Into the Vault: Past and Future Perfect

Welcome back to the Vault.
Which actually makes no sense, it’s not even a vault.
It’s my basement.

My name is Matt Mutch.
I am a computer enthusiast.
And… ugh

I’ve spent the past month, give or take, researching second hand, outdated, enterprise grade hardware, which I believe is interchangeable with server grade hardware, and if it’s not, I’m saying it is for the purpose of this article.

I started from a point of not understanding the true point of large, expensive server hardware. I didn’t know the true purpose of Xeon CPUs, or having 384 gigabytes of RAM, or cramming these units into tiny one unit enclosures at the cost of your hearing due to extremely high airflow fans being incredibly loud.

1u server
Seriously. Like. Ear protection.

I still don’t.
But I know a lot more than I did.
I wanted to find out about networking faster than one gigabit speeds. I thought it could be valuable for my day job to be able to transfer large files faster than a gigabit, whether I invest in 2.5 or 5 or 10 gigabit gear but whew is it expensive—certainly more expensive than it’s usefulness could bear.

Wumpus Welcomes You

A friend turned me on to a couple communities on Reddit and Discord where people repurpose cast off enterprise grade hardware for their own “Homelabs”—lovingly overbuilt computer setups cobbled together from the hardware data centers can’t get rid of fast enough.

Therein lies the key.

Data centers dedicate themselves to performance and efficiency and to chase this carrot on a stick they’re constantly cycling out old processing and storage for newer, faster, more dense up to date components. After a surprisingly brief period of time, the old hardware has a fraction of its original value and basically just gets liquidated on eBay where we are waiting to snap up 10 gigabit network cards and yesteryear Xeon CPUs for pennies on the dollar.

It’s fun. If you’re into that sort of thing.
And I’m pretty sure I am.
Why hesitate?

I’ve been on multiple Reddits and highly active Discords researching, learning everything and anything I can about ‘proper’ servers and, like I was saying, I started to understand, and then understand better but then I sort of plateauedor my brain overloaded—and now I’ve had a sort of inverse transcendence—I’ve come to the realization that…

I have no idea what I need.
I Have No IdeaI have no idea what I need, and I have no idea what my job needs. I’d been plotting out a high density, high capacity server for the secondary office for about a month until the main office snuck up on me and clocked me over the head with a hammer in the form of “hey, the primary server is a little long in the tooth too so why you futzing with secondary units?”

Meanwhile at home I can’t even tell if I need anything new at all. But that doesn’t stop the march of “progress”. I’ve been snapping up parts as they’ve been getting discounted except, it’s so piecemeal I haven’t arrived at anything actually functional yet.

I have no idea what i'm doing

Much like the golden retriever behind the keyboard, I have no idea what I’m doing.

There’s a bright future just over the horizon. One with a 25U rack loaded to the gills with the guts of the six foot table of discrete workstations everyone at work uses around the office. A future with a similar rack in my basement with all sorts of interesting cast off hardware and a dozen virtual machines all serving various hobby-grade purposes while probably heating my uninsulated spaces.

What’s the hold up?
For work, it’s the process of fulfilling the tasks as efficiently both equipment wise, power wise, and most critically – most efficiently financially. If I had limitless money to throw at the problem, I sure know what I’d build. But I don’t.

The situation is similar at home, except for the added wrinkle that, to be completely honest, I might not need Anything. The only need I might really be trying to fill is my desire, to spite my personal finances, to tinker. And that’s probably just not viable. But that’s a podcast for another podcast.

I’ve sure bought a lot of hard drives for work and home already though. Those Black Friday sales… oof.

WD Elements
So cheap. So dense. Wait what?

There’s so many options, it’s inevitable that one would face decision paralysis. I’ll get there. At least as far as work is concerned, I have to get there. It’s literally my job to figure this out. Trouble is, I can only plan so far before I have to act. It promises to be a sort of a look and then leap.


Got an old computer or a new computer you like or hate or are indifferent to and want to talk about it? Got big plans but your brain is writing checks your bank account can’t cash?
I’m @geekadematt on Twitter and this has been
Into the Vault – Past and Future Perfect

The standing Secondary Backup Server should be a Tyan S5512WGM2NR mainboard sporting a Xeon E-1230v2 CPU for 4 cores and 8 threads on the venerable Ivy Bridge architecture. It would have 32 GB DDR3 RAM and would be fitted with a dual port Mellanox ConnectX-3 10 gigabit SPF+ network card. It will boot the Unraid operating system which will handle the management of one 12 terabyte hard drive plus eight 8 terabyte hard drives for a total of 64 terabytes of hard drive space (the 12 TB unit is reserved for data parity). It will be housed in a Rosewill L4500 4u rackmount chassis mounted in a 25u rack under a hopefully handsome ethernet patch panel and 24 port gigabit switch, which will be paired with an 8 port 10 gigabit SFP+ switch connected to each of five workstations mounted in additional 4u cases below (or above, I don’t know). I might need a Raspberry Pi 4 to handle my OpenVPN, I don’t even know.

Matt Mutch

Image Acquisition Specialist and Computer Enthusiast. I like Sad Anime.

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