vSphere inside of VMWare Workstation Performance

I’ve been debating over the past few months as to buy a new desktop.  My current desktop is still relatively a decent machine.  It’s a 3 year old Dell XPS 420 with a Quad Core 9300 and 6GB of RAM; a decent machine for today’s power user.  I have no complaints when it comes to my day to day computing.

I’ve even been able to do some pretty basic vSphere labs inside of VMWare Workstation.  The problem that I always run into is RAM.  My machine is maxed out with 6GB.  For virtualization labs this is on the lower end of what I’d like to see.  I recently purchased a Sony Vaio laptop with a first generation Intel i3 processor and upgraded to 8GB of RAM.  How does this compare to the equipment I normally use?  Most of my production VMware machines have at least 72GB of RAM.

The lab I manage at work has 3 HP DL 370’s with 16GB each.  I complain all the time about the limited memory.  So, I’ve been a little more than skeptical about running my home lab with less than 16GB of RAM.  I’m from the school of “buy as much RAM as you can afford and then beg for some more money to buy more school.”  That’s why I’ve been looking into Dell’s XPS 9100 with 24GB of RAM.  That should make for a pretty decent home lab.

I’m not a huge fan of running virtualization labs on a laptop but this machine does have some pretty decent specs.  I’ve seen other bloggers post positive opinions with lessor powered Mac Book Pros with 8GB RAM.  I still had a perception that this just isn’t that much RAM for nested virtual machines.

But, reading more and more about laptops with modern processors running a nested vSphere lab within Workstation kept me wondering if I’m over spec’ing my new desktop.  So, I decided to go ahead and build the lab on my Vaio and post the results.

I wanted to get as realistic as a lab as possible.  I decided on the follow layout.

Server Hypervisor Environment Specs
vCenters Workstation 1.5 GB RAM, 40GB Thin disk, 1 CPU Windows 2008
Openfiler 2.3 Workstation 1 GB RAM, 100GB Thin disk, 1 CPU
vSphere Workstation 2 GB RAM, 40GB Thin disk, 2 CPU, ESXi 4.1 update 1
vSphere Workstation 2 GB RAM, 40GB Thin disk, 2 CPU, ESXi 4.1 update 1
Windows 2008 ESXi 1 GB RAM, 40GB Thin disk, 1 CPU

My Vio is running Windows 7 Home premium and Workstation 7.1.2.  Without taking into account the host operating system my laptop’s memory is pretty close to being oversubscribed.


I fudged around with getting everything installed in a few hours.  I’ve never used Open Filer before so that slowed me up.  I also didn’t have all of my ISO’s readily available at home so that really slowed me up.


Overall I was surprised by the results.  My laptop prior to powering up the VM’s sits idle with 1.8 GB of RAM used.  After firing up all the VM’s including the single nested 2008 server my used RAM went up to 6.75 GB used during the installation of the nested machine.  The most observed memory usage was 7.4GB when I performed a vmotion between the virtual ESXi servers.


I typed this post on the same laptop while all of this was running in the back ground and I have to say that I didn’t even notice a performance hit.  My 4 logical cores (the i3 is a dual core CPU with HT enabled) were relatively idle with the virtual machines addle.  I did begin to stress it a bit when I installed the nested instance of 2008 in the vSphere cluster. I saw overall CPU usage peg to %75 spread across all 4 logical cores when performing a vMotion.


You won’t mistake the experience with any production system with multiple physical hypervisors but it works for a lab.  I even had DRS enabled and successfully performed a vMotion or two.

The bottom line is that I could realistically get a Dell XPS 8300 with 16GB of RAM and be fairly happy for a home lab.  But I’ve been really looking forward to running some complex lab scenarios with VMWare and GNS3 and if you ever used GNS3 it’s both a memory and CPU hog.

This is a great example of that %5 engineering rule.  I’d be building an infrastructure based on 5% of my usage pattern – just not a smart way to do things.  Let’s see which logic wins over the next couple of months.

Update 5-6-2011

I stumbled along a great post on 8 nested ESXi nodes and 60 virtual machines on a single physical host with 8GB of RAM.

Published by Keith Townsend

Now I'm @CTOAdvisor

2 thoughts on “vSphere inside of VMWare Workstation Performance

  1. Just buy an entry level Cisco UCS B-series server and study away! My next purchase if I can manage it.

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