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Hey all, I thought I would give a synopsis of my foray into homelabbing. It has been something that always interested me, as I run a lot of virtual machines, and I found it annoying to constantly have to suspend / power off the machines. Also, there was always an image in the back of my mind, that the whole datacenter scene was like it’s own world, and that I was missing out on something cool.
Where do you go to learn about all this stuff?
Well first, I poked around on Reddit, looking for posts/subreddits for terms such as personal datacenter, having a server in your home, etc., and then I stumbled upon it. r/homelab. I have spent a ridiculous amount of time, scraping through recent posts in order to look at what everyone is currently buying, to reading every line of the Wiki. There are a lot of wonderful people in the community, and it is very, very active.
What the heck is a “decent” server?
After browsing the r/homelab wiki found here , I decided to take the dive into a Dell PowerEdge R430 server that I thought was an absolute deal at the time. The general idea seems to be that as of creating this article, Dell PowerEdges generations newer than R*10 (so avoiding R710, R610, etc…), and G8 servers of HP or newer (so DL360p G8, DL480e G8, etc…) seem to more or less be the standard for homelabbing. These generations of hardware seem to be a good balance of upfront price, power consumption price, and performance.
Although these newer enterprise servers are slightly more expensive, by paying greater upfront, not only do you get faster hardware, but they consume less electricity. Let me tell you, the increase in speed in each hardware generation is huge. You will definitely want to look out for the latest generation that your budget allows.
Where do I find all this stuff?
Now that I knew what to look for, I now had to find it. I discovered a great tool named LabGopher that scrapes Ebay (where a lot of this old-ish enterprise stuff seems to be sold at) for good server deals, and is able to present you information that is easy to sort through. You can even filter results based on criteria, so it is pretty dang cool.
However, in conjunction with LabGopher, I also searched Ebay manually on my own, because I did not want to miss out on any good deals. In the end, I found both of my servers by searching Ebay manually, ex: “dell server”, “dell poweredge”, or “dell r430”. By simplifying the search terms, you might come across some better postings.
You can also check out your local postings like Craigslist, Letgo, Facebook marketplace, etc. Each platform may have different postings, so go ahead and poke around there, looking for any local deals that are within your target.
How do I even use it?
Well quite honestly, all you need to do is plug it in. If you’ve ever plugged in a desktop computer before, you can plug in a server to power. Another plus with getting newer hardware, is the decreased power consumption.
You’ll also need USB key filled with whatever OS you want to load onto the bare metal. ESXi and Proxmox are the most often used, as they are hypervisors. If you are in the VMware space, you’ll need ESXi. If you do load ESXi on it, you will need to find the custom image for ESXi, which is provided by the manufacturer (Dell, HP, etc.). This custom image will contain all the drivers needed to get up and running. If you do not want to use ESXi/VMware, you can go with a free hypervisor like Proxmox, which is Debian based.
What do I even use it for?
What services do you think you want to run on it? You can run anything from the selfhosted pages linked prior, which contain a plethora of services such as hosting your own code, to running your own video server.
Something that is awesome about virtualization is the concept of snapshots. Using snapshots allow you to take metaphorical “pictures” of your operating system (storage, RAM, etc.) at a moment of time. This way if something were to go wrong within your virtual machine, or if you want to test some new software, you can revert the virtual machine to a snapshot from an earlier time.
You can use your homelab for anything from storing files, servicing DNS queries, compiling/building your code, hosting your photos/videos, the list goes on. There are two fantastic web pages on selfhosted services which can be found here and here.