Citrix XenServer The Optimal Cheap Home Lab

I’ve just recently moved to Brazil and for this reason I needed to build a new Citrix XenServer lab and restore all my Virtual Machines used in my xenapptraining.com course. Rebuilding the environment was not a option. So in this post I’ll describe my new hardware and how I managed to completely replicate the environment.

Citrix XenServer 5.6SP2 Hardware 2011 Edition :

I purchased all the hardware in Norway except from the case that I bought here in Brazil. Be aware that I also bought an extra Intel network card as a backup in case I had problems with the network card on the motherboard. The issues with Realtek RTL8111/8186B is now solved with Citrix XenServer 5.6SP2 and 6.0.

So the total cost without case and network card turned out to be only $514,96. Pretty sweet for a 6 core – 16GB memory system. If you would like to boost the overall performance you could replace the SATA disk with a faster SSD disk. I prefer space before speed.

Asus BIOS Configuration :

  • Disable Cool ‘n’ Quiet
  • Enable Core Unlocker
  • Enable Hyper  Threading

Backup :

I’ve been running the awesome software PHD Virtual Backup for some time so I simply transferred the backup catalog to my laptop, packed my suitcase and went to Brazil.

Citrix XenServer 6.1 Hardware 2013 Edition :

  • Intel Desktop Board DH67CL
  • Intel Core i5 2400 3.1GHZ 4 cores
  • Kingston ValueRAM 32 GB : 4 x 8 GB
  • Kingston SSDNow V200 64GB – OS disk
  • Kingston SSDNow V200 256GB – Data disk
  • Segate Barracuda LP 5900.3 2TB – Data / Backup disk

Citrix XenServer Installation :

After I purchased the case in Brazil I needed to create a bootable USB stick to install Citrix XenServer. Back in the days we normally used Unetbootin for this, but this tool doesn’t work anymore with the latest releases of Citrix XenServer. This is how to create a bootable USB key with XenServer.

  1. Format the USB key with Fat32
  2. Download the latest copy of syslinux and extract it
  3. Open a command prompt and change directory to your extracted syslinux\win32/64 folder
  4. Run syslinux.exe X: – replacing “X” with the drive letter of your USB key
  5. Extract the Citrix XenServer ISO. To mount it you can use Pismo File Mount
  6. Copy the content of the extracted XenServer ISO folder to the root of the USB
  7. On the USB drive, copy the content of the \boot\isolinux folder to the root of the USB
  8. Copy mboot.c32 to root of the USB (SysLinux 4.x)
  9. At the root of USB drive, rename the isolinux.cfg file to syslinux.cfg
  10. At the root of USB drive, rename the isolinux.bin file to syslinux.bin

I started this project trying out the new Citrix XenServer 6.0 (How to install Citrix XenServer 6.0). There seems to be a bug with DYI hardware since the console on each VM was booting like slow motion, so I ended up installing XenServer 5.6 SP2.

Update 15.11.2012 :

Same problem with XenServer 6.02 with the latest hotfixes and Asus Bios configuration. Wouldn’t recommend XenServer 6.1 at this moment since it doesn’t support XenDesktop or Provisioning Services 6.1.

Restore :

I imported and configured the PHD Virtual Backup for Citrix XenServer appliance and shared my backup folder from my local computer. In the beginning I had some problems getting access so I contacted support who quickly responded to my support ticket.

Turns out that you cannot have non-ASCII characters (ie. #,$,%….) in the password and PHD requires both Share and NTFS Full Control permissions. The restore is straight forward and only took a couple of hours.

Your System :

I would like YOU to share your home lab environment either it’s a DIY system or a HCL Citrix XenServer supported vendor in the comments below.

50 Responses to Citrix XenServer The Optimal Cheap Home Lab

  1. Hi Eric,

    I am after some hardware for a home lab to evaluate and learn XenServer 6.0 but the HCL is very limited to say the least. My company will purchase the hardware for me to use at home but as a result of this, giving them a shopping list of mix and match hardware like you explain above is not an option for me, I just need something that is not too large that just works (it’s okay if it only requires a NIC).

