Building the Ultimate VirtualBox Lab – Introduction

In my never-ending quest to continue learning as much as I can in the IT industry, one thing has always caused me some headaches until now. Setting up the proper foundation for my testing in the form of a virtual test lab where I can install multiple servers and clients easily without having to worry about taking up 40GB+ for each virtual machine.

I have received a lot of comments, private messages, and emails from the community asking me what I suggest for them to do in order to learn System Administrator topics in order to help them in job interviews or to help them in their current job if they are already working in the field.

Introduction: Ultimate VBox Setup

One answer always comes to mind with these types of questions; Virtualization. Setup a virtual test lab by configuring a virtual server (virtual pc), download the trial versions of Microsoft’s operating systems, install them and practice practice practice. Setup a domain controller or two. Take one offline and practice bringing another one online to simulate a down domain controller, Setup SQL server, WSUS, and so on.

This article is part 1 of 6 in the series:

citrix-logo  hyper-v-logo Virtualbox_logo vmware-logo

In the past, I have setup many different virtual lab environments including:

For this article, I chose to go with Oracle VirtualBox. If money wasn’t an issue, I would probably choose VMWare Workstation. Actually, if money really wasn’t an issue, I would buy a nice server with a SAN and setup VMWare ESXi. Ok, enough dreaming.

One of the issues I faced was having enough resources on the host’s computer where I can run 3 or 4 servers along with a couple of client computers at the same time while not worrying about CPU, RAM, and hard drive space.

Since I recently built a new computer as my main box to handle video editing (and anything else I want to throw at it), I finally decided to search out the best methods for hosting all of my virtual machines on this box. These days, I use my laptop about 95% of the time and only touch my big desktop for video editing. Why not put this computer’s horsepower to use since I’m hardly using it as is.

The specs of this machine are as follows:

At this point what I want to do is give you a visual of what I have in mind. I am not an artist by any means so hopefully you can understand what I’m illustrating here. This is just a basic idea of the SSD/HDD configuration:

Click to enlarge
Drawing of Ultimate VirtualBox Setup

To help better explain the drawing, here is what is going on. We are going to be using Linked Clones to setup many virtual machines. The main reason I am using Linked Clones is to save on hard drive space.

A brief description of Linked Clones: Setup a “base” virtual machine, install all patches/updates, sysprep and shutdown the machine (You will not turn this machine back on). This will be the base image that all future machines (same OS) will use when setting them up. Any changes made to the Linked Clones will be saved in their own .vdi in their own folder.

This is a HUGE plus for me since my SSDs are not very large. Also, using SSDs for this task is a huge advantage. Since I will be having multiple virtual machines running at the same time, they will all be using the base image so having the fast read/write speed will help with performance. I have not tried it using non SSDs but am curious how well it works.

As a side note: You can still have a standard HDD for things like SQL Databases, WSUS updates storage, network share storage, and more where speed is not as crucial.

Download the software and ISO images to prepare for the setup:

This article was only the beginning, introducing you to building the ultimate VirtualBox test lab.

In the next article (coming soon), we will be setting up the environment. I will walk you step-by-step in the entire process and by the end of the series, you should have a well-rounded and stable virtual test lab. From there on, you can go wild with setting up different servers, clients, testing group policies, pushing out software, breaking servers and learning how to handle disaster recovery and so on.

Happy self-education guys and girls! Please post your comments/questions down below and I will try to answer them as quickly as possible.

About Chris Davis

Computer / Technology enthusiast. Very passionate about Systems Administration. I enjoy helping others try and reach their goals. You can follow Chris on if you'd like.

Comments

  1. Very motivating! One day I’ll have a lab setup to make videos on random components. Basically a intro to electronics. I’ll just start out with what radio shack offer in store then bulk buy other chips. Have you heard of raspberry pi?

  2. amer1canparatrooper says:

    Question: why are you using a windows 8 host? wouldn’t you utilize your machines resources better running your virtualboxs’ on a linux kernal? my idea at the moment would be to build a new machine, make ubuntu server the primary OS host, and then run all my virtual machines that way. the reason being that it would allow linux to utilize the computers resources at its maximum instead of a windows host which of course, strips away precious RAM and CPU cycles. i’m just curious.

    • You are completely right. The reason I am using Windows 8 as my host is because I still use the host machine for some of the larger video editing projects. So, it’s nice that I can be able to use one box to do both of my heavy video editing lifting, while still being able to use it as a VM host. I used to run ESXi and XENServer for the exact reason you mentioned, but these days since my host machine has enough resources, I’m happy with the results of running it as the VM host for all my new VMs.

  3. amer1canparatrooper says:

    Wow, thanks for the speedy reply Chris. I’ve got one more question! I do a lot of photo/video editing using adobe master collection as an entrepreneur myself. During your experience, are you saying that your video editor’s performance suffers when running on a virtual machine? One of the ideas I have is to move my licenses onto a virtual machine so that I can create a core snapshot ready at all times, just in case something goes wrong and/or if I want to install a new editing plugin without it damaging adobe’s core build. Over last year, I have moved my license from computer to another and had to create a few customer support tickets with adobe in order to validate my license. It was a pain and time waister as you can imagine. Given this problem, again, is the reason why I’m looking to transfer my licenses to a virtual machine rather than running them on a host OS. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Cheers and looking forward to your next set of installations.

