2016 HomeLab Build – Selecting Components

INTRODUCTION

I love shopping for new toys.

Building a new homelab can be a lot of fun but it’s also a lot of hardwork. Firstly you have to research the right equipment. Then comes the setup and installation, and of course the countless hours configuring and reconfiguring. Simply put, you’re going to be spending a lot of time working with your homelab so you should put together something you’re happy with, budget permitting.

This time around I’m going to be pushing out the boat and replacing everything. I’ve listed the components below along with some rational I used to decide on each.

RACK CABINET

As I said in my previous post, space is at a premium at my home so as much as I’d love to have a full size rack cabinet in the house it’s just not practical. Having said that keeping things tidy is also a high priority for me so having switches and servers lying around isn’t an option either so I started to look at small 19″ rack cabinets in the 12-15U range.

The Startech I found fitted the bill, plenty of ventilation and a good build quality. The 12U gives me plenty of room for expansion in the future should I need it.

Startech 12U 19″ Mesh Door Server Rack

Startech Rack

SERVERS

This was a really difficult choice to make. Whilst I have a very healthy budget for this homelab things can add up pretty quickly and it’s easy to get carried away. Especially when looking at enterprise grade servers.

Although the advances in virtualisation technology would allow me to run most of what I want on a single PC, I want this homelab to pack a little more punch than that kind of setup can currently handle. The fact that I’m looking to run between 30-60 virtual machines, with a minimum of 192GB RAM, means that server equipment would be a better fit.

Second hand server equipment on Ebay makes a very enticing proposition and if I didn’t care about noise, power consumption and space it would definitely be the way to go. However, as I do care about those things I had to look at other options.

That’s when I came across Adam Robinson. Adam was the lucky winner of this fantastic homelab at VMWare World 2015.

The Supermicro servers running Intel’s latest Xeon D-1540 processor are exactly what I was looking for.

3x Supermicro 1U 5018D-FN4T
– 1U Form Factor
– Xeon D-1540 2.00Ghz (8 Cores / 16 Threads)
– 45W TDP
– Supporting upto 128GB RAM
– Dual 1Gb NICS
– Dual 10Gb NICS

These are difficult to find in the UK but I have managed to find a supplier, Server Factory.

That’s my compute cluster sorted out.

Supermicro Servers

STORAGE

I have a real interest in the new hyper-converged server models so I’m going to be using Hyper-V Storage Spaces Direct. This means all my storage is going to be local, which not only makes selecting my kit simpler but also means I benefit from better storage performance.

3x 120GB Samsung EVO 850 SSD [System Drives]
3x 1TB Samsung EVO 850 SSD [SSD Cache]
3x 4TB WD RED [Capacity Tier]

Samsung 120GB SSD

Samsung 1TB SSD

WD Red 4TB

NETWORK

I can’t claim any particular effort was put into my choice of network devices. I double checked Adam’s setup and confirmed it could do everything I wanted, including VLAN configuration and Link Aggregation.

Netgear GS728TSB [24 1Gb ports]
Netgear XS708E [8 10Gb ports]

Netgear 10GbE XS708E

MISCELLANEOUS

As any keen homelabber knows you always forget to budget for the various miscellaneous bits and bobs.

3x PCI-E Riser Cards
3x 2.5″ Drive Mount Cages
3x Serial ATA Power Adapter
15x Black 0.5m CAT6 Ethernet Cable
Velcro Cable Straps
Rack Nuts and Bolts

Supermicro 1U Server 2.5

Supermicro 1U Server PCI-E Riser Cards

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2016 HomeLab Build – Requirements

INTRODUCTION

One of the best parts of working in the IT industry is that we get to play with all kinds of new technologies and gadgets and call it work. That’s especially true when we’re talking about homelabs.

Anyone who knows me could attest to the fact that I’m somewhat obsessed with homelabs. There’s always something new I want to add or a different way of doing things I want to try. Having said that it’s not all fun and games, setting up and running a homelab can be a costly business, but it’s also essential if you want to advance your career.

