There are many options when it comes to building and running your own vSphere home lab. There are going to be different pros and cons to each of these solutions which you will need to evaluate things like cost, performance, maintenance, ease of use and complexity to name a few. Below is a list of the currently available options to you today.

Home Lab Options:


Off-Premises (hosted)

For example, you could purchase a couple of Apple Mac Mini's and build out a decent size vSphere environment, but it could potentially be costly and not to mention a bit limited on the memory options. Compared to other platforms, it is pretty energy efficient and easy to use and maintain. If you did not want to manage any hardware at all, you could look at a hosted or an on-demand lab such as vCloud Air which can run Nested ESXi unofficially or anyone of the many vCloud Air Service Providers. Heck, you could even use VMware Hands On Lab, though the access will be limited as you will be constrained by the pre-built labs and would not be able to directly upload or download files to the lab. However, this could be a quick way to get access to an environment for testing and best of all, it is 100% free. As you can see, there are many options for a home lab and it really just depends on your goals and what you are trying to accomplish.

Ravello says hello to Nested ESXi

Today, we have a new player entering the off-premises (hosted) option for running vSphere based home labs. I am please to announce that Ravello, a startup that uses Nested Virtualization to target dev/test workloads has just introduced beta support for running Nested ESXi on their platform. I have written about Ravello in the past and you can find more details here. Ravello uses their own home grown KVM-based nested hypervisor called HVX which runs on top of a VM provisioned by either Amazon EC2 or Google Compute Engine. As you can imagine, this was not a trivial feature to add support for especially when things like Intel-VT/AMD-V is not directly exposed to the virtual machines in EC2 or GCE which is required to run ESXi. The folks over at Ravello has solved this in a very interesting way by "emulating" the capabilities of Intel-VT/AMD-V using Binary Translation with direct execution.

Over the last month, I have had the privilege of getting early access to the Ravello platform with the Nested ESXi capability and have been providing early feedback to their R&D team to ensure the best possible user experience for customers looking to run Nested ESXi on their platform. I have also spent quite a bit of time working out the proper workflow for getting Nested ESXi running and being able to quickly scale up the number of nodes, especially useful when testing new features like VSAN 6.0. I have also been working with their team to develop a script that will allow users to quickly spin up as many Nested ESXi VMs as needed after a one time initial preparation. This will greatly simplify deployments of more than a couple of Nested ESXi VMs. Hopefully I will be able to share more details about the script in the very near future.

Before jumping into the instructions on getting Nested ESXi running on the Ravello platform, I also wanted to quickly highlight what is currently supported from a vSphere perspective as well as some of the current limitations and caveats regarding Nested ESXi that you should be aware of. Lastly, I have also provided some details around pricing so the proper expectations is set if you are considering a vSphere home lab on Ravello. You can find more information in the next few sections else you can go straight to the setup instructions.


  • vCenter Server 5.x (Windows) & VCSA 5.x
  • vCenter Server 6.0 (Windows)
  • ESXi 5.x
  • ESXi 6.0


Coming from a pure vSphere background, I have enjoyed many of the simplicities that VMware has built into their core platform such as support for OVF capabilities like Dynamic Disks and Deployment Options for example. While using the Ravello platform I came across several limitations with respect to Nested ESXi and the VCSA. Below is just a quick list of the caveats that I have found while testing the platform and I have been told that many of these are being looked at and hopefully will be resolved in the future. Nonetheless, I still wanted to make sure these were called out so that you go in with the right expectations.

