Overkill in the rsts11 lab workshop – a homelab update for 2017

After being chosen as a VMware vExpert for 2017 this month, I was inspired to get working on refreshing my vSphere “homelab” environment despite a busy travel month in late February/early March. This won’t be a deep technical dive into lab building; rather, I just wanted to share some ideas and adventures from my lab gear accumulation over the past year.

As a disclosure, while I do work for Cisco, my vExpert status and homelab building are at most peripherally-connected (the homelab at home connects to a Meraki switch whose license I get an employee discount on, for example). And even though I’m occasionally surprised when I use older higher end Dell or HP gear, it’s not a conflict of interest or an out-of-bounds effort. It’s just what I get a great deal on at local used hardware shops from time to time.

The legacy lab at Andromedary HQ

Also read: New Hardware thoughts for home labs (Winter 2013)

C6100

Stock Photo of a Dell C6100 chassis

During my last months at the Mickey Mouse Operation, I picked up a Dell C6100 chassis (dual twin-style Xeon blade-ish servers) with two XS23-TY3 servers inside. I put a Brocade BR-1020 dual-port 10GBE CNA in each, and cabled them to a Cisco Small Business SG500XG-8F8T 10 Gigabit switch. A standalone VMware instance on my HP Microserver N40L served the vCenter instance and some local storage. For shared storage, the Synology DS1513+ served for about two years before being moved back to my home office for maintenance.

The Dell boxes have been up for almost three years–not bad considering they share a 750VA “office” UPS with the Microserver and the 10Gig Switch and usually a monitor and occasionally an air cleaner. The Microserver was misbehaving, stuck on boot for who knows how long, but with a power cycle it came back up.

I will be upgrading these boxes to vSphere 6.5.0 in the next month, and replacing the NAS for shared storage throughout the workshop network.

The 2017 Lab Gear Upgrades

For 2017, two new instances are being deployed, and will probably run nested ESXi or a purpose-built single-server instance (i.e. an upcoming big data sandbox project). The two hardware instances each have a fair number of DIMM slots and more than one socket, and the initial purchase for each came in under US$200 before upgrades/population.

You may not be able to find these exact boxes on demand, but there are usually similar-scale machines available at Weird Stuff in Sunnyvale for well under $500. Mind you, maxing them out will require very skilled hunting or at least a four figure budget.

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CPU/RAM cage in the HP Z800

First, the home box is a HP Z800 workstation. Originally a single processor E5530 workstation with 6GB RAM, I’ve upgraded it to dual E5645 processors (6-core 2.4GHz with 12MB SmartCache) and 192GB DDR3 ECC Registered RAM, replaced the 750GB spinning disk with a 500GB SSD, and added two 4TB SAS drives as secondary storage. I’ve put an Intel X520 single-port 10GbE card in, to connect to a SFP+ port on the Meraki MS42P switch at home, and there are two Gigabit Ethernet ports on the board.

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CPU/RAM cage in Intel R2208 chassis

And second, the new shop box is an Intel R2208LT2 server system. This is a 2RU four-socket E5-4600 v1/v2 server with 48 DIMM slots supporting up to 1.5TB of RAM, 8 2.5″ hotswap drive bays, and dual 10GbE on-board in the form of an X540 10GBase-T dual port controller.  I bought the box with no CPUs or RAM, and have installed four E5-4640 (v1) processors and 32GB of RAM so far. There’s more to come, since 1GB/core seems a bit Spartan for this kind of server.

There’s a dual 10GbE SFP+ I/O module on its way, and this board can take two such modules (or dual 10GBase-T or quad Gigabit Ethernet or single/dual Infiniband FDR interfaces).

The Z800 is an impressively quiet system–the fans on my Dell XPS 15 laptops run louder than the Z800 under modest use. But by comparison, the Intel R2208LT2 sounds like a Sun Enterprise 450 server when it starts up… 11 high speed fans warming up for POST can be pretty noisy.

So where do we go from here?

Travel and speaking engagements are starting to pick up a bit, but I’ve been putting some weekend time in between trips to get things going. Deploying vSphere 6.x on the legacy lab as well as the new machines, and setting up the SAN and DR/BC gear, will be spring priorities, and we’ll probably be getting rid of some of the older gear (upgrading the standalone vCenter box from N40L to N54L for example, or perhaps moving it to one of the older NUCs to save space and power).

I also have some more tiny form factor machines to plug in and write up–my theory is that there should be no reason you can’t carry a vSphere system anywhere you go, with a budget not too far above a regular-processor-endowed laptop. And if you have the time and energy, you can do a monster system for less than a high-end ultrabook.

 

Disclosure: Links to non-current products are eBay Partner Network links; links to current products are Amazon affiliate links. In either case, if you purchase through links on this post, we may receive a small commission to pour back into the lab.

 

First look: Satechi’s Type-C Power Meter

My friend John Obeto pointed out some pre-release coverage of Satechi’s new USB-C power meter a week or so ago. I’ve had a number of different USB-A (standard port) testers and meters for a while, but with more devices coming into rsts11 headquarters with Type C connections (including the XPS 13 9350 and XPS 15 9550, Apple’s 12″ Macbook, the ASUS Zenpad Z10 from Verizon, and the Nexus 6P by Huawei and Google), I’ve wanted to look at power consumption beyond what an A-to-C adapter could reveal.

