Home Data Center Redesign

As I continue down the path of all things Software define, one of the things that has struck me is the continuous innovation of form factors.  Take the Intel NUC, Apple Mac Mini or other custom SFF solutions as an example.  Manufacturers are cramming more and more in tiny spaces and as technology advances in die shrinking causing less heat dissipation and less electricity to power, smaller form factors are moving rapidly into the fray.

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These new Form Factors are allowing for massive performance packed in smaller packages without all the environment disadvantages.

This got me thinking about the home lab which has gone through several iterations over the years.  As these newer technologies come out, I started to plan on moving away from traditional server/rack architecture and will start moving towards a SFF (Small Form Factor) methodology with everything.  The start of this was replacing my Xeon D Home Servers with Intel Skull Canyon NUCs.  My employer, in cooperation with Intel has provided me one Intel Skull Canyon NUC and I have purchased an additional two to create the 3-node cluster.  I will be expanding this to a 4th in the next month or so.  This is so that I can bring the one provided to me on the Road to do demos and leverage my cluster at home to continue to build out the Demo content I’ve been creating the past couple months.  This is essentially Phase Ia.  Phase Ib will finish with the additional node, a smaller switch, and a custom rack build for the units and the switch.

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Phase II will start to replace and consolidate my current storage, my custom All-in-one running FreeNAS and my EMC/Lenovo PX4-300d. These will be collapsed into a single solution (undecided, possibly a higher end Synology).  The Supermicro Rack will be removed and another desk piece will go in it’s place to house the “mini-datacenter.”

This will all be done over the next few months to be finished by mid-winter, 2017.

Stay tuned for more posts as I continue to execute on the plan to miniaturize my home data center.

Part IV:Nutanix Community Edition The Ultimate Home Lab Platform: VM MGMT

Without further delay, here is Part Four of the Nutanix Community Edition Home Lab series.  In this video I touch on Virtual Machine Management.  Take notice that i’m using the same interface (Prism) that I have been using throughout the series.  That’s right, no additional installation was necessary and with AHV (Acropolis Hypervisor) , Virtual Machine MGMT is built in and integrated into our Management Stack.  Check out the simplicity in the video below and stay tuned for more content coming soon!

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Part II -Nutanix Community Edition – The Ultimate Home Lab Platform – Platform Choices

In this segment of Nutanix Community Edition – The Ultimate Home Lab Platform, we will look at the platforms available to run Nutanix Community Edition.  From my first post in this series I briefly discussed how we package Nutanix Community Edition so that compatibility is top of mind.  This allows us to get Community Edition in the hands of users with little hardware limitations.

A while ago I wrote about several of the Home Lab choices out there, all of which were focused solely on-premises infrastructure.  With the cloud becoming more popular in business, it’s also gaining popularity with home labers like myself.  I personally have an Amazon account as well as a Ravello Account for those times I want to spin up something quickly and tear it down.

Let’s walk through some of the hardware platforms available today to include options in the “cloud.”  As I go through these I will post how to guides either done by me, others and/or outlined in our Community Edition Forums for the  Nutanix Community Edition install process. This will help not only choose the right platform but check out the install effort (minimal) on each platform.  Let’s start with the most basic

BARE METAL:

  1. Intel NUC/MAC Mini/Gigabyte Brix/SFF (Small Form Factor): It’s not secret that these platforms are all the rage now.  As they have matured over the last couple years, we are able to pack much more into a smaller system that is quiet, low on power consumption, unobtrusive (basically fit a datacenter on your desk) , fairly reasonable in cost all leading to great WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) or based on personal preferences.  These tiny machines are great for the home office as they don’t take up too much space and can be easily mobile.

 

Intel-NUCFigure 1

The latest platform getting all attention is Intel’s latest NUC based on the new Broadwell Architecture, particularly the Intel Skull Canyon.  These little systems pack a ton of power in a very attractive SFF package.  More than half the height less than a standard NUC & just a bit wider, packing in a Core i7 Quad Core CPU that supports VT-D, up to 32GB RAM (2 x 16GB DDR4 SODIMMs) , 2 x M.2 PCI-E slots, an Intel GB Ethernet controller, USB 3.1 and something we are seeing more common that could bring massive bandwidth with the right accessory, USB-C.  Now if you fancy going SSD instead, you can still go with a standard NUC that supports an M.2 and 2.5” SSD.

