Home Lab – Utilizing the Cloud – Dynamic VPN

Overview

In a previous post, we discussed how to save money on a home lab. One section was cloud utilization. Let’s expand on that section and have a more in-depth conversation about how to create dynamic resources in Azure. This article will focus on creating a VPN dynamically.

Azure networking is not the most noticeable part of an enterprise bill. In the homelab scenario, it can be a running cost that adds up when not needed. Remember the entire purpose of a homelab is to run most, if not all, items… well in your home, at least. To alleviate this running cost, the components needed in an Azure Site-to-Site VPN can instead be created dynamically to utilize whenever it is required.

Due to the time involved in creating a VPN Gateway in Azure, this won’t be something that can be created and destroyed the same way a virtual machine or container could be. For the VPN Gateway, there should be at least one hour to guarantee that the VPN Gateway and other components can be created in time to meet demand load.

Let’s imagine a scenario where ad-hoc processing power is needed for an upcoming marketing campaign where traffic is expected to exceed our current capacity. In this scenario, our servers will be replicated in Azure Virtual Machines and allow for increased traffic. (This is a basic setup; in later posts, we’ll discuss more advanced scenarios.) To accomplish this, we need to set up a Site-to-Site VPN in Azure from our homelab.

Diagram showing an on-premises network on the left which consists of three computer screens and a gateway. A double sided arrow connecting the on-premises to a cloud labeled internet with “Site-to-site VPN tunnel” above the double sided arrow. Another double sided arrow connects the internet cloud to its right through a dotted rectangle labeled “Azure Virtual Network”. The arrow connects to an item labeled VPN gateway. That gateway has a single arrow leaving it to the right pointing to a load balancer which is pointing to three identical virtual machines.

The steps to accomplish this are:

  1. Supported Routers
  2. Creating a Site-to-Site Connection
  3. Replicating Virtual Machines / Containers
  4. Tear Down

Supported Routers (official docs)

Microsoft keeps an updated set of documentation for supported VPN routers. A VPN device is required to configure a Site-to-Site (S2S) cross-premises VPN connection using a VPN gateway. Site-to-Site connections can be used to create a hybrid solution, or whenever you want secure connections between your on-premises networks and your virtual networks.

Important – If you are experiencing connectivity issues between your on-premises VPN devices and VPN gateways, refer to Known device compatibility issues.

Items to note when viewing the tables:

  • There has been a terminology change for Azure VPN gateways. Only the names have changed. There is no functionality change.
    • Static Routing = PolicyBased
    • Dynamic Routing = RouteBased
  • Specifications for HighPerformance VPN gateway and RouteBased VPN gateway are the same, unless otherwise noted. For example, the validated VPN devices that are compatible with RouteBased VPN gateways are also compatible with the HighPerformance VPN gateway.

Validated VPN devices and device configuration guides

In partnership with device vendors, we have validated a set of standard VPN devices. All of the devices in the device families in the following list should work with VPN gateways. See About VPN Gateway Settings to understand the VPN type use (PolicyBased or RouteBased) for the VPN Gateway solution you want to configure.

To help configure your VPN device, refer to the links that correspond to the appropriate device family. The links to configuration instructions are provided on a best-effort basis. For VPN device support, contact your device manufacturer.

VendorDevice familyMinimum OS versionPolicyBased configuration instructionsRouteBased configuration instructions
A10 Networks, Inc.Thunder CFWACOS 4.1.1Not compatibleConfiguration guide
Allied TelesisAR Series VPN RoutersAR-Series 5.4.7+Configuration guideConfiguration guide
AristaCloudEOS RoutervEOS 4.24.0FX(not tested)Configuration guide
Barracuda Networks, Inc.Barracuda CloudGen FirewallPolicyBased: 5.4.3
RouteBased: 6.2.0
Configuration guideConfiguration guide
Check PointSecurity GatewayR80.10Configuration guideConfiguration guide
CiscoASA8.3
8.4+ (IKEv2*)
SupportedConfiguration guide*
CiscoASRPolicyBased: IOS 15.1
RouteBased: IOS 15.2
SupportedSupported
CiscoCSRRouteBased: IOS-XE 16.10(not tested)Configuration script
CiscoISRPolicyBased: IOS 15.0
RouteBased*: IOS 15.1
SupportedSupported
CiscoMeraki (MX)MX v15.12Not compatibleConfiguration guide
CiscovEdge (Viptela OS)18.4.0 (Active/Passive Mode)

19.2 (Active/Active Mode)
Not compatibleManual configuration (Active/Passive)