    If anyone knows of something low to mid price that works with XS 6.0 please post!

    • asus u41jf
      just installed, works like a charm
      cheap laptop, 8gb ram, ssd for speed, not space 😉

  2. Hardware is cheap these days. If your org wants the benefit of a testing lab then they need to pony up the cash for it.

    If you want your cake, you gotta pay for it.

    In my org we’ve re-purposed 3-5 year old servers that have fallen off warranty and have been retired. It’s not the fastest but it gets the job done.

  3. So, the slow console thing wasn’t just me! I haven’t been able to find much about that at all. I have the same processor and it ran like a dog. I just went back to XS5.6SP2 and it’s fine.

    Darn. Thanks for posting, I was starting to think it was just me.

    • Hi Ben, no this wasn’t only you. This is only a problem with unsupported hardware not on the HCL list. Citrix is aware of the problem and they’ll probably come up with a hotfix in the future.

  4. Hi Trond!

    Good to know that someone like you with a large expertise in Citrix, is here in Brazil!
    BTW why and how long you will stay here?

    About the hardware I bought I new machine in USA 4 months ago, and the configuration is very similar (to build my own house lab). I have bought too a gigabit switch here in brazil for less then $150 (a LG-Nortel), that I use in my enviroment.

    Maybe you can come some day in the company that I work too participate in a Citrix Tech Day.

    Kind regards,

    Cristiano Santos

    • Hi Cristiano,

      I’m living here in Fortaleza with my girlfriend so hopefully I’ll stay here forever. Of course I can come by doing a Citrix Tech Day, you’re located in Sao Paulo? We could arrange it on the way to Florianopolis where we have not been yet 🙂

  5. I bought the same setup, only a different type of harddrive (hitachi 750gb 7200rpm).
    I think I have the slow console in the vm’s as you mention, but could be something else.

    When I try install Win2008r2 it goes slooowww… VM boots very slowly through bios (hangs a few seconds on dvd drive) and when installing it seems to take ages. Tried to use the internal dvd player to see if that speeds up things, but it isn’t.
    When I try to install win2008r2 just without xenserver, the hdd performs great. So I think it is something in XA6. Tried another HDD but that gave the same problem. I’m a little bit puzzled now. Could it be a bug in XA6 or is this the slow bug you mentioned?

  6. My home setup is a little more elaborate, but I also had the luxury of having a larger budget to play with. It consists of:
    IBM x3200 M3 (express bundle with 3Ghz X3400 series CPU, 2 x 250GB SATA and 2 x 1GB RAM) ~$700
    I removed the 2 x 1GB and installed 2 x 8GB and 2 x 4GB for 24GB total ~$300
    Storage is a QNAP TS-659 Pro NAS ~$700
    6 x 1TB Seagate Constellation II in RAID5 + hotspare ~$600

    I setup the QNAP as an iSCSI target, presented it to the XenServer and away we go. Using the shared storage, I figure if I want to ever want to play with HA/XenMotion in my home lab then I can buy another server and point it at the same storage.

    Networking is via my Cisco 3560CG switch. Both server and QNAP have 2 ethernet, so one NIC from each is dedicated to iSCSI storage in seperate VLAN, and the other NIC for management/vm traffic. Current throughput to the QNAP is limited by the 1GB ethernet, so in the future I’m going to put more NICs in the server, team them, and team the QNAP into the switch for 2Gb/s throughput.

    Cheers
    Dan

  7. So how did you get a license for PHD Virtual for home use?
    It seems that the license for that is going to cost than the whole lab setup!!

  8. The fix for the slow VM on Xen Server 6.0 using AMD hardware can be found here:
    http://forums.citrix.com/thread.jspa?threadID=297461

    It has to do with the BIOS. My system was very similar to yours. ASUS Motherboard, AMD Multi-Core Proc, etc.

    On POST boot I noticed the ASUS BIOS flash screen said press 4 to unlock processor cores. Once I pressed 4, it proceeded to reboot and unlock all six cores. Also, had to disable Cool & Quiet in the BIOS as well. After performing these two steps my system absolutely screems. Very fast!