NUC6i7_page.pngFigure 2intel-skull-canyon-nuc-review-2Figure 3

Some people are leveraging Mac Mini’s however my view at this time and it’s entirely my opinion, they are not worth the cost of admission since you can now get the latest & greatest in a NUC.  The decent ones were really the 2012 Mac Mini family which had a Quad Core option, and you *can get 32GB’s of RAM in those using something like Intelligent Memory (quite expensive). These systems still go for a premium even for their age and the latest Mac Mini’s don’t offer Quad Core CPUs.  Based on that, I can’t recommend it unless you can get them at a killer price.

Nutanix-CE-3-Node-Cluster.pngFigure 4

Richard Arsenian, Nutanix Solutions Architect and VCDX #126 and NPX #09 (@Richardarsenian) has put some great effort into Community Edition on the NUC. You can see below the custom configs he has done as well as Nutanix CE using a NUC on a Drone project you can check out all the details below.

Nutanix Next Community Blog

It is important to understand that with our current Community Edition Package since we use KVM Device Emulation we do not support PCI-E drives at this time so PCI-E m.2 like the Samsang 950 Pro and Intel AIC (PCI-E) form factor cards as well like the 750 series.  You will have to leverage SATA  m.2 and SATA SSD if you want all flash.  An example would be a Sandisk X400 or Samsung EVO m.2 SATA drive or any other standard 2.5″ SATA SSDs.

Figure 5

Single Server/Multi-Server Systems

  1. Single Node Bare Metal: As you recall, you can run Nutanix Community Edition in a Single or Multinode (3 or 4 max) host configuration. The Single Node configuration offers no resilience because we don’t have other nodes to Replicate data to.  There are options, however, like running two Single Node Community Edition clusters and use replication between the two to offer you some resiliency.  You could also run the single node solution and run a backup process to backup your VM’s to external storage like a NAS as well.  One thing to note is that none of these options offer the redundancy that would be provided in a 3 or 4 node Community Edition Cluster with nondisruptive fault tolerance.  Still, a single node is a great solution if you want to get started using AHV right away at a low price point.  This is the installation for a single-node system running on a single Supermicro SYS-1026T-6RFT+ 1U Rackmount Server w/Dual Intel 5620’s, 96GB RAM, 2 x 480GB Samsung DC SSD’s and 6 x 1TB Seagate Hybrid Drives.

 

Figure 6

2. Multi-node Bare Metal: This is the ideal Community Edition hardware platform. It’s ideal to have 3-4 systems to leverage all the functionality of Nutanix.  In multi-node bare metal offerings we can provide all the resiliency you can expect in our production platform w/RF2 (Replication Factor 2).  Node goes down or you need to take it down for maintenance, no problem.  Need to run Scale Out Filer for Home Directories or File Shares for a small Citrix VDI Deployment (we’ll get more into this later), no problem. Wanna run a non disruptive update to Community Edition, go for it. Multi-node bare metal means 3 or 4 nodes of physical hardware, can be Intel NUCs, can be PC’s, can be Mac Minis, can even be Enterprise-Grade Servers.  Personally, I have two clusters, one compiled of three-node Supermicro Xeon D-1541 servers in my PROD cluster and  a three-node Supermicro SYS-1026T-6RFT+ Intel 5620 DR cluster in a remote site.   This gives me best performance, best resiliency and allows me to leverage most of the Nutanix Feature set.

 

Figure 7

To install Nutanix Community Edition in a Multi-node cluster (3-4 nodes), follow the video posted above but make sure you DO NOT select Single Node Cluster from the install form.  You must run the installer on each node.  After the installer completes on each node, ssh into one of the controller vm IP’s and log in as USERNAME: nutanix PASS: nutanix/4u .

You then run the follwing command using “cluster” commands:

cluster -s cvm_ip_addrs create

Replace “cvm_ip_addrs” with all the IP’s of the CVMs on each node you identified during the install process followed by a comma.  Example:

cluster -s 10.10.10.2,10.10.10.3,10.10.10.4,10.10.10.5 create

This should also start the cluster but you can check by running:

cluster status

Make sure all services show UP:

CaptureFigure 8

If the services do not show “UP” run this command:

cluster start

That’s it!  You should be able to open a Browser and connect to one of the CVM IP’s to access the Prism UI.  You can use the video posted above to go through the rest of the basic login settings (I will have further initial setup blogs later in this series).