Cloud Onramp configuration (Active/Active)
CitrixNetScaler MPX, SDX, VPX10.1 and aboveConfiguration guideNot compatible
F5BIG-IP series12.0Configuration guideConfiguration guide
FortinetFortiGateFortiOS 5.6(not tested)Configuration guide
Hillstone NetworksNext-Gen Firewalls (NGFW)5.5R7(not tested)Configuration guide
Internet Initiative Japan (IIJ)SEIL SeriesSEIL/X 4.60
SEIL/B1 4.60
SEIL/x86 3.20
Configuration guideNot compatible
JuniperSRXPolicyBased: JunOS 10.2
Routebased: JunOS 11.4
SupportedConfiguration script
JuniperJ-SeriesPolicyBased: JunOS 10.4r9
RouteBased: JunOS 11.4
SupportedConfiguration script
JuniperISGScreenOS 6.3SupportedConfiguration script
JuniperSSGScreenOS 6.2SupportedConfiguration script
JuniperMXJunOS 12.xSupportedConfiguration script
MicrosoftRouting and Remote Access ServiceWindows Server 2012Not compatibleSupported
Open Systems AGMission Control Security GatewayN/AConfiguration guideNot compatible
Palo Alto NetworksAll devices running PAN-OSPAN-OS
PolicyBased: 6.1.5 or later
RouteBased: 7.1.4
SupportedConfiguration guide
Sentrium (Developer)VyOSVyOS 1.2.2(not tested)Configuration guide
ShareTechNext Generation UTM (NU series)9.0.1.3Not compatibleConfiguration guide
SonicWallTZ Series, NSA Series
SuperMassive Series
E-Class NSA Series
SonicOS 5.8.x
SonicOS 5.9.x
SonicOS 6.x
Not compatibleConfiguration guide
SophosXG Next Gen FirewallXG v17(not tested)Configuration guide

Configuration guide – Multiple SAs
SynologyMR2200ac
RT2600ac
RT1900ac
SRM1.1.5/VpnPlusServer-1.2.0(not tested)Configuration guide
UbiquitiEdgeRouterEdgeOS v1.10(not tested)BGP over IKEv2/IPsec

VTI over IKEv2/IPsec
Ultra3E-636L35.2.0.T3 Build-13(not tested)Configuration guide
WatchGuardAllFireware XTM
PolicyBased: v11.11.x
RouteBased: v11.12.x
Configuration guideConfiguration guide
ZyxelZyWALL USG series
ZyWALL ATP series
ZyWALL VPN series
ZLD v4.32+(not tested)VTI over IKEv2/IPsec

BGP over IKEv2/IPsec

(*) Cisco ASA versions 8.4+ add IKEv2 support, can connect to Azure VPN gateway using custom IPsec/IKE policy with “UsePolicyBasedTrafficSelectors” option. Refer to this how-to article.

(**) ISR 7200 Series routers only support PolicyBased VPNs.

Download VPN device configuration scripts from Azure

For certain devices, you can download configuration scripts directly from Azure. For more information and download instructions, see Download VPN device configuration scripts.

Devices with available configuration scripts

VendorDevice familyFirmware version
CiscoISRIOS 15.1 (Preview)
CiscoASAASA ( * ) RouteBased (IKEv2- No BGP) for ASA below 9.8
CiscoASAASA RouteBased (IKEv2 – No BGP) for ASA 9.8+
JuniperSRX_GA12.x
JuniperSSG_GAScreenOS 6.2.x
JuniperJSeries_GAJunOS 12.x
JuniperSRXJunOS 12.x RouteBased BGP
UbiquitiEdgeRouterEdgeOS v1.10x RouteBased VTI
UbiquitiEdgeRouterEdgeOS v1.10x RouteBased BGP

( * ) Required: NarrowAzureTrafficSelectors (enable UsePolicyBasedTrafficSelectors option) and CustomAzurePolicies (IKE/IPsec)

Non-validated VPN devices

If you don’t see your device listed in the Validated VPN devices table, your device still may work with a Site-to-Site connection. Contact your device manufacturer for additional support and configuration instructions.

Editing device configuration samples

After you download the provided VPN device configuration sample, you’ll need to replace some of the values to reflect the settings for your environment.

To edit a sample:

  1. Open the sample using Notepad.
  2. Search and replace all <text> strings with the values that pertain to your environment. Be sure to include < and >. When a name is specified, the name you select should be unique. If a command does not work, consult your device manufacturer documentation.
Sample textChange to
<RP_OnPremisesNetwork>Your chosen name for this object. Example: myOnPremisesNetwork
<RP_AzureNetwork>Your chosen name for this object. Example: myAzureNetwork
<RP_AccessList>Your chosen name for this object. Example: myAzureAccessList
<RP_IPSecTransformSet>Your chosen name for this object. Example: myIPSecTransformSet
<RP_IPSecCryptoMap>Your chosen name for this object. Example: myIPSecCryptoMap
<SP_AzureNetworkIpRange>Specify range. Example: 192.168.0.0
<SP_AzureNetworkSubnetMask>Specify subnet mask. Example: 255.255.0.0
<SP_OnPremisesNetworkIpRange>Specify on-premises range. Example: 10.2.1.0
<SP_OnPremisesNetworkSubnetMask>Specify on-premises subnet mask. Example: 255.255.255.0
<SP_AzureGatewayIpAddress>This information specific to your virtual network and is located in the Management Portal as Gateway IP address.
<SP_PresharedKey>This information is specific to your virtual network and is located in the Management Portal as Manage Key.

