Home lab the dream

A beginners home lab

After lurking on various subreddits such as r/homelab, r/DataHoarder, r/selfhosted, r/HomeServer and r/HomeNetworking for some time now, we have decided that we also want a cool looking rack cabinet! With some different servers, NAS, DAS and everything you can think of that suits in a rack. Rack mount all the things! Everything that can be rack mounted, should be in that rack cabinet. Due to the fact that we do not own a house with its own server room, we do not have the option to go for a full size server rack with servers that are noisy 24/7. It must be suitable to a family home. Sizewise, It has to be a smaller format. 

And – it has to look good…

Why should you have your own home lab?

It’s fun to play around with, and you learn an incredible amount. That is our main argument!

That said, there are also several benefits to hosting your own services and applications from home.


It can be expensive to acquire all the equipment. However, all you need to get started is a PC and some hard drives. If you already have an older spare PC, this is something you can quickly start using as for example a NAS. Thus replacing a monthly cost for Dropbox or another similar cloud solution. The same applies to costs for web hosting, game server hosting, VPN, and other similar services you might use today.


Having your own equipment gives you full control over your own services. You do not pay for things you do not use, but you can instead choose to run only the services you want. If you want to test a new function or a new application, it is easy, and you do not have to purchase it from a software developer. With virtualization capabilities, you can quickly spin up a server where you can test out FreeNAS (TrueNAS), piHole, Plex or Home Assistant to name a few popular services we at least are interested in trying out for our selves.


You own your own data. Instead of giving all of your files and photos to Google, Microsoft or whoever you are currently using as a cloud service provider. You yourself have control over your data. You choose how you want your devices to talk to each other in your network, and can set rules that prevent your smart products from accessing all the data in your home. Furthermore, you as a parent get the opportunity to tailor access for your children; when they can watch TV, use the internet, and what they have access to and when.


We have zero experience with Linux as an operating system. Very little experience with network administration. That is what makes this project so exciting and interesting. With a dedicated virtualization server, you can easily set up a virtual machine (VM) that you can install whatever you want to on. Linux is open source, and free. It is also less resource-intensive compared to Windows. If you want to run some simple services and applications, you are almost dependent on knowing Linux, at least a little. There are LOTS of resources for learning Linux, and network administration online. And we’re well on our way and feel more and more comfortable managing Linux as an operating system.

What equipment do you need?

As mentioned earlier, a PC is basically everything you need.

Depending on what you want to get out of your home lab, there are a number of things you have to think about. If you are going to use it for NAS (Network Attached Storage) then you of course need some storage in the form of hard drives. If you are going to use it as virtualization, you must first and foremost have a CPU and a motherboard that supports virtualization, but also preferably a multi-core processor and excess memory.

We wanted a game server (primarily for Minecraft), a virtualization server for piHole and Home Assistant as well as a FreeNAS / TrueNAS installation. We will have all this gathered in one place, together with network equipment (see our post about Ubiquiti) and UPS in one and the same rack cabinet.

Buy new or used?

We have bought almost everything pre-owned. Everything from all the network equipment to the rack cabinet.

It is worth noting that the used market for server equipment is huge. For a home lab, it is not always necessary to have the very latest equipment. In most cases, it is good enough to have hardware that is a couple of years old. There are many companies that sell their old server equipment as they have higher requirements for equipment than what you have as a home user. And here is where you can make a number of bargains on different used hardware sites.

Which rack cabinet should one go for?

When we had to choose rack cabinets, we did not want a 79″ (2 meter) high and 47″ (1.2 meter) deep cabinet. One thing is the price as they can cost as much as a small car, but they also take up very much space. On various used sites, very common, older cabinets are often sold, which you can get at a reasonable price. With such a cabinet you get many opportunities.

Standard cabinets are in size 42U (1U is 44.45 mm or 1.75″. This is the unit for what you measure components you have in your rack cabinets). There are virtualization servers all the way down to 1U, so with 42U you get a lot of space.

The perfect beginner’s home lab cabinet

We went for a cabinet from Toten. A 15U. This should last for a while and be large enough to accommodate most of the servers, network equipment, storage space and UPS. The cabinet is 23,6″ (60 cm) high and 23,6″ (60 cm) deep and thus fits in a shelf in the basement with the same depth. It has a nice glass door, and it is possible to hang it on the wall if you wish.

The biggest downside with this cabinet is the depth. Most of the equipment that belongs to rack cabinets is for 47″ deep cabinets. This means that you have to look at all the short depth equipment available. It is in this category that some servers stands out, including the Dell Poweredge r210 ii, which we chose to go for as a first server.

A cheap, nice rack cabinet

This cabinet was bought pre-owned, but it looked brand new when we received it. We also got a rack shelf with the purchase, which can otherwise be a bit expensive depending on whether you buy the one that belongs to your specific cabinet, or a third party one.

