August 29, 2022

Home Lab Renewal - Pt 1

About two years ago, I purchased myself a pretty sweet deal on Ebay:


Dell RX730xd
2 x 2.5Ghz Xeon Gold
128 GB ECC RAM
28 TB RAW
2 x 1oGB Ethernet and 2x 1GB Ethernet

At the time, it was to be may main multi-purpose server for the home:

  1. Run an instance of Cloudron where I run all my dockers and in my spare time help package OSS apps for them. Inside Cloudron, I run most of all of my business.
  2. Home Assistant - that never really got going
  3. A virtual desktop - was decent, but lack of graphics card was a bit of a drag on CPU bound rendering (one of the motivations for what's next)
  4. A place to try out Azure Stack HCI and all the goodies

I quickly found out that the server was just too loud - Dell servers are notoriously noisy, and of course, use custom fan pinouts, cause Dell. So I ripped the fans out, which made it too hot, of course. So I ripped all the drives, the drive backplane, the PERC controller and most of the cabling. That cooled things off nicely! Still had to use a fan, but a tiny desk fan did the trick when paired with some "Be Quiets" inside the case (ditched the lid). But now I had no storage. Enter this magical device:

Amazon.com: ASUS Hyper M.2 X16 PCIe 3.0 X4 Expansion Card V2 Supports 4 NVMe M.2 (2242/2260/2280/22110) Upto 128 Gbps for Intel VROC and AMD Ryzen Threadripper NVMe Raid : Electronics
Buy ASUS Hyper M.2 X16 PCIe 3.0 X4 Expansion Card V2 Supports 4 NVMe M.2 (2242/2260/2280/22110) Upto 128 Gbps for Intel VROC and AMD Ryzen Threadripper NVMe Raid: USB Port Cards - Amazon.com ✓ FREE DELIVERY possible on eligible purchases

This amazing device let me add 4 x 1TB Samsung M.2 drives into one of the x16 PCIe lanes. I had to figure out "bifrucation" but thankfully, the BIOS supported it. 4TB is still way less than 28TB, but my use of raw storage was mostly constrained to lots of VMs. So for "data" drives, I took advantage of some USB3 external drives and called it a day. Not ideal, but it was mine.

Running this beast was Windows Server 2022 core with a StorageSpaces pool of all 4 M.2's smooshed together (no need to redundancy, it's just VMs). On that server was HyperV and I was happy. The relatively decent Windows Admin Center helped me keep things going. Did some great nested VMs and got Azure Stack HCI up and running and ALMOST got some of the services to work. Was pretty slow but it did the trick.

Needed more chips though, so I bounced it to 256GB of RAM and set the pagefile to 0, so now everything basically stayed in RAM. Huzzah!

Of course then, I got bored. And it had to move from the spare bedroom closet to my office cause the girls moved into that room. Agh. Plus life. And retail therapy.

I "needed" more and wanted more. At peak I had about 10 VMs running, no sweat. Boot times were meh but that was a choice from a storage perspective. Those 3.5" HDDs were loud and HOOOOOT, so I don't regret ditching that. But I've long wondered what other homelab folks do, so, I started poking around YouTube and found all kinds of glorious things to play with.

In my next post, I'll detail what I found, what I bought, and how I got started slinging it all together to create my godzilla of server goo. Stick around!