So it’s finally time for me to replace my Dell PowerEdge T300. The T300 has done incredibly well, at 4 years old it still happily runs 4-5 of my virtual machines and has definitely been a huge help in test labs for my work and personal studies.
I’ve been reading around the net for a long time as to ESXi white-boxes, especially the the various pros and cons of doing ‘custom builds’ over buying outright servers (such as Dell or HP items). Given it would cost over £500 to upgrade the RAM in the T300 (at 12GB this is now the first thing that really stops me running much more on it) I decided to look at a white-box. Some great sites that have detailed white-box builds are WahlNetwork.com and RootWyrm.us.to be sure to check them out!
Why a white-box? Well long story short = cost. Having put builds together for some Dell T320’s or T420’s I just couldn’t get the performance bonuses over a custom build, a Dell T110 wouldn’t have been much of an upgrade over my T300. Not to mention it would still have set me back over £1000 for anything reasonable. So with a fair budget in mind, given RAM would be £500ish, I figured up to £700 per machine would be a good baseline.
My primary goals:
All components for a build to come in at near £700
Platform to support majority (if not all) VMware ESXi features (FT/VMotion/HA etc)
Lots of RAM and fast storage to enable squishing as many VM’s on as possible.
Something fairly silent! The T300 is a little loud these days.
£169.99 This is the non-K version, why? Because it allows support for VT-d. It may not be a feature needed by all but I eventually want to play with some GPU passthrough for VDI/XenApp goodies.
£77.99 Reading around the Z77 platform on ASRock boards seems to be a solid choice when it comes to ESXi whiteboxes. The onboard NIC is supported out of the box and ESXi looks to install with no real headaches, definitely a nice balance of features for a hassle free build.
£159.98 2x Kingston HyperX Blu 16GB Kit (2x8GB) – this gave me the max 32GB the board could handle.
£139.99 A fairly well reviewed SSD but more importantly it was cheap! Given the 250GB storage and only a slight drop on write speeds over the competition (which were much higher cost) the Basic 840 version seemed a solid choice.
£39.98 Can’t go wrong with a Corsair PSU! It’s another well reviewed item, it’s quite and its Modular helping to keep the case innards tidy.
Chuck in a cheap 8GB USB drive to install ESXi on and a case to suit, I was ready to begin building. For my build I opted for the Fractal Design Define Mini Case @ £69.99, a great sound dampened case that was a fairly compact size. I also added an additional NIC – the TP Link TG-3468 PCIe Gigabit card was perfect, another NIC supported out of the box and cost around £10. All the items were bought from overclockers.co.uk or ebuyer.com.
So to sum up – a complete build for just under my goal of £700. Everything went together without hassle, it’s dead silent and ESXi installed without any complaints. Some photos are below of the built systems, I decided to pick up two and begin making use of a Synology NAS I already had for iSCSI storage.