Thought is to take, say, Arch Linux, and craft a minimal configuration that:
- Installs to a thumb drive
- Supports virtualization
- Boots itself to one core, then the other
- Can bind both the host and guest instances to external mass storage
- Can at least fake some Big Data work
My MacBook Pro's meager 4GB of RAM is probably suicidal for this sort of thing.
However, the intent here is to do preliminary research, and document that I have enough technical chops not to kill myself in a real situation.
I priced the gear I'd need at MicroCenter today. $500-$600. Once I've got the distro configured, and can do a double-USB boot trick, plunking down further cash won't be totally idiotic.