To homelab or not to homelab….? That is a question.. (Part 1)

Many people wonder if it is worth while to have a home-lab to study on and to use to learn new technologies; this post won’t be to discuss the pros or cons on having a home-lab (maybe another time) but instead to display the growth of my home-lab over the last few years and to maybe give some ideas to others on the possibilities of their own home-lab.


**WARNING!!!** This will be a very long post… With lots of (sometimes low quality) pictures.



And there was a big bang!

I really wouldn’t call this a home-lab…. but it was my very first home network that connected a few computers (and my server) together.

Lets jump forward a few years…

At first I had a an 1841, a PIX 501, two 2900XLs, and an 2960.

Lots of cable mess….

Shortly after I acquired a 2800, got to barrow a 3750, and purchased an ASA5505

Blurry photo… but at least the cables look nice. (Bonus: I made that ceramic guard penguin)

I built a few servers (a couple physical and one ESXi box, as virtualization was just starting to get popular) and suddenly had a need for a better way to contain my equipment… plus I wanted my room to not be a constant 85 degrees…. so enter the need for a rack.

Unfortunately I knew that any rack I got wouldn’t fit in my room so I had to find a location to place it that would allow me to run all the house’s Ethernet to and provide enough power. I considered the garage as it would be away from the house (noise would no longer be a problem) and I figured it would be cooler compared to anywhere else in the house. The three main drawbacks to the garage was getting cables to it (it wasn’t attached to the house) and our winters can be pretty brutal. So I decided to have my gear in the basement. This in itself had some issues. For starters its an unfinished basement so dust can be plentiful. Another major issue was flooding, as the house is at the bottom of a hill the basement had a tendency to flood… luckily over the years measures were taken to help prevent flooding and have worked thus far.

With a location decided on, it was time to find a rack…. A quick searched let me know they were not going to be cheap! So I started watching craigslist for a hopefully good find. It took a few months of searching everyday but finally found one (apparently not many people have network racks to sell in my area). I had found a great bargain on a 26u music rack that the owner had used for network equipment. It took some work to get home (had to take the whole thing apart to fit it in the geo prizm) but it was finally back together and being populated.

Another blurry photo but you can see the servers I had and the patch panels I used to terminate all of the Ethernet runs in the house. You can also make out my ASA5505, 3560-8pc, and a gig netgear switch.

A better picture… with some cable management.

Over the next few years i acquired hardware to practice on for the many certifications exams I took. The look of the rack was never the same week to week as I was always moving things to try out something new.

A random photo I found of the rack at one point in time…

My old rack’s final form…

A quick rundown (top to bottom)

  • UPS (Provides 35 minutes of uptime for the entire rack)
  • Front of my “Cross-Connect”
  • ASA5505 (VPN)
  • 2811 (CCME & WLC)
  • 2960 (Access Layer)
  • 3550 (Gig and “Core”)
  • FiOS router/modem
  • Unraid Server (22TB of storage)
  • ESXi Server (72GB of RAM running multiple VMs)
  • Test Servers
  • 2x 1142’s (Not pictured)

Finally I started to outgrow the rack I had and begun my search once more for a new rack…

The biggest reasons I wanted a new rack was that I was planning on purchasing another ESXi server, and they didn’t properly fit in the rack I had as they were too long for the rack mount rails. Another reason is I wanted to begin building my CCIE lab, but wanted a way to have it racked and organized.

Naturally I started my search on Craigslist. I found a few, but they either didn’t come apart (a requirement I had to be able to get it into the basement) or they just weren’t what I wanted. I decided I wanted a full 42u rack cabinet that was closed on all four sides and had locks. Because of my desires the price for a rack (and the actual availability changed dramatically).

I ended up picking the Tripp Lite SR42UBKD. This model ships fully broken down (perfect for getting it into my basement) and included sides and locking front and back doors. The best deal at the time was purchasing through Staples. Shipping was included which was nice, I must also point out that the rack ships via freight and requires a lift-gate to get off the truck.


The day it arrived!

Unboxed and waiting to be put together!


Installation wasn’t too bad, especially with having another set of hands to help out

All put together and ready for equipment!

Some of the initial equipment installed and power run for.


CCIE Lab fully cabled and ready for studying!

The CCIE Lab consists of 5 “pods”, each pod having a 2800 and a 3560 switch. All 2800s  have three connections: one back to a central 2800 via Serial for WAN emulation, one connection via FastEthernet back to the switch in its “pod”, and finally  a FastEthernet connection to a central 3560 switch. Each pod switch has a connection back to the central switch to provide for switching labs.


Rack fully populated (Rack blanks at bottom are hiding UPS)

Rack rundown (top to bottom after the CCIE lab):

  • ??? (Don’t worry about that little guy)
  • ASA5505
  • 2811
  • “Cross-Connect”
  • 2960 PoE
  • Cisco WLC 2504
  • Unraid Storage Server (22TB Storage)
  • ESXi Host1
  • ESXi Host2
  • Rackmount Keyboard & Monitor
  • UPS (providing 32 minutes of uptime for all “production” devices)

I feel that this is a good place to stop. I spent a few days writing this post and would like to get it posted! Next time I will go into greater detail on my “Cross-Connect” as well as a more in-depth view into my current rack’s layout.


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