Project Home Lab: Shopping List

Up until now, I’ve talked at length about the various factors dictating what I will be buying and why. In this post which is meant to be a high level overview of all the posts previous, I’m going to give you a shopping list of all of the components needed to make the build tick so that if you want to embark on your own project you can get a head start if you chose to go down the same route yourself.

This series will consist of the following posts. I will update the table of contents links in each post as I produce and publish the articles.

  1. Project Home Lab: Goals
  2. Project Home Lab: Existing Infrastructure
  3. Project Home Lab: Hardware Decisions
  4. Project Home Lab: Network Decisions
  5. Project Home Lab: Shopping List

Common Infrastructure

Storage Server

Disks for the server I’ve yet to purchase or confirm as these are pretty much a commodity item. I’ll update this post when I do select these but expect it to be a mixture of SSD and SATA disk.

With the SAS Multilane cables for connecting to the on-board SAS SFF-8087 ports, do make sure you get the cable with Sideband support, provided by an extra wire or two and an extra pin connection in the cable otherwise you won’t get the SGPIO disk failure and status indication through the disk backplane.

Hyper-V Server

Disks for the server I’ve yet to purchase or confirm as these are pretty much a commodity item. For the Hyper-V server, the disks need not be large or pretty as they will be used primary just for getting the host operating system online. A pair of SSDs in a RAID1 Mirror will be the most likely suspect.

With the SAS Multilane cables for connecting to the on-board SAS SFF-8087 ports, do make sure you get the cable with Sideband support, provided by an extra wire or two and an extra pin connection in the cable otherwise you won’t get the SGPIO disk failure and status indication through the disk backplane.

Next Up

With the shopping list crossed off and most of the hardware now ordered and some of it already in my hands, it’s time to get building. The next posts will show some of the builds, enjoy.

Project Home Lab: Network Decisions

So far in the series, I’ve talked about the goals and what hardware I want to use. In this post, I’m going to talk about how I plan to connect it all together and how I’m going to get it talking to the outside world via my existing production home network.

This series will consist of the following posts. I will update the table of contents links in each post as I produce and publish the articles.

  1. Project Home Lab: Goals
  2. Project Home Lab: Existing Infrastructure
  3. Project Home Lab: Hardware Decisions
  4. Project Home Lab: Network Decisions
  5. Project Home Lab: Shopping List

Hyper-V to Storage

I’ve got two new servers we know that much as planned so far. The data will be on one server, the processing power on another so I need a way to interconnect them. I also need to be conscious of ensuring that whatever I deploy for the interconnect can scale up with other areas if I elect to add another host later. Most importantly, I need to be sensitive to my existing network. Me hammering away with data transfers in the lab should not under any circumstances impact my home network as getting in trouble with the wife stopping her from being able to stream videos in Xbox Fitness or play the latest Facebook craze just isn’t worth it.

We know already that I am going to need three Ethernet ports, two gigabit and one 100Mbps for the two servers to operate the on-board network ports which I have said previously I will use for management and IPMI access. This leaves the most important aspect of getting data between the two. 100Mbps is gone, never to be seen again for anything other than out of band type connections so my options are 1GbE, 10GbE or Infiniband with RDMA.

As we know, this is a home project. Infiniband requires specialist knowledge, some of which I possess from work with Xsigo in a former role and whilst yes, 40Gb/s or more between the machines would be nice, the Infiniband host bus adapters (HBAs) are expensive and the Infiniband switches even more so. 10GbE is more common however as it is still pretty much at the pinnacle of Ethernet based networking with enterprises only really taking it by the horns today it too is also very expensive which leaves me with 1GbE.

Gigabit Ethernet has been around the block a few times, parts are common and reasonably affordable. Gigabit Ethernet can be run over standard Cat 5e or as I have, Cat 6 cable so I’m reusing my existing investment in cabling and tooling for producing cables. Gigabit Ethernet also means I’m working with a single connectivity medium throughout making the identification of faults and troubleshooting simpler.

I want to get good performance out this lab so after some discussion with @LupoLoopy, we came to the decision that I should use SMB Multi-Channel, the new feature in Windows Server 2012 R2. With four ports of Gigabit Ethernet I will get decent performance at a low price and it’s easy enough to add another card to the server to open up more ports if I need later. A quad port Intel PCI Express adapter comes in at between £50 and £100 on eBay used. I got both the cards for the Hyper-V server and the storage server for £50 so make sure to keep your eye on the available items for a bargain.

I will run my Hyper-V virtual networking over these ports also and using Storage QoS in Hyper-V I can ensure that I get the right amount of storage throughput at all times.