  • There is currently no support for virtuallyGhetto's Nested ESXi /VSAN VM OVF Templates (though you can import the OVFs, most of the configurations are lost)
  • There is currently no support for VM Advanced Settings such as marking a VMDK as an SSD or enabling UUID for disks for example (configurations are not preserved through import)
  • There is currently no support for VCSA 6.0 OVA due to disk controller limitation + no OVF property support, you will need to use Windows based vCenter Server for now (VCSA 5.5 is supported)
  • There is currently no OVF property support
  • There is currently no support for VMXNET3 for Nested ESXi VM, e1000 must be used due to a known network bug
  • Running Nested SMP-FT is not supported as 10Gbit vNICs are required and VMXNET3 is not currently supported


When publishing your Ravello Application, you have the option selecting two different deployment optimization. The first is optimized for cost, if TCO is what you care most about, then the platform will automatically select the cloud provider (EC2 or GCE) that is the cheapest to satisfy the requirements. The second option is to optimize based on performance and if selected, you can choose to place your application on either EC2 or GCE. In both of cases, you will be provided with an estimated cost which is broken down to compute, storage, networking as well as a final cost (per hour). Once you agree to the terms, you can then click on the "publish" button which will then deploy your workload onto the selected cloud provider.

Here is a screenshot summary view of a Ravello Application which I have built that consists of 65 VMs (1 Windows VM for vCenter Server) and 64 Nested ESXi VMs and I chose to optimize based on cost. The total price would be $17.894/hr

Note: Prices as of 04/05/2015

I also went through an exercise of going through several more configurations to give you an idea of what the cost could be for varying sized environments. Below is a table for a 3 Node, 32 Node & 64 Node VSAN setup (includes one additional VM for the vCenter Server).

# of VM Optimization Hosting Platform Compute Cost Storage Cost Network Cost Public IP Cost Total Price
4 Cost N/A $1.09/hr $0.0292/hr $0.15/GB $0.01/hr $1.1292/hr
4 Performance Amazon $1.62/hr $0.0292/hr $0.15/GB $0.01/hr $1.6592/hr
4 Performance Google $1.38/hr $0.0292/hr $0.15/GB $0.01/hr $1.4192/hr
33 Cost N/A $8.92/hr $0.1693/hr $0.15/GB $0.01/hr $9.0993/hr
33 Performance Amazon $13.22/hr $0.1693/hr $0.15/GB $0.01/hr $13.3993/hr
33 Performance Google $11.24/hr $0.1693/hr $0.15/GB $0.01/hr $11.4193/hr
65 Cost N/A $17.56/hr $0.324/hr $0.15/GB $0.01/hr $17.894/hr
65 Performance Amazon $26.02/hr $0.324/hr $0.15/GB $0.01/hr $26.354/hr
65 Performance Google $22.12/hr $0.324/hr $0.15/GB $0.01/hr $22.454/hr

How to Setup:

Here is the process for setting up Nested ESXi on the Ravello platform. The process consists of installing a single Nested ESXi VM and "preparing" it so that it can then be used later to deploy additional unique Nested ESXi instances from the Ravello Library.

Step 1 - Upload either an ESXi 5.x or 6.0 ISO to the Library using the Ravello VM Uploader tool which you will be prompted to install.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 8.43.14 PM
Step 2 - Deploy the empty Ravello ESXi VM Template from the Library which has already been prepared with the required CPU ID

<ns1:cpuIds value="0000000768747541444d416369746e65" index="f00d”/>

Adding the above CPU ID will enable the emulation of Intel VT-x/AMD-V. If you decide to create your own Ravello VM Template, you will need to perform this operation yourself which is only available today via their REST API today, you can find more details here.

Step 3 - Add a CD-ROM device to the Nested ESXi VM by highlighting the ESXi VM and under "Disks" (yes, this was not intuitive for me either)

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 8.48.40 PM
Once you have added the CD-ROM, you will want to mount the ESXi ISO.

Step 4 - Power on the Nested ESXi VM and perform a regular installation of ESXi as you normally would.

At this point, you have now successfully installed Nested ESXi on Ravello! The next series of step is to "prepare" this ESXi image so that it can be duplicated (cloned) to deploy additional instances without causing conflicts, else you would have to perform this step N-number of times for additional nodes which I am sure many of you would not want to do. The steps outlined here will be following the process which I have documented in my How to properly clone a Nested ESXi VM? article.

