History of The Nerd Lab
As long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with technology. Many people say they have always “loved computers” but I can’t say that is an effective way to describe the way I have been involved with technology. I’m not just interested in computers; I’m interested in technology as a whole. One of my most memorable Christmas’ was when I received a Pentium 4 2.4Ghz, 2 GB of RAM and my first motherboard. I had already picked up a case at one of the flee-market style sales a few months prior and I believe I had a hard drive lying around. I was pumped. I’m pretty sure I didn’t leave my room for hours trying to correctly set the jumpers, configure the system, and poke around with the OS. That computer went through numerous versions of Windows and several distributions of Linux. I still have the components lingering around my house and I hope to some day make some sort of display from them.
My passion for technology exploded when I left grade school. I’ve always been able to talk myself into a job that I might not have a significant background in but I learn the technology so quickly that I’m usually applauded by my expertise. Several years ago, in the pursuit of knowledge, I bought my first focused desktop that I would setup as a stand-alone Server 2003 Domain Controller. At the time I knew very little about Active Director or what it did but I was intrigued and always willing to learn a new skill that could beef up my wallet. From there I had some significant defeats (I attempted to setup a file server, moved all critical data to it, and the wife still doesn’t let me forget the pictures we lost) and went without a home lab for a few years.
A few years passed and I finally had the funds and desire to start building my homelab again. This time I started with a couple of old Dell PowerEdge servers – I believe 2850s and 1850s that I had got from craigslist or a government auction. At this time I was starting to dabble in virtualization but was still very much a novice. After a few months of these running I quickly realized how expensive these old servers were to run and I just couldn’t justify the expense. I shut down the servers and sold the 42U rack that I had crammed into the back of my Mazda Protege 5 (I’m trying to find this pictures but I cannot for the life of me find it).
About a year later I got hooked on Breaking Bad. Oh man did I love Breaking Bad. We didn’t start watching it until right after season 5 had aired. If you are a Breaking Bad fan you know that they split up the release of the 5th season. Well, this started what I would call NerdLab v 3.0. This was what would eventually become what I have today, although much less robust. This homelab was simply a Dell Optiplex 755 SFF serving as a web server that I had mounted on a piece of MDF on the wall in the basement. In addition, I had built a custom PC out of a BitFenix Phenom BFC Mini-ITX case that had 4 x 1TB Green drives in it and a small drive for Windows. This hosted a couple of Windows shares that I could access via XBMC on a HTPC I had built. This actually worked pretty well for over a year until I started to run out of space. To do more of the work I also had 2 Dell XPS 8300s that I used as VMWare hosts running Vsphere 5.5. More information on this setup can be found here.
This brings us to the first half of my current setup. Luckily I have probably the most awesome wife in the world who doesn’t question my silly adventures into technology, especially when it comes to providing something we all use (centralized pictures and media). I search very briefly on eBay and found a Dell PowerEdge C1100 CS24-TY rackmount server. I had found a 24U half rack from the local surplus auction for $30, painted it black so it was the beige of the 1990s, and got the server mounted. However, the primary issue here was storage. I built a file server using a NORCO RPC-2008 2U racmount chassis. It has 6 x 3TB HGST 7200RPM hard drives, 1 x 1TB Green Drives (from Version 3.0), an Intel Core i3, a SuperMicro motherboard, and FreeNAS installed on an internally mounted USB Drive. I was/am pretty proud of this little beast. I have the 6 x 3TB drives setup in a RaidZ2 (RAID 6 equivalent) for my movies, TV shows, and general data storage. I then have the 2 x 1TB Green Drives setup in a Mirrored array and that stores pictures and home videos. The PE C1100 was running VMWare 5.5 with about 5 or 6 VMs on it (predominantly Ubuntu and CentOS VMs with a Server 2012 Domain Controller being the only exception).
With this setup I had procured an old Linksys Switch from work to allow me to play with VLANs and more advanced networking features via pfSense and I had acquired a APC rack-mounted UPS. Within this setup, I had pfSense virtualized in VMWare and it was working great. About this same time I started doing a pretty simple remodel of part of my basement. This remodel included using an old tornado shelter as a dedicated server room that is powered on its own dedicated circuit. In addition to the server room, I turned what was a wasted closet into my IT Tech Office. A few pictures for your viewing pleasure:
At this time, I had all the cables from the house go to this patch panel and then each of them went down to the switch mounted in the rack:
My office is small but generally fits my needs pretty well and keeps me paying attention to how much stuff I accumulate so I don’t get too much junk. My desk is just a couple of 2x12s suspended (I’m going to add to this because I need it to be deeper so my legs aren’t so cramped and I’m going to make it an L shape), and 3 monitors mounted on the wall via a makeshift wall mount partially supplied by Amazon and the wall mount itself supplied by a friend of the family.
This is before I finished painting/touch- and before I added the shelves on the right. I’ll provide some updated pics when my office is more cleaned up.
In addition, I have a workbench area behind the desk made from a couple of cabinets I bought from the local surplus sale and painted myself. I have 4 network jacks here, 2 outlets, LED lights mounted to the bottom of the shelf, and a KVM in the wall:
This setup has worked very well for me for the last almost 2 years.
After about a year of the lab going pretty much unchanged (physically) I started getting much higher usage on the virtual host. So I found a great deal on an Dell PowerEdge R210 and decided to turn that into my dedicated pfSense router/firewall.
This has worked great for me for the last 6 months, however, I have recently been intrigued by shared storage and wanted to expand my knowledge with shared storage and advanced VMWare features, which brings me to the latest reconfiguration.
Above is the basic layout to my current NerdLab configuration. With these changes I did the following:
- Removed the Dell C1100
- Reconfigured the file server to remove the 2 x 1TB Green drives and replaced them with 2 x 3TB Enterpise drives
- Setup iSCSI on the two new 3TB Enterprise Drives
- Moved the pictures and home videos on to the RAIDZ2 array
- Added 2 Dell PowerEdge R610s, each with 72GB of RAM, a 60GB SSD for the OS, and a few small drives to help with the transition as local datastores
- Added a D-Link DGS-1224T to the wall so that I could cut down the cables to about 9″ and eliminate the giant cables going from the wall to the rack an to the Linksys switch
I have color coded the cabling so that yellow is iSCSI, blue is the management VLAN, green is the servers VLAN, gray is the house VLAN, and orange is my IT office.
That pretty much brings me up to today. Although I don’t plan on making any hardware changes anytime soon, I have some plans for new virtual machines. I want to add the following:
- Microsoft SQL Servers in a Cluster
- SharePoint Server
- Microsoft Exchange 2016 environment
Although I’m pretty well versed in SQL and SharePoint, I still have a lot to learn. Email has always been my Achilles heel and I need to get that under control as well. Hoping to have some write ups as to how I get these configured soon. I’ve been having some issues with SQL Server 2014 installing so I may have to go to SQL 2012 just to get it done.