    • Now that idea I have not yet tried. Have you tested out Adobe Premiere (or whatever video editing application) from within a virtual machine? Now I am curious as to how well it will run!

      • amer1canparatrooper says:

        Project for today then Sir, along with creating the pfsense VM. Truthfully, I’ve only tried it with Photoshop which ran perfectly. Another thing I wanted to mention about this idea is portability/transferability from machine to machine. Again, to solve the problem that I ran into in the first place! As with you friend, stay tuned…

  4. Michael D says:

    Chris, in your diagram… the “V BOX”… what is that exactly? Your laptop? Thanks.

  5. Hello!

    I’d like to assemble a pc which has to deal with these two tasks (in order of importance):

    1: running multiple virtual machine instances in a virtual test lab.
    2: running finite element simulations by using Autodesk Inventor.

    The problem is that I don’t know which CPU to choose among the i7-3770K, i7-3770S and i7-3770.

    ( see http://ark.intel.com/compare/65719,65523,65524 for the comparison).

    The i7-3770K is designed for over-clocking and I think the extra speed I’d get from over-clocking would help with FEM simulations. However, K version does not support VT-d technology which leads to faster I/O and improved processor utilisation while dealing with VMs.
    The i7-3770S is very similar to i7-3770, apart from the clock speed that leads to lower comsumption.

    Since running multiple VMs will be the main task in my new pc, which CPU do you recommend? Is i7-3770 the best one?

    Thanks in advance for the help!

    I apologize for my English…I’m from Italy!

    • Hey there Matteo,

      To be honest, I did not know the “K” version doesn’t support VT-d. I know it supports VT-x, but still strange.

      I actually run the i7-3770S in my big machine without any problems (granted I’m not running the same type of setup/tests as you want to).

      The last time I went to an Intel conference, I asked the speaker about overclocking. My main question was: Is it worth overclocking since these CPUs have turbo? He said no because the CPU will only clock as high as it’s turbo would go.

      I haven’t done any further research/testing so I can’t confirm with experience.

  6. Kumar Selvaraj says:

    I’m learning a lot by watching your videos on Youtube. Thank you so much for educating folks like me trying to gain knowledge on basic system administration skills.

  7. Alex Glew says:

    Chris I am really enjoying your videos. i am running into an issue with getting to the internet from my first VM Server 2012. I attempted to configure the pfsense but running into issues. My default gateway on my host machine running VirtualBox is 192.168.1.1. I configured my WAN in pfsense to be 192.168.1.125 and my LAN to 192.168.1.2. In your videos you used a 10.2.0.1 for your gateway but a 192.168.1.X for your vms. Do I need to use a 10.2.0.1 for example in my VM’s since my home network has a 192.168.1.1 scheme already?

  8. When rebooting pfSense 2.03, I get the error message “hostname nor servname provided or not known” when attempting to start the NTP time client. What has gone wrong and how do I fix it?

  9. Hello, is it possible to easily print your tutorial?

  10. Hi Chris, Thanks for your initiative on creating this website and the awesome tutorials on which i learn a lot. I have some issues with this file pfSense-LiveCD-2.1-RELEASE-i386.iso.gz. I need the file ending with extension .iso but i can’t find it. Please help.

  11. Having a problem on my oracle virtualbox running on ubuntu server 13.10
    Is there a way to see my local resource when i remote in from out side the office. I running multiple boxes in would like to use a single ip mode thru the remote display setting but when I use the server ip and port address setup with remote display I loose my ablility to see the local resource. Any idea.
    Thanks.

  12. Hi Chris, Thanks for the videos but I just wanted to ask can I use pfSense on VMware 10 in place of virtualbox?

  13. Hi Chris,

    Just wanted to say THANK YOU!!!! for putting this entire series up. I have been looking for the best way to setup a test environment so I can practice practice practice. This got me started and pointed in the right direction. Thanks again!

    Ren

  14. Thanks for videos like this, I wish that more and more people would do this. The internet was one the best thing that God has giving us. This means anyone with a desire has a chance to study.

    • You are very welcome. I am just giving back to the community. This type of learning is how I learn best and am thankful for others out there who also contribute. Thanks and welcome to PC-Addicts!

  15. Hi Chris..
    In your tutorial..you are using Windows 8 Enterprise Evaluation….Is it ok that i use Windows 8 Single Language only?..

  16. Thanks Chris! Do you know if I can use external SSDs via USB3.0 ports as the VMs drives?

  17. Hi Chris,

    I’d like to ask if ever there’ll be possible to build a basic virtual lab (for academic purpose) on a machine with i5-3320M, 8GB Ram, and HD4000?
    If yes, would you please at least show me a way?

    Thank you very much for your help.

  18. RedWolf says:

    Your videos have really helped me out. Thanks for doing this!

  19. Hi Chris

    I have a CCNA but wanted forever to learn windows server. This lab you setup was fantastic the teaching and all. But I had one problem with the last step setting up the remote desktop. I allowed access on the virtual machine per video and went through the steps exactly with the setup and port forwarding but cant get it to hook up on the wan address which I use 192.168.10.200 with my home router setup to 192.168.10.254. I was able to remote in through the lan address if 192.168.1.10 but thats lan. Any ideas? Are the servers suppose to be able to ping each other?

    Thanks

Leave a Reply