A personal goal of mine has been to try to educate myself as much as possible in all common enterprise technologies. I also believe that I am not alone when I say “building a home lab is what many IT professionals do to improve their skills and get some needed practice with common enterprise technologies”. In the past I have gone through several lab designs, but with the way technology is changing I found myself trying to virtualize as much as possible.
Back in 2010 my first lab went from six physical servers to three physical servers. In this setup one server would act as an iSCSI storage server and the other two would perform as ESX host servers. It allowed me to go over many scenarios that I wished to learn but also provided some challenges when it came to electricity and cooling. This setup worked well for the most part when I needed to have high availability during maintenance updates or scheduled upgrades.
In order to continue evolving my home lab I made a decision to consolidate all of my equipment into a single physical server in 2014. This time the physical server would run Windows Server 2012R2 and have more resources than any previous server. While it did not seem like an inexpensive solution, I was lucky enough to make enough money from selling my previous servers that I would only have to put a few hundred dollars out of pocket. A good discount on a used Dell PowerEdge T620 server with three year warranty allowed me to get a nice start along with a few hard drive purchases got me started with the following setup:
- 48 Gigs of Ram
- 4x 1Gig Nics
- 2x 300GB 10k RPM SAS Drives (RAID 1)
- 5x 3TB Western Digital RE (RAID 5 with 1 as hot spare)
- 1x 500GB Samsung 840 Pro SSD (VM storage)
- 2x 750Watt redundant Power Supplies
The end result was a much more powerful physical server that would allow me to virtualize a growing number of virtual machines in my home lab. The one thing that I learned from my first virtual environment was how important disk speed (IOPs) would become in a home lab. Every new server that got added would make everything slower, which is why the new build has a dedicated SSD for virtual machines.
With the consolidation of prior servers, the need to have an expensive switch with advanced functionality was gone. Not to mention the fact I was moving and needed to reduce the amount of space my equipment was taking up, so I opted for a standard 8-port Gigabit switch. The router was upgraded from a custom firmware Linksys to a custom firmware ASUS (RT-N16).
Next time I will talk more about the functions of the lab in Part 2.