So let me start this post with a little bit of history…
After many years of cleaning out all my old computer hardware – old cases, parts, monitors, printers, expansion cards, memory modules, hard drives, etc – and going down the “keep it simple” route when it came to running technology at home, I’ve just recently (in the past year or so) started to build up a dedicated home lab. This journey for me all started when I was having issues streaming video to my XBOX from my 12+ year old FreeNAS home server – the only system I was running on my home network outside of wireless laptops, and smartphones. I was simply looking for a replacement system for storage and video streaming. After a lot of research it came down to two options: building out a new FreeNAS system, or going with a QNAP 4-bay NAS, both options were going to cost me about the same. I really liked the FreeNAS option since I really enjoy computer building – picking out the components, putting it together, loading the software, and configuring for my needs. With the QNAP it is a matter of popping in the drives plugging it into the network, do some basic configuration and away we go. I was very much still in the mindset that I still wanted to keep things as simple as possible and avoid any potential of a long troubleshooting session if something went wrong, and with the FreeNAS build a long troubleshooting session could’ve easily happened. After some more pondering and talking with a couple of people that were running QNAP devices at home (and highly recommending them!) I opted for the QNAP TS-451+ and 4x 3TB WD Red hard drives and I couldn’t be more happy with that purchase. I was able to get my new NAS up and running, copied all my data over, install Plex Media Server and life was good. While doing the research for the NAS/home server replacement I had also started thinking more seriously about potentially building out a home lab. I had ideas ranging from nested virtualization with VMware Workstation on my main computer, running a couple Intel NUCs with ESXi, building my own server(s), to purchasing old server class hardware from ebay. Weighing out my options I ended up building a system (Server specs and details on that build below) as I had a small itch to do a computer.
Anyway, with that bit of history let me get to the point of this post – My Current Home Lab. I’m not going dig too much into the network layout, rather just listing what I’m currently running for hardware.
My first dedicated home lab server I built from consumer desktop parts. Parts list: https://pcpartpicker.com.
CPU: Intel Core i3-6700 3.7GHz dual-core
– 16GB SanDisk Cruzer Fit (for ESXi)
– 120GB SSD (already had this so it isn’t listed in the pcpartpicker list)
– Intel I219V – 1GB Ethernet
– Realtek RTL8111H – 1GB Ethernet
I built this for a number of reasons – 1) I had a small itch to build a system. 2) The price was within my budget. 3) Power efficiency – can run this server 24-7 and barely notice an increase on my utility bill, even under load. 4) Very small footprint (ITX main board and case).
One issue I ran into running ESXi 6 on this system was that the Realtek RTL8111H NIC wasn’t automatically detected. Older versions of ESXi 5.0 and 5.1 had the driver VIBs, but starting with ESXi 5.5 the Realtek 8111 drivers were stripped out. Googling around I found Paul Braran’s post on TinkerTry for “Installing ESXi 5.5 with Realtek 8111/8168 NIC”. As Paul states, there are a couple of software options to “fix” this:
1) Inject the driver VIB into the Installation media using the ESXi Customizer
2) Adding the VIB after ESXi installation.
I was fortunate in that the Intel NIC was detected during the ESXi 6.0 install so I load the VIB post-install. If you happen to run into this same issue I recommend a good read-through of Paul Braran’s post on TinkerTry.com that I linked above. I should also note that this driver VIB worked with my ESXi 6.5 upgrade as well.
The next dedicated home lab server I purchased was an HP DL380 G7. This purchase was due to a tip I received from another homelaber that found this what I consider an awesome deal. My main reason for buying this server was so that I could do some nested virtualization on a much bigger scale than what I could do with my first server or with VMware Workstation. I’ve didn’t necessarily wanted to go down the enterprise server class route just because of the noise and power consumption. However, I found this server is very quiet and has a “low power” processor in it. Here is a link to build your own: CTO Wholesale on ebay.
HP ProLiant DL380 G7 Server 12-Core 2.26GHz L5640
CPU: Intel Xeon 12-Core 2.26GHz L5640
– 32GB SanDisk Cruzer (for ESXi) – plugged into the internal USB
– 120GB SSD – plugged into HDD bay 1
– 1 integrated Lights Out
– 4 1GB QLogic NC382i
As mentioned above I’m running a QNAP TS-451+ with four (4) 3TB Western Digital Red disks. I have 2 RAID 1 volumes configured – One for home storage, the other presented as iSCSI storages for home lab VMs.
After building Server #1, I purchased a couple of cheap 8 port gigabit switches from Monoprice, however I wanted something that could do some basic VLANing and bought a TP-Link 16-port Easy Smart Switch – TL-SG1016DE. With this, again it was the right price and had the features I wanted. I’m also running a Ubiquity UniFi Security Gateway. Going with the UniFi line I am also running a UniFi AP AC Pro, however I currently don’t have a need for wireless in my home lab. My next home lab purchase may be a UniFi Switch 16-150W but for now the TP-Link is serving the need.
I’m slowing building up my home lab, without going too overboard. There is of course many things that could be upgraded, but for now this serves the need.