Nested and Cloud

  1. ESXi: Most of you are running ESXi in you home labs.  Without have to procure new hardware, you may have the necessary resources in your ESXi lab to run Nutanix Community Edition.
  2. VMware Workstation: Some of us are using VMware Workstation for their Home Lab setup maybe running on your PC or even a separate spare workstation.
  3. Ravello/Amazon: For those that do not have resources or have no inclination to move forward in that direction you can leverage Ravello/Amazon to host your Nutanix Community Edition Instance.
  4. Nutanix Test Drive: This is by far the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to get your hands on Nutanix Community Edition.  This is a free service we provide to you to get your feet wet with Nutanix Community Edition for a couple of hours. You can get access to Test Drive by going to Nutanix Test Drive .

For installation tutorials on ESXi, VMware Workstation and Ravello you can access the content below.

Nested ESXi CE Install

Nested VMware Workstation CE Install

Ravello/Amazon CE Install

By now you should have a good handle on all the platforms you can run Nutanix Community Edition.  If not, head on over to the NEXT Community to get all the info you need to get started.  In Part III we’ll move beyond basic install, get in to initial configuration and move further into the packed feature set and the simplicity of Prism! Stay tuned, more to come in the coming weeks!

Part I -Nutanix Community Edition – The Ultimate Home Lab Platform

Okay, okay, so I may be a bit biased cause I work for Nutanix, right?  Wrong.  All that know me know I call it how I see it.  If you have read any of my Home Lab posts, you’ll see i’ve had many iterations over the years..and I mean many.  Anywhere from Macbooks running Fusion, single PC’s running Workstation, All-in-ones running ESXi, Hyper-V, enterprise-grade servers and all types of storage. While hardware is an important choice, especially due to WAF (for me at least, not speaking for all), and ease of MGMT, Power and Cooling..etc, once again, it boils down to the software.  Sounds familiar, right?

Sorry hardware junkies, this is a software world and we all have to live in it (and I’m a hardware junkie myself).  Hardware is simply a means to an end and that end, of course, is running applications or platforms that build applications.  It’s funny most of the posts I read across the Web, on sites such as servethehome.com (one of my favorite sites), people are not just using their home servers for “testing stuff,” they’re using it to actually run production workloads in parallel.  I know what you’re thinking, “yeah, but Mike, it’s home workloads so no biggie, right?”  Not really.  A good portion of you, including myself, are using your home servers for storage, file servers storing your most precious data (photos, home videos, etc) streaming software like Plex, transcoding, and in the age of social, all things editing, Photos, Videos. Some of you are actually developing and building applications that could be the next big iPhone App or killer utility that is sorely needed. You may be running containers and building portable apps and quite possibly some of you could be the next Zuckerberg building the next big social platform or next “big” thing that’s gonna change the world. A lot of us are running their NVR software and recording storage on our home servers.  If those use cases are not considered important, then quite frankly, I don’t know what is.  If that’s the case (which is what I believe) then shouldn’t your home platform be agile, robust, simple, reliable, etc?  Shouldn’t it have a lot of the attributes of a Production environment running in a DC?  Shouldn’t it be a PLATFORM as well to allow you to run just about any type of workload, be simple to setup, deploy, manage?

Now, if your like me, you’re coming to the realization that life commitments don’t let us tinker as much.  When I was single, getting my geek on was an afterthought because I could do it when I wanted as much as I wanted (within $ reason of course).  My first foray into real “server” “lab” platforms  was my trusty Abit BP6 w/Dual Celerons running at 533MHz.  It seems like yesterday that was all the rage.

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I know some of you all remember those days some of you earlier and some of you spoiled millennials running your Intel Core platforms day one in your “safe spaces.”   Anyway, I was learning Microsoft Server  at the time so Windows NT Service Pack 4 was the way to go back then.  It was fun but really the focus was how much could I overclock this bad boy and it was really hardware focused and quite frankly I wasn’t running anything that couldn’t be torn down and rebuilt.

