as a backup NAS for my Synology. I just need to determine what hardware I need to build the xcp-ng server that is in my limited budget. The good thing is it is a one-time cost. Besides, it’s something new to learn.

Yeah just one thing to keep note of, these labs can easily turn into vital “on” all the time systems ! So perhaps the cost of electricity is something to consider too. I’ve found RAM is usually the bottleneck, some Lenovo i7 desktops can be found for cheap, I think 10th gen can address 128GB my 6th gen addresses 64GB. Obviously you can get any Dell server and it will do the job.

Oh once you discover virtualisation, hard to go back. I only run vms on my laptop for precisely the reasons you stated. A laptop rebuild only requires installing a linux OS and install vmware, done.

I was on the Microsoft treadmill in the past, it takes over all your time. Though I now see there is a definite shift to paying for things monthly/annually rather than a one time fee! I still use MindManager on an old Win7 vm when I need a mindmap.

In the past vmware were decent, their applications would work on most things, when they were first taken over, it started to get more restrictive and now what they offer seems to have exploded from nowhere. At some point there will be a better solution for the desktop and I’ll switch to it.