Profile Image

Joshua Saunders

Logic Luminary, Data Druid, Cloud Navigator

Build a Virtual Home Lab with VMware and VirtualBox – The Ultimate Guide


A virtual home lab is a great way to learn about virtualization and experiment with different virtual machine setups from the comfort of your own home. With a home lab, you can simulate an enterprise environment and test things out without affecting production systems.

The key benefit of a home lab is having a safe space to learn, experiment, and try new things. You can deploy multiple virtual machines, configure virtual networking, test disaster recovery procedures, experiment with clustering, try out migration techniques, and much more. A home lab lets you gain hands-on experience and become more familiar with virtualization concepts.

Another advantage is cost and flexibility. Home labs built on free hypervisors like VMware ESXi or Oracle VirtualBox have no licensing fees. You can create and delete VMs at will to test different configurations. Home labs can run on old PCs and servers, so you don’t need expensive new hardware. It’s also convenient to lab at home versus waiting for access to a work environment.

Overall, a virtual home lab enables first-hand learning that accelerates your virtualization skills. It provides a risk-free environment to experiment and gain proficiency with key technologies like Hyper-V, vSphere, and other virtualization platforms. Whether you’re studying for certifications or just interested in VMware, a home lab is the perfect way to dive in.

Choosing your virtualization software

When setting up a home virtualization lab, the first decision you need to make is which virtualization software you want to use. The two most popular free options are VMware Workstation Player and VirtualBox. Here’s an overview of each and how they compare:

VMware Workstation Player

  • Made by VMware, the leader in enterprise virtualization. VMware Workstation is the premium product they sell, while Workstation Player is a free more limited version.
  • Supports creating and running virtual machines that mimic real computer hardware, including networking.
  • Allows you to install a variety of operating systems as virtual machines.
  • Provides good performance, stability and compatibility.
  • More complex setup but has more features and customization options.


  • Created by Oracle as free open source software.
  • Does the same basic functions as Workstation Player – creates virtual machines with their own OS, storage, networking etc.
  • Slightly easier to get up and running than VMware. The interface is a bit more intuitive.
  • Good for basic home lab needs, but lacks some advanced features of Workstation.
  • May have some compatibility issues with certain guest OS or hardware combinations.

For a home lab, VirtualBox is a good starting point since it’s simple to use. As your needs advance, VMware Workstation Player offers more flexibility and capabilities. Ultimately they both enable you to create multi-machine environments on a single host computer, perfect for learning about virtualization, networking and system administration.

Hardware Requirements

To setup a home lab for virtualization, you’ll need a desktop or laptop with enough RAM, storage, and processing power to run multiple virtual machines smoothly. Here are some recommendations:

  • CPU: For running multiple VMs, an Intel i5, i7, AMD Ryzen 5 or 7 would work well. You’ll want a multi-core processor  with a high clock speed (>3GHz) and several threads. More cores and threads = more VMs!
  • RAM: Aim for 16-32GB DDR3 or DDR4 RAM. Having enough memory is crucial so your VMs don’t slow down. Running 2-4 VMs will need 8-16GB. For 10+ VMs, get 32GB or more.
  • Storage: You’ll want an SSD for faster read/write times. Get at least 256GB, ideally 500GB+. Store your VMs on the SSD and backups on a separate HDD. SATA, NVMe or M.2 interfaces are great.

The more resources the better, as virtualization can be resource intensive. But even a moderately powerful laptop can run simple test VMs. Focus on RAM and a fast multi-core CPU for best virtualization performance.

Downloading and installing VMware

VMware offers several products for virtualization. For home lab use, VMware Workstation is recommended as it offers full virtualization capabilities for a one-time license fee.

You can download VMware Workstation from VMware’s website. They offer 30 day trials if you just want to test it out before purchasing a license.

Once downloaded, installing VMware Workstation is straightforward:

  1. Double click on the installer file and click through the wizard. Accept the license agreement.
  2. Choose a location to install VMware Workstation on your hard drive.
  3. The installer will extract the files and install the necessary components. Click finish once complete.

After installation, launch VMware Workstation from your start menu. It will guide you through some initial setup:

  • Accept the license agreement again.
  • Choose whether or not to participate in VMware’s customer experience program.
  • Set your virtual machine storage location. It’s recommended to choose a drive with plenty of free space.

That’s it! VMware Workstation is now ready to use. The next step is creating your first virtual machine.

Downloading and installing VirtualBox

VirtualBox is a free, open-source virtualization software developed by Oracle. It allows you to run multiple virtual machines on your physical PC.

To get started with VirtualBox:

  1. Go to and click on the big “Download VirtualBox” button. This will start the download for the platform you are on.
  2. Once downloaded, run the VirtualBox installer .exe or .dmg file. Go through the installation wizard, accepting all the default options. 
  3. After installation is complete, launch VirtualBox. You may get a warning about network interfaces that you can ignore for now.
  4. In the main VirtualBox window, go to File > Preferences and go to the Network tab. Make sure “Enable Network Adapter” is checked. This will allow your VMs to connect to the internet.
  5. While still in Preferences, go to the Storage tab and click the “Add” button. Browse to where you store your VMs and select the entire folder. This will make it easier to access your VMs.
  6. Click OK to close Preferences. Your VirtualBox is now installed and ready to create some VMs!

