My Personal Homelab and its Story

With the experience from the museum under my belt and the desire to have something local for experimentation, I started the first steps towards implementing my own personal in-home homelab. Technically my personal lab started with the purchase of a Unifi Dream Machine in January before the pandemic, but this was nothing more than an attempt to simplify my local network management at the time. In the summer following, I stumbled upon a post in a homelab group where an individual was looking to sell a Dell Poweredge R610 with a front bezel and 5 600GB 10K SAS drives for a great price. Due to what I can only assume is incredible luck, he was also only a 3 hour drive away. I ended up reaching out to him and he agreed to meet halfway. This became the purchase of my fourth overall server, “Hyperion”.

In order to install the server in my apartment, I had to figure out a way to physically host the server, UPS, and other potential hardware that would come into play later on. Initially, I searched for racks on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and Craigslist in hopes of finding a short 12U rack that would fit nicely behind the recliner in my living room. In the end, however, I stumbled upon the genius item known as a “Lack Rack”. This server “rack” was built using nothing more than the Ikea Lack coffee table and included hardware and was not only functionally great, it looked incredible as well.

Hyperion and my UPS immediately following installation in my apartment’s “Lack Rack”

Following the initial installation of Hyperion, not much was done with the server locally other than the implementation of a file server and some smaller Minecraft servers to play on with friends. The months that followed that summer were completely filled with work on classes and projects for my senior year at college. That was until I graduated and something clicked and ignited the spark in my love for homelab hardware and software yet again. In the late summer months of 2021, I began to purchase and install upgrades the bring my homelab up to the standards that I had put in place for myself at the museum previously. This included the implementation of a 16 port PoE Unifi network switch and 2 other additional servers: Orion and Alioth.

The upgrades and installations were quick and subsequent initially starting with the construction and installation of “Alioth” using an existing 4U server chassis and the 16 port network switch. This was short-lived, however, with the purchase of “Orion” as it required a location to be installed properly. Following this, a major project to overhaul the rack using a second Lack table as a base and casters was completed. This greatly improved the look and mobility of the rack, especially with the additional installation of a brush panel above the network switch. Shortly thereafter, the final piece of the puzzle was put in place with the reinstallation of Alioth in a new 2U chassis.

With the hardware upgrades and installations completed, the software fun could finally begin. It started with a Plex server running on Hyperion alongside a Minecraft server and a file server. Needless to say, the 10-year-old server hardware was not the most capable of running applications like Plex or a Minecraft server, so I began to seek out some more capable hardware. I ended up finding and purchasing some hardware from a good friend. This hardware included an Indel Core i5-7600, 16GB of memory, and a Mini ITX motherboard with a Noctua NH-L9i cooler. Initially, this hardware was housed in the existing case, but was placed on top of the rack and officially named Alioth.

For the longest period of time, the setup consisted of just these two machines with Hyperion handling storage and Alioth handling the heavy lifting. It wasn’t until much later that the deep dive began with the purchase and installation of a new 2U server known now as Orion. The first thing I did after getting things set up was install ESXi 6.5 for use with hosting whatever VMs I needed. Initially, I just installed another Windows Server 2019 VM, but later, I started branching out to other hosts starting with the Kemp Loadmaster machine for use as a load balancer in tandem with a reverse proxy through Cloudflare. With the door for public application hosting opened, I began to try other types of software including Docker, Cloudron, and OpenVPN for remote access.

Within Cloudron, I hosted two applications: Apache Guacamole and WordPress. Guacamole was used for remote accessing all of my windows servers/workstations as well as my Unix machines including not only the various applications but my Unifi equipment as well. The WordPress application is used for hosting this very website.

Docker is used for multiple containers including Portainer for management, Homer as a nice customizable home dashboard, Tautulli for Plex monitoring, Grafana for general monitoring, and Unifi Poller for converting Unifi network data into a database readable by Grafana.

These applications, machines, and containers are just the start of my eventual plans for the homelab. My hope, in time, is to expand both my knowledge and the capabilities of all this hardware by using all the resources I can find.