Default IPsec/IKE parameters

The tables below contain the combinations of algorithms and parameters Azure VPN gateways use in default configuration (Default policies). For route-based VPN gateways created using the Azure Resource Management deployment model, you can specify a custom policy on each individual connection. Please refer to Configure IPsec/IKE policy for detailed instructions.

Additionally, you must clamp TCP MSS at 1350. Or if your VPN devices do not support MSS clamping, you can alternatively set the MTU on the tunnel interface to 1400 bytes instead.

In the following tables:

  • SA = Security Association
  • IKE Phase 1 is also called “Main Mode”
  • IKE Phase 2 is also called “Quick Mode”

IKE Phase 1 (Main Mode) parameters

PropertyPolicyBasedRouteBased
IKE VersionIKEv1IKEv1 and IKEv2
Diffie-Hellman GroupGroup 2 (1024 bit)Group 2 (1024 bit)
Authentication MethodPre-Shared KeyPre-Shared Key
Encryption & Hashing Algorithms1. AES256, SHA256
2. AES256, SHA1
3. AES128, SHA1
4. 3DES, SHA1
1. AES256, SHA1
2. AES256, SHA256
3. AES128, SHA1
4. AES128, SHA256
5. 3DES, SHA1
6. 3DES, SHA256
SA Lifetime28,800 seconds28,800 seconds

IKE Phase 2 (Quick Mode) parameters

PropertyPolicyBasedRouteBased
IKE VersionIKEv1IKEv1 and IKEv2
Encryption & Hashing Algorithms1. AES256, SHA256
2. AES256, SHA1
3. AES128, SHA1
4. 3DES, SHA1
RouteBased QM SA Offers
SA Lifetime (Time)3,600 seconds27,000 seconds
SA Lifetime (Bytes)102,400,000 KB102,400,000 KB
Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS)NoRouteBased QM SA Offers
Dead Peer Detection (DPD)Not supportedSupported

RouteBased VPN IPsec Security Association (IKE Quick Mode SA) Offers

The following table lists IPsec SA (IKE Quick Mode) Offers. Offers are listed the order of preference that the offer is presented or accepted.

Azure Gateway as initiator
EncryptionAuthenticationPFS Group
1GCM AES256GCM (AES256)None
2AES256SHA1None
33DESSHA1None
4AES256SHA256None
5AES128SHA1None
63DESSHA256None
Azure Gateway as responder
EncryptionAuthenticationPFS Group
1GCM AES256GCM (AES256)None
2AES256SHA1None
33DESSHA1None
4AES256SHA256None
5AES128SHA1None
63DESSHA256None
7DESSHA1None
8AES256SHA11
9AES256SHA12
10AES256SHA114
11AES128SHA11
12AES128SHA12
13AES128SHA114
143DESSHA11
153DESSHA12
163DESSHA2562
17AES256SHA2561
18AES256SHA2562
19AES256SHA25614
20AES256SHA124
21AES256SHA25624
22AES128SHA256None
23AES128SHA2561
24AES128SHA2562
25AES128SHA25614
263DESSHA114
  • You can specify IPsec ESP NULL encryption with RouteBased and HighPerformance VPN gateways. Null based encryption does not provide protection to data in transit, and should only be used when maximum throughput and minimum latency is required. Clients may choose to use this in VNet-to-VNet communication scenarios, or when encryption is being applied elsewhere in the solution.
  • For cross-premises connectivity through the Internet, use the default Azure VPN gateway settings with encryption and hashing algorithms listed in the tables above to ensure security of your critical communication.

Creating a VPN Gateway (official docs)

Site-to-Site VPN Gateway cross-premises connection diagram

A Site-to-Site VPN gateway connection is used to connect your on-premises network to an Azure virtual network over an IPsec/IKE (IKEv1 or IKEv2) VPN tunnel. This type of connection requires a VPN device located on-premises that has an externally facing public IP address assigned to it. For more information about VPN gateways, see About VPN gateway.

