Part of my job is being an expert on various technologies. This means having hands on experience with the latest products as well as the ability to demonstrate how specific solutions work. Many vendors are virtualizing their solutions making it easier to build a home lab that is portable and light on power usage. My team has researched the best method for a mobile home lab based on price, size, power consumption and noise. After comparing various servers and laptops, we found the Apple Mac mini to be the best choice. It’s small enough to fit in a backpack, low on power consumption, silent and around $1,400 fully loaded.
The Mac mini is 7.7 by 7.7 and comes with standard apple OS and a hdmi display adaptor. Some monitors may need a VGA adapter, which a adapter can be purchased for $10-25 dollars. You will need a Apple super drive to load the ESXI ISO and possibly some drivers that are lost during the install depending on your Mac mini model and method of install. I’ve heard people doing it with other media methods such as USB storage however I’ve personally only used the super drive for two different Mac minis. Make sure to have a USB mouse and keyboard as well.
This website covers how to install ESXI 5.X on an older Mac mini (2011 or older) HERE. The steps are very straight forward however one lesson learned is you HAVE TO burn the driver disk that will be mounted from a windows computer. I wasted a dozen CDs burning the drivers with my MAC using various tools yet the CD never mounted. You can use any type of device to burn the ESXI software.
Recently (January 2013) I purchased another Mac mini and attempted the same process as explained before. During the install, I ran into a pink screen of death aka PSOD as seen above. Apple changed some things in the latest hardware causing driver problems. I found a really good blog that summarizes the officially not supported way to get ESXI 5.1 on the latest MACMINI hardware HERE. I used the customized IOS that includes virtuallyGhetto’s custom script and it worked as explained. The customized IOS installs like a standard ESXI install. You don’t have to run any manual commands or mount missing drivers!
Once you have your Mac mini vmware ESXi 5.1 environment operational, you can load it up with the latest technologies and go to town. I have used it to perform network assessments at customer sites as well as showcased solutions such as Cisco ISE, Cisco NCS, Cisco Wireless and multifactor authentication all from a Mac mini, small controller, AP and 8 port switch (example Bring Your Own Device BYOD lab that can fit in a backpack). The possibilities are endless. Hopefully this helps you develop that lab you always wanted.
Major props to the people behind VirtuallyGhetto, zer010gic from the VM community and the Paraguin Consulting blog. These people made the MACMINI Vsphere magic happen!