Rack cabinets follow a standard, and it is not necessary to buy everything in Toten just because you have bought a Toten cabinet. Here, AliExpress or eBay are good options to turn to as it is a lot of money to save if you go for either pre-owned or a new, unknown brand.

We need short depth rack server cabinet

As I said, the challenge with short depth cabinets is that there are not so many options when it comes to choosing a rack-mounted server. Of course, you can always build one yourself, but even then there is a limit to what options there are when it comes to cabinets.

The maximum depth must be approximately 20″ (50 cm). It must have some space behind. Therefore, the first server we bought was a Dell Poweredge r210 ii.

We also bought this pre-owned, and it has been used as a firewall with pfSense installed by the previous owner. The CPU was an Intel Celeron, and it had 4 GB of memory.

A small but powerful machine

The Dell r210ii has the potential to be upgraded quite powerfully, in fact to the point that you can use it as a good virtualization server. The maximum CPU that the dell r210 supports is a Xeon e3-1280 v2, and the maximum amount of memory is 32 GB UDIMM ECC DDR3-1600. This requires the latest bios. We found both memory and CPU at a good price on eBay, and this was the next thing we bought.

This results in a relatively powerful small server, which with 2 SSDs (one 60 GB for the OS and one 500 GB for VM’s) manages to run Proxmox, and currently runs 3 VMs.

One for Home assistant, and one for a Minecraft server. On the third, an Ubuntu server is installed, where the plan is to run some applications in Docker, and possibly some other things, but this is what makes it so fun. It’s a VM that has been created that we mostly play with at the moment, and test some things out with. We do not yet know what it will end up with, but it will probably be awesome in the end.

Rackmountable network equipment

We have invested in full Ubiquiti network equipment and have never regretted it. This is something we are very happy with. Currently, we have a USG, an 8 port switch and a first generation Cloud key. We haven’t rack-mounted this, but it is possible to do. At least with a 3d printer available. As I said, we got a shelf for the purchase of our rack cabinet, and so far we are happy with the network equipment placed there. We want to eventually upgrade to a Cloud key gen2 plus (when home surveillance becomes a more important topic) that you can put in a rack. Or what we really want is a Dream Machine Pro that has everything you need in one device. Together with a patch panel, and a rack mountable PoE switch, it will look spectacular inside the cabinet.

Storage is expensive.

What is perhaps the most common reason why one wants their own Home Lab is the desire to have a NAS. FreeNAS/TrueNAS is a very popular option, but there are several alternatives to custom-built NAS, or ready-made NAS systems from different manufacturers. Whether you choose to go for a Synology or Asustor NAS, or use an old PC and install UnRaid, Open Media Vault or FreeNAS, it can quickly become expensive, depending on how much storage space you want. Hard drives can cost a lot of money. And you want to have redundancy in your data as well, in case there’s an accident and a hard drive fails. A rack-mountable NAS can quickly become expensive, but it is something we want eventually. Preferably with Hotswap option for the drives.

Currently, an old PC is used, with an ITX motherboard with integrated CPU. All in a Fractal Design Node 304 that stands on the floor with a mix of some 3 TB and some 4 TB disks.

Do you need this?

If you are a little above average technically interested and like to learn more and more of what the IT world has to offer then yes, absolutely. Our main argument is that it is fun, interesting, and you learn a lot.

The possibilities are endless with your own Home lab. With this we get a separate Minecraft server for the kids, so we can play with them and have our own world just for us. And not least with Home Assistant, which enables a local, self-controlled smart home solution. Where all smart home products are gathered in one place, in one app.

What will our lab look like in the future?

As you hear others say when presenting their Home lab; “This is not done yet”. It is probably common for everyone who runs their own home lab. It will never be finished. But that’s also what fun about it. It is a one thing having a gaming PC or workstation that you upgrade now and then. With this home lab you have your own rack cabinet with many options for inserting more and more components. Potentially with many virtual machines: That you can upgrade and downgrade all you want, with the click of a button.

The next thing we are going to invest in is a UPS. We could argue that we don’t need it since the power grid where we live is more than good enough. It is also not the case that we need to have a server running 24/7 and that can not withstand any downtime. But, should the power go. Should a fuse blow, then some data may become corrupt. Either on storage disks or on the Cloud key, or Proxmox. No PC likes to be turned off by simply losing power. With a UPS, we ensure that if the power goes out, we can just turn off the server and network equipment in a safe, controlled way while running on the UPS’s battery.

What will be next after that is uncertain. It will most likely be a self-built NAS, as we have already looked at short depth cabinets and are looking for motherboards, CPU and memory on various buying and selling sites. Or maybe a Dream Machine Pro. We’ll see! Stay tuned and feel free to comment on what you think we should go for next.