For those of you new to USB-C, it’s designed (in part) to be a universal connector for power and data, incorporating high speed data in a connector shared with Thunderbolt 3 (40gbit capability), a reversible connector like Apple Lightning, and some daisy-chaining capabilities like Thunderbolt 2. The standard allows for up to 100W of power, although the highest powered adapters I’ve found are 60W. The Dell Thunderbolt 3 docking station has a non-standard option beyond this; when you’re connected to a recognized Dell device it will bump the power up to 130W just like the stock XPS 15 adapter.

But the catch is that USB-A power supplies are generally limited to 2.4A at 5V, with some exceptions for Qualcomm Quickcharge and Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging and the like (which can go to 9V or 12V on compatible devices). So most USB-A power meters will only show/handle 2.4A at 5V, or 12 watts. My smaller USB-C devices easily pull 15W whereas the XPS 15 should pull a lot more than that. Continue reading

Internet on the Road, part 2 – how to optimize your travel connectivity

rsts11 note: This is the second of a two-part series featuring mobile internet routers. The first part is posted over on rsts11travel.com, as it is a bit milder technology. The second part appears on #rsts11 since it’s a bit more POHO than random travel, and will be cross-promoted on the travel side. 

When you travel, you probably have a number of devices that demand connectivity.

Many venues limit your allowed devices, and maybe you don’t want your devices out on the open network. Additionally, you may want to use streaming devices or shared storage in your room, and that may not work with typical public network setups. Last time we looked at some battery powered routers with charging functions and other network features.

Today on rsts11 we’ll look at some choices for sharing a wired connection as well as a cellular modem. We’ll briefly revisit the Hootoo and Ravpower routers from part 1, and then dive into Meraki, Peplink, and Cradlepoint devices for the higher-power user.  Continue reading

Using your voice, Babylon or not

As part of my six-year anniversary of rsts11, I’ve had some time to reflect on why I do this, and why I do social media as well.

This blog post has a bit of a soundtrack… feel free to play it and then read on…

Every so often in my blogging and social media career, something happens that’s humbling. Being chosen for Tech Field Day about six years ago, being invited to leave my Cisco ears at home for another event, things like that. But one of the most humbling and rewarding things is when someone thanks me for speaking up or sharing things.

Sometimes it’s sharing a perspective that someone might not have considered before, whether it’s my perspective or someone else’s. Sometimes it’s answering (or asking) questions that are difficult and others might not have the leeway to ask or address because of work or family constraints. Sometimes it’s putting a contentious or infamous issue into context for friends and professional relations. And once last year was someone thanking me for inspiring them to speak up, to express their opinions even though they didn’t follow a particular pattern that the social media sphere was trying to enforce.

I’ve lost a few followers on Twitter and probably a “friend” or five on Facebook as a result of being open and occasionally noisy over the past two or three years. I’ve gained a few “friends” and doubled my twitter followers over the same period of time. And I’ve seen some “thought leaders” who outsource their twitter controls to third party block lists disappear from my scope of reference. (Me, I respect thought leaders who think for themselves.) All things considered, it’s not been a bad couple of years.

I don’t think I’m getting too full of myself here. I’m a lifelong technologist with a quirky sense of humor and a LOT of coffeemakers. No number of retweets and puns will change that.

But it does make me feel good to think that some of my friends and my “friends” will see things they might not see otherwise, and take a moment to think about them because I reflected them. Most of the people I interact with understand and accept that not everything I share is 100% my opinion, and the rest might figure it out someday.

I don’t have a bully pulpit and hundreds of thousands of followers hanging on my every word. With the number of typos I’ve made lately, I’m kinda glad. But if I can make a couple of people happier, more comfortable with themselves and their thoughts, or more aware of the world around them, I feel like I’ve gone beyond a tech blogger and done something good, however minute by proportion, for the world.

And maybe I’ll learn something more about you in the process too.

That’s all for now. Be excellent to each other.

Resource sharing, time sharing, six years on

Six years ago today, I hit “publish” or whatever it was called at the time on a blog post:

rsts11-first-post

With a goal to tie my technology, culture, caffeine, and gadget history, experience, and sometimes expertise together in something that was entertaining and useful to read, I launched rsts11 on January 28, 2011.

digital-microandmem

Over a hundred posts later, it’s still chugging along. Along the way, I’ve butted heads with some vendors about online behavior and firmware availability and the definition of the word “free,” shared my Tech Field Day experiences until I was no longer able to do so, announced my migration to the dark side when I retired from system administration to work in a sales organization at a vendor (which is why I was no longer able to be a TFD delegate), brought you coffee and gadgets, and most recently on New Year’s Eve 2016, spawned a travel-focused blog with a slightly less technical focus than rsts11 itself.

I’ve had a number of great experiences made possible by the blog, including participating in Interop, the Spectra Summit, Asigra’s partner summit, and a few other things here and there. I’ve managed to keep a bit of my independent presence despite working for a megalithic technology company, and it’s helped me keep my tech chops at least lukewarm in between fifty person WebEx calls to discuss whether to have another meeting with a different fifty people… you know how it goes.

So where do we go from here?

What’s ahead for the next hundred posts? I’ve decided that I really need to stop buying gear “to write about on the blog” until I catch up on the room full of stuff I have to catch up on already. Some of the next hundred posts will be on rsts11travel of course, including some hotel reviews (and some better photos, which might mean some return visits to a couple of hotels). And I’m still pondering the video blog or podcast idea, although I’d need to come up with a lot more interesting stuff to talk about off the cuff.

 

Do you have suggestions for upcoming posts? Weird gear ideas for me to investigate? A favorite post from rsts11 that’s helped you in your work or pub games? Share in the comments below.