Homelab Again

“We’re putting the band back together.”

Five o’clock. Time to shut down the ol’ laptop and go watch some TV. Or not. I feel the urge to create again. I have a bunch of hardware laying around that’s gathering dust, and it’s time to assemble it into something I can use to learn and share.

I’m not looking for anything flashy here. Money is tight and the future is uncertain for me and millions of others, so while I’d love a few old Dell servers or some shiny new NUCs, I’m sure I can cobble together something useful out of my closet for free. Initially I was going to put together a single machine and set up nested virtualization, but my best available equipment only has four cores and frankly, I feel like it’s cheating anyway. I’m a hardware junkie, so I cobble.

With a day’s work, I have scraped together a cluster of machines. One is from my original homelab build: a Dell Optiplex 9010 motherboard and i5 processor bought off eBay and transplanted into a slim desktop case. It has four DIMM slots, so it’s going to be one of my ESXi hosts. The other VM host is a Dell Optiplex 3020 SFF i5 desktop. Alas, it only has two DIMM slots, so it maxes out at 16GB with the sticks I have. I also manage scrape together a third system with eight gigs of RAM and a lowly Core 2 Duo. Transplanted into a Dell XPS tower case formerly occupied by a Lynnfield i7, it has enough drive bays that I can drop in a one terabyte SATA SSD and three 800GB SAS SSDs in RAID-0 on an LSI HBA. This system takes the role of an NFS-based NAS running on CentOS 8 and has no problems saturating a gigabit link.

It’s not all roses–my networking is all gigabit–but it totals eight cores, 48GB of usable RAM and over 3TB of flash storage. A few hours after that, I have a two-node ESXi 6.7 cluster configured and vCenter showing all green. I toyed briefly with installing 7.0, but I want to give that a little more time to bake, and besides, if what I’m planning doesn’t directly translate then I’ve done something wrong.

What are my goals here? Well, I want to work on a “let’s automate VMware” series. Not satisfied with the kind of janky scripts I’ve cobbled together to automate some of my uglier processes, I want to learn how to do this the right way. That certainly means Terraform, some kind of configuration management (Ansible, Salt, Puppet, Chef or a combination), building deployment images with Packer, and figuring out how to safely do all of this with code that I’m storing in Github. Possible future projects might involve integrating with ServiceNow, Splunk, monitoring (Zabbix, Solarwinds) or other business tools, and using the resulting tooling to deploy resources into AWS, Azure, DigitalOcean and/or VMware Cloud.

Why do this on my own? While I do have the resources at work, I feel more comfortable doing this on my own time and at my own pace. Plus, by using personal time and resources, I feel safer sharing my findings publicly with others. While my employer has never given me any indication that it would be an issue, I’d just rather be able to do and refine my skills on my own time.

So stay tuned; there’s more content to come from the homelab!

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