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My "Ultimate" Home server build (WIP)....


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So, long time listener (many years!) to the podcast, but only signed up to the forums today...


Since listening to the podcast, I've been using Sophos UTM for firewall and VPN duties for the last 6 months, and I love it. However, I couldn't justify yet another box being powered on 24/7, so I've decided to virtualise all the various boxes into one "Monster" ESXi host.


Here's where I've got to so far.... I've created a VMWare Esxi 5.5 host (free licence) and am in the process of migrating services over to it. I started with my UTM server, which is now totally virtual and performance is great (even using IPS, web filtering and AV scanning at maximum levels) and I've bought or re-purposed old kit for my build, and it is currently as below. Main considerations with the kit list were low power, support for PCI passthrough (Vtd) and cost. I thought about buying one of the Lenovo or HP pre-built servers that always seem to be on special offer but as I had a lot of the kit left over from previous builds, I decided it would be cheaper to roll my own. 


Antec P180 Case (very old from a previous build but absolutely solid)

ASUS H97-plus ATX Motherboard (supports Vtd)

Intel i7 (can't remember which one off-hand, but it is a standard powered chip and non-K cpu to support Vtd)

16gb RAM

240gb Samsung SSD (for primary datastore to host VMs)

Intel 4-port server gbe NIC (cheap, off eBay) - wanted 2 ports for Sophos UTM as I didn't want to use vlans and wanted to physically segregate WAN and LAN traffic. 

Blackgold Dual PCI Tv Tuner (DVB-T2 for terrestrial HD broadcasts)

Compro Dual PCI Tv Tuner (DVB-T - SD terrestrial tuner)

3 x 4tb WD Red drives (not purchased yet - for NAS duties)



So, the VMs I have built or are planning are:


1. Sophos UTM - This VM is currently built and working. It is running 2 x vCPUs with 4gb of vRAM. It took me a while to figure out the networking portion of the set-up, but I got there in the end. Sophos is currently performing all DNS, routing, firewall, VPN and web protection.


2. Windows 8.1 - This VM is currently built and working. Nothing special, this is a VM simply for me to access over RDP to perform any admin tasks (I use a Mac so this is extremely useful).


3. Windows 7 (32-bit) - As above - sometimes it's useful to have a 32-bit Windows VM to use when it is needed. 


3. Xpenology NAS - I am part-way through configuring this VM. This is an interesting one - I am planning on setting the 3 x  WD Reds up as physical RDMs and passing through to the VM. I'll do some testing on this, but I THINK this means that if my ESXi host dies at any point, I SHOULD be able to throw the drives into my real Synology box with no data loss.


4. MediaPortal TV server - This one is going to be interesting as well...The plan is to use Vtd passthrough on both the TV cards to a Win8.1 VM and run MP Tv server there. It's going to be a bit of an experiment as I have no idea if PCI passthrough latency will perform well enough for glitch-free TV. Given there are a few people gaming with passthough'd GPUs, I'm hoping it will be up to scratch. 


5. Z-wave automation server - a Linux (not sure which distro) VM to run a few Z-Wave devices around the house.



If anyone has embarked on a similar build, or has any constructive (or even non-constructive!) criticism, then I'm all ears! I'm building this in my very-limited spare time, so updates may be sporadic. Will add pics of the build soon if anyone is interested...

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OK, I probably should have started this thread in the Virtualization forum, so if a mod could move this thread, I'd be grateful....


So a quick update - I had a bit of spare time last night, so managed to make a good start on my Xpenology VM...


Created the VM, loaded the Xpenology OS and then added the storage disks. Lots of googling led me to decide on the three WD REDs being set up as physical RDM to be made available to the VM. The downside of this is that RDM doesn't pass through SMART drive data, so I won't get notification of pending drive failures, but that's something I'll live with at the minute. I could get round this by buying an HBA and run it in IT-mode, but this is an extra expense I could do without and, of course, it uses extra power.


Performance-wise, I'm really happy. I've read lots about poor performance from RDM mapped disks in ESXI, but my setup (with 3 x WD REDs) achieves both 100+MB/s reads and writes, so is being limited by by GBe network, not drive performance. This was being achieved while the disk were being scrubbed, so the RDM mapping seems to be working as expected. Once all the data has been copied, I'll stress test the VM to check for stability.



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