Building a Private Cloud Lab Environment

You’re going to need a lot of hardware to build out a private cloud.

One question that often comes up when speaking with IT pros: “What are the necessary components (i.e. hardware, software, virtualization, etc.) needed to build a relevant lab environment to test out and evaluate a private cloud architecture for my company?”

When speaking at events, I often reference and demo a comprehensive private cloud environment I built along with a team of peers. This environment has all of the necessary hardware, software and virtualization assets to test and evaluate the merits of a private cloud architecture. As a point of reference, it consists of five current generation rack-mounted servers, which we were able to purchase new for this lab; each features quad processors and six cores (24 processors each) and 24 GB of RAM. This lab has a number of Hyper-V hosts as well as external iSCSI storage to allow all of the host machines to use a central repository for VM storage.

From a hardware perspective, the “right” size for a lab depends on what you’re planning on evaluating, which determines the appropriate number of simultaneous VMs and host machines for a functional test bed. If you have the budget and/or you’re interested in truly evaluating performance of the private cloud components, going with new hardware for your lab environment is clearly the only option.

In speaking to many customers, I’ve found it’s also not uncommon to use older server hardware (outside of the typical three-year hardware refresh cycle) as the host machines running Hyper-V or VMware ESXi. While many larger customers have a regular cycle of hardware coming out of production, it’s a bit more challenging to find parts for these servers when issues arise, due to the age of the hardware. Budget will ultimately dictate the hardware you’re able to procure, but the hardware in the private cloud lab should have the capacity to run all of the software components simultaneously—the better to understand the benefit and full effect of the private cloud.

On the software side, there are a number of questions that need answering in order to help prepare for the build-out. For example:

  • How many components of System Center am I planning on evaluating simultaneously?
  • How many VMware software components will I need to keep running to mirror my current production environment?

Remember, the assets in your private cloud lab should closely match those of your eventual production environment. There are several components of System Center such as Virtual Machine Manager, Operations Manager, and Orchestrator that are absolutely essential to build out and get running, along with a SQL Server to host the data. If you’re running VMware, ask yourself which components (besides vCenter) you’ll need to keep running in the lab.

The Build Begins

Once you’ve put the hardware and software plan together, the private cloud lab build can begin. Collect the pieces and place them on either an isolated network or VLAN from your production network that can be (preferably) accessed externally.

From a licensing standpoint, the Microsoft TechNet or MSDN Licensing programs allow you to install and run non-time-bombed software (Windows, Hyper-V, System Center, etc.) that can run in a non-production lab environment. If you don’t have access to these, you can download evaluation software.

On the VMware side, a similar licensing program no longer exists, so you’ll be either running licensed software or downloading evals.

Install and configure your host machines running Microsoft’s Hyper-V or VMware ESXi, and then build out the software tools that enable private cloud functionality. On the System Center side, this would consist of Virtual Machine Manager, Operations Manager, Orchestrator, App Controller and others; be sure to consider building a single SQL server first. On the VMware side, make sure you install at least vCenter and vCloud Director.

Other Private Cloud-focused tools are available from Citrix (XenServer and CloudPlatform), EMC, NetAPP, and more. Additional guidance on Private Cloud computing can be found at


Bob Holt is a JavaScript engineer at Bocoup. Bob has a background in economics, finance, non-profit development, finance, and education, all of which he tries to shoehorn into his approach to developing for the open web. In his free time, Bob enjoys music, photography, and watching football in all its forms.

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