Now it’s more common to want some of the benefits at home that you would see in the datacenter however in today’s most common platform (VMware ESXi) those benefits come at a price whether that’s using VMUG Advantage which is a subscription or you’re a vExpert in which licenses are good for a year and then  you have to reapply.  Some Home Labers are running free ESXi then running multiple nested instances of ESXi for the 60 day trial.  This turns into a MGMT nightmare where you’re spinning up and tearing down regularly.  Also, you are still running extra instances to get some of the additional functionality like Operations or Replication, logging, etc requiring additional hardware resources. This can get expensive very very quickly.  Hyper-V is another option but a lot of the same applies especially around the MGMT stack.

Let’s take a look at Nutanix Community Edition.  Nutanix delivers a prepackaged version of our software that can work on a ton of hardware platforms, mac mini’s, Intel Nucs, laptops, all the way to enterprise grade hardware.  We provide a solution that removes disk controller limitations under the covers, so we leverage KVM’s Device Emulation instead of PCI passthrough.  This has the benefit of compatibility working with a ton of hardware, AHCI to RAID Controllers and HBAs  (though recommend to created Single Disk RAID0 presented as individual volumes w/RAID0). What’s key about Nutanix Community Edition is we really don’t limit any functionality unless noted. For example, in the latest release you can leverage 99% of the feature set.  A small exception is that you can’t use Prism Central right now, but that’s coming soon.  You can deploy Nutanix Community Edition in Single Node (no redundancy), three and four node configurations.

cehomepage

This is only Part 1 of this series of posts on why I believe Nutanix Community Edition is the ultimate Home Lab platform.  In the next series of posts we will address hardware choices, installation, and start getting into building VM’s through the advanced functionality and get into the fun stuff like ABS, AFS, Containers w/Persistent Storage.  This is by no means a primer on our Acropolis Hypervisor but I will show you the many use cases and things we can do with the Platform.  BTW, did I mention it’s free?

For more information on Nutanix Community Edition, please go here to check it out.  If you don’t have hardware, you can take CE for a spin by going here which will stand up a virtual instance you can play with.

In the meantime, you can get familiar with Nutanix by checking the video below.

Stay tuned for more content coming your way!

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of an All-in-One for the Home

It seems that i’m revamping my lab constantly.  What i’m finding is that as I age out older Home Lab tech, i’m also rethinking the Home Lab architecture and how it would serve not just me, but the entire household better.

My Home Lab is not a “spin up when I need it” design.  It serves as a functional part of the household as well.

For basic NAS duties I have been relying on an older EMC/Lenovo PX4-300d.  This device has served me very well and will continue to be a part of the lab but it’s based on older Intel Atom/SATAII technology so I will re-purpose this device as a backup device.  It’s low power and will provide enough storage to keep my most valuable Data backed up.

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This part of the Home Network is fully functional and provides 24/7 functionality.  Instead of running a complex Server/SAN solution, I decided to replace it with a more robust platform that can serve multiple duties.  I needed something that could not only provide production NAS duties, but also act as DLNA Server, a UBNT Wireless Controller, a Secondary Virtualized Domain Controller (backup to my physical Intel NUC DC) and still have enough resources to spin up the occasional test VM(s) and/or services here and there. Since I now have a robust Network Switch with my purchase of the Del X1052 (4 x SFP+) ports, I had one SFP+ available and I also wanted to be able to access the NAS from my Workstation via a 10GbE Direct Connection.  In the end i put together a great little system based on the following:

 

  • Motherboard: SuperMicro X10SLL-F
  • CPU:Intel Xeon 1230V3
  • RAM: 32GB DDR3-1600 R-ECC
  • AIC: Intel X520/LSI 9211-8i/Intel AIC 750 NVMe 800GB (Fast Local Storage)
  • Spinners: 6x Seagate Enterprise 4TB (Raid Z2)
  • SSD: 2 x Intel S3710 800GB Mirror (Fast Shared Storage)
  • Cache: 2 x Samsung 843T 480GB Mirrored ZIL
  • Case: SUPERMICRO CSE-825TQ-563LPB
  • PSU: Supermicro 560Watt Gold
  • OS: ESXi 6.x
  • Third Party Software: FreeNAS w/Plugins/CentOS/Windows Server Core 2012R2

Here’s a shot of the system on my Test Bench.  Build log will be coming shortly.

