The Beginnings

March 15, 2019 ยท 7 minutes read

Since I officially launched this site a few days ago, I’ve almost immediately hit a mental block on the content that I want to create. There are so many projects and small accomplishments over the last few months and I feel there is some value in sharing them all - if anything just to get the writing juices flowing now that the hours of staring at code have finally come to fruition. However, until I can put together posts that can detail things well enough to do them justice, I think the best way for me to start is to ramble on about how I got to this point.

How far back do we need to go??

Everything sparked off right about the time that my beloved computer randomly, suddenly, flickered out of existence. Initially I thought it was a fluke and it would restart, run some error checks, and everything would be fine. Unfortunately, pressing the power button did nothing more than turn on a few lights and fans - no video, no beeps, nothing.

I attempted all the troubleshooting I could with an issue like this:

  • Disconnect everything but mouse, keyboard, and monitor
  • Open the case and make sure everything is fully plugged in
  • Disconnect storage and media drives
  • Try different RAM stick/slot combinations

Without a spare power supply or motherboard for further testing, I decided take my beloved system to a local PC repair shop to see if they could determine which core component was the culprit.

My motherboard was dead.

Don’t get me wrong…
My HP h8-1287c was 6 years old at the time, and it’s Radeon HD 7450 was pretty pathetic.
But the i7-3770 and 12GB of RAM had always been plenty of horsepower for what I was doing. And while my graphics card may have been worthless, I was able to spend time with some of my favorite classics like Counter-Strike: Source and have a blast.

Either way, building a replacement wasn’t an option due to being broke a lack of funds. At least, anyway, for the few more months until Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

Interesting enough, my father had saved a handful of old work computers from recycling once upon a time that I could try to make use of. After digging through the selection, I decided I would take a Dell XPS 410 and T5400 off his hands.

Well, it turns out that going from my HP system - however old and slow it may have been - to either of these two systems felt like going back in time a decade, so let’s fast forward those times of pain and struggle so I can spare you the details…

Throughout the process of this all I was able to re-discover how much fun I had working with computers.

Deciding it was time for a career change anyway, I chose to pursue my CompTIA A+ certification - something I had studied for and never attempted back in high school - in order to get some validation of my skills. I also came to recognize the potential value I had in having an unused Dell T5400 lying around: memory for these old machines is dirt cheap, and it has 2 CPU slots for whenever I need to throw another Xeon in it.

While studying for my A+ cert, I noticed that I had either forgotten or had very little experience working with advanced Windows features, especially things like Active Directory and domain services. This lead me to installing Windows Server 2016 on the spare T5400 and plugging it into my local area network to play with.

I never really got anywhere with that setup - Server 2016 felt bloated, slow, and was rather complicated to figure out.

I decided to nuke the Windows installation and instead try out something I had only recently heard of by browsing around on Reddit (r/selfhosted and r/homelab): bare metal hypervisors. I’ve played around with type-2, or hosted, hypervisors a time or two with simple installations of Virtual Box, but never anything like this.

Having played with Linux several times in the past - even using it as my ‘daily’ for a time - I decided on using Proxmox VE as my first type-1 hypervisor. Proxmox VE is an open source virtualization platform that works right on top of good old Debian, so I could always drop down to the Debian command line and not feel entirely lost if I needed to.

Little did I know the Pandora’s box that I was playing with by deciding to turn this humble little workstation into my version of a ‘home lab’

I’ve installed Proxmox VE, nuked it and tried Hyper-V very briefly before going back to Proxmox VE - which has been reinstalled a number of times to get setup and configured - spun up countless LXC containers and virtual machines, reinstalled them, broke ‘em, fixed ‘em… rinse - repeat - et cetera. Now, I believe I’m to the point where I can stop nuking things for fun experiments science and safely host the services that I want/need while still having separate resources to play with.

I then set out to build myself a new desk, but quickly learned that even after completing the cheapest, most practical build I could manage for my needs, my new 6x3 feet workspace was too small to be hosting 2 systems and their peripherals. So I decided to empty out a bit of space in a closet, crawl into my attic to run coaxial and ethernet cables, and rearranged the networking setup for the entire house.

My server workstation is now resting comfortably in the same closet as my cable internet modem and Linksys EA6500v2 wireless router with Advanced Tomato firmware - which connects to the ethernet wall ports that I wired to my living room and office/studio/computer room. That was a full day worth of dirty, attic crawling, drywall cutting work, but I now have a ‘network closet’ and what has rapidly evolved into larger ‘home lab’ project than I originally intended.

After a couple more months… here we are

Holiday sales allowed me to score some great parts for my new rig. Of course I was able to save a few hundred dollars by reusing old parts like my SSD and HDD, my Windows license, and the best mouse I’ve ever owned: the original Logitech MX518 (so good they had to bring it back!). The rig itself cost $550, proving that a high quality and powerful system can be put together with a rather limited budget these days. You can see my entire setup (including peripherals) on PC Part Picker.

The T5400 has been upgraded to 32GB of fully-buffered ECC-RAM, though it’s Xeon X5450 is still without a sibling, and it is chugging along while hosting several services in LXC containers and VMs including:

  • LXCs
  • VMs
    • SurfCafe (Counter-Strike:Source game server)
    • Windows Server lab:
      • Windows Server 2016 Datacenter
      • Windows 10 Pro

I also have 2TB of redundant network file storage, automated backups, and I’m hosting a handful of website experiments (including this very site you’re viewing) all from my humble little T5400. I still feel like I have plenty of room to grow into, especially considering I have an empty CPU slot to fill.

Now that we’re all caught up

I’ve learned and accomplished so much since the demise of my personal computer months 7 ago (RIP), through the process of getting my A+ certification, setting up a server, and getting this website launched. My project list is multiplying faster than I can mark items off, but I’m happy to have the opportunity to challenge myself.

Looking forward, I’ll be trying to document and write as much as I can to justify this website’s existence, while also studying for the CCNA certification and continuing to practice coding. This site is simply my personal playground on the internet, and I hope you find something here that you enjoy and want to return to.