My thoughts on the Intel NUC5i3RYK as a vSphere host

IMG_1529 copyRecently I have been expanding my lab, which included two vSphere hosts.  At the time, my hosts which each had 16GB, were substantial lab nodes and their Nehalem architecture was on top.  Now of days they are modest at best.  I expanded them out each with 32GB (previously they had 16GB), but still needed a few more cores and memory in order to deploy Pivotal Cloud Foundry.  My thought was to add a host that would serve to run vCenter Server Appliance, as well as be able to offer a bit more cores and memory to the available resource pool.

I quickly started looking at the Intel NUC line of computers.  After looking at the best value for my application, I settled on the NUC5i3RYK which has the following attractive qualities:

I quickly added the following components to my base NUC5i3RYK

16GB is sufficient for a vSphere environment.  My personal rule of thumb is 8GB per core, which works out nicely with the 2C provided by the NUC.  I would of course much prefer a 32GB option, and of course 4C would be eve better.  The Intel i3-5010 is said to support 16GB, but Intelligent Memory has figured out a way of stacking chips to allow it to see 32GB.  This however is not a cheap solution at about $700 for 32GB!

The transcend 128GB M.2 SSD is very nice.  Its amazing what you can fit inside of a little NUC!  Why have an SSD in a vSphere lab environment?  Personally I like to use it for the host scratch space, Host Cache files, and VM swap files.  This alone is worth it to add a relatively cheap SSD into your vSphere hosts. Speeds things up very nicely and cuts down on the amount of iSCSI traffic.  I also chose to park my vCenter Server Appliance on the SSD as well……why not, there is plenty of room.

The Kingston Data Traveler Micro is an awesome device that looks like it was built just for the NUC!  Its only USB 2.0 but that is sufficient.  ESXi fits nicely into 8GB.

Does it run vCenter Server Appliance well?

Yes!  It runs VCSA just great.  Its fast, responsive and all is well.  I think these are perfect hosts to add for this function.  Many people have a few ESXi hosts, like myself.  But where do you put vCenter?  Of course you can run it on both and link them, or you can vMotion it around, but I prefer to just have a stand alone host.  I also prefer to not run Windows, so rather than installing Windows on the NUC’s bare metal and then installing vCenter on it, I chose to install ESXi 5.5 and then just install VCSA on top of that.

What could be improved?

The NUC5i3RYK does not have vPro technology in it which allows for VNC based KVM remote control.  There are NUCs that have this, and I am sure more to come, such as the NUC Kit DC53427HYE.  But of course these are more expensive.  I just really like to have some sort of remote KVM in my vSphere hosts.

The NUCs are limited to 16GB and 2C.  There are currently no NUCs that support more than 16GB (without something ridiculously expensive like the aforementioned Intelligent Memory solution), nor more than 2C.  This is sufficient for the price point, but its nice to have quad core and 32 GB, so you just get extra density.   At the price however (< $300 for a NUC5i3RYK), its hard to be too critical of this point.

The NUCs have only a single 10/100/1000 port, and no way to expand beyond this.  This is what really relegates the NUC to tasks like vCenter vs. running more of the serious VM’s I need in my lab.  If I can’t have a dedicated port for the storage network, the speeds wills suffer.  Of course, I just make a trunk and the NUC is able to communicate on its single physical port using multiple vKernel’s for management and storage.  I like to have multiple physical ports to run iSCSI on however, simply because I find storage to be the bottleneck in most labs and real networks.  I like to be able to run 2x1GB for my iSCSI back to my Synology DS-1010.  Obviously the NUC is limited to at best communicating at 1GB.

How to run vSphere on the NUC5i3RYK?

Everything you need to know was already written very well by Florian Grehl at Virten.net.  You can find his article on How to Install ESXi on 5th Gen Intel NUC.

Final Thoughts

I will buy a NUC again. In fact, I hope to see the product evolve to at least 2 NIC ports, vPro on more models, more memory.  If that happens I may replace my entire lab with these cool little devices.  They run extremely efficient, take up hardly any room and they are dead quiet.  With a cheap investment I was able to expand my lab and not have vCenter take up resources on my key ESXi hosts.  I did reduce the memory of VCSA to just 4GB, which is adequate for a small deployment, this leaves at least 10GB free for vSphere to consume.

 

 

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