I’ve been spending some of my time off in the last few days pondering replacing my old reliable home server with something new and shiny. I figured this might be a good time to write up some thoughts around this.

So, the first question that I am sure leaps to mind for people is: Home server? why on earth do you want one of those! Move it to “The Cloud”! Of course doing so would indeed have a number of advantages:

  • Better bandwith
  • No need to hassle with hardware, someone else would do that
  • Less noise and power usage at home
  • Depending on how deep in the clouds you go: less hassle running services

On the other hand it has real disadvantages to me:

  • No “real life” home setup to test/try/figure things out.
  • Never really 100% sure who has/owns/can do things with your data
  • Ability to mess with hardware, which can be kind of fun.
  • I have a small list of close friends who I provide services to. It’s fun to keep in touch with them that way and have something I can do for them.
  • Ability to mess with running a bunch of services, which can be kind of fun.
  • Paying a cloud provider recurring fees for something I could just buy once and not pay for over and over again seems like it could be a win, depending on the fees.

Someday I might give up and move things, but it’s not come fully to that yet. Email has been slowly getting more difficult to run on a non gigantic domain, but I’ve managed to overcome so far, so I will keep going until that becomes completely untenable. I really like having my data close by and knowing that I can go fix some problem when it happens. It’s also been a while, but I want to look at spinning up a home OpenShift instance so I can dig into it more and learn more about the low level parts of it. Might need to use OKD or k3s or something instead of OpenShift, but should let me find out more about how ks8 works.

All that background said, lets look at my current home server. It’s a Dell PowerEdge C1100/CS24-TY. I got it from https://deepdiscountservers.com long long long ago, along with another identical server. You can really get pretty great stuff there. It’s basically all the old compute that cloud companies have aged out. So, they are usually older, but tons of memory and disk and cpu. These ones I got have 72GB memory, 24 cpu threads, and 4 3.5″ hot swap drive bays in the front. The second one I got I used for a long time as a test machine, but it has a slightly too old cpu to do power management, so it’s really really loud. The main server does do some power management, but it’s pretty loud too. In my current house I have a closet for computer stuff, but even with the door closed I am near enough to it that I can hear the server running. Of course I can also usually hear the fridge in the kitchen running too. The drives I currently have are 3TB 7200 rpm hitachi’s. Which have also been quite reliable. The server has a pci card in it for some more network ports. It serves as my main firewall / virthost / storage server.

So, why replace it? Well, it was made in the fall of 2012. Yes, thats 10 years old now. Thats ages in computer hardware. It’s slow. The cpu is pretty slow and the storage is super slow. It’s running the 7200rpm spinning disks on a 3GB/sec sata bus (They can do 6GB/s). Taking backups or moving a bunch of things or running a postgresql vacuum just takes ages. It’s also loud. Not earthshatteringly so, and like I mentioned our fridge is also kinda loud, but there’s a lot of times when the fridge compressor is off and I can hear the server distinctly. Finally, it’s fun to look at things and then install and assembe them. Computer geeks gotta geek. Also, this is perhaps a chance for me to play with some things I haven’t yet, like perhaps moving over to a AMD cpu instead of intel or raid on nvme, etc

So, my first thought was to just get another rackmount from deepdiscountservers, which would work fine, but it would be intel based, basically just a newer version of what I have now with more memory and cpus. The cpus would be intel and while newer servers are likely to do throttling better, I don’t think the noise would be all that much lower. rack mount servers are just not designed to be quiet.

Next, I poked around on the net and ran accross silentpc.com, which has some interesting computers on offer. I focused in on the “Powerhouse Ryzen PC” box. It’s a tower case, which is not ideal, but I’m sure I can fit it in somewhere. It’s a Ryzen cpu, a power supply that can power completely off if things are idle, super quiet fans, etc. It’s got enough room so I can move my existing 4 drives over to it (and add in a 5th that I have I was keeping for a spare). Only 2 NVME slots available, but… that takes me into an aside I had:

Most motherboards these days I have seen have just a few NVME slots on them. However, they make PCIe cards that have NVME slots (one, two, or four). The four slot NVME’s are interesting. You need to have a motherboard that supports “pci bifurication” on the slot you are putting it in. If you don’t, you can only see one drive and thats it. If you do, the motherboard takes the x16 slot and carves it into 4 x4 slots and you see all the drives.

From what I have been able to gather the Powerhouse Ryzen PC has a motherboard that has 1 pcie slot that can do bifurcation (but I asked them in email to make sure). If so, then I can get it with 2 NVME’s and raid1 them for now, move the 3.5″ drives over with most of my data, and then down the road I can get a PCIe 4 NVME card and stick 4 NVME’s in there and raid 6 them with the 2 on the MB and then perhaps retire the spinning drives. 🙂 Sadly, their web interface seems to only offer nvidia cards (which I really don’t want), but I asked them in email and they can indeed do other cards. So, waiting to hear back, but I think this might work out nicely for a new box. If it does, I’m also thinking about moving the existing 1U boxes out to the garage and see if I can set them up with a wake on lan or the like so I can use them if I need to test something.

Looking forward to tinkering with it (or looking more if this one doesn’t pan out).