VMware – Adding a NAS for your ESXi Lab

Early on my research for building my VCP lab, I knew that I would need to incorporate a NAS that would need to be capable of serving up both iSCSI and NFS. After doing some testing of both FreeNAS and OpenFiler, I decided to go with FreeNAS. At the time I was looking at a NAS to my lab, 8.3.1 was the current version available. With 9.x still in development/beta at the time, I decided to go with 8.3.1 since there was sufficient information to help streamline the process of getting it up and running a little bit easier.

From an earlier post, you know that I had selected a used Dell T300 server loaded with drives. In my case, a large reseller of used equipment and or items that have come off of lease is nearby. Here is a link to the Dell T300 that I purchased – http://www.stikc.com/Catalog/PowerEdge-T300. After checking VMware HCL, I felt that the T300 would be affordable and potentially usable for other studies. Since its intended purpose was to be a NAS server, there wasn’t a need to have a large amount of memory installed. The recommended amount was 4GB. As I went through the documentation, I decided to try running FreeNAS directly from USB to allow for max drive space to be used for iSCSI and NFS for the ESXi labs I would be going through. After going through three different USB drives from different vendors, check for firmware updates for the T300, and several different USB settings in firmware, I decided that going with a more convention approach.

My initial attempt was to install FreeNAS on the first drive in the T300. That left me the other drive for data. Ran through some initial problems where I had to continually press F1 in order to continue the boot up process. After doing some research on the forums, I found that some options were enabled that didn’t need to be. After disabling them, I could boot up the server as expected. When I picked up the T300 the drives were configured for striped configuration. I reconfigured it to be in JBOD (Just a bunch of disks) mode so that I could use the first drive for FreeNAS and keep the 2nd drive for data use. This would be me by for a while. While I wasn’t filling up the remaining drive, I purchased two additional drives so that I would be able just about anything I might want to do.

After installing the last set of drives, I knew there had to be a better way to use the drive space I had. Since I was able to get a “free” license for ESXi, I decided to pursue that option. Before getting started, I went into the T330 bios and assigned all drives to a striped set. I installed ESXi bare metal on the T300. Once it was up and running, I created a new VM with 8GB of disk space. According to the information I found, this was the optimal amount disk space. Once FreeNAS was ready, I went to the vSphere client and added the remaining disk space in two datastores so that I could easily split them up between iSCSI and NFS.

I found a feature in the vSphere client that would would automatically startup FreeNAS after ESXi had completed its startup process. While my intent is to run the T300 in a headless form, this was one less step that I had to remember when firing up the lab. I had to learn FreeNAS a bit before putting it to work as my iSCSI and NFS targets.

One of the things I learned in class was that I should think about setting up a iSCSI extent that would be readonly and serve up the files I would need to install/reinstall vCenter and the other VMware products I would be trying out as well as ISO’s for Windows 7, 2008 and 2012 for the various labs I would be going through in preparation for class. I called the extent ISO. Initially it would be read-write while I was copying the files to the datastore that I needed and then change it to read-only just to avoid the potential for accidental deletion of files when I was doing some file maintenance and not watching which datastore I was on.

To read the rest of my posts in the VMware Series – Click on this link

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