Technical projects for IT directors: Software for your home lab
Want to get a little closer to the technology side of technical leadership? Building a home lab is a rewarding project that is easier than you think. Here's how to add software to your home lab project.
In the previous issue of this series, we covered why a home lab would be interesting for a technology director: A box-type lab that allows you to experiment with new technologies and is emerges and reconnects with the technologies that underpin modern technology. digital transformation initiatives.
SEE: Technical projects for IT directors: How to build a home lab, automate your home, install Node-RED and more (Free PDF) (TechRepublic)
With your chosen hardware, which could range from a garage sale desk that would be elsewhere in a landfill, to a rental level server, enterprise level from eBay, to a home server purposely designed and built, it's time to consider software. Fortunately there are several options available at low or no cost, all of which support the game change service that makes home labs far more useful: virtual machines and Docker.
Editor's note: This is the second in a six - part series of tech projects for IT directors. See other allowances: How to build a home lab, How and why to add Node-RED to your home lab, How to use RESTful APIs with Node-RED and How to build a home automation project with RESTful APIs in Node-RED. Keep an eye out for more technical projects for IT directors.
Virtual Tools and Docker: the magic of your home lab
At a basic level, virtual machines and Docker do the same thing: They allow you to run multiple virtual servers on a single piece of hardware. This will allow my humble homeowner home server to run what was once full of servers, and try to connect and integrate these services and get started easily when I'm done or misusing something to the extent that it is not easily fixable.
SEE: How to apply "platform thinking" to your tech strategy for greater success (TechRepublic)
Where they differ is that a virtual machine is a software version of a complete physical server, including hardware, operating system, and applications. Docker provides vessels that share key responsibilities. Simply put, if I have five VMs, I run five operating systems that perform key functions such as networking and file storage. If I run five Docker ships, the network and file storage are shared between them. Docker simplifies the installation and maintenance of new services, as you do not have to worry about the basic operating systems of each.
In my home lab, I look first for a Docker vessel to test with a new service. The only two exceptions are when Docker is not available, or if I want to test with my own operating system. I can run almost any OS in a VM, from Linux to Windows.
Choosing your homework software
While the applications you run inside Docker and VMs are what make home lab interesting, you need a basic operating system that powers your homework server and provides Docker services and VM. If you buy a pre-built NAS server from a company like QNAP or Synology, you already have the software you need installed, including Docker and a VM service.
SEE: Want to build a home lab for shipping and virtualization? Consider small PCs (TechRepublic)
If you are using your own hardware, there are a number of free and low cost options, in particular:
- DIY: Install your choice of free operating system (usually Linux version), Docker, KVM, and support tools. This option provides maximum flexibility but requires maximum configuration and maintenance.
- FreeNAS (changing name to TrueNAS at the end of 2022): Freemium OS based storage that provides VM / Docker network storage and hosting options.
- ProxMox VE: Free VM / Docker platform aimed at enterprise.
- unRAID: Low cost OS ($ 60- $ 130 depending on storage devices, 30-day trial available) OS that provides storage, Docker and VM hosting, and a strong community.
- VMware ESXi: Free version of VMware Virtual Machine Platform. This is helpful if you are aiming to learn VMware tools but with a specific focus on running VMs instead of providing a full home lab.
After several years with QNAP tool, I switched to my own hardware and unRAID about two years ago, and I recommend it for most users. While not free, I found that unRAID has two important benefits for homework users.
First, it strikes a good balance between user capabilities and friendliness. UnRAID does not aim to be enterprise level software, making it a little easier to access than the other options.
Second, there is a strong community around unRAID that can be found through the company's online forums, YouTube videos (especially from SpaceInvader One) and Reddit groups. There is likely to be anything you would like to try out, from home automation, to backward proxies, to artificial intelligence and security cameras. Thousands of Docker ships are easily accessible through the app store which is available once you install the Community Applications plugin. Consider a $ 60 entry price as a down payment on time and frustration saved.
SEE: Try to be ambitious in your department's goals for greater clarity (TechRepublic)
Another nice feature of unRAID is that the operating system itself runs from a USB driver, so you can grab an existing device, try a little (just be sure not to remove any hard disk drivers until you are ready), and see if unRAID makes sense to you. UnRAID offers a helpful Wiki about getting started, and if you are more visual, Spaceinvader One has an overview about installing the OS as well.
With the OS of your choice installed, you can start some simple homework projects right away. If you are using unRAID, FreeNAS or QNAP / Synology, a simple startup project is setting up a network file partition for storing large files. This can be very helpful for large video or image files that are too large for cloud storage services, and can eventually be your home lab as a way to share content with family members or over appliances in your home. For an initial test with Docker, I would recommend installing the Docker netdata, a simple package that provides a review and record of performance for your home lab.
For more advanced projects, start by taking tutorial classes from the resources mentioned, and you will begin to get a feel for how your OS works and what your home lab is capable of. I also share projects I found beneficial in future projects for technical directors.