The Big Home Server/HomeLab Thread

I was perusing the “How many computers do you have?” thread and saw some impressive amateur server setups. I think the subject warrants it’s own thread. Whatcha got? Whatcha runnin’ on it?

I’ll start with mine. I swear it was organized… a few years ago.

From top to bottom:

  • Thinkpad T-series
  • RIPE Atlas probe (white box on the right)
  • Ubiquiti 8 port PoE switch
  • Wyse Thin Terminal
  • Ubiquiti 24 port switch
  • Ubiquiti USG Pro 4
  • Cheapest 500w UPS I could find
  • Synology DS1515 + DX513 fully populated 6TB disks
  • HPE Microserver Gen 8
  • Salvaged Dell Opti-something…

Firstly - I’m a huge fan of Ubiquiti’s Unifi platform. Not pictured here are a pair of Unifi AP-AC lite WAPs to blanket the house in WiFi. I run the Unifi software on a tiny Debian VM and it just hums.

The Thinkpad is super old and has battery life of about 18 minutes, but it functions just running live Kali hanging off the network.

If you’re not familiar with RIPE’s Atlas project, check it out here - A Comcast exec who sponsors the program was giving these away on Twitter a while ago. Running an Atlas node gives you access to setup your own monitors using other nodes around the world. Kind of like a crowdsourced Thousandeyes, if you’re familiar with that.

The Wyse terminal fell off a truck at work. Calling these things “Thin Terminals” is a misnomer, imo. The thing has an x86 processor and could run a full Windows desktop. I loaded Debian onto it and run a Tor relay node, passing traffic 24/7. Averaging around 120 mbps these days.

The Ubiquiti Unifi/USG pair gives me great network performance at a great price with a slick interface. I had a frankenstein PFsense build for a while but got tired of it and wanted to simplify the whole network stack. The USG also runs an L2TP VPN endpoint.

The Synology pair is rock solid. 49 TB usable presented to the Microserver via iSCSI.

Speaking of… these Microservers are great! It has the same iLO out-of-band management interface that all their enterprise stuff has. Great for a headless setup like this. The Microserver came with some terrible Pentium proc, swapped it out with a Xeon E3-1230 V2. I think it’s about as best I can get with the passive cooling in this chassis. Looking at a Gen 10 in the near future. But this one is a Windows Server box, hosting a Plex server, HyperV instance, some basic IIS sites.

The old Dell desktop was brought back to life from the junk pile, it’s dedicated to file transfer. Honestly not even sure what processor is in there. A sufficient one.


After years of running servers, I sat back and let a Synology NAS with 4 x 4TB drives do the work.

Files, music, video, photos, notes, Resilio Sync, Apple Time Machine, does everything I need simply and easily.

Embarrassingly basic, but it works.



I don’t know a lot about Tor, but what is your benefit to running a Tor relay node? Are you opening yourself up to being associated with less than legal activity? (I know Tor is used for legal things too)

That is a neat setup! I wish I had extra space to do something similar. I have a QNAP TS-251 NAS with a pair of 8TB drives tucked away next to my router. PC desktop which doubles as a Plex server, 2 laptops in the house,

If I had a setup like that, my wife would kill me.
I guess because I work with it all day, my home setup is just what I need to live. If necessary, I do stuff in the cloud.

1 Like

Not really any tangible benefit to me. If my node were running in “exit” mode, then yes, the pandora’s box of nefarious traffic would be associated with my connection. But in “relay” mode my system is only passing encrypted traffic from the previous “relay” node to the next one. I can’t see the content of the encrypted traffic, and it stays that way as long as it’s transiting the Tor network (until it hits an exit node).

1 Like

I’ll second the Ubiquiti products. The new house we bought came with a couple of AP AC Lites installed in the ceiling. They were setup to be managed from the installer’s service (just tell them your router info and they’d set them up and manage them for you). That clearly wasn’t for me, so I started researching. I’d never used the Unifi stuff before, but once you get over the initial learning curve, it is quite nice.

I have the Unifi Security Gateway , the 2 AP AC Lites, and a Unifi Cloud Key. Every room has a couple of Ethernet drops as well, so there’s a large switch thrown in there too. WiFi coverage is great with AP AC Lites. Management of the whole network is pretty stable these days. It was a little rough getting it all setup due to some flakey firmware versions and one bad Cloud Key.

I’ve just switched to Ubiquiti Unifi AP LCs in the house and a Unifi USG for the border protection. I have the Controller running as a Docker module on my QNAP, although I am seriously thinking about running a dedicated machine, QNAP and Docker updates is a pain.

I’m slowly remodelling the network, I have a Zyxel switch with VLAN capability and I am splitting it up slowly at the moment, the default VLAN for ethernet, a management VLAN, WLAN VLAN, IoT VLAN and Guest VLAN at the moment. Although I don’t currently have any IoT in the house, just future planning.

I used to have a dedicated server, when I was self employed, but I just have the QNAP TS453B with 16GB RAM and 12TB of storage. Plus the Raspberry Pi running as a DNS server (Pi-Hole).

I’ve just bought one of these babies:
It will be used to house my Rasberry Pi3 running Pi-Hole - obviously the PDP-11 emulation will be added as well.

1 Like

I worked at DEC for 6 years, right up to the point where they started selling off parts like the biz unit I was in. I didn’t deal with PDPs hardly at all. I really look at the efforts to port OpenVMS to X86 with interest, but there really aren’t things that run on it that I would use.
These days it’s Linux for me on personal devices.