Step 5 - Login to the console of ESXi VM and run the following ESXCLI command:

esxcli system settings advanced set -o /Net/FollowHardwareMac -i 1

Note: If you wish to connect to the ESXi VM directly for ease of use versus going through the remote console. You can go to "Services" tab for the VM and enable external access as seen in the screenshot below.

Step 6 - Edit /etc/vmware/esx.conf and remove the uuid entry and then run /sbin/ to ensure the changes have been saved.

At this point, you have prepared a vanilla Nested ESXi VM. You can save this image into the Ravello Library and you can deploy additional instances and by default Ravello platform is set for DHCP. You can of course change it to DHCP reservations so you get a particular IP Address or specifying a static IP Address assignment.

If you wish to prepare the Nested ESXi VM for use with VSAN, then you will need to run through these additional steps:

  • Create a claim rule to mark the 4GB VMDK as SSD
  • Enable VSAN traffic type on vmk0

Step 7 - I have also enabled remote logging as well as suppress any shell warnings and you just need to run the snippet below within the ESXi Shell

DEVICE=$(esxcli storage core device list  | grep -iE '(   Display Name: |   Size: )' | grep -B1 4096 | grep mpx | awk -F '(' '{print $2}' | sed 's/)//g');esxcli storage nmp satp rule add -s VMW_SATP_LOCAL -d $DEVICE -o enable_ssd;esxcli storage core claiming reclaim -d $DEVICE;esxcli vsan network ipv4 add -i vmk0;esxcli system syslog config set --loghost=;esxcli system settings advanced set -o /UserVars/SuppressShellWarning -i 1

Step 8 -

If you wish to setup 32 Nodes with VSAN 1.0, then you will need to run this additional command:

esxcli system settings advanced set -o /CMMDS/goto11 -i 1

If you wish to setup 64 Nodes with VSAN 6.0, then you will need to run this additional command:

esxcli system settings advanced set -o /VSAN/goto11 -i 1

At this point, you have completed preparing your Nested ESXi VM. You can now save your image to the Ravello Library and once that has been done, you can now easily clone additional Nested ESXi instances by simply dragging/dropping into your canvas from the Ravello Library. For vCenter Server, if you are setting up a vSphere 5.x environment you will need to upload the VCSA and go through the normal configuration using the VAMI UI. For vCenter Server 6.0, you will not be able to use the VCSA 6.0 because there is a limitation in the platform today that does not support it. At this time, you will need to deploy and install a Windows VM and then install the vCenter Server 6.0 installation.

I of course had some fun with the Ravello platform and below are some screenshots of running both a 32 Node VSAN Cluster (vSphere 5.5) as well as a 64 Node VSAN Cluster (vSphere 6.0) Overall, I thought it was a pretty good experience. There were definitely some sluggishness while installing vCenter Server bits and navigating through the vSphere Web Client. It took a little over 40min which was almost double the amount of time that I have seen in my home lab. I was told that VNC might perform better than RDP, though RDP is what Ravello folks recommend for connecting to a Windows based desktop. It is great to see another option for running vSphere home labs and I think the performance is probably acceptable for most people and hopefully it will continue to improve in the future. I definitely recommend giving Ravello a try and who knows, it might be the platform of choice for your vSphere home lab.

Nested ESXi 5.5 running 32 Node VSAN Cluster:



Nested ESXi 6.0 running 64 Node VSAN Cluster:



3 thoughts on “Running Nested ESXi / VSAN Home Lab on Ravello

  1. Excellent! Very detailed article, one caveat, step 7 needs some work on presentation for when you write the book!

    I am sure there are gems hidden there-in, obfuscated by excess line-length.

    • Mike,

      Thanks! I’ve touched up Step 7 a bit more, so hopefully that helps 🙂 The idea is that you would only do this once and then you can easily clone additional ESXi instances from this base image.

  2. William….excellent post/Article. I am just starting to use Ravello Systems and unfortunately their community doesn’t have much on RDP access to a Windows VM. I was wondering if you have any tips for a 2012 server. Thanks.

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