Before you begin

Verify that you have met the following criteria before beginning configuration:

  • Make sure you have a compatible VPN device and someone who is able to configure it. For more information about compatible VPN devices and device configuration, see About VPN Devices.
  • Verify that you have an externally facing public IPv4 address for your VPN device.
  • If you are unfamiliar with the IP address ranges located in your on-premises network configuration, you need to coordinate with someone who can provide those details for you. When you create this configuration, you must specify the IP address range prefixes that Azure will route to your on-premises location. None of the subnets of your on-premises network can over lap with the virtual network subnets that you want to connect to.
  • Use the Bash environment in Azure Cloud Shell.
  • If you prefer, install the Azure CLI to run CLI reference commands.
    • If you’re using a local installation, sign in to the Azure CLI by using the az login command. To finish the authentication process, follow the steps displayed in your terminal. For additional sign-in options, see Sign in with the Azure CLI.
    • When you’re prompted, install Azure CLI extensions on first use. For more information about extensions, see Use extensions with the Azure CLI.
    • Run az version to find the version and dependent libraries that are installed. To upgrade to the latest version, run az upgrade.
  • This article requires version 2.0 or later of the Azure CLI. If using Azure Cloud Shell, the latest version is already installed.

Example values

You can use the following values to create a test environment, or refer to these values to better understand the examples in this article:Copy

#Example values

VnetName                = TestVNet1 
ResourceGroup           = TestRG1 
Location                = eastus 
AddressSpace            = 10.11.0.0/16 
SubnetName              = Subnet1 
Subnet                  = 10.11.0.0/24 
GatewaySubnet           = 10.11.255.0/27 
LocalNetworkGatewayName = Site2 
LNG Public IP           = <VPN device IP address>
LocalAddrPrefix1        = 10.0.0.0/24
LocalAddrPrefix2        = 20.0.0.0/24   
GatewayName             = VNet1GW 
PublicIP                = VNet1GWIP 
VPNType                 = RouteBased 
GatewayType             = Vpn 
ConnectionName          = VNet1toSite2

1. Connect to your subscription

If you choose to run CLI locally, connect to your subscription. If you are using Azure Cloud Shell in the browser, you don’t need to connect to your subscription. You will connect automatically in Azure Cloud Shell. However, you may want to verify that you are using the correct subscription after you connect.

Sign in to your Azure subscription with the az login command and follow the on-screen directions. For more information about signing in, see Get Started with Azure CLI.

az login

If you have more than one Azure subscription, list the subscriptions for the account.

az account list --all

Specify the subscription that you want to use.

az account set --subscription <replace_with_your_subscription_id>

2. Create a resource group

The following example creates a resource group named ‘TestRG1’ in the ‘eastus’ location. If you already have a resource group in the region that you want to create your VNet, you can use that one instead.

az group create --name TestRG1 --location eastus

3. Create a virtual network

If you don’t already have a virtual network, create one using the az network vnet create command. When creating a virtual network, make sure that the address spaces you specify don’t overlap any of the address spaces that you have on your on-premises network.

 Note – In order for this VNet to connect to an on-premises location, you need to coordinate with your on-premises network administrator to carve out an IP address range that you can use specifically for this virtual network. If a duplicate address range exists on both sides of the VPN connection, traffic does not route the way you may expect it to. Additionally, if you want to connect this VNet to another VNet, the address space cannot overlap with other VNet. Take care to plan your network configuration accordingly.

The following example creates a virtual network named ‘TestVNet1’ and a subnet, ‘Subnet1’.

az network vnet create --name TestVNet1 --resource-group TestRG1 --address-prefix 10.11.0.0/16 --location eastus --subnet-name Subnet1 --subnet-prefix 10.11.0.0/24

4. Create the gateway subnet

The virtual network gateway uses specific subnet called the gateway subnet. The gateway subnet is part of the virtual network IP address range that you specify when configuring your virtual network. It contains the IP addresses that the virtual network gateway resources and services use. The subnet must be named ‘GatewaySubnet’ in order for Azure to deploy the gateway resources. You can’t specify a different subnet to deploy the gateway resources to. If you don’t have a subnet named ‘GatewaySubnet’, when you create your VPN gateway, it will fail.

When you create the gateway subnet, you specify the number of IP addresses that the subnet contains. The number of IP addresses needed depends on the VPN gateway configuration that you want to create. Some configurations require more IP addresses than others. We recommend that you create a gateway subnet that uses a /27 or /28.

If you see an error that specifies that the address space overlaps with a subnet, or that the subnet is not contained within the address space for your virtual network, check your VNet address range. You may not have enough IP addresses available in the address range you created for your virtual network. For example, if your default subnet encompasses the entire address range, there are no IP addresses left to create additional subnets. You can either adjust your subnets within the existing address space to free up IP addresses, or specify an additional address range and create the gateway subnet there.

Use the az network vnet subnet create command to create the gateway subnet.

az network vnet subnet create --address-prefix 10.11.255.0/27 --name GatewaySubnet --resource-group TestRG1 --vnet-name TestVNet1

 Important – When working with gateway subnets, avoid associating a network security group (NSG) to the gateway subnet. Associating a network security group to this subnet may cause your virtual network gateway (VPN and Express Route gateways) to stop functioning as expected. For more information about network security groups, see What is a network security group?.

