My Homelab Journey: The Beginnings

My Homelab Journey: The Beginnings


March, 2024

4 minutes

Starting a homelab has always been a dream of mine—a cozy corner where a small server buzzes quietly beside a network storage. But here's the thing: I struggled to find a solid reason to justify this dream. As someone who prides themselves on being pragmatic, I couldn't wrap my head around investing in something I didn't absolutely need.

The Motivation: Media Sharing

My homelab journey began somewhat unexpectedly. I'm a big fan of movies and TV shows, and one day, I found myself facing a simple yet annoying problem: how could I share my media library with my TV without the tedious task of shuttling my external hard drive back and forth?

Discovering Media Servers

Jellyfin LogoJellyfin Logo

A dive into some research introduced me to the world of media servers. Jellyfin, Plex , and Emby emerged as the top-players. As someone who cheers for the open-source projects, Jellyfin instantly caught my eye. It wasn't long before I was deep into setting up Jellyfin on my computer. Reverting to my pragmatic roots, I initially leaned towards the simplest solution: sharing my hard drive over the network. However, after exploring the capabilities of a media server, there was no turning back to the simpler option.

The Realization: A Homelab is Born

This was a big step, but I quickly realized that my PC had to stay on all the time to work. This wasn't great and made me think: what about setting up a small homelab ?

What is a Homelab

A servers rack with different component such as routers, storages.A servers rack with different component such as routers, storages.

For those new to the concept, a homelab typically consists of a small computer—often called a server—and a storage solution. This setup wouldn't just solve my immediate need but would also open a new chapter of possibilities.

Building the Homelab: Hardware selection

Keeping costs low was a major goal for me from the start. After all, diving into the homelab scene was a step into the unknown, and I wasn't completely certain if this new interest would last. I wanted to ensure I wasn't investing heavily in a setup that might end up collecting dust.

Server Hardware

Raspberry Pi V.S Intel NUCRaspberry Pi V.S Intel NUC

Initially, the Raspberry Pi stood out as a prime candidate for the server due to its affordability and versatility. However, due to a widespread shortage, I had to consider alternatives. This search led me to a used Intel Corporation NUC. Despite the change in plan, the NUC's small size and energy efficiency fit perfectly into my homelab vision. With 32GB of RAM and an i7-8559U CPU, it provided sufficient power for my needs without breaking the bank, ensuring my dive into homelabs remained cost-effective.

Storage Hardware

Synology 2 bay DS220jSynology 2 bay DS220j

As I planned the storage aspect of my homelab, the goal wasn't just to stream media; I needed a safe spot for backing up important files, and a simple external hard drive wouldn't do. At first, I thought about connecting several hard drives together, but that didn't seem right. So, I looked into network-attached storage (NAS) options. I ended up choosing a used Synology 2 bay DS223J NAS. With two 4TB hard drives, it gave me plenty of space not just for media, but also for keeping my important data safe. This NAS was a big step in making my homelab both useful and secure.

Networking Hardware

TP-Link ER605TP-Link ER605

In building a homelab, securing the network is just as important as selecting the right server and storage hardware. To ensure my network was safe and isolated from my ISP's router, I decided to enhance my setup with dedicated networking hardware. After considering my options, I chose the TP-Link ER605. This Multi-WAN Wired VPN Router was the ideal solution for my needs.

The Homelab's Home: Finding the Perfect Spot

Choosing the right location within my house for the homelab setup was a key consideration, especially given the compact nature of my equipment. Luckily, my house came with a 12U wall rack, primarily used to house the ISP router and fiber connection. This rack, though initially designated for a simpler purpose, turned out to be the perfect place for my homelab components.

This is what the rack looked like before adding anything to it.

12U Network cabinet with the ISP router, mostly empty12U Network cabinet with the ISP router, mostly empty

Trying to figure out how to fit everything

Figuring out the arrangement for all the components took some time. Initially, I only had the server running for a few weeks before acquiring the NAS. Surprisingly, fitting everything into the rack turned out to be straightforward. Despite several adjustments along the way, the compact size of the NUC made the final setup far from difficult.

Here's a photo showcasing the various configurations I experimented with before settling on the final setup.

Multiple adjustments within the wall rack to fir the routers and the NUCMultiple adjustments within the wall rack to fir the routers and the NUC

Creative Solutions for a Compact Fit

Securing the NAS introduced a real challenge in terms of space within the cabinet. I was set on the idea of having the NAS alongside all other homelab components in one place. This commitment meant I had to think outside the box to make everything fit together in the designated area.

I tried multiple adjustments, but the only adjustment that worked is to place the NAS behind the routers and securing it with the metal plate in the front.

It was nothing like the setup that was shown earlier in the article, but It was a very good start for me.

The 12U rack filled with the routers, NAS and NUC.The 12U rack filled with the routers, NAS and NUC.

Wrapping Up and Looking Ahead

In the next article, we'll dive into the software that breathes life into this hardware. From the operating systems docker containers and beyond, I'll share the choices that have made my homelab not just functional, but a personalized technology hub. Stay tuned for insights into the software selections that power my homelab and the impact they've had on my digital lifestyle.