Switching

With it now decided I’m going to use four ports of Gigabit Ethernet for my SMB Multi-Channel storage traffic and three ports for management and IPMI, I need to provision seven Ethernet ports per server. With two servers right now, that’s 14 ports and if I allow an additional seven ports for a possible future expansion, that’s 21 ports, nearly a 24 port switch full.

My current core switch, a 24 port TP-Link TL-SG3424 has about 12 ports free right now so not enough for this project. Going back to my previous statements, I want to keep any of this traffic from harming my home network performance, therefore put two and two together and you can see I’ll need a new switch for this. I don’t want to have to replace my core switch as it works perfectly well, performs well, silent and so forth. As I want to completely isolate this lab, I’m going instead to add a second switch to my network for the lab and I will trunk the lab up to the core for internet access. With this leaf switch design for the network, the only traffic that needs to leave or enter the core switch to and from the lab is external access from myself or Internet access requests, containing the storage traffic and protecting my home interests.

I looked at all the options and came to the swift conclusion that I was going to be best placed to get another TP-Link TL-SG3424, the same as I have already for the leaf switch. 24 Gigabit Ethernet ports suit all my needs, I know it performs well, leaves me with enough ports free for an additional host in the future plus a few ports for uplinks into the core.

I wrote a review of the TP-Link TL-SG3210 I use as my access switch which has equal features and interfaces to the TL-SG3424 just it has 8 instead of 24 ports.

Access

Access into the lab will primarily be over Remote Desktop Protocol from the home network. To do this, I’m going to be accessing the lab across uplink ports that I will configure between the core and the lab switch. The lab will be in a separate VLAN to protect the home network from any broadcasts or such like going on in the lab. As my TP-Link switches are Layer 2, the Cisco ASA will be acting as my Layer 3 router between the home network and the lab which will allow me to place IP restrictions on who can traverse from the home network into the lab.

Costs

The cost for the new TP-Link switch is about £120. I’ve already got all the tools and cable I need to wire up the networking so there is no new costs there making this arguably, the cheapest part of the project. Time is actually going to be the biggest cost factor with the networking because of the time it’s going to take me to configure all of the new VLANs for the management, VM traffic and SMB Multi-Channel traffic, the sour side of using TP-Link over Cisco and not being able to use VLAN Trunking Protocol (VTP), a feature on Cisco which I love dearly.

Thankfully, VLAN configuration is a one time thing though, so although I’ll lose a couple of hours to all the network configuration initially, the cost of buying the switches and the low power consumption of the passive cooled TP-Link devices is worth it long term.

Next up, I will do a summary post in the form of a shopping list to get down everything I’m going to be using for the project and then I’ll be heading into build.

Project Home Lab: Existing Infrastructure

In this second post in my Project Home Lab series, I’m going to cover fairly loosely what I’ve got in my environment at home already as I need to take this into account to determine whether I can keep it all or whether I need to make more fundamental changes to my environment also.

This series will consist of the following posts. I will update the table of contents with the new page links in each post as I produce and publish the articles.

  1. Project Home Lab: Goals
  2. Project Home Lab: Existing Infrastructure
  3. Project Home Lab: Hardware Decisions
  4. Project Home Lab: Network Decisions
  5. Project Home Lab: Shopping List

Racking

I’m fortunate that my wife lets me have a server rack in the garage which is what allows me to even chase the Project Home Lab ambition. Currently, this is a 12U rack I built myself with wooden panels and some 12U AV posts I got from eBay. It’s served me well although it has it’s nuances.

  • Non-removable side panels make access tricky
  • No wheels or castors making rear access non-existent as the rack is backed into a corner
  • No cooling aids such as top vents or air ducting

The rack is probably going to have to go for three reasons. Firstly because there isn’t going to be enough U space in the rack for me to add the new hardware I am going to be looking at and secondly because I need there to be more access into the rack so that when I need to add cabling or investigate faults, I need to be able to get in there and check it all without more time being spent on gaining access then doing the task in hand. The third reason is weight. All of the new equipment such as new rack chassis and the like will add weight and I don’t think the wooden panels right now will support all the extra.

Power

Currently, my rack gets its power from an APC 750VA 1U RM UPS. I’ve had it for about six years and it’s been faultless. I currently operate at about 20% load which gives me a runtime of around 25 to 30 minutes on battery. With the addition of new equipment, I think that I can probably get away with keeping the UPS load within capacity limits but this is going to severely hamper my battery runtime and I’d like to keep a minimum of 15 minutes battery to protect against short-term power outages so the UPS may need to be replaced.