5. Create the local network gateway

The local network gateway typically refers to your on-premises location. You give the site a name by which Azure can refer to it, then specify the IP address of the on-premises VPN device to which you will create a connection. You also specify the IP address prefixes that will be routed through the VPN gateway to the VPN device. The address prefixes you specify are the prefixes located on your on-premises network. If your on-premises network changes, you can easily update the prefixes.

Use the following values:

  • The –gateway-ip-address is the IP address of your on-premises VPN device.
  • The –local-address-prefixes are your on-premises address spaces.

Use the az network local-gateway create command to add a local network gateway with multiple address prefixes:

az network local-gateway create --gateway-ip-address 23.99.221.164 --name Site2 --resource-group TestRG1 --local-address-prefixes 10.0.0.0/24 20.0.0.0/24

6. Request a Public IP address

A VPN gateway must have a Public IP address. You first request the IP address resource, and then refer to it when creating your virtual network gateway. The IP address is dynamically assigned to the resource when the VPN gateway is created. VPN Gateway currently only supports Dynamic Public IP address allocation. You cannot request a Static Public IP address assignment. However, this does not mean that the IP address changes after it has been assigned to your VPN gateway. The only time the Public IP address changes is when the gateway is deleted and re-created. It doesn’t change across resizing, resetting, or other internal maintenance/upgrades of your VPN gateway.

Use the az network public-ip create command to request a Dynamic Public IP address.

az network public-ip create --name VNet1GWIP --resource-group TestRG1 --allocation-method Dynamic

7. Create the VPN gateway

Create the virtual network VPN gateway. Creating a gateway can often take 45 minutes or more, depending on the selected gateway SKU.

Use the following values:

  • The –gateway-type for a Site-to-Site configuration is Vpn. The gateway type is always specific to the configuration that you are implementing. For more information, see Gateway types.
  • The –vpn-type can be RouteBased (referred to as a Dynamic Gateway in some documentation), or PolicyBased (referred to as a Static Gateway in some documentation). The setting is specific to requirements of the device that you are connecting to. For more information about VPN gateway types, see About VPN Gateway configuration settings.
  • Select the Gateway SKU that you want to use. There are configuration limitations for certain SKUs. For more information, see Gateway SKUs.

Create the VPN gateway using the az network vnet-gateway create command. If you run this command using the ‘–no-wait’ parameter, you don’t see any feedback or output. This parameter allows the gateway to create in the background. It takes 45 minutes or more to create a gateway.

az network vnet-gateway create --name VNet1GW --public-ip-address VNet1GWIP --resource-group TestRG1 --vnet TestVNet1 --gateway-type Vpn --vpn-type RouteBased --sku VpnGw1 --no-wait 

8. Configure your VPN device

Site-to-Site connections to an on-premises network require a VPN device. In this step, you configure your VPN device. When configuring your VPN device, you need the following:

  • A shared key. This is the same shared key that you specify when creating your Site-to-Site VPN connection. In our examples, we use a basic shared key. We recommend that you generate a more complex key to use.
  • The Public IP address of your virtual network gateway. You can view the public IP address by using the Azure portal, PowerShell, or CLI. To find the public IP address of your virtual network gateway, use the az network public-ip list command. For easy reading, the output is formatted to display the list of public IPs in table format.
az network public-ip list --resource-group TestRG1 --output table

To download VPN device configuration scripts:

Depending on the VPN device that you have, you may be able to download a VPN device configuration script. For more information, see Download VPN device configuration scripts.

See the following links for additional configuration information:

9. Create the VPN connection

Create the Site-to-Site VPN connection between your virtual network gateway and your on-premises VPN device. Pay particular attention to the shared key value, which must match the configured shared key value for your VPN device.

Create the connection using the az network vpn-connection create command.

az network vpn-connection create --name VNet1toSite2 --resource-group TestRG1 --vnet-gateway1 VNet1GW -l eastus --shared-key abc123 --local-gateway2 Site2

After a short while, the connection will be established.

10. Verify the VPN connection

You can verify that your connection succeeded by using the az network vpn-connection show command. In the example, ’–name’ refers to the name of the connection that you want to test. When the connection is in the process of being established, its connection status shows ‘Connecting’. Once the connection is established, the status changes to ‘Connected’.

az network vpn-connection show --name VNet1toSite2 --resource-group TestRG1

If you want to use another method to verify your connection, see Verify a VPN Gateway connection.

To connect to a virtual machine

You can connect to a VM that is deployed to your VNet by creating a Remote Desktop Connection to your VM. The best way to initially verify that you can connect to your VM is to connect by using its private IP address, rather than computer name. That way, you are testing to see if you can connect, not whether name resolution is configured properly.

