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How I neurotically built my home data center

June 14, 2019

Consumers do it like amateurs. Prosumers do it a little better. Data center pros put them all to shame.
 
Of course, we’re talking about building a home data center. And it’s not all about speeds, feeds or spending the most money. As we learned in our expert interview for this blog, “putting them to shame” often means knowing where you can invest less money—without sacrificing performance.
 
So what kind of setup does a veteran IT pro have in their own home? We asked that very question of Samuel Alt, supervisor, pre-sales technical solutions at Ingram Micro.
 

Q&A: How a pro built his home data center

 
How many gigs are you running?
This may surprise people, but I actually downgraded from 10 gigs to a multiple 1-gig setup. 
 
Downgrade? Don’t you guys only upgrade?
In this case, my downgrade was an upgrade. My 10-gig system was expensive and finicky. By ditching it for a multiple 1-gig format, I saved money and can aggregate as needed with a switch. I can still do a 4-gig upload, which my networking card supports.
 
Where did you put your money in terms of hardware?
Enterprise hard drives and enterprise RAID cards. Since much of my usage entails accessing my server remotely, I need a hard drive rated for use 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I refuse to cut corners on hard drives or the protection of my stored data through RAID. 
 
What about software and backup?
I invested in premium remote management software. All of my devices are linked to my mini data center, so it has to work the way I want from anywhere that I travel. Everything that’s important to me is backed up several times. I highly recommend “the rule of 3.” Store 3 copies of your data at all times; store 2 on different media components (e.g., hard drive, tape) and 1 offsite (e.g., cloud). For my personal data at home, I take it to the next level and create 5 copies. I even purchased the lifetime subscription to back up everything automatically.
 
Where did you cut corners without sacrificing performance?
Networking. Where I live, they won’t even allow digging for a 10-gig connection. I’m more focused on transfer speeds between 2 computers. So combining 1 gig with multiple ports for teaming has saved me a lot of money. I had to pick up a switch to support that functionality, but it was way cheaper than a 10-gig switch.
 
What’s the coolest thing you use your data center for?
Sharing memories with family and friends. I’m an avid photographer and videographer, so I can grant server access to loved ones all over the country. I’m talking full wedding videos, European vacations, random cool photos—anything.
 
With all that sharing, how do you secure your data center?
I control all permissions to all files. I give each person their own login and can track their usage. If I really want to drill down, I can view analytics of their usage and time spent on my server—I can even see what devices they use. If someone were to steal a friend’s password, I would see new activity—from a new IP or device—and boot them off.
 
What about general security?
My VPN is critical for security, along with a Synology router to create certain firewall protocols. It’s all about controlling what leaves the server.
 
What would you tell anyone who wants to build a data center at home?
Treat it as a labor of love. Decide what’s important to you. Create your budget. Do the research and make it happen. If you don’t have the money upfront, spin up a virtual machine in the cloud. If you love what you’re doing in the cloud, order the hardware. Continue to tinker with it until you can “set it and forget it.” When it finally all comes together, it’s like Christmas—or whatever holiday excites you.
 
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