VMware VSAN on Intel NUC - Mobile Cluster for $2000

Small, silent, transportable and a very low power consumption. That's the Intel NUC. It's not only a great system for Homelabs, or Homeservers - It can also be used to build a portable Virtual SAN Cluster. I ordered 3 NUCs to build a VMware Virtual SAN enabled Cluster.

intel-nuc-vsan-datastore

Hardware Configuration
The NUC has been explained in more detail at my vSphere Homelab on 4th Gen NUC post. For my VMware Virtual SAN Mobile Lab I ordered 3 NUCs with the following configuration:

No VMware Support
VMware does only support enterprise hardware. Intel NUC is not on their HCL so you won't get support in case of failures. Do not put sensitive data to your NUC Virtual SAN without backup and do not run productive systems on it.

ESXi Installation
Installation with the images provided by VMware fails with an "No Network Adapters" error messsage. Due to the missing drivers you have to create a Customized ESXi Image.

VMware Virtual SAN Configuration

  1. Deploy vCenter Server 5.5 and 3x ESXi 5.5 on your NUC
  2. Add the 3 ESXi Hosts to the vCenter inventory
    3-nuc-vcenter
  3. Create a Cluster and add the 3 hosts
  4. Enable Virtual SAN traffic on all 3 ESXi hosts (Hosts > Your ESXi > Manage > Networking > VMkernel adapters > vmk0 > Edit settings > Virtual SAN traffic)
    vmk-enabled-vsan
  5. Enable Virtual SAN in Automatic Mode within the Cluster configuration (Clusters > Your Cluster > Manage > Settings > Virtual SAN > General > Edit...)
    enable-vsan-automatic-mode

That's all. Virtual SAN will now be configured automatically. After a few minutes you have your 3 TB vsanDatastore:vsan-on-nuc-datastorevsan-nuc-disk-groups

Performance
Each NUC has a Core i5-4250U CPU (2x 2.6 GHz) and 16GB of RAM. This should be enough for a couple of Virtual Machines. The limiting factor will be of course the 1Gb Ethernet Adapter. Write performance will not be great because all disk traffic has to pass the 1Gb NIC. 3 Windows and 9 Linux Virtual Machines are currently active at my NUC Cluster. They do perform without issues.

Power Consumption
The total power consumption of the lab (3 NUCs and 8Port Switch) is about 150W.

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14 Comments.

  1. Those Intel NUCs are really nice; if I had some spare money I would buy me one for my Home lab :wink:

  2. you're gonna have trouble with that AHCI controller eventually - queuing problems will eventually knock nodes offline, so watch carefully.

  3. Actually if I remember correctly there is a Thunderbolt switch that could be used as a 10GB ethernet connection between these devices. I don't have links but I remember someone mentioning it.

    • As far as i know, the only NUC with Thunderbolt is the DC3217BY. It is a Gen3 NUC (Ivy Bridge) reviewed here.
      The new NUCs do not have a Thunderbolt port.

  4. I do have 2 nuc's with the ssd and hgst drive.
    Activating virtual san requires both disks.
    You can only use the ssd when it's empty , but 120 GB for only cache
    is maybe too much.

    Can the 120 GB ssd only be used for the caching or can we tweak it so we
    can add a local datastore to it too? having cache and some local vmguests too ...

    thx

    Rgds

  5. Preview on 5th Gen Intel NUC for VMware ESXi | Virten.net - pingback on February 17, 2015 at 7:11 pm
  6. Am I correct, after your vmware trial expires, you'll need a vCenter server license?

  7. Any way to get vsan running with one ssd per host, or are two drives absolutely required?

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