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This system provides 13TB’s usable of reliable storage that can tolerate up to two disk failures. Believe me, i’ll be lucky if I need that much as far as capacity. I don’t store HD Movies any longer which used to be the majority of the capacity required, I let the streaming companies do that now, VUDU, Netflix, Hulu, etc. The Intel 750 NVMe was in my workstation not doing much so I re-purposed this for lightening fast local VM storage. The Intel S3710’s will be used for scratch space for Video Editing duties as I start to include more video how-to’s in the blog.  I’m gearing up for an entire series on Nutanix Community Edition from start to finish, showing all the features/functionality available as well as more build logs and other fun things like gaming and a new feature i’m adding, The Armory (self-explanatory but here’s a hint)

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As you can see, an All-in-one Virtual Host/NAS is a great solution for a majority of Home users out there.  Sky’s the limit here.  You can build these with an array of hardware which will provides the home user a ton of useful 24/7 functionality whether it’s to host VMs, NAS only, services or a combination of many different types of use cases, the AIO is a great option for anyone.

There are a ton of resources out there but one of my favorites is:

STH-Logo-Flat-105

 

 

 

Nutanix Community Edition Home Lab Part II

Welcome to Part II of my Nutanix Home Lab New Years Eve Edition.  In this segment I will provide the information on my Network and Gear to support the Lab and the backup environment.

My brother is a Ubiquiti dealer and turned me on to their APs a while ago which work great in the house.  Since then, Ubiquiti has released a whole slew of products.  One of their more popular network devices is the Edgemax Router.

edge_1

For less than $100, 1Mpps routing  and feature set of this router makes it a must have for the Home Office/Small Office or tinkerer.  Routing Protocols supported range from OSPF to BGP, full suite of services like DHCP, Firewall, and VPN services were a necessity for me to include multiple ports for different “zones” for LAN and Wireless access.

What I really love about this router is how easy it is to use.  The GUI is very intuitive but if you’re a CLI junkie, you can use that as well.  Here are some screenshots of EdgeOS:

ubnter-x-rozhrani

 

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Full traffic analysis:

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VPN Services:

edgemax-ipsec-webinterface

VPN services were imperative to complete the lab.  In Part I of this series I briefly mentioned having a “storage only” node in an offsite location for backup duty.  As luck would have it, my brother has a Ubiquiti Edgemax Router and plenty of bandwidth to his office which I have setup a IPSEC VPN Tunnel.  I’ll post the configuration of this in future articles of this series.  Let’s move on to the LAN.

In my previous life I was able to work with a bevy of network gear.  Most of the gear was Cisco, but sometimes we had customers that liked to have the single vendor INF solution/architecture for the “one hand to shake” support model.  I worked a lot of Dell deals and I have to say, they have come a long way in the Networking area.  Mostly I worked with a lot of their fabric as it pertained to their blade solution, the M1000e and Force 10 Networking. Since then Dell has doubled down on their network strategy by introducing the very reasonably priced  N series for Campus based networks and now the X series for ROBO/SO.  The have even embraced the Open/Diaggregated/third-party OS switches as well.

If you read some of my past Home Lab articles you know that my LAN topology consisted of dual HP 1800-24g’s.  They served me well for years and provided all the capabilities I required at the time.  This time, however, I wanted to move to a simpler model with plenty of port capacity and 10Gb capability.  Since this was a lab, I could deal with using both 10Gb and 1Gb for the Nutanix Cluster traffic.  This lessened the financial burden of looking for a quiet, affordable 10Gb switch…plus I needed to replace the 1Gb ports when I decommissioned the HPs.  The best option was found in the new Dell X series line:

X-Series_overview_1

The Dell X1052 fit the bill nicely.  48 x 1Gb and 4 x 10Gb SFP+ ports was exactly what I required.  This gave me the capability of leveraging 10Gb for the primary Nutanix traffic for the three-node cluster and still have one 10Gb port remaining to add an additional node.   Failover connections would be multiple 1Gb connections as well has MGMT and IPMI.

1_2_resizeThis is how everything is cabled for now.  I do need to still clean up a bit:

IMG_1422

Cables are color coded for the purpose they serve and I used Cisco TwinAX which can be found cheaply on eBay.

I mentioned how easy it was to install this switch.  It literally took me 15 minutes to put the rails on, rack it, and configure the switch (the latest code was already installed).   Here are some screenshots of the GUI:

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Stay tuned for Part III when I get into the actual configuration, building out the Storage Only Node, seeding the backups, and installing it in my brother’s rack!

Happy New Year!