A secondary issue with the UPS is connectivity. This model of UPS has four outlet IEC C13 ports as do most small form factor UPS units. I’m going to need to invest in a power distribution unit (PDU) or two to add extra power outlets for the new devices. The reason for two and not just a single PDU is that I want to spread the power load over the physical ports on the UPS so that I’m not driving all the power through a single outlet on the UPS and potentially burn it out.

Network

My network core lives in the rack right now and this is where it will stay. I currently have a Cisco ASA 5520 firewall and a TP-Link TL-SG3424 gigabit 24 port switch. Both of these will certainly be kept as is.

The ASA is amazing. It’s running just shy of the latest Cisco IOS release with fully upgraded 2GB RAM and it’s handling the Layer 3 inter-VLAN routing of my home VLANs right now and also acting as my edge router receiving my 120Mbps Virgin Media cable connection and it barely cracks 5% CPU usage and 512MB memory usage. I’ve got no questions whether this can handle the new device traffic but when you look at the specification of the Cisco ASA 5520 is it any wonder?

The TP-Link switch is a Layer 2 managed switch with 24 gigabit ports. I’m using 2 of the ports in a LAG up to my access switch in my home office, another two ports in a LAG to the ASA and a third pair of ports in a LAG to my home server. The remaining ports connect to devices in the main area of the house. For £125, this is a great switch. It supports all of the enterprise features you would expect from a named brand Layer 2 managed switch like Cisco, HP or Dell but at a fraction of the cost. Reliability and performance has never been an issue and I don’t foresee it being one. Lastly, it’s silent as it is passively cooled keeping the volume and BTU output of the rack down.

I have two issues with the current switch however relating to the new lab. One is port count and the other is performance impact. With the current port occupation on the switch, it is highly unlikely that I will be able to get everything connected to it so I will be likely adding a leaf switch for connecting the lab devices and then an uplink or two into the core from the leaf. The second reason is that I like how my home network performs right now. If I was to start throwing Hyper-V over SMB 3.0 File Server traffic across it all day long, I’m not sure how my home production network would suffer. This adds credence to adding the leaf switch. With the leaf switch, the only traffic that need to leave the confines of the lab back into the core are packets destined for the internet or administrative connections from me into the lab via Remote Desktop Services or management consoles.

Cabling

All of my cabling at home is shielded category 6 cable wired into a category 6 patch panel with homemade patch leads from the panel into the switch. I test all of my cabling with a Fluke tester to validate them to make sure I’m going to great good clean transmissions over the wire. I try to use wired in the house where ever possible as I like having that constant, reliable gigabit speed compared with the relative slowness of 300Mbps N specification wireless and potential disruptors such as DECT cordless phones, Bluetooth and microwaves.

I’m going to be continuing to use this cabling in the new lab. I won’t be using fibre or InfiniBand due to the complexity and cost. Sticking to category 6 copper cabling keeps my cable media uniform across the all my devices.

Server

I’ve got one server right now which is running Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials. This acts as the core to everything in the house offering Directory Services, DHCP, DNS not to mention being a backup target and a media streaming server. It’s currently housed in an RM 400/10 4U rack enclosure from X-Case. I upgraded the case about two years ago with hot swap drive caddies to allow me to add and remove drives to my Storage Spaces Storage Pool easily. Inside the case is an ASUS ATX desktop motherboard with an Intel Core i5 3470T low power processor and 12GB DDR3 RAM.

Although I’m really happy with the performance of this server right now, I am a sucker for consistency and the aesthetics of things. If I can get parts at the right prices, I may well give my home server a little upgrade so that the parts inside match those of the new servers. For me this is a silly thing to cure a minor case of OCD I have but in real terms, it means if I have any suspect failed parts, I can swap and move them between servers to test as needed.

What’s Next

To be honest with you from the start, I’m actually writing some of these articles after the fact: I started this project over a month ago and I already have quite a few of the hardware parts ready for use. In the next post, I will explain my thought processes for selecting the hardware I have bought already and what I still need to purchase and why I will be purchasing those parts.

I’ll do a summary of all of the prices too for budding lab builders among you to use as a reference.

Mixing TP-Link Switches and Cisco SFP Modules

Sometime ago, I posted reviews of my use of two TP-Link switches to operate my home network. To recap briefly, I use a TP-Link TL-SG3424 as my core switch and a TP-Link TL-SG3210 as my access switch. Both switches are Gigabit Ethernet across every port which I love. The pair of switches cost me under £200 new for the pair.