After seeing several different incredible setups of rack cabinets. We have decided to move our Minecraft Server to a separate dedicated server, in a rack cabinet. In a rack cabinet with great expansion possibilities, and we quickly got ourselves into what is a separate Home lab. With all the virtualized servers, NAS and network equipment gathered in one place. What equipment should we choose? What do we want to get out of our Home lab? Are there any skills you need to start with a Home lab? We have very little experience, and throw ourselves into the deep end and hope for the best. Stay tuned to see how all this unfolds!

The Dream that is a Smart Home

Google Home Speaker

Like many others who are also above average technically interested, we have for a long time wanted to take a bigger step to make our home smart. Not “hey google, play Christmas songs on Spotify” smart, but more “H.A.L from 2001: A Space Odessey” smart (minus the evil of course). This has long been a dream, and a lot of the various purchases that we’ve done recently have been made with a vision of eventually getting our home smart. However, it is a jungle of different systems. Different platforms, manufacturers and protocols, and all this is something we want to connect together, in one system. A system that solves several tasks for us.

If we start there. What do we want to get out of a Smart Home and what does it mean for us?

Why we should make the house smart


The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Smart Home is that it should make things in the home easier. Today, Google Home or Alexa Echo and other smart speakers are strongly associated with making your home smart. And that is true to a certain extent. The Google home app has routines you can create, which you can connect with other applications and products, which make things in the house smart. On the other hand, voice control of your light sources, or starting music and TV with voice control itself is not very “smart”. It’s just another type of remote control. Instead of pressing a button on the wall, or a remote control in your hand, you turn on the light in the ceiling with the help of your voice.

What instead makes the house smart is if the lights know what you are doing and even understand when to turn them on or off. Based on a time of day, an event or something else that happens, a command executes. For example; you come home from work, there is no one else home, your favorite music starts playing on the speakers at high volume, the front door unlocks. Lights all around the house turns on and the coffee maker starts brewing. Alternatively,  if there is someone else at home, instead the light in the hallway starts flashing blue, which indicates that dad has now come home. Now that is a smart home.


Today you can buy an alarm system from one of the major home alarm providers. Many of them also delivers a type of “smart home solution” included in their packages. There is nothing wrong with them, and in many cases it is advisable to go for a system, provided by an alarm manufacturer. You get a base connected directly to a security center, and if the alarm goes off, there is nothing you need to do other than let the security guard take care of a potential burglar!

However, this is very expensive in the long run. There is a monthly cost (a subscription) which means that the total cost can quickly become very large. In addition, this ties you to the system that that home alarm provider provides.

With your own monitoring system, you can integrate most of the components that an alarm company delivers. Everything from water leakage sensor, fire alarm, door and window sensor and especially cameras and motion sensors. With a system you have chosen and have full control over, you can also use this in the various automations that you want to have set up in your home.

Energy saving

It is no secret that it can potentially be expensive to start a project where you want to make the house as smart as possible. When you look at all the lamps, TVs, PCs, etc. that are powered on for an unnecessarily long time and draw power, it can save you a lot of money by making sure that everything that is not used is turned off at all times. It is also good for the environment. Light bulbs are the simplest to have full control over. By having an evening / night routine, you can ensure that everything is turned off when you go to bed. With the help of smart connectors, smart heaters and computers applications, you can ensure that even more products in your home is turned off so that energy consumption goes down as much as possible. With some products you will be able to get an overview of how much power each product uses. This is something that makes you aware of what is on, and it results in you actually turning it off when not in use.

Sensible AND fun

It not only makes sense to make the house smart, but it is also simply fun. There are several fun routines and automations you can set up. It is very important that the lights in the bathroom flash to the music when you play rock while showering! You want that the lights in the kitchen start flashing green whenever the ISS circles your house!

Some automations are fun, some are important and some can save houses and families. It is to make life as a family with children easier. With the help of technology, make everyday life more efficient.

Where are we now?

As mentioned earlier, some purchases we’ve already done, has been with a vision of getting the house smart.


Google Home

We now have a total of 4 google home speakers. They are primarily used today to control music, but we also have some smart lights from Yeelight that connects to the Google Home app. In the Google Home app, some routines have been set up.  Such as turning off the TV in the living room half an hour before the children go to bed, and reminding the children that they should go and brush their teeth. We also have some Google Chromecasts, and a Samsung smart TV that we can control by voice. We run Google Home in English despite the fact that it works well in Norwegian. But there are some functions that still do not work in Norwegian, plus it is only positive that the children actually have to speak and learn English.



We have some smart light bulbs and have chosen Yeelight mainly because of the price. They have not disappointed us so far, they work exactly as expected. We have tested others, including Philips Hue, but when the price of Yeelight is so much lower, we see no reason to go for any other than Yeelight.


