Planning a Home Server Room

Planning a Home Server Room
smarthome networking

When thinking about which wires will have to run through the house, it helps to envision a dream end product. A rough image of that dream is what follows in this post. Now, before continuing, keep in mind two things. First, I’m not a network engineer so don’t blindly follow my direction. Second, a lot of this is overkill and can be built up gradually. It’s just as much of a hobby as it is practical, so I eventually plan to consider what equipment I already have, and look at different setups with cost in mind. But, for fun, let’s dream up something cool and spend $10,000 monopoly money.

Networking

I’ve connected our current house with Unifi products and couldn’t be happier. This is a good starting point if you’re not familiar. They’re one of the few companies whose products I actually enjoy working with. Unless there is some major change, that will be the starting point for the new home. From the top, data will go into a Security Gateway Pro ($344). pfSense is tempting, but the ease of the USG may win the day.

All of the runs throughout the house will enter the rack at a patch panel. This should make debugging easier, and the wiring more organized. I’ll also leave 3 slots empty for future growth. Another patch panel and switch can provide 47 more ports, with the last port being a daisy chain to the first switch.

Speaking of switches, the idea with the first Switch 48 ($415) is to have 36 ports to the patch panel (Access Points, Data to rooms, security cameras, smart devices, etc), 11 ports to local rack devices, and 1 port for data in. Of those local devices, one of my favorites is CloudKey Gen 2 Plus ($199) along with a rack mount ($99). It’s the easiest way to run the software needed to manage our network.

Finally, a few Raspberry Pi’s will help beef up the network. First, load up a Raspberry Pi B+ ($40) with Pi-hole for ad blocking at the DNS level. After that, accessories and security panels can be exposed to HomeKit with Homebridge and AlarmServer ($80). All 3 will be stored in a Bitscope Blade ($215). Realistically, one Pi could probably handle all of this. Or, 1 cheap rack mount PC. I’ll experiment and report back.

UpdateSetting up a Raspberry Pi or two was fairly straightforward. Documented here.

Security & Redundancy

Another benefit of the CloudKey Gen 2 is that it is loaded with Unifi’s Protect software as well. So, all video cameras will save their recordings to the upgradeable 1Tb drive on board. One drawback right now is that it can’t write to other drives in a NAS. I’ll be looking for some sort of redundancy here, and update if I find anything.

As for a NAS, Synology RS818+ ($870) should do the trick, but it is a bit pricey. Ultimately, something is needed to handle local backups, media, and security footage. From there, I’d like to upload a subset of the data to the cloud.

Currently, I don’t have a favorite solution for home security. The end goal is something that is exposed to HomeKit, hard wired, and has an optional cellular backup. I mentioned AlarmServer above, but it comes with the risk of constantly needing attention. On the other hand, a product like DSC iotega could work, or it may be too locked down. For now, I’ll try to setup something that exposes my current DSC alarm to Homekit, and see how reliable it is over the next few months.

Audio

The two audio needs will be outdoor speakers and surround sound for the basement TV. Both systems will have to support Airplay 2. For the longest time, I have just plugged a small Lepai amp into an old Airport Express and it has worked perfectly.

Now that we have a need for surround sound, it would be nice to find an Airplay 2 receiver that primarily acts as surround sound for the basement TV, and has a separate zone for outdoor speakers. However, the zone must be toggle-able remotely. The Airport Express setup above is always on, and I would prefer it remain that way. More research is needed on my end, but the question is whether or not something like the Denon AVR-S640H ($379) and rack mounted ($80) would do the trick.

Entertainment

For TV, the family has fully converted to AppleTV’s. Since they’re small, they can be mounted behind each individual TV. Because of this, only Ethernet has to run to the majority of screens in the house. Then, the actual content will come from either apps, or from a HDHomeRun ($150) and antenna. Combined with the Channels app, antenna TV is as good as ever. I may also try to rack mount the HDHomeRun with a sliding faceplate ($15).

The trickier question is what to do about console gaming. It would be fine to just play on one TV, but I kind of like the idea of splitting the signal to a few areas in the house. I have no other immediate plans for HDMI, but it wouldn’t hurt to make a few runs throughout the house and into a patch panel ($73). From there, a HDMI splitter ($310) can take the signal out from the Xbox or PS4 and send it to a few TV’s.

XBOX ONE Multi Room Setup

The video above explains the concept, and shows the need for USB over Ethernet. I’m going to hold out as long as I can before relying on USB outlets near each TV for the controller to plug in to. I would much prefer just having wireless controllers around, but that will depend on the controllers in 2 years. The latest Xbox controllers have increased range, so who knows what their next gen console will come with. This will be a last minute decision.

Power & Cooling

The ideal power solution is a bit hazy at this time. Some sort of battery backup ($230) would be nice. Or, for a bit higher end, see APC’s ($525). However, I also like the idea of quick power cycling through a rack mounted power supply with switch controls ($65). The question is: can the two work together easily? If not, the networking portion will most likely run off of battery while the other devices depend on the main power source of the home. Regardless, it is clear that I have more homework to do, and I’ll need to define the exact purpose and capacity needed for the battery.

For cooling, I’ll have to decide what temperature the room should be kept at.

According to OpenXtra, server room temperatures should not dip below 50° Fahrenheit, and should not exceed 82° Fahrenheit. The optimal temperature range is between 68° and 71° Fahrenheit. However, Google has stated that it keeps its data center temperatures as high as 80° Fahrenheit as a means to reduce energy consumption.

My thoughts are to use a fan ($68) to cool as needed, and to run as hot as allowed. 80° would be great, especially in winter. When considering Passive House ventilation, the ERV can take a lot of that generated heat and use it to warm incoming air.

What Else?

But wait – there’s more! Truly, this could be an endless project. Some near term projects that I would like to add include:

  • Debugging: A KVM switch, or better yet a rack mounted display ($610). I’ll need something to make it easy to access the command line of the various devices and to aid in debugging.
  • eGPU: In a perfect world I could use an eGPU for my computer when I’m working on video, my wifes computer could access it when working with her giant photo library, and a PC would use it for gaming. Since USB can only run about 6 feet, does this mean a station would be required just outside of the server room? Also, I haven’t found any decent rack mount solutions. This space should get more interesting over the next year or two, so I’m just keeping my eye out.
  • Gaming PC: I have long term plans to get virtual reality set up, so a gaming PC will have to be built. It should be relatively straightforward (minus the GPU question) and live on the rack.
  • IoT Hubs & Bridges: These annoying, oddly shaped boxes will have to live somewhere. In some cases, this may be in the center of the house. In others, they may have to sit on a shelf in the rack.
  • HAM Radio: Why not? I’ve got no experience in this, and nothing of value to add. Seems interesting enough to have around during tornadoes.

The point of thinking about everything I could ever want is to consider rack space. The items above could end up taking another 12U.

Cost

Given all of the above, I’ll probably go with a 48U Rack (up to $1,100). If we consider essentials to be Networking, Power, Cooling and Entertainment then the starting price is $3,683. Add on Audio and Storage to bring it up to $5,012. From there, it is easy to imagine a gaming PC, eGPU’s, radio and miscellaneous bringing us up to $8,000-$10,000.

As the build goes on, I’ll document the process.


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