HomeLab Hardware Part 1 Planning

Hello Everyone,

HomeLabs… every geek wants one and the if you have one, you want to make it better. So lets go through why you build one. It generally breaks down into 2 starting points, networking certifications/training or software certifications/training. Personally when I started validating my skill set with certifications it was 2008 and my job at the time wasn’t exactly stable. My “HomeLab” was VirtualBox on my desktop computer… it worked for a while and got me threw MCSA 2003 but wasn’t the best experience. Granted at that time there was less options to try to optimize a virtualized environment. SSDs were ridiculously expensive for 120GBs of space, and the used server market was filled with ridiculously loud Pentium 2/3 based Xeons or ridiculously hot AMD Opteron servers.

Before we start looking at any parts or design ideas we have some getting started questions.

  • Does your significant other share in your home lab interests?
    • During the planning stages he/she might not care much about you buying a server if they aren’t interested. But as soon as that server increases the power bill, noise level, or messes with the comfort level in your home. Your significant other will have some opinions about your homelab very quickly.
  • What is the main goal of your home lab?
    • Is it curiosity, training/certification, proof of concept?
  • Does your home have a dedicated spot for your home lab?
    • Regardless homelabs take up space, Do you have a spot for your homelab?
  • Is your home wired for Ethernet?
    • If your home is already wired for ethernet, then it’s a lot easier to expand the features of your home lab to the entire house.
  • Once deployed will your homelab be running 24/7?
    • If you are planning to run your homelab 24/7 then you’ll definately have to factor in power, cooling, and noise variables into the planning.

In the end, I believe any home lab should accomplish the following objectives.

  • Energy Efficient
  • Expandable
  • Flexible
  • Quite

Hopefully, you’ve noticed that my objectives cover the getting started questions.

Energy Efficient- The homelab should not break the bank just to use it. This is where spending a little bit more upfront on the parts for you home lab will pay off in the long run.

Expandable- 1 or 2 issues will happen in your homelab once you start using it. You’ll run out or RAM or Storage. Considering an iSCSI network or budgeting for a SAS expander will increase the storage capabilities of your lab. Also using a server motherboard with more then 4 RAM slots will allow you to easily grow your lab without breaking the bank.

Flexible- In the days before virtualization, this would mean a server system that supported as many server operating systems as possible. Now a days this means choosing hardware that is compatible with VMware and Hyper-V. I’ll show you how to do this in a future article, don’t worry it’s easy.

Quite- If you are in the tech industry you may have a different definition of quite then your significant other but either way, your homelab shouldn’t be more of a hassle to use then the training equipment at the office. A few tweaks on the server and we can quite it down to a level that won’t annoy the wife.

*disclaimer* if studying for Cisco Certifications is your goal, I’m sorry some of the older Cisco equipment is loud and there is nothing I can do about it besides recommend a good pair of headphones.

I hope the getting started questions helped you start the planning process, In the articles to come i’ll go over tips and tricks to build your home lab and what my home lab looks like as a reference.