My New Home Lab – Home Lab Rebuild (Part 2)

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If you would like to read the first part in this article series please go to My new home lab – Prepping for the rest of the year (Part 1).


In part 1 of my series, I described to you what I planned to build for my new home lab and also described my “virtual lab” that I carry around with me for smaller projects. Because travel has been very heavy this year, I haven’t had time to get very far on my lab build, but I have made some progress and wanted to share that update with you. Also, I’ve been asked by a few people why I didn’t simply move my entire lab into the cloud and be done with the physical hardware.

Read on to learn the answers.

More hardware deliveries!

I’ll admit it… part of this project has made me feel like it’s Christmas all over again… in two ways. First, I’ve been getting packages in the mail and second, my bank account has complained a little. But, I knew going in that I’d spend a bit of money. Fortunately, I’ve done better than I expected in some ways.

One piece that I was missing was a UPS that could handle the load that I intend to run and still allow some room for expansion. On these kinds of things, I’m kind of cheap, so I turned to eBay to see if I could find something suitable.

I got lucky!

I picked up a highly efficient 2880W UPS for less than $250. It’s shown below. It came shipped with rails and is a brand new unit. I was quite pleased with this find.

Figure 1:
My new UPS

I knew going in that I would need to do a little bit of electrical work to accommodate this unit. My new rack is going into my garage. It’s fully insulated for noise and has an air conditioning unit built in, but I wanted to get the lab out of my house. My home’s main electrical panel is in the garage, so access is pretty easy and moving my lab to that location means that I’ll have a nice quiet basement again.

This week, an electrician is coming by to add the 30 amp circuit that I need to connect this unit to my house. Of course, the person who built my house used an electrical panel that didn’t leave any room for expansion, so I need to replace the whole panel to get this done. Total cost: $350. Honestly, I was surprised that replacing the whole panel would be so inexpensive. Fortunately, the electrician can reuse all of the existing breakers, which greatly helped to keep the cost down.

On the power front, I also made the decision that I wanted to be able to remotely control individual power outlets. I travel a lot, so being able to remotely reboot servers that might be hung up is pretty important to me. To that end, I picked up a Tripp Lite network-capable power distribution unit. This is shown in Figure 2. This unit was a bit on the expensive side at $500, but given the amount of travel that I do, it’s relatively essential.

Figure 2:
Tripp Lite PDU

The first server is racked!

I was fortunate this week to have a 4 day stint at home during which I was able to do a little work on my setup, including scheduling the electrician and getting the rails installed for my four servers. And, I got one of the servers in the rack. I’ve already added a 120 GB solid state disk to each of the servers, so they’re ready to accept an operating system once I light them up with power. And, as you can see in the picture below, I got rails for one of the servers racked up. There is no cabling yet. Since this photo was taken, I’ve added one server and the rails for the other three.

That didn’t take the four full days. I spent a few hours on the project. The bulk of my time at home this trip was spent playing with my kids.

The tally so far

Adding up items from Part 1 of this article and from what you’ve read here, I’ve spent the following on my lab:

  • 4 servers @ $600 each = $2,400
  • 4 solid state disks @ $175 each = $700
  • Sound proofed, insulated rack with air conditioner = $1,000
  • Dell gigabit Ethernet switch, 24 ports = $70
  • UPS = $250 + $80 shipping
  • Power distribution unit (network enabled) = $500
  • Electrical work = $350
  • Misc (ties, rack screws) = $50

Total = $5,400

Obviously, that’s not a small amount of money, but considering what it supports, it’s not bad. Consider further than my livelihood depends on having access to a robust lab environment and the cost isn’t bad at all. Further, because I started last year, the total cost is split over two years and is tax deductible.

Two of my servers will be running vSphere 5.1 and two will be running Hyper-V Server 2012.

To the cloud! Slowly…

I have been asked by quite a few people why I didn’t just ditch the lab altogether and dump everything into the cloud. That would have greatly simplified the whole lab process and would have, initially, cost a bit less.

There are a couple of reasons:

  • I still need a hypervisor. A lot of my work revolves around the use of vSphere and Hyper-V. I write extensively about both and support a number of clients running vSphere. Having a lab in my home where I can play with the real thing is essential. I can replicate many issues in my lab in support of my clients. Further, a lot of my writing revolves around various use cases using the hypervisor. As such, I need direct and consistent access to a hypervisor for my writing work.
  • Somewhat large build outs. When I’m recording a course for TrainSignal, for example, it’s not unusual for me to need to build ten or more virtual machines to support all of the scenarios that I present in the courseware. And, to try to keep it as “real world” as possible, I let the systems continue to run and gathering data. With my own lab, it’s easy to build out as much as I ant without having to worry about how much it will cost.
  • I can always sell the hardware. If I decide to go all-in on cloud, I can always sell the hardware that I have, which also includes an EMC VNXe.

But… I’m also moving into the cloud. Once this lab is complete, I intend to build small test environments in both Azure and Amazon and hook them to my home lab. Further, I will be building a cloud environment in support of a business venture that is just getting underway. So, I’m certainly not opposed to cloud. In fact, I seek to embrace it, but only when the use case makes it the clear choice.


As soon as I have a little bit of time at home, I’m going to go gangbusters finishing my lab build. It will provide me with great flexibility and the opportunity to expand my skills a bit, too. There will be a third and final piece in this series that describes the rest of the experience along with the issues that I run into along the way.

If you would like to be notified when Scott Lowe releases the next part in this article series please sign up to our Real-Time Article Update newsletter.

If you would like to read the first part in this article series please go to My new home lab – Prepping for the rest of the year (Part 1).

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