Best way to learn? Building a full home laboratory, of course
Thirst for knowledge is a severe condition. Best treated by dedicating an indoor space to let it flourish and some equipment to keep learning new things. Enter: homelabs, a place to learn minus the potential damage any experiment is prone to cause.
If cinema has taught us anything, the most extraordinary inventions are made at home. Be it a garage, basement, or a secret closet, the craftiest will always find a way to teach themselves. Computer enthusiasts, however, have a crucial advantage over the Doc Browns’ of the past. Their gear usually does not require a full garage to house. Usually.
Similar to other like-minded communities we’ve introduced you to, computer lab enthusiasts have a dedicated community on Reddit. Over 400 thousand users share their best attempts at creating a testing ground for new ideas, from studying a Cisco certification to learning completely new technologies.
There’s plenty of information for experts and amateurs alike with links to vendors, tutorials, software, hardware guides, and resources necessary to upgrade an existing lab or start a completely new one.
“IT professionals, amateurs, and people who just really like computers use homelabs to experiment in. It’s a sandbox environment where if you break it, you fix it, and more importantly, it doesn’t cost money while it’s down,” states a dedicated wiki site for the community.
Homelab applications are as broad as the human imagination, meaning – virtually unlimited. Homelab developers might use labs for self-hosting, virtualization, networking, developing security software, or infrastructure tools.
The key idea is to have a safe space to experiment before rolling stuff into a production environment. Others started building labs out of curiosity which eventually led to a career in tech.
“They’re fun. They’re expensive. They’re a hobby. Ultimately, for most people, a homelab is a plaything that occasionally gets out of hand,” claims the creators of the Reddit community.
If you have a home lab, you have a chance to play with that tech in an environment where if you make a mistake, it doesn’t hurt anything,u/Evil-Toaster.
Experimenting is the key. To avoid young Victor Frankenstein’s monstrous mistakes, people might use home-built laboratories to prepare for a rollout of new technologies, combining a love for work with a desire to advance their knowledge during after-hours.
“Let’s say you work for a large company and you find out in the coming days you will be using new technology at work. If you have a home lab, you have a chance to play with that tech in an environment where if you make a mistake, it doesn’t hurt anything,” Reddit user u/Evil-Toaster told CyberNews.
Crucially, if something goes haywire, the only people and equipment to suffer are under safe supervision of the homelab owner with no damage to the company. u/Evil-Toaster told us he uses his homelab to improve Kubernetes and Hadoop skills in a safe space or learn penetration testing and operating systems he is new to.
According to another homelab enthusiast, u/the1maximus, the idea to create an indoors laboratory came to him after buying a home and starting to wire it up.
“Well, I’ve been in the cable and networking industry for 15 years and have had my run-ins with poorly wired homes. When I bought my home and started to wire it up, I knew I was going to need something more than what the traditional home would need,” he explained.
The main projects he has been focusing on are Plex and building a media library. The key to a successful project is to have equipment that can withstand grueling hours. For example, Dell PowerEdge r710 rack server.
“The components are more geared towards heavy use, and although they can fail, failure rates are much lower than traditional retail consumer products,” u/the1maximus told CyberNews.
As for how expensive the hobby is, there’s no limit. Some members of the community spend a few hundred dollars while others are not shy to go into four-digit territory or even further.
However, the whole ordeal of going through receipts has little value since every enthusiast has different needs. Some are content with stacking several Raspberry Pi’s to, while others dedicate whole basement full of equipment.
“Asking if it was expensive is subjective. Off the top of my head, I spent Between $2,500 to $3,000, so to the general consumer, it could be considered expensive, especially during the current state of the world, but to me, it was worth every penny,” u/the1maximus explained.
For those who are ill-equipped to create a laboratory, we’ve compiled the best examples of what members of the r/homelabs call “LabPorn”. Some are big, some are small, but they all look really cool.
'Humble beginnings of my lab'
'Moving tomorrow and wanted to share my setup'
'After moving to a new place, there's no better feeling than getting the most important furniture unpacked first'
'Forced to work at home... Not a problem!'
'Homelab meets Battlestation!'
'No need to pay for birth control anymore'
'Update of my room, 2 years later'
'r/HomeLab has created a monster'
'Just started my first tech job, all thanks to two best friends and the work I did on my pride and joy right here!'
'MONTY - 3D printed mini rack'
'My not so humble homelab is finally complete!'
'Just my homelab, figured I'd share'
'New condensed "Kid Proof" Homelab... Until he learns how to take the side panels off'
'Before I retire some servers, figured I'd share my homelab'
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