Why AutoLab makes building your home lab simple

*Some of you may have seen a couple of twitter posts of mine regarding AutoLab lately, that’s because I am in love with this awesome automation tool that simplifies setting up a home lab.Whether it is for study, training, testing, or whatever you use your vSphere lab for, AutoLab is going to be something you will want, especially if you are rebuilding your lab over and over again.

AutoLab was created by the extremely talented Alastair Cooke () with the help of many, including Nick Marshall (), Grant Orchard (), Ariel Antigua (), Damian Karlson (), James Bowling () and the vBrownBag crew.

First of all, head over to LabGuides website where you can download AutoLab 1.5 (vSphere 5.5 or 1.1a – vSphere 5.1).  There are a few versions of each version. You can get AutoLab for ESXi if you have a server that is hosting the type 1 hypervisor, or there is the Workstation 8 version that you can nest on your desktop/laptop running VMware Workstation/Fusion. (I can confirm that the 1.1a works well on Workstation 10)
You can find the system requirements here.

Once the ZIP is downloaded, you can extract it to a location that has 100Gb spare space or more. Keep in mind that the VMDks are thin provisioned and are going to grow. The overall download size is only ~300mb but this does not include the VMvisor and the VIMsetup ISOs that you will need to download from your my.vmware.com account. If you do not have a license, VMware offers a free 60 Eval. License for your convenience. While you are grabbing the required vSphere ISOs from VMware, you can also grab the powerCLI installation file.

The last lot of ISOs you will need are the Windows Server 2003, Windows XP and Windows Server 2008.

Once you have downloaded or created your ISOs for the installation, you start added your VMs to VMware Workstation. (I’ll just take you though the steps for Windows).
Navigate to the location you extracted the zip file to and open up each folder and double click on the .vmx file available – this will register the virtual machine to Workstation.

At this point, **DO NOT** power on VMs, there is a little configuring with workstation to do first – not much, but it needs to be done. 

First you need to set the total amount of host memory the VMs can use. To do this, you need to select Edit > Preferences > Memory. A recommendation on the amount of RAM to use is presented, but you can choose your preferred amount.


The next step is to open up Virtual Network Editor (Under the Edit Menu) – All you need to do is create a new VMNetwork using the VMnet3 and give it an address of 192.168.199.0

You can now start powering on your VMs – but wait! – Before you get too excited, the Router and NAS need to be turned on, leaving all other VMs powered off. Once the NAS has loaded you can browse to the share via \\192.168.199.7\build  Here you will need to place the Windows ISOs and the extracted files from the ESXi ISOs. 
Once you have gone through the guide and placed mandatory files on the share, you can go ahead and start to power on your DC. Providing the floppy disc is connected, your system will go through a sysprepped stage and set itself up with the required files and will build. The build process can take up to an hour, on my system it was done in 25 minutes, so this can very. 
As soon as the DC build completes you can continue to build your vCenter server, this is also done the same way as the DC, running through the sysprep. During both builds, several powershell scripts will run setting up each component of the server. There is also a validation script that you can use to confirm if each component has been installed or not.   
You can now see the lab starting to take shape, you can start powering on your hosts and these should build via AutoDeploy – the AutoDeploy and TFTP server were configured during the DC build.

(To find out the full procedure to set up AutoLab, or to set it up using a nested ESXi environment or Fusion, you can go through the guide on the LabGuides website. – I recommend reading the guide 🙂 )
All in all, it took me around 2 hours to have a fully fledged lab up and running, I am planning on pulling it down and doing through AutoLab 1.5 build shortly. I have seen that there have been even more adjustments and extra features. I highly recommend this route if you are needing a lab in a short amount of time, or would like an automated process if you find yourself rebuilding your lab over and over again. 
If you get the chance, please thank Alastair for all his hard work and dedication that he puts in each release. 
Thank you.
Keiran.
*Post was originally written in April. 

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2 thoughts on “Why AutoLab makes building your home lab simple

  1. Gregory Ramos January 30, 2015 / 3:23 am

    I am still confused about what goes where. I downloaded and extracted the latest version of AutoLab. All was extracted on my laptop. I was able to bring up the router, though it could not get an answer for its DHCP request, I assume the Windows server needs to be up. I then started the NAS box and my Windows Laptop can see the Build directory. What I am confused about is where the rest of the software goes. For instance, Where does the EXSi hosts software go? In the NAS Build directory? Any help would be appreciated.

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