If you are looking to learn more about a specific technology, you may be considering a home lab.  Home labs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and there is no hard and fast rule as to what the best home lab options are.

The most important thing to know when starting to look at home lab options is what technologies you want to work with.  Of course, all software has minimum installation requirements, and it is important that your environment is able to meet them.  For example, if you plan on running nested ESXi, it requires a minimum of 4 GB of RAM for installation, and more if you want to run virtual machines on that host.

While you could spend a great deal of money on a home lab, let’s take a closer look at a couple of options with cost in mind, and the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Let’s dive into some home lab options here now!

A Good PC or Laptop

A good PC or laptop can get you very far in the home lab game, especially with software like VMware Fusion or VMware Workstation.  It is important to keep in mind things like CPU and Memory when you are picking components.  Don’t miss our helpful guide about what you should think about when building a PC here.

The benefit of a good PC is that you can use it for more than just a home lab.  It is also easy to change out components for more powerful ones later on.

The biggest problem is you are limited by scaleability when it comes to a PC.  If you envision a large home lab environment, a PC may not be the right choice for you.

The eBay Special Server

My first home lab was the eBay special server.  I installed ESX on it, and used it for a good number of years.

There are a couple of issues with the eBay Special Server.  First is storing.  Servers take up a lot of room, even 1 RU servers!  The next is power and cooling, since they draw a lot of power and produce a lot of heat.

Another issue is older hardware may not have a long life when it comes to the compatibility matrix for the software you are running.

That being said, the eBay special is a great way to get started, and you can build a relatively cheap ESXi cluster and run all sorts of software if you can deal with the space, power, and cooling aspects of this hardware.

The Intel NUC Home Lab

I’ve also had an Intel NUC home lab, and it was one of my favorites.  NUCs are small, quiet, and can be powerful.  You can also start with one, and add additional ones over time as your requirements grow.  You can also run ESXi directly on them.

Now that you can have 64 GB of RAM in NUCs, there aren’t many drawbacks.  Back when I had mine, they only supported 16 GB and it was a bit of a struggle sometimes.

Check out this great video from my friend Van Flowers on his Intel NUC lab, and William Lam’s home lab resources which cover both NUC and Mac Mini.

The Cloud

The cloud is also a great place to take advantage of when it comes to your home lab with a few caveats.

First, no one wants the surprise bill, so be sure to shut down your lab when you’re finished with it.  If you want to use the cloud, it is a great idea to look into building your lab in an automated fashion so you can spin it up and shut it down as needed.

Secondly, the cloud can also be a bit of a learning curve, which can lead to more of those big cloud bills, so be sure to proceed with caution if you are new to cloud services.  The good news is that many cloud providers offer a free tier to learn on.

You can learn more about the AWS free tier here, and the Azure free account here.

CCIE Rack Rentals

I have something very special for our Cisco minded friends.  Did you know there is a whole world of CCIE rack rentals?

Be sure to check out services like Cloud My Lab and INE, which also provide many study resources and lab guides for your rental.

A CCIE rack rental is a great way to get the hands on experience you need for your CCIE learning, without having to worry about equipment.

Getting Started With Your Home Lab

Now you have some great options on how to get started with a home lab.  The most important thing is sitting down and thinking about what technologies you want to work with, before you start purchasing.  Good luck and happy labbing!