  1. Locate the private IP address. You can find the private IP address of a VM by either looking at the properties for the VM in the Azure portal, or by using PowerShell.
    • Azure portal – Locate your virtual machine in the Azure portal. View the properties for the VM. The private IP address is listed.
    • PowerShell – Use the example to view a list of VMs and private IP addresses from your resource groups. You don’t need to modify this example before using it.Azure PowerShellCopyTry It$VMs = Get-AzVM $Nics = Get-AzNetworkInterface | Where VirtualMachine -ne $null foreach($Nic in $Nics) { $VM = $VMs | Where-Object -Property Id -eq $Nic.VirtualMachine.Id $Prv = $Nic.IpConfigurations | Select-Object -ExpandProperty PrivateIpAddress $Alloc = $Nic.IpConfigurations | Select-Object -ExpandProperty PrivateIpAllocationMethod Write-Output "$($VM.Name): $Prv,$Alloc" }
  2. Verify that you are connected to your VNet using the Point-to-Site VPN connection.
  3. Open Remote Desktop Connection by typing “RDP” or “Remote Desktop Connection” in the search box on the taskbar, then select Remote Desktop Connection. You can also open Remote Desktop Connection using the ‘mstsc’ command in PowerShell.
  4. In Remote Desktop Connection, enter the private IP address of the VM. You can click “Show Options” to adjust additional settings, then connect.

Troubleshoot a connection

If you are having trouble connecting to a virtual machine over your VPN connection, check the following:

  • Verify that your VPN connection is successful.
  • Verify that you are connecting to the private IP address for the VM.
  • If you can connect to the VM using the private IP address, but not the computer name, verify that you have configured DNS properly. For more information about how name resolution works for VMs, see Name Resolution for VMs.
  • For more information about RDP connections, see Troubleshoot Remote Desktop connections to a VM.

Common tasks

This section contains common commands that are helpful when working with site-to-site configurations. For the full list of CLI networking commands, see Azure CLI – Networking.

To view local network gateways

To view a list of the local network gateways, use the az network local-gateway list command.

az network local-gateway list --resource-group TestRG1

To modify local network gateway IP address prefixes – no gateway connection

If you don’t have a gateway connection and you want to add or remove IP address prefixes, you use the same command that you use to create the local network gateway, az network local-gateway create. You can also use this command to update the gateway IP address for the VPN device. To overwrite the current settings, use the existing name of your local network gateway. If you use a different name, you create a new local network gateway, instead of overwriting the existing one.

Each time you make a change, the entire list of prefixes must be specified, not just the prefixes that you want to change. Specify only the prefixes that you want to keep. In this case, 10.0.0.0/24 and 20.0.0.0/24

az network local-gateway create --gateway-ip-address 23.99.221.164 --name Site2 -g TestRG1 --local-address-prefixes 10.0.0.0/24 20.0.0.0/24

To modify local network gateway IP address prefixes – existing gateway connection

If you have a gateway connection and want to add or remove IP address prefixes, you can update the prefixes using az network local-gateway update. This results in some downtime for your VPN connection. When modifying the IP address prefixes, you don’t need to delete the VPN gateway.

Each time you make a change, the entire list of prefixes must be specified, not just the prefixes that you want to change. In this example, 10.0.0.0/24 and 20.0.0.0/24 are already present. We add the prefixes 30.0.0.0/24 and 40.0.0.0/24 and specify all 4 of the prefixes when updating.

az network local-gateway update --local-address-prefixes 10.0.0.0/24 20.0.0.0/24 30.0.0.0/24 40.0.0.0/24 --name VNet1toSite2 -g TestRG1

To modify the local network gateway ‘gatewayIpAddress’

If the VPN device that you want to connect to has changed its public IP address, you need to modify the local network gateway to reflect that change. The gateway IP address can be changed without removing an existing VPN gateway connection (if you have one). To modify the gateway IP address, replace the values ‘Site2’ and ‘TestRG1’ with your own using the az network local-gateway update command.

az network local-gateway update --gateway-ip-address 23.99.222.170 --name Site2 --resource-group TestRG1

Verify that the IP address is correct in the output:Copy

"gatewayIpAddress": "23.99.222.170",

To verify the shared key values

Verify that the shared key value is the same value that you used for your VPN device configuration. If it is not, either run the connection again using the value from the device, or update the device with the value from the return. The values must match. To view the shared key, use the az network vpn-connection-list.

az network vpn-connection shared-key show --connection-name VNet1toSite2 --resource-group TestRG1

To view the VPN gateway Public IP address

To find the public IP address of your virtual network gateway, use the az network public-ip list command. For easy reading, the output for this example is formatted to display the list of public IPs in table format.

az network public-ip list --resource-group TestRG1 --output table

With the gateway and router setup complete, the next step is replicating the virtual machines

Replicating Virtual Machines / Containers

Due to the number of different ways to migrate Virtual Machines into Azure from the private cloud, we will not cover migration in depth this time. Whether you use Windows, Linux, KVM, VMWare, Unix, Hyper-V, Docker, K8s, Proxmox, or anything else, Microsoft has a number of guides for migration. Leave questions on this article, if there is information you can’t find.

