My portable Lab

For a long time I have been wanting to have some kind of portable lab but I had a few requirements that where limiting me:

  • has kvm (for troubleshooting as things always break for me)
  • low power consumption
  • Does’t require a dedicated suitcase for transportation

Not so long ago I got a newer laptop from ControlUp to replace my (not that old) annoying heat and noise generating Dell Lattitude 5401. I never could get this thing even a bit quiet without hurting performance. While I found it annoying to work daily on I thought it might be a good match to turn this laptop in a portable lab.

The Host

One of the advantages was that the laptop did have an intel nic built in so I decided to see if I could get ESXi installed on it. After some tinkering I found out that the only thing required for this was to change the disk mode in the bios from raid to ahci. (Why dell? why? the thing has only one nvme…) and after that change ESXi installed without issues.

Now with the 16GB that my machine had I could run ESXi but it was far from enough for what I was going to need and neither was the storage at 512GB. I did have an intel nvme 1TB 660P nvme in one of my servers that I honestly wasn’t even using so that was swapped in quickly. I also had a Gigabite Brix box with 64GB that I had planned to run 24/7 but with the rising energy costs I never did that and it was mostly gathering dust as my regular homelab has more than enough cpu/memory. These where 2 Lexar Modules and after another quick swap you might have seen this picture on twitter.




So I had my host with build-in KVM & UPS, now I also needed connectivity. When using it at home it has it’s own dedicated vlan but on the go I needed some kind of router that can use the same vlan. I did not wat to go for a virtual router as I do not want to potentially connect an ESXi host to a for me unknown network. Again I had a few requirements:

  • USB powered (Requiring a single socket is already enough)
  • Small
  • 2 ports (wan and lan side)
  • gbit
  • wifi (so my regular laptop can connect)
  • Bonus : usb tethering for my phone in case all other connection options fail

In the end I decided to order the GL.iNet GL-AR300M16. While there might have been cheaper options there aren’t that many that have multi rj45 ports and also have openwrt as that is a very flexible OS for routers like these. The only thing I have had to change oimn the router was the ip addresses that it uses + I had to disablke dhcp as I wanted the domain controller to do that. It switches very easily between wired and tethering so it’s checkeng all the boxes that I needed.


Yes I know I said this machine is a mobile lab but I did want to have an option to connect shared storage in case I want to do maintenance etc. I did not want to use the built-in nic for this so I went looking for a usb to rj45 adapter that supports 2,5gbps as I have a Qnap TS-464 with 2,5gbps connectivity. The first step was to check the usb nic fling for what adapters will work. Now this list doesn’t include the speed but a quick look at amazon showed me that the RealTek 8156 will work and the images (not the text!) in this amazon CY USB-C to 2,5GBPS adapter showed that it should work. So another quick amazon order later I was able to prove it worked and I had connectivity to my NAS.

The Setup

The host

On Host level I didn’t need to make too much changes besides network configuration. The only things done so far was to install the USB NIC Fling, configure NTP, add storage and last but not least enable TPS! For a LAB this small any gain in memory availability is essential so TPS is really needed.


I went with the smalles vCenter option available and for now it’s running ok with 2cpu’s and 14GB of ram.

The domain

The first VM to be deployed was my domain controller as that’s needed for just about everything I do. I went for a domain called LoaL.lab wich is an abbreviation for Lab On A Laptop. As always I name my vm’s with the environment name in it so the first VM to be deployed was LoaLDC which was quickly transformed into a domain controller, dns and dhcp server.


The goal for this portable lab was to have something that can showcase ControlUp Integrated with vSphere, Horizon, App Volumes & DEM so I ended up with these VM’s. As you can see the connection server more or less is the bitch of this setup and has multiple functions:

LoaLVCvCenter (Tiny)214
LoalDCDomain Controller26
LoaLCSVMware Horizon Connection Server, SQL Server, File server212
LoaLAPPApp Volumes Server26
LoalCUControlUp Monitor26
LoalRecVMware Horizon Session Recorder (needed for demo)24
LoalW10Static management VM, also available via Horizon28

Desktop Pools & RDS Farms

So besides the manual desktop pool for the mgmt VM I also have an Instant Clone Pool and and RDS Farm. For both I have an App Volume available with notepad ++ and one of the test users also has a writable volume. All iof this still works while I have made the desktops and rds machines as small as possible: 1 cpu and 1gb of ram! Don’t expect that you are able to do a lot but I can login and start notepad++ and that’s enough here. In the VDI pool there are 2 machines while there is a single RDS host deployed. Both Golden Images where optimized to dead with just about everything selected in the VMware OS Optimization Tool.

On the RDS Host the app volume is published using the per user on-demand integration that was added for Horizon 2206. See this article: Revolutionize virtual apps by publishing apps on demand on generic RDSH servers – VMware End-User Computing Blog

Notepad ++ as on-demand App Volume
The login sequence
And as seen from App Volumes

Resource Consumption

So with 64GB of ram this is clearly the bottleneck for this system but how is it looking after it has been running for a few hours? I am receiving a warning about memory consumption but the current usage is 58GB but I don’t see any swapping or ballooning so that’s nice. I also like the Shared Common metric

Power Consumption

While it might be less relevant for a mobile lab I am interested in the power consumption and this is the graph for the current period. This data is coming from a Blitzwolf smart plug connected to my Homey. So the peak at boot time comes close to 80W but seems to stabalize after that.

The ControlUp setup

As a ControlUp employee one of this lab’s usecases was to display what we can do with ControlUp. This is a brand new CU environment that is mainly using Real-Time DX but for fun I have also deployed the Edge DX Agent to a few servers.

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