We have the home network ready. With Unifi’s network system, you have all the possibilities needed to be able to set up your own VLANs for your smart home. You can set up your own dedicated wireless network only for your smart products. Then easily separate 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz to ensure easy connection with the products that need that possibility.

3D Printer

This is not a smart product per se. What it makes possible, on the other hand, is to be able to make several DYI projects, such as automatic blinds, or homemade nanoleafs to name a few. Just being able to print attachments to a Google Home Mini is something that justifies the purchase of a 3D printer for a smart home project. Or don’t you agree?!

We also have some more products. Some Mill ovens, Elko light switch and some D-Link cameras. We will replace some of the things, but some things we are very happy with, and want to use further. We have tried to stick to Wi-Fi controlled products where possible. The choices we have made are with a vision to connect everything in to one platform. Instead of as today where what is connected through the Google Home app, everything should eventually be connected in Home Assistant instead.

How will we do this?

There are several products we want to buy, and we have already selected some products. Everything should work in Home Assistant, and after a long time of preparation and a project set up in Notion.so (which we often use in cases like this) we know what we want to invest in.

Cloud vs Local

We want to be able to manage our house locally. By that I mean that we should not have to be connected to the internet all the time. When we want to turn on a light, we do not want the signal to go to another server in another country, and then sent back to us and then finally turn on the light. I don’t mention this for the sake of security. Not even to ensure that we do not share too much of ourselves with Google or others (which we already do). It is simply to avoid being dependent on the internet. Should the internet go down in the house, then the routines for our smart home will not go down. Responsiveness when pressing a button is also a factor here. Going locally is generally faster, than going through the cloud.

Some of the things we own today, such as the Mill ovens, require contact with Mill’s server to work. The Yeelight lamps, on the other hand, we can control locally once we have connected them together in Home Assistant.

Communication protocol

It is deliberately chosen Wi-Fi where possible. It’s simple, it usually works without problems, and it’s not particularly expensive. Where it is not possible to choose a product with Wi-Fi, for example with door sensors and the like, we will go for Zigbee. Zigbee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth all have their problems, and there is no protocol that is the optimal protocol without any flaws. With Home Assistant, however, you get the opportunity to set up your own MQTT Broker. This makes it possible to use MQTT which goes over TCP / IP. That is over our network (and Wi-Fi). We have come to the conclusion that this is what we want to focus on. Although it can be tricky to set up, but once it is in place, it seems to work without any major problems.

Conbee 2 dongel is a product that turns a PC into a Zigbee gateway. With this addition, you get the opportunity to connect all Wi-Fi smart home products, as well as all Zigbee products to one common platform, Home Assistant.

Where do we want to go?

There are a number of things that we need to purchase and set up.

Raspberry Pi (Or a Home Assistant Blue?)

To be able to install Home Assistant, and have a platform where everything is connected. Recently, Home Assistant released their own hardware, Blue. This comes with Home Assistant installed.


We will continue to get more Yeelight where it makes sense. We will also install Shellys in several switches. What is extremely important is that it is easy for all family members, both big and small, but also for guests to be able to turn on and off the lights. If everything is to be controlled with a remote control of some kind, it then goes against its purpose. Shelly does not change existing switches, but instead makes them smarter.


With the Unifi network, the choice is easy when it comes to choosing surveillance cameras as this is also available in the same series. Cameras that are connects only locally, and do not send out any signals using their own VLAN and firewall rules.


It was long planned to go for an August lock, but a Danalock is more adapted for the Nordic market, and we will most likely go for this one instead.


There is a lot you can achieve with the help of motion sensors, door and window sensors but also temperature sensors and moisture meters etc. Automations and routines that can be controlled based on which door is open, whether you walk past a motion sensor or what temperature it is in the room.

Cleaning and maintenance

With the help of robots of various kinds, one can definitely make everyday life more efficient. Having a robotic vacuum cleaner means that no dust collects under the beds and it is generally cleaner in the house at all times. With a robotic lawnmower, you get a nicer lawn.


Some things can’t be bought. Or, there are a product that solves your issue, but it costs so much that it pays to make it yourself. Considering that the latest soldering experiment was at school 20 years ago, this is something that will be exciting to get into. Stay tuned to see how it goes!


There are many who have a dream to make the house really smart. The way you envision how the future is. Not just to make your voice a glorified remote control, but I mean really smart. The house should almost read our mind and to do what we ask, before we ask for it. This is something that is possible to achieve with automations and routines, all gathered in one platform, instead of several. Instead of having 10 different apps on your phone that all control different systems, you can have one app that controls everything. This is possible with Home Assistant.

Stay tuned to see how we implement Home assistant in our house, and what different routines and automations we create.

If you have any thoughts about choosing products, or your own routines you want to share, we want to hear from you so feel free to leave a comment below.