Thankfully homelabs don’t always have to be expensive. I started with a few desktop PCs’ and a network hub when I was studying for my NT 4.0 exams. Now with the advent of virtualisation you can do the same with a single PC on a reasonably low budget. In fact the homelab I built last year was a single PC running a nested Hyper-V environment. Although I have to admit, it was far from cheap.

NZXT H440
Asus X99-Deluxe
Intel i7 5820k
H110 CPU Cooler
64GB DDR4 RAM
EVGA 4GB GTX960 Graphics Card
1TB Samsung SSD EVO 840
2TB WD RED HDD
Corsair 1000W RM1000 PSU

However that’s not what I’m going to be doing this time. This time I’m going to be breaking the bank and going all out to put together something really special.

PURPOSE OF THE HOMELAB

So, first things first. What do I need to be able to do with this new homelab?

That’s a good question to ask yourself before starting to build a new homelab because if you don’t know what you want to do with it then selecting the right kit is going to be little more than guess work. Which I can assure you will almost certainly make your life difficult down the line and may mean replacing kit sooner than you had planned.

For me, this homelab is going to be primarily used for certification training and testing. I’ve let my training fall by the wayside these past few years so it’s high time I kicked my backside into gear and brought my qualifications back up to date. It wouldn’t hurt my daily rate either, smirk…

Given that I want to use this for certification looking at the technologies I’m interested in brushing up on will help me spec out the system.

I’m interested in a wide range of certifications, I may or may not get to them all but at this point in time I’m looking at a mixture of:

  • MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure
  • MCSE: Server Infrastructure
  • MCSE: Private Cloud
  • SCCM 2012 (70-243 )
  • Citrix Certified Associate (Virtualisation)
  • Citrix Certified Associate (Network)
  • VMware Certified Associate 6 Desktop and Mobility

CONSIDERATIONS

I have created a short list of other factors I want to consider before building this homelab. It’s by no means an exhaustive list and I’m sure you’ll find that others may have a different list of considerations based on their own priorities.

  • Capacity
  • Flexibility
  • Noise
  • Space
  • Power Consumption

Capacity

As you can probably guess, this is going to have to be a fairly heavy duty homelab system if I’m going to setup lab environments for most of th certification technologies I listed. This is especially true given that I want to run these labs alongside each other, I don’t want to be shutting down one lab to free up resources for another.

This system is going to have to run between 30-60 virtual machine instances.

Flexibility

Labs rarely stay static, they aren’t set and forget types of projects. The whole point of a homelab is to give you an environment to tinker with. So, that being the case any useful homelab needs to be flexible. The ability to deploy new lab scenarios in as little a time as possible will save you countless hours and what may be left of your hair.

Power Consumption

Energy consumption is not really a problem with my current homelab (a nested environment on a single PC) but it’s unlikely I’ll be able to stick with a single PC setup this time given the extent of the topologies I want to run.

In the past energy consumption hasn’t really been something I considered when putting together homelabs. Sure, the electricity bill went up but it was never enough bother me. That all changed when I built a homelab using 3 HP DL380 rackmount servers. Using actual enterprise level kit, whilst appealing in some ways was not a great move in terms of energy consumption. When I finally sat down to calculate the energy cost of running such a homelab, being far too impulsive to consider that beforehand, I was shocked. I was looking at yearly electricity bills running into thousands of pounds.

That’s not an option again. As well as saving my money for more worthwhile things, like further homelab equipment, I’d like to do my bit for the environment.

Noise

I can tolerate a little bit of background noise, which is good because I like to have my kit in the living areas. This wasn’t really an option with the DL380s’, even at their quietist they were uncomfortably loud on the ears.

My existing setup runs almost silent, which suits me just fine!

Space

I have limited space for this kit and it’s more than likely going to be located in my livingroom. So that 42U rack cabinet is definitely out.

Short depth rackmount equipment in a small network comms cabinet would be far more practical.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Now begins the fun. Research and plenty of it.

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