There are a few items to keep in mind when migrating Virtual Machines / Containers from a homelab to Azure. A major one is that the migration is likely not permanent and likely not one way. Azure has a number of tools and technologies for migrating infrastructure into Azure; it does not, however, have many tools for migrating instances out of Azure (and rightly so). This means that your migration strategy will need to be able to synchronize back to the homelab. Prepare for a bi-directional migration process, if migration is required for entire machines.

Bi-Directional Migrations

Virtual Machines

Bi-directional migration options will differ depending on the hosting technology you use for your homelab. The most basic case, Virtual Machines (KVM, VMWare, Hyper-V, Xen, etc.), has two options based on deployment type:

  • Immutable – Due to the stateless nature of immutable instances, the synchronization mechanism would target the underlying state storage mechanism if there is one. In the case of a blob or file store, the data can be easily copied between Azure and homelab using any number of tools.
  • Mutable – Mutable instances will most likely need to have the (virtual) machine disks copied between each host. Use appropriate disk conversion technology so that the disk type is appropriate the host (Azure VHD vs KVM qcow2, etc).

It should be noted that migrations of certain products, like SQL Server, have more advanced migration and synchronization methods. These products are outside the scope of this discussion. For an example, a PostgreSQL cluster has the option to migrate via replication.

Containers

Data Sync

Azure has a number of different options to sync blobs between the home lab and Azure:

Front Doors

Direct Entry

Another item to consider is what will be the front door into your homelab. The usage of front door here is describing how the applications are accessed over the internet. If the homelab will still use its internet as the front door for application access, then will the available bandwidth be enough for the migration increase? If Azure is to be the front door, then how do you simultaneously handle having two front doors as the DNS update propagates?

Diagram showing an on-premises network on the left, which consists of three computer screens and a gateway. A double-sided arrow connecting the on-premises to a cloud labeled internet with “Site-to-site VPN tunnel” above the double-sided arrow. Another double-sided arrow connects the internet cloud to its right, through a dotted rectangle labeled “Azure Virtual Network”. The arrow connects to an item labeled VPN gateway. That gateway has a single-arrow leaving it to the right pointing to a load balancer which is pointing to three identical virtual machines. At the bottom, there is a computer monitor labeled user. Between the computer monitor labeled user and the cloud labeled internet is two doors. The left door is labeled on-premises front door. The right door is labeled Azure Front Door. There is a blue arrow for each door pointing from the computer labeled user. There is a blue arrow from each door pointing to the cloud labeled internet.

If you wish to use both as a front door, make sure you have an ingress option available that can properly route between the different subnets and servers. In the case of a basic web server, use something like Nginx or HA Proxy for ingress and basic routing, so that it can be mirrored between homelab and Azure.

Once our event is complete, it’s time to synchronize our systems and tear down our gateway.

Tear Down (official docs)

There are a couple of different approaches you can take when you want to delete a virtual network gateway for a VPN gateway configuration.

  • If you want to delete everything and start over, as in the case of a test environment, you can delete the resource group. When you delete a resource group, it deletes all the resources within the group. This is method is only recommended if you don’t want to keep any of the resources in the resource group. You can’t selectively delete only a few resources using this approach.
  • If you want to keep some of the resources in your resource group, deleting a virtual network gateway becomes slightly more complicated. Before you can delete the virtual network gateway, you must first delete any resources that are dependent on the gateway. The steps you follow depend on the type of connections that you created and the dependent resources for each connection.

Before beginning

1. Download the latest Azure Resource Manager PowerShell cmdlets.

Download and install the latest version of the Azure Resource Manager PowerShell cmdlets. For more information about downloading and installing PowerShell cmdlets, see How to install and configure Azure PowerShell.

2. Connect to your Azure account.

Open your PowerShell console and connect to your account. Use the following example to help you connect:

Connect-AzAccount

Check the subscriptions for the account.

Get-AzSubscription

If you have more than one subscription, specify the subscription that you want to use.

Select-AzSubscription -SubscriptionName "Replace_with_your_subscription_name"

Delete a Site-to-Site VPN gateway

To delete a virtual network gateway for a S2S configuration, you must first delete each resource that pertains to the virtual network gateway. Resources must be deleted in a certain order due to dependencies. When working with the examples below, some of the values must be specified, while other values are an output result. We use the following specific values in the examples for demonstration purposes:

VNet name: VNet1
Resource Group name: RG1
Virtual network gateway name: GW1

The following steps apply to the Resource Manager deployment model.