      • Disabling Cool’n’Quiet didn’t do the trick for me.
        Saw ASUS had plenty of new BIOS updates available around now. So I upgrade the BIOS. Shure the bios looked very different after this. In the new BIOS firmware the cool’n’quiet disabled and now everything is running smoothly.

        I’m very interested in what Citrix has broken in the kernel that I have to update the bios to get all working again.

        • Hi Patrick. This is an unsupported system since it’s not on Citrix HCL list. There are/was a problem with very slow performance with Citrix XenServer 6, maybe this is fixed in 6.02. I have taken the risk of trying this, since XenServer 5.6 FP1 is the most stable system.

  9. Erik,
    I am in the process of setting up my home lab. Just to speed things up , can I use the same process described above using a USB stick to install the latest version of XS6? My server is a Dell PE 2950 III dual quad core 16GB.
    Thanks

  10. I came here hoping to find an answer as to why UNetBootIn wasn’t working, so thanks… but the syslinux approach isn’t working either. In both cases, when attempting to boot off the stick, the machine tells me “operating system not found”.

    using syslinux 5 and the 6.1 installer ISO.

    Any thoughts?

  11. I have not tried with Syslinux 5, did it recently with Syslinux 4.x and that worked perfectly. Would recommend trying that. Also please be aware that XS 6.1 doesn’t support XenDesktop or PVS.

  12. I know this is for XenApp which I don’t run right now but I just wanted to pop in and say I am running XenServer and XenDesktop on an i7 920 with 24gig of DDR3 and it is a dream. I am limited by my slower HDs at the moment but I am going to be experimenting with SSDs soon.

  13. Hi, I would like to build a XEN Server lab environment as I prepare for the ceritification. Do you guys have any recommendations. Do most of you have a full version of it or just run a demo. What do you recommend.
    Should I run lmy lab on a vm workstation or should buy an i7 server to do the whole vm there?

    Your help is greatly appreciated.

    J!

  14. Greetings Eirik
    have you an update for an cheap Xenserver 6.1 homelab
    the edition of 2013 is very expansive in germany only the board cost here 1000 dollar.
    the old config with asus don´t work with 6.1 but very well with 5.6
    Have an tip

    many thanks and greetings

  15. Hi Eirik,

    This website is like a light to a person who is walking in darkness. I am having an assembled PC at my home with 4 gb ram and core 2 duo processor. I am now, trying to upgrade it so that i can install xenserver 6.2 on its hard disk directly and install VMs. Till now I was thinking about this configuration: i7 processor, motherboard, 32 GB ram. As it is for home purpose, I dont want to have 100% performance etc etc, but want the best. What configuration would you suggest me? Any suggestions are welcome. Thanks a ton!!

    Chaitanya.

  16. Hi Eirik,

    I have bought AMD FX 8 core processor 32 GB RAM supporting MB, at the moment i have 16 GB RAM..

    Now i am planning to build Citrix Lab on this Machine…. So my question is, will i be able to run the ESX server on top of VM workstation 10.. Since i have Win 7 running on this hardware and all i want to do is put ESX or Xenserver on top of Vmware workstation and do all my XA/XD, Netscaler home labs …..

    Thanks
    Irfan

    • Hi Irfan,

      I also purchased same hardware yesterday. AMD FX 8350 with 16 gb ram. In a seperate machine, install DC and DHCP. On your hypervisor machine, install any hypervisor of your choice(hyperv or xenserver or esx). I have similar setup with no issues.

      Chaitanya.

  17. Hi Trond,

    Yes, my xenserver is on vmware workstation. So, you want my base machine to be windows 8 with vwmare workstation and install hyper-v in it?

    Chaitanya.

  18. Hi Trend, great post on a home lab. I have a quick question. I have a DELL XPS 8700 with an onboard RTL8111/8168 and installed XenServer 6.2. The NIC does not work so I want to buy an Intel Pro/1000GT Desktop Adapter. Do you know if that NIC will work with XenServer 6.2?

    Thanks!!

    Jacob

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