I have a lot of stuff that falls under the category of my “Homelab.” I tend of build and collect technology that makes my life easier. Sometimes, those pieces of tech get tons of usage and wind up doing their time on my server rack, other times they languish on a pile of other dead tech, bound for electronics recycling. People build homelabs for various reasons. For me, it started out as a humble network and fileserver, at our old house.
There’s a lot of good info out there for building up your own testing environments. If you still don’t know what a homelab is, check out
/r/homelab over on Reddit or read this post to get an idea of what goes into setting up your own lab. For example, this post does a great job of showing why you’d want to run a whole server as a virtual environment, vs. just using VMware Fusion, Parallels, or VirtualBox on your local system. I do this on top of having actual machines that I dedicate to specific build environments. Starting out, this is definitely not a bad way to get into VMs.
The funny thing in my case is, I had toyed around with VMs on my local machine for years. I even had a dedicated VM on my Mac that I had installed Windows 10 Pro on. I used this for cross-browser testing a lot, and emails on occasion. It was never a smooth experience. The VM took up a lot of (valuable) hard drive space, and putting it on an external drive made it unbearably slow. It wasn’t until I started getting into Docker in webdev that I realized how powerful container environments were. One (PowerEdge ESXi) server later, I really dig virtualization now.
Back in 2004, I had upgraded to a brand spanking new G5 tower, so I took my old and busted MDD G4 tower, reformatted it with Mac OS X Server, and attached a 2tb external drive (via FireWire!). I recall that machine being about as loud as a constantly running vacuum, so it would definitely be better in the basement. I also recall the external drive being mega-expensive at the time. “It’s more storage that I’ll EVER use, right?” It was a Western Digital My Book Studio, with the little LCD display on the front - FireWire 800/USB 2, pre-formatted at HFS+. (I still have it and it still works great. No regrets on that drive at all.)
I had an extra “room” under the basement stairs, where I ran a new outlet and build some simple shelving. I already had my cable modem and router (Linksys WRT54G, remember how awesome those were?) haphazardly stacked down there, so I tossed the G4 on the shelf and tidied up the cables. Then, I ran some cat5e wires to my living room and office from the “under the stairs” room, which was essentially now my new network closet. Connected it up to my router, and I was up and running. I had a network!
This setup served me well for about 7 years (at my old house). I even left it up after we had already moved (We had the house up for sale for a bit, I still needed internet when I was back down for work.) I decided that I wanted to expand on it a bit for the next house, especially since my network equipment was still in use at the original location.
The next evolution
I had purchased a 19” rack for networking equipment shortly before moving, and I picked a spot in the basement at the new house and assembled it. My setup was simple: A 19” rack, a shelf in the middle that housed a Motorola Surfboard cable modem and an ASUS router. I had also picked up an older 10/100/1000 switch that I screwed into the rack for future use.
We had been working on the house already for about a year before we moved in. Since the house was quite old, the wiring was one of the things that we opted to completely redo. We had an electrician completely rewire the house from top to bottom, and in the process, run cat6e to the living room, office and a few other locations directly to the rack location. (He also ran several extra drops from the attic to the basement for future expansion.) This was super helpful, as I just had to do the rack termination and route things where I wanted them to go. That process happened gradually, over several month, adding terminations as needed. I had added a patch panel like this one at some point to make things tidier.
Needs evolve over time. Lightning storms happen. Equipment malfunctions. New tech comes out. There are a lot of reasons for upgrading equipment. Most of my upgrades revolved around making our internet and wireless faster/more reliable.
If you’d like to see my current setup, go and check it out here.