I came into computing after the PDP. My first computer experience was a data center with 8 VAX 11/750s and 11/780s and using the Phone facility to telephone from the ops-centre in the UK to the main data centre in Houston. That was instant messaging in 1981!

Can anyone link some beginner guides? Right now all I have is two drives attached to a Windows machine, one for media and one for backup. Id like to make it a little more sophisticated.

Headless servers intimidate me but I’d like to try something a little more professional. I’m also considering partitioning or adding a drive for my own email server as well. I’d love any tips.

Sorry, the reply seems to have dragged on a bit. For the most important bit, jump to the last paragraph.

It all depends on what you want to achieve. You can set up servers for all manner of things, from simple file serving and print servring, through web servers, DHCP, DNS, email etc.

Headless shouldn’t be initimidating. These days I’d throw VMWare ESXi or Windows HyperV (if you are going Windows or mixed) or Xen or KVM if you want to run mainly Linux servers. Once you install the hypervisor, you connect to the machine with a web browser (VMware) or the HyperV management tool, for example, and you can interact with the virtual machines through a window from your main machine.

Both VMWare ESXi and HyperV are free for private use on one machine. (Don’t forget, if you want to play with Windows servers, you need to plan in the license costs! You can get a 3 month trial of Windows Server, but there is no cheap/free option for people using it at home.)

Having a physical server for 1 task doesn’t make much sense these days. Most of the time they are idling, so it makes sense to run a proper hypervisor and install multiple virtual servers on one machine - or even use one server and use Docker, Kubernetes etc. to add specific functionality to the system. That will depend on what you want to achieve in the long run.

Micro servers for specific tasks, running on something like a Rasberry Pi or similar low power devices is fun, if the server doesn’t need much power - I use a Raspi for my DNS server and it currently does DHCP duties on my main segment as well.

Basically, have an idea first, what you want to achieve. E.g. mail server (as you mention), OwnCloud to share files with family and friends, VPN etc. Once you have an idea, or a list, and some hardware you can dedicate to running as a server, you can then look at setting them up.

There are hundreds of good guides to setting up servers to achieve specific tasks. But you need to know what you want to do first. Plan out what you want, then look for the relevant How To. If you are looking at sharing files with friends and family over the Internet, it is also important to make sure you have a secure firewall or router and that you know how to set up the rules for port forwarding and that it supports a DMZ (de-militarized zone), otherwise you could end up opening your network to hackers very quickly.

Honestly, I’d suggest starting a new thread with what hardware you have already or what you plan to do and then we can give specific advice. If you are looking at making your servers available from outside, then the first thing to do is ensure your network is up to it. Getting it ready doesn’t have to be expensive, but not making sure the relevant protection is in place can be very expensive…


I worked at DEC, there was a way to say that anyone you wanted was “phoning” Ken Olsen called more people than humanly possible.
I still think that VMS is a superior OS


Thanks for the reply.

I’m fairly familiar with using VMWare if vaguely familiar with setting it up.

The server would be for files: one backup, one serving files (media and work)
Also for email though this is secondary.

I agree with your security suggestions. It would be nice to set up a physical firewall at home. I plan on starting my own business over the next few months (freelance technical writing) and I’d like to have some infrastructure in place to protect myself as the files I keep will become more sensitive.

Thanks again.

1 Like

To be honest, for sharing files and maybe a bit of email, I’d go for a NAS these days. It is all taken care of for you. If you get one of the better QNAP or Synology NAS, they have a proper Intel processor and can run VMs or containers as secondary use these days. Although I believe Synology is a little better organised, when it comes to containers.

My QNAP TS-425B has been expanded to 16GB RAM (it came with 4GB) and I use it for file storage (12TB RAID 5) and for a couple of containers (Unifi Controller, OwnCloud etc.).

1 Like

Secure storage, I agree with the NAS option, adding a feature that I don’t know exists. Public Key encryption on the fly, then replicate the encrypted files up to AWS/Azure/etc.
I’ve been using Keybase and a connection to an encrypted Github repo for a few things that are sensitive, but that’s all manual.

1 Like

It all started with “I need better WiFi so my wife would stop complaining about it dropping out for her”
Overkill, You betcha ! Its because I can and its been fun, and I still have room for more toys. I first bought the USG and 8 port POE switch and 2 WiFi AP’s and was happy at how good it worked, so over time I have upgraded my network ran wire to a few rooms and to unifi cameras i have around outside.
I made the rack and used the rack rails that do work out nice, had to custom fit the dell rails to make it work (saving money can be a little more work) anf for being in the basement Im not to worried about looks, just a place to hold it together.
So from the top
24 port patch panel
24 port unifi switch
16 port unifi POE switch
unifi USG Pro
Qnap nas 1 older 431 i think (not used ATM) and 451+ 4 x 4tb and cable modem
Dell r 710 running Proxmox
Rosewill case with my old gamming rig 4770k as file server / proxmox system with over 85tb raw 50 something usable
Then what you dont see below an older dell i3 running my weather station and database another i5 (it my offline backup system for important stuff like backups of backups) and 2 UPS
Plus the 4 cameras around the house and a vm running the video software

Thats just a look into one of my hobbies


Overkill and more toys - yes! Great looking rig! :ok_hand::v:

1 Like

clean setup, very nice! what are you using for the weather station? been thinking about getting one myself.

1 Like

I have Davis Vantage Pro 2 and use CumulusMX as the software to collect data, it all works very nice.

Thanks, you say clean cause you dont see the mess below :no_mouth: