Using Starwind iSCSI Target to Build vCenter Server

Last Updated - March 5, 2019
vCenter Server Build with a Starwind iSCSI Target
vCenter Server Build with a Starwind iSCSI Target

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vCenter is one of the top server management applications out there. It is popular because of its ease of use and powerful features. There are many ways you can use a vCenter server. For instance, you can use it either as a VM or on a physical machine.

Furthermore, you can use your vCenter server as an iSCSI node with the help of the Starwind iSCSI software. Doing this, we can use the very useful RAM caching feature as well. However, in today’s post, we will not talk about the thousands of ways you can use a vCenter server. Rather, we would discuss the process of assembling a build with a vCenter server. We will also share the list of the hardware you will need to achieve that.

So, if you are interested in building a “vCenter Server Build with a Starwind iSCSI target”, then this post is for you. Let’s get started…

Using Starwind iSCSI Target to Build vCenter Server

Overview of the Starwind iSCSI Software:

Starwind iSCSI SAN
Starwind iSCSI SAN

Before we began to build this vCenter server, we have searched for a good iSCSI Software. Because we wanted to use it as an iSCSI node. After a lot of searching, we have found a very powerful software from Starwind. It is a great software with a lot of features. The best thing about this software is that it is free of cost. You can use this software to create an iSCSI target of unlimited size.

Additionally, you can create 2 iSCSI nodes of 128 GB of total RAM. The software is not only free but also very user-friendly. So you can use it if you want to run a powerful iSCSI target for any of your home labs. Although this is a free software, there is a premium version of this software available as well with additional features. However, in this case, we will use the free version of this awesome software.

Another important feature of the Starwind software is that you can use it for RAM caching. There is a problem though. You are allowed to do up to 512 MB RAM Caching with the free version of the software. And, we ponder that it is most probably enough for any home lab.

But, if you need more than 512 MB of RAM caching then you can use another good software which is ‘FancyCache’. It is specifically developed for RAM caching feature. This software has a GUI. So that you can get information about the performance too.

Now if you need more than 512 MB RAM caching and also don’t want to buy the premium version of the Starwind iSCSI software. Then you can use both of the ‘FancyCache’ and the ‘Starwind iSCSI’ software together. That would be great. You just need to be a little creative here.

In our case, we are using 16 GB of total RAM on our vCenter box. Among them, we are using 12 GB of RAM for RAM caching purposes. And, we have to admit that we are so much happy about the performance of your vCenter.

Now that you know about the software, we will get to know about the hardware. But before we do that we will talk about our ‘build goal’ behind this vCenter server. That way, you can also get a clear-cut idea about the build and our philosophy and thoughts behind the build.

Build Goal for the vCenter server:

Before we begin to build the vCenter server build, we need to know what we want from the build in the first place. Then the building process will be easier and faster. So, in our case, the most important thing is to use consumer-level components. That way we can save a lot of money. Also, for your personal use, you don’t need to use Enterprise-level hardware.

Next, we know that to run a vCenter it is not compulsory to have a powerful CPU. Thus we have gone for a cheaper option here. We have bought the ‘AMD A4-3300’. You can use any other similar CPUs though. We have picked this because of the cheap price.

We have gone for a motherboard which is compatible with the CPU. Along with that, we will be using 16 GB of RAM and a 1 Terabyte Hard Drive. However, we will be using a separate 64 GB SSD just for the operating system.

On top of all this, we will be adding a number of network cards too. We are using our go-to NIC card which is Intel Pro/1000 Dual GB NIC in this build as well. You can find more information about this card in another one of our articles.

There are a lot of Hard Driver manufactures out there. You can pick one from your favorite brand. But, we are going with the Hitachi Ultrastar series. Because this series is an enterprise-grade series.  They come with 7200 RPM and they are very reliable as well. So, if you want you can also use these hard drives.

At this point, we will let you know about the build list. Let’s go.

The list of the components of our vCenter:

Right now, we will be sharing the name of the hardware we have used. Remember that we have bought these parts from multiple places (Amazon, eBay, and other online shops). So, in your case, it might not be possible to get them as we did. So, you can buy from other places. However, if you can then we would recommend following our path as you can save a lot of money this way.

The Hardware List:

  • Power Supply Unit: From Logisys, Model – PS550E12BK (550W)
  • Motherboard (Mobo): AMD Motherboard, Model- ‘ECS A55F-M2’ -A55 FM1 Socket
  • CPU/Processor: AMD CPU, Model: A4-3300 Llano @ 2.5Ghz, Socket FM1, Core-Dual Core
  • Storage Drive for the OS: From Crucial, Model – M4 64GB SSD
  • RAM: Corsair XMS RAM (2 sticksx8GB), total=16GB
  • Hard Drive for the iSCSI: Hitachi Ultrastar series, 1TB Hard Drive with 7200RPM
  • LAN Card: From Intel, Model- Pro/1000 Dual DB NIC PCI-X
  • Case: 2U Rackmount from iStar, Model- D Value D-213-MATX

Additional Notes:

As you know the list of the hardware of our build, it is time to talk about some of this. For instance, about the PSU. We are going to use a 550 W power supply from Logisys. Some of you might not like this one in particular. However, we would tell you that we like and rely on this power supply unit. Although you can go with any other good quality PSU. There’s no problem at all. But you should try to make sure that you have got at least a 500 W PSU.

Even for all the other components, you can pick them from your favorite brands. As this is an older build, you might also face some difficulties to find these exact hardware for your build. So, if that is the case, don’t wait for these. Rather, go and build a server with your favorite hardware. The only thing you should remember is that you should buy compatible hardware. That is all.

The last stage of the build:

After buying all the components, you just set them up on the case. As we are using the iStar case which is a 2U Rackmount case, it has enough space for all the equipment. You can also add a full ATX size PSU (Power Supply Unit). You don’t have to worry about the air flow as well. This case comes with a built-in grill on top. So, the fans can pull adequate air supply into the case.

Another awesome feature of this case is that the air flow of this case directly reaches the CPU. So if you are using good fans, your CPU will be cool. You can attach two 80 mm fans to the front side of the case where the fan mount is located.

So, after the hardware set up, you need to deal with the software side. First of all, install the operating system. You can use Microsoft’s official OS installation tool from their website. And then you can use either a USB Stick or a DVD to install the Windows. It’s better to use the USB drive for this case as it will be faster.

Next, you need to install all the necessary software related to vCenter. For instance, you should install vCenter, Syslog Collector, vCenter Update Manager etc. Added to that, you have to install the free StarWind iSCSI software. Then you have to configure it as you want to.

Check Images:

In this section, you will find some of the images of the vCenter server build for inspiration.

The Final Words:

Before we close the curtain, we should tell you that you don’t have to exactly copy the build from above. Rather, it will be a better idea if you take inspiration from this post and make one of your own. However, if you can collect all the exact hardware somehow then you can replicate the build without any problem.

Another thing, there are multiple parts and hardware included in this build which are very old at this moment. So, it will be a wise decision, if you at least replace some of the parts with some latest version of them. Then your vCenter will be more powerful than ours. We hope this post will help you to build your dream vCenter server without breaking your bank.

Reference: Donald Fountain, TheHomeServerBlog

I am Sanforde, who is interested in server technologies and home server DIY. I share useful tips and news about the latest server technologies.