Both the VSAN Hardware Compatibility List (HCL) and the VSAN Release Catalog database which provides VSAN build recommendations should be updated periodically to ensure that you have the latest VSAN recommendations from VMware. In addition to using the vSphere UI to perform these update, customers can also automate either of these tasks using the VSAN Management API which can be consumed using any of the supported VSAN Management SDKs including PowerCLI.
The highly anticipated "modular" Next Unit of Computing (NUC) has just been announced at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) this week, dubbed the Intel NUC 9 Pro (codename Quartz Canyon) and NUC 9 Extreme (codename Ghost Canyon). Boy am I super excited for this new platform and what it could mean for the VMware Community! 😍
Immediately off the bat, you can see that this is not your typical NUC "cube" form factor. Intel has completely redesigned the system from the inside and out, more on this in a bit. The key difference between the two NUC 9 variants (Pro and Extreme) are the CPU options, which are detailed below. For the remainder of this article, I will be focusing on the Pro version of the NUC 9 and I will call out any differences where applicable.
The use of the word "Pro" is also quite fitting as Intel is positioning this system as a high-end prosumer to Mid-Enterprise device compared to the traditional NUC. The NUC 9 Pro is targeting more demanding workloads such as Digital Content Creation, CAD/Manufacturing and Financial Service applications that either require a high-end graphics card or AI module for computing. When I first heard about this system from Intel, it conceptually reminded me of Apple's recent 2019 Mac Pro, which is also designed with modularity in mind and can cater to a variety of use cases.
Speaking of use cases, although Virtualization is not a target use case for this new platform, VMware customers have been taking advantage of the Intel NUCs for a number of years now and it is still by far the most popular platform for running a vSphere/vSAN/NSX Home Lab. However, one common complaint I often hear about the current generations of NUCs has been its CPU and I think the new NUC 9 Pro/Extreme will be a nice contender for current alternatives like the popular Supermicro E200-8D. Thanks to Intel, I was able to get my hands on a pre-production NUC 9 Pro unit for testing, so lets take a closer look at what this new platform has to offer!
Thunderbolt 3 (TB3) and eventually USB 4 is a really fascinating technology and I believe it still has so much untapped potential, especially when looking at Remote/Branch Office (ROBO), Edge and IoT types of deployments. TB3 was initially limited to Apple-based platforms, but in the last couple of years, adoption has been picking up across a number of PC desktop/laptops including the latest generations of Intel NUCs which are quite popular for vSphere/vSAN/NSX Home Labs. My hope with USB 4 is that in the near future, we will start to see servers with this interface show up in the datacenter 🙂
In the mean time, I have been doing some work with TB3 from a home lab standpoint. Some of you may have noticed my recent work on enabling Thunderbolt 3 to 10GbE for ESXi and it should be no surprise that the next logical step was TB3 storage. Using a Thunderbolt interface to connect to external storage, usually Fibre Channel is something many of our customers have been doing for quite some time. In fact, I have a blog post from a few years back which goes over some of the solutions customers have implemented, the majority use case being Virtualizing MacOS on ESXi for iOS/MacOS development. These solutions were usually not cheap and involved a sizable amount of infrastructure (e.g. storage arrays, network switches, etc) but worked very well for large vSphere/MacOS based environments.
For those that have been following along, I have been testing the Supermicro E300-9D (SYS-E300-9D-8CN8TP) kit in my home lab which I have written about here. One of the last things I was looking into was storage expandability with this platform, especially since Supermicro has a PCIe Add-On Card (AOC-SLG3-2M2) which can add two additional M.2 devices supporting 2260 (60mm), 2280 (80mm) & 22110 (110mm) form factors.
At the same time, our friends over at Intel had just given me access to a couple of their pre-release Intel M.2 Optane 4801x devices which were then released right before the holiday last year. For those wondering why Optane is so interesting, especially from a vSAN perspective, check out this blog post here from my good buddy Pete Flecha over in our Storage and Availability Business Unit (SABU).
This was actually perfect timing as I was also interested to see if there were any high performance and supported M.2 devices that could be used for for vSAN Caching and this device would definitely fit the bill! When I had initially received all the components, I was scratching my head as the AOC was too big to fit horizontally in the E300-9D.
Supermicro kits such as the E200-8D is a very popular platform amongst the VMware community and with powerful Xeon-based CPUs and support for up to 128GB of memory, it is perfect for running a killer vSphere/vSAN setup!
Earlier this Fall, Supermicro released a "big daddy" version to the E200-8D, dubbed E300-9D and specifically, I want to focus on the 8-Core model (SYS-E300-9D-8CNTP) as this system actually listed on the VMware HCL for ESXi! The E300-9D can support up to half a terabyte of memory and with the 8-Core model, you have access to 16 threads. The E200-8D is also a supported platform by VMware, you can find the VMware HCL listing here.
I was very fortunate to get my hands on a loaner E300-9D (8-Core) unit, thanks to Eric and his team at MITXPC, a local bay area shop specializing in embedded solutions. In fact, they even provided a nice vGhetto promo discount code for my readers awhile back, so definitely check it out if you are in the market for a new lab. As an aside, when doing a quick search online, they also seem to be the only ones actually selling the E300-9D (8-Core) system which you can find here and in general, they seem to be priced fairly competitively. This is not an endorsement for MITXPC, but recommend folks to compare all prices when shopping online, especially as today is Black Friday in the US and Cyber Monday is just a few days away.
I recently acquired a new toy for the home lab thanks to Timo Sugliani who shared an article on Twitter a few weeks back for a new USB-based enclosure that supports an NVMe SSD device using the M.2 form factor.
Trying to see if I can get this new toy working 😁 pic.twitter.com/0o4jLng72M
— William Lam (@lamw) September 27, 2018
I was excited to give the accessory a try, especially as the M.2 devices are used regularly for vSphere home labs running on either the Intel NUCs or Supermicro E200-8D. Most of these platforms only support a single M.2 slot and this is an easy way to add additional high performance storage capacity with a small footprint. The other benefit with an external enclosure is that you now have a portable and reliable storage solution that can easily be moved from system to system, especially for those that have asked about running VMFS on USB-based device.