Planning a Homelab Rework

Jun 25, 2023, 8:39 PM

  1. Planning a Homelab Rework
  2. Homelab Rework: Phase 1

Over the years, I've shifted how I use my various computers here, gaining new ones and shifting roles around. My current setup is a mix of considered choices and coincidence, but it works reasonably well. "Homelab" may be a big term for it, but I have something approaching a reasonable array:

  • nemesis, a little Netgate-made device running pfSense and serving as my router and firewall
  • trantor, a first-edition Mac Pro running TrueNAS Core
  • terminus, my gaming PC that does double duty as my Hyper-V VM host for the Windows and Linux VMs I use for work
  • nephele, a 2013 MacBook Air I recently conscripted to be a Docker host running Debian
  • tethys, my current desktop workhorse, an M2 Mac mini running macOS
  • ione, an M1 MacBook Air with macOS that does miscellaneous and travel duty

While these things work pretty well for me, there are some rough edges. tethys and ione need no changes, but others are up in the air.


trantor's Xeon is too old to run the bhyve hypervisor used by TrueNAS Core, so I can't use it for VM duty. It can run jails, which I've historically used for some apps like Plex and Postgres, and those are good. Still, as much as I like FreeBSD, I have to admit that running Linux there would get me a bit more, such as another Domino server (I got Domino running under Linux binary compatibility, but only in a very janky and unreliable way). I'm considering side-grading it to TrueNAS Scale, but the extremely-high likelihood of trouble with that switch on such an odd, old machine gives me pause. As a NAS, it's doing just fine as-is, and I may leave it like that.

The Router

nemesis is actually perfectly fine as it is, but I'm pondering giving it more work. While Linode is still doing well for me, its recent price hike left a bad taste in my mouth, and I wouldn't mind moving some less-essential services to my own computers here. If I do that, I could either map a port through the firewall to an internal host (as I've done previously) or, as I'm considering, run HAProxy directly on it and have it serve as a reverse proxy for all machines in the house. On the one hand, it seems incorrect and maybe unwise to have a router do double-duty like this. On the other, since I'm not going to have a full-fledged DMZ or anything, it's perfectly-positioned to do the job. Assuming its little ARM processor is up to the task, anyway.

Fortunately, this one is kind of speculative anyway. While I used to have some outwardly-available services I ran from in the house, those have fallen by the wayside, so this would be for a potential future case where I do something different.

The VM Host/Gaming PC

terminus, though, is where most of my thoughts have been spent lately. It's running Windows Server 2019, an artifact of a time when I thought I'd be doing more Server-specific stuff with it. Instead, though, the only server task I use it for is Hyper-V, and that runs just the same on client Windows. The straightforward thing to do with it would be to replace Windows Server with Windows 11 - that'd put me back on a normal release train, avoid some edge cases of programs complaining about OS compatibility, and generally be a bit more straightforward. However, the only reason I have Windows as the top-level OS on there at all is for gaming needs. Moreover, it just sits in the basement, and I don't even play games directly at its console anymore - it's all done through Parsec.

That has me thinking: why don't I demote Windows to a VM itself? The processor has a built-in video chipset for basic needs, and I could use PCIe passthrough to give full control of my video card to a Windows VM. I could pick a Linux variant to be the true OS for the machine, run VMs and containers as top-level peers, and still get full speed for games inside the Windows VM.

I have a few main contenders in mind for this job.

The frontrunner is Proxmox, a purpose-built Debian variant geared towards running VMs and Linux Containers as its bread-and-butter. Though I don't need a lot of the good features here, it's tough to argue with an OS that's specifically meant for the task I'm thinking of. However, it's a little sad that the containers I generally run aren't LXC-type containers, and so I'd have to make a VM or container to then run Docker. In the latter form, there wouldn't be too much overhead to it, but it'd be kind of ugly, and it'd feel weird to do a full revamp to then immediately do one of the main tasks only in a roundabout way.

That leads to my dark-horse candidate of TrueNAS Scale. This isn't as obvious a choice, since this machine isn't intended to be a NAS, but Scale bumps Kubernetes and Docker containers to the top level, and that's exactly how I'd plan to use it. I assume that the VM management in TrueNAS isn't as fleshed out as Proxmox, but it's on a known foundation and looks plenty suitable for my needs.

Finally, I could just skip the "utility" distributions entirely and just install normal Debian. It'd certainly be up to the task, though I'd miss out on some GUI conveniences that I'd otherwise use heavily. On the other hand, that'd be a good way to force myself to learn some more fundamentals of KVM, which is the sort of thing that usually pays off down the line.

For Now

Or, of course, I could leave everything as-is! It does generally work - Hyper-V is fine as a hypervisor, and it's only sort of annoying having an extra tier in there. The main thing that will force me to do something is that I'll want to ditch Windows Server regardless, even if I just do an in-place switch to Windows 11. We'll see!

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David Leedy - Jun 27, 2023, 8:17 AM

Have you ever looked at UNRaid? I use that for vm/dockers and NAS activities.

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Jesse Gallagher - Jun 27, 2023, 1:43 PM

Oh yeah, I've heard of that, but haven't ever actually used it. I guess I'll put it on the list too!

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