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Our Top 10 Questions to Ask When Buying a HomeLab

 

At TechMikeNY, we get a lot of customers who are looking to build a home server lab. Servers are used for so many different tasks and applications, and we know it can feel overwhelming trying to figure out what you really need and what might be overkill.  Since we've fielded so many questions on the required specs for builds, we thought it would be great to lay down some high-level questions you should be asking yourself when building a homelab.  These server questions, hopefully, can help you understand where to invest your dollars in a home server build.  

Question #1: Do you know what exact specs you want? 

First and foremost, if you know what you need, you've come to the right place as configure-to-order servers are our specialty.  From our drop-down menus, you can build out the server to your exact specs. 

The good news: if you aren't sure what specs just yet – read the following nine questions and come back!

#2: Will the server be on all the time?  Does energy consumption matter to you?  (Or keeping energy consumption to a minimum for the benefit of the environment and your electricity bill?) 

Consider building your server with Low Power Processors (LPPs) and Low Voltage (LV) RAM.  Keep in mind that for LV RAM to utilize its efficiency features, all modules must be LV. 

Additionally, you can read our blog post here, which talks about efficiency tips for a home server/homelab and our server buying guides that share the efficiency measurements we captured on some of our popular server models. 

#3: What about the physical size of the device?  How much room do you have and where do you want to put it? 

All rack servers come in the standardized measurement of 1U, 2U, 3U, etc.  The 'U' is short for "RU," which stands for Rack Unit -- this is the standardized designation for the form factor of the server: 

  • 1U = 1.75" in height or thickness.
  • 2U is 1.75" x2 = 3.5 inches.
  • All rackmount servers are 19" in width.

In addition to the physical dimensions of the server, consider placement.  As tempting as it might be to stick a 2U server in the closet top shelf with your winter blankets – consider the issue of airflow and cooling.  You can read more about keeping your server cool in our blog post here.   

#4: Does redundancy matter?  Will the server house critical data that you can't afford to lose? 

A robust backup plan should be part of any device you maintain, but for additional redundancy measures, perhaps you want to consider a server with dual PSUs.  For even MORE redundancy, you may want to bring in a UPS unit (which buys you about an hour should the power go down and you want to shut down your server in a proper and controlled way.)  Additional redundancy features such as dual-NIC cards – should one network card fail, your server will not go offline – could be an option to consider.  

#5: Do you plan to do any virtualization? 

You'll want to consider processors with high core counts or multiple processors with multiple cores, which corresponds to the VM's you want to create.  In a nutshell: the number of virtual processors you can assign to a Virtual Machine is tied to the number of cores in the hardware.  For example, if you have a 2-socket server, and each processor has 8 cores, that's a total of 16 cores that can be assigned a VM. 

 TECH FOOTNOTE: Technically speaking, modern processors have begun introducing additional threads into their architecture, allowing for virtualization beyond the "one VM per core" rule. How many VM's is too many? It's really a question of performance, what the VM's are running, and the specs of your machine.


#6: Will you be doing any heavy lifting with this device? "Heavy lifting" defined as (but not limited to):

Crypto-mining, database hosting, video editing and rendering, marketing analytics, machine learning, web crawling for search engines, and even contact tracing.  If this is the case, then processor speed and performance will matter. 

Some examples of lower-demand applications are a phone server or a single OS VM server. 

#7: How much RAM will you need?

"How much RAM will you need?" has evolved into almost a metaphysical question: on the one hand, technically speaking, a system's minimum requirements for RAM are usually relatively low (around 4 – 8GB); on the other hand, perhaps you've heard, "You can never have enough RAM." Common sense is somewhere in the middle.  Here are some sub-questions to ask in regards to RAM:

  • While VMs emphasize cores, if you are planning to have a lot of VMs in your homelab, you'll want to up the RAM as well.  We suggest a minimum of 4GB per VM.  However, it depends on the OS and the minimum memory requirements necessary for the software to run.  More RAM allows for multitasking within a single VM.
  • If you are performing any high-demand applications as shared above, you'll want to up the RAM.
  • Do you plan to upgrade the RAM down the line? See below.  

#8: Do you plan upgrades in the future?

You'll want to build your homelab with free slots for Hard drives and RAM.  Go with larger volume drives to keep bays free for future drive additions.  The same principle applies with RAM: go with larger modules so you can keep slots free for adding modules (keep in mind that you will likely want to keep those new module capacities the same for best RAM practices).

#9: Will you want remote access to the device?

Fortunately, most home server builds have access to robust remote tools, such as Dell's iDRAC and HP's iLO. If remote access is an essential requirement for your build, make sure to include the remote access license.

#10: What about hard drives and storage?  Do you need the highest possible volume?  Or will you need rapid access to large files (such as a media server or a local storage server)?

Storage technology is evolving rapidly.  SSDs offer significant read and write capability compared to their platter drive cousins.  HDDs still provide a better volume-per-dollar.  Which is right for you?  It depends entirely on your need.

The below flowchart offers helpful questions to ask when determining storage requirements.  

Final Thoughts

The affordability of a refurbished server makes it the ideal, cost-efficient solution for a homelab.  With these questions answered, go to our Configure-to-Order page and build the machine of your dreams.  And if you still have questions – that's ok!  Drop us a line at info@techmikeny.com, and one of our techs will happily work with you.

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