Creating your first virtual machine

Creating a virtual machine (VM) is easy with VMware or VirtualBox. Here are the step-by-step instructions for creating your first VM:

  1. Open VMware Workstation or VirtualBox on your computer.
  2. Click the “New” button to start the new virtual machine wizard.
  3. Choose a name for the VM and select the OS you want to install such as Windows 10 or Linux.
  4. Allocate RAM for the VM. For basic use, 1-2 GB is usually sufficient.
  5. Create a new virtual hard disk for the VM. 10-20 GB should be enough for most purposes.
  6. Optional: Configure any other settings like networking as needed.
  7. Click Finish/Create to complete creating the new VM.
  8. With the VM selected, click Start to boot it up for the first time.
  9. Insert your OS installation media like a Windows or Linux ISO.
  10. Follow the on-screen prompts to install the OS just like you would on a physical computer.
  11. Once the OS installation is complete, install any other software you need.
  12. Your new virtual machine is now ready to use! Feel free to create multiple VMs to simulate different environments.

That’s it! With just a few clicks, you can create VMs to test software, isolate programs, run different operating systems, and experiment freely without any risk to your main system. VMs provide a convenient sandbox for all your virtualization needs.

Network Configuration

Setting up networking for VMs is an important part of configuring your home lab. You’ll want your VMs to have network connectivity both between each other and to the outside world.

With VMware and VirtualBox, you have a few different networking options:

Bridged Networking

This connects your VM directly to your physical network and makes the VM appear like a standalone computer on the network. The VM will get an IP address from your router like any other device.

Bridged networking provides the best performance since the VM does not go through any network translation. However, your IP address space needs to be properly configured to avoid conflicts.

NAT Networking

With NAT (Network Address Translation) networking, your VMs connect through a virtual router implemented in the virtualization software.

This router performs NAT to translate between the network the VMs are on and your physical network. The VMs can access the outside network and internet, but not vice versa.

NAT networking is easy to set up since the virtualization software handles all the network translation. However, port forwarding needs to be set up for outside systems to communicate directly with VMs.

Internal Networking

You can also set up private networks just between VMs themselves. The VMs will be able to communicate with each other over the virtual network, but will not have outside internet access.

Internal networks are useful for isolating your lab while allowing VMs to communicate privately.

No matter which option you choose, networking is key for creating a representative environment to test and experiment in your home lab. Proper network connectivity provides the backbone for your virtual machines.

Tips for managing resources

When running multiple VMs, it’s important to properly allocate your host computer’s CPU, RAM, and storage resources for optimal performance. Here are some tips:

  • CPU – Don’t overallocate vCPUs across your VMs. As a rule of thumb, do not allocate more vCPUs than your host’s physical cores. Overallocation can lead to resource contention and poor performance.
  • RAM – Allocate enough RAM for the OS and apps, but don’t over provision. Monitor RAM usage to optimize allocation. Consider using dynamic memory allocation to let VMs scale RAM as needed.
  • Storage – Use high performance storage like SSDs for optimal I/O. Don’t store VMs on the same disk as the hypervisor. Use thick provisioned disks instead of thin to avoid overhead.
  • Networking – Use bridged networking for near-native performance. Limit bandwidth on VM NICs to avoid congestion.
  • Snapshots – Limit use of snapshots to avoid bloating disk images. Periodically commit changes to reduce size.
  • Resource pools – Use resource pools to segregate and manage resources for groups of VMs. Set reservations and limits to guarantee resources.
  • Monitor usage Keep an eye on host and guest CPU, RAM, disk and network usage to optimize resource allocation.

Properly managing resources takes some trial and error. By following these tips you can maximize performance while avoiding bottlenecks.

Snapshots and backups

Backups and snapshots are crucial for recovering from issues and errors when running virtual machines. They allow you to restore your virtual machines to a previous working state in case something goes wrong.

Snapshots capture the state of a virtual machine at a point in time. They save the VM’s files, settings, installed applications etc. Taking snapshots allows you to easily roll back to a previous state if needed. For example, if you install software that causes problems, just restore a snapshot taken prior to the installation. 

Snapshots are incremental – only changes since the last snapshot are saved. This avoids having multiple full copies taking up disk space. It’s best practice to delete old snapshots when no longer needed.

Backups create a full copy of the virtual machine files that can be restored if the originals are corrupted or lost. Backups are crucial for disaster recovery. 

There are a few ways to back up VMs:

  • Use the backup or export features built into VMware and VirtualBox. This creates a set of files capturing the complete VM state.
  • Manually copy the VM files to external storage. The folder containing the VM files can simply be copied to a backup drive.
  • Use third-party backup software to schedule backups of your VMs. Popular options include Veeam, Nakivo, and Altaro.

Make regular backups and snapshots part of your workflow when using a home lab. They serve as an “undo” button allowing you to recover from mistakes and issues.


Setting up a home virtualization lab can be a great way to learn more about virtualization and experiment with different software and configurations. With free options like VMware Player and VirtualBox, it’s easy to get started creating virtual machines on your own computer.

In this guide, we covered the basics of choosing virtualization software, hardware requirements, installation, creating VMs, networking, and tips for resource management. The key things to remember are:

  • Make sure your hardware can handle running multiple VMs at once. Aim for at least 8GB of RAM and a multi-core processor.
  • Properly configure networking in the virtualization software and VMs to allow internet access and communication between VMs.
  • Use snapshots and backups to easily roll back changes and prevent data loss.
  • Manage resources like CPU and RAM allocation to balance performance for the host and guest OSs.

If you’re interested in learning more about virtualization, some helpful resources include:

  • VMware and VirtualBox documentation and communities
  • Books and guides focused on virtualization and homelabs
  • Online courses and tutorials onsites like Pluralsight and Udemy
  • IT and virtualization blogs and podcasts

Setting up a home lab takes some initial configuration, but can be very rewarding for advancing your practical skills. With an understanding of the fundamentals covered here, you’ll be ready to start building your own home virtualization environment for learning and experimenting.