Unofficial VMware ESX/ESXi vSphere hardware compatibility list
If you want to experiment with VMware ESX/ESXi or vSphere in a testing/home environment, like me, you most probably don’t have bottomless pockets to shell out for top of the range servers or a fibre storage network.
Earlier this year I stumbled upon http://www.vm-help.com/esx40i/esx40_whitebox_HCL.php This is basically an unofficial guide to get VMware infrastructure products working on cheap bits of kit that you may even have lying around the office.
Personally I was looking to purchase a small server/desktop that I could leave on 24/7 that would run a few virtual machines to provide email, printing and system testing facilities. It needed to be quiet, efficient and customisable, i.e. the more PCI/PCIe slots the better but in the smallest frame possible.
I ended up using the site listed above to do some research, found a few desktop models that seemed to be compatible with ESXi4/vSphere and then went hunting on eBay.
I settled for an HP/Compaq dc5800 small form factor desktop. It had all the features I was looking for – room for x2 HDDs, upgradable to 8GB RAM, Core2Duo 2.992GHz E8400 CPU (obviously very important as supports visualisation, and therefore 64-bit guests such as Windows 2008R2) and enough free expansion slots to add a couple more NICs. I had no trouble setting up ESXi4 on the HP, and after purchasing a few more GB of RAM, a 500GB SATA HDD and a couple of Intel NICs I can honestly say it couldn’t have been easier.
Obviously the hardware isn’t listed on the official VMware hardware compatibility list http://www.vmware.com/resources/compatibility/search.php?source=web&cd=1&ved=0CBUQFjAA&url=http://www.vmware.com/go/hcl&rct=j&q=vmware%20hardware%20compatibility%20list&ei=P5ldTPbMDZf80wSivbnWBw&usg=AFQjCNEXuH3H1BNILfm7AMoBNO0jQXhT-g but personally I found this third party unofficial source very useful, and in the case of the HP/Compaq dc5800, quite accurate.