Recently I’ve deployed some extra devices into my home office leaving the TL-SG3210 a little short a free ports (a la none) so I was interested in moving my two LAG trunk ports onto the SFP Mini-GBIC modules to free up two ports. Taking a look at the TP-Link Media Converters and Modules page at http://uk.tp-link.com/products/?categoryid=225 reveals that they do produce fibre modules but nothing for Ethernet which had me a little worried about the future of my eight port home office switch.

Determined not to be beaten, and not wanting to fork out to lay fibre through my house or buy a new, larger switch, I decided to take a punt on buying two used but functional Cisco GLC-T= SFP modules. These are 1000BaseT Gigabit Ethernet modules taking copper connectivity as opposed to fibre (or fiber depending on your preference). With Mini-GBIC SFP being an industry standard, I figured it must work right?

The good news folks is that it does work. The Cisco modules work just great and I’ve got four of the modules now. I am using a pair of them at either end of my LAG for consistency to I’m connecting SFP to SFP and I’ve had no issues with them at all.

TP-Link TL-WA801ND Wireless Access Point Review

In my continuing quest to upgrade our home network to 802.11n wireless and gigabit throughout, I purchased the TP-Link TL-WA801ND wireless access point.

My reason for selecting this device was three fold:

  1. Easily affordable and I could write off the price of it if it turned out to be a turkey.
  2. Single manufacturer of networking infrastructure in my home once all the upgrades are complete, making interoperability more likely.

The third reason requires a little more explanation. TP-Link sell two models of AP that I was interested in. The TL-WA801ND and that TL-WA901ND. Upon first inspection the difference is clear in that the 901 has three antenna for greater wireless client antenna diversity, however upon receiving the specifications, you can see that the extra £9 on the 901 isn’t worth it. Both devices feature a 100Mbps LAN connection RJ-45 port. This means that even if your wireless device is connected using a 40MHz channel width at 300Mbps, the most the AP can push out onto the wired network is 100Mbps, so why am I concerned therefore about antenna diversity? I’m quite happy if the wireless speed drops to 130Mbps because I enforce a 20MHz channel width as that is still faster that the wired interface. Had the 901 features a gigabit Ethernet port then the choice would be obviously the 901. An oversight on TP-Links device design teams in my opinion but that’s just me of course.

The first thing I will say about this device is that I was sceptical. The access point, brand new and boxed from Dabs Online via eBay was only £33. I personally couldn’t understand how someone could make a 300Mbps N rated access point for this price so quite frankly, I was expecting a Meccano set to arrive but not to include any of the tools required and that it would be a DIY access point. Oh how wrong I was.

First impressions are that the device looks a bit cheap and plasticy and doesn’t look as solid and robust as some other products available, but I figure that for £33 it’s almost disposable. It’s supplied with a passive PoE (Power over Ethernet) adapter allowing you to use the AP somewhere in your house without a nearby power socket, up to 30 metres away from the source of the power injection. This is a nice touch as Cisco for example, will charge you extra for a separate line item to include a power injector for PoE. The AP is wall mountable by means of two slot on, slot off screw positions on the underside and the wireless antenna are screw on type allowing you to select different antenna types such as uni-directional our outdoor if you require. The supplied antenna can be rotated and angled at any direction you like for optimal positioning if you wall or ceiling mount it.

Configuration is simple using the web interface and once I have resolved my issues, performance is also good. Transferring a file from a 300Mbps wireless client to my Home Server was done at 10MB/s (Megabytes), effectively maxing out the 100Mbps LAN connection. Some of the features include support for multiple AP modes (AP, Client, Multi-SSID and WDS Bridge). I am using it in Multi-SSID mode, connected to a trunk port on the wired side and it works great. There is also support to use the AP as a DHCP server, configure firewall rules up to Layer 4 and also a builtin traffic analyser to allow you to monitor throughput and performance of the access point.

I did have one issue which TP-Link support helped me to resolve, but other than that, the experience has been perfect. My issue was that when transferring files or streaming media content, it would drop the transfer speed to about 10 bytes/sec and would struggle to exceed 2MB/s. This turned out to be because the access point has a problem with LAN switch ports hard set to a specific speed and duplex configuration. My Cisco 2950 which it was connected to at the time was set to 100/Full. Setting the switch port back to Auto/Auto caused the port to stop generating FCS input errors and allowed the AP to negotiate it’s own speed (100/Full as it happens but never mind) and the performance instantly went ‘through the roof’.

Conclusion?

Great product for a great price. I may be looking to buy another in the future to extend my range/signal at the top level of my multi-story town house home.