1. Get the virtual network gateway that you want to delete.

$GW=get-Azvirtualnetworkgateway -Name "GW1" -ResourceGroupName "RG1"

2. Check to see if the virtual network gateway has any connections.

get-Azvirtualnetworkgatewayconnection -ResourceGroupName "RG1" | where-object {$_.VirtualNetworkGateway1.Id -eq $GW.Id}
$Conns=get-Azvirtualnetworkgatewayconnection -ResourceGroupName "RG1" | where-object {$_.VirtualNetworkGateway1.Id -eq $GW.Id}

3. Delete all connections.

You may be prompted to confirm the deletion of each of the connections.

$Conns | ForEach-Object {Remove-AzVirtualNetworkGatewayConnection -Name $_.name -ResourceGroupName $_.ResourceGroupName}

4. Delete the virtual network gateway.

You may be prompted to confirm the deletion of the gateway. If you have a P2S configuration to this VNet in addition to your S2S configuration, deleting the virtual network gateway will automatically disconnect all P2S clients without warning.

Remove-AzVirtualNetworkGateway -Name "GW1" -ResourceGroupName "RG1"

At this point, your virtual network gateway has been deleted. You can use the next steps to delete any resources that are no longer being used.

5 Delete the local network gateways.

Get the list of the corresponding local network gateways.

$LNG=Get-AzLocalNetworkGateway -ResourceGroupName "RG1" | where-object {$_.Id -In $Conns.LocalNetworkGateway2.Id}

Delete the local network gateways. You may be prompted to confirm the deletion of each of the local network gateway.

$LNG | ForEach-Object {Remove-AzLocalNetworkGateway -Name $_.Name -ResourceGroupName $_.ResourceGroupName}

6. Delete the Public IP address resources.

Get the IP configurations of the virtual network gateway.

$GWIpConfigs = $Gateway.IpConfigurations

Get the list of Public IP address resources used for this virtual network gateway. If the virtual network gateway was active-active, you will see two Public IP addresses.

$PubIP=Get-AzPublicIpAddress | where-object {$_.Id -In $GWIpConfigs.PublicIpAddress.Id}

Delete the Public IP resources.

$PubIP | foreach-object {remove-AzpublicIpAddress -Name $_.Name -ResourceGroupName "RG1"}

7. Delete the gateway subnet and set the configuration.

$GWSub = Get-AzVirtualNetwork -ResourceGroupName "RG1" -Name "VNet1" | Remove-AzVirtualNetworkSubnetConfig -Name "GatewaySubnet"
Set-AzVirtualNetwork -VirtualNetwork $GWSub

Delete a VPN gateway by deleting the resource group

If you are not concerned about keeping any of your resources in the resource group and you just want to start over, you can delete an entire resource group. This is a quick way to remove everything. The following steps apply only to the Resource Manager deployment model.

1. Get a list of all the resource groups in your subscription.

Get-AzResourceGroup

2. Locate the resource group that you want to delete.

Locate the resource group that you want to delete and view the list of resources in that resource group. In the example, the name of the resource group is RG1. Modify the example to retrieve a list of all the resources.

Find-AzResource -ResourceGroupNameContains RG1

3. Verify the resources in the list.

When the list is returned, review it to verify that you want to delete all the resources in the resource group, as well as the resource group itself. If you want to keep some of the resources in the resource group, use the steps in the earlier sections of this article to delete your gateway.

4. Delete the resource group and resources.

To delete the resource group and all the resource contained in the resource group, modify the example and run.

Remove-AzResourceGroup -Name RG1

5. Check the status.

It takes some time for Azure to delete all the resources. You can check the status of your resource group by using this cmdlet.

Get-AzResourceGroup -ResourceGroupName RG1

The result that is returned shows ‘Succeeded’.

ResourceGroupName : RG1
Location          : eastus
ProvisioningState : Succeeded

Home Lab – Keeping Costs Down

Understand the Use Case


If you’re considering building a lab, chances are you’ve got a good idea of what you want to do with it. If not, then let me give you one piece of advice: THINK CAREFULLY BEFOREHAND ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE. 10 GPU “super computers” can be great fun but are woefully unnecessary if you want a web development server. Likewise, a petabyte of redundant storage truly lives up to its name if you’re planning to use it to host a Doom multiplayer server. I know it sounds obvious, but it’s just too easy to get distracted by a great eBay deal and end up with a 900w paper weight.

I can already hear you shouting, “EBAY HO, BUY ALL THE THINGS”, but lets just slow down there for one second, soldier. This is a really, really good way to spend a whole lot of money on a stack of stuff that is worth more to a scrapyard than your homelab. There’s a ton of enterprise gear out there ready for the taking, but do your due diligence or you won’t get the good stuff. Instead, you’ll end up with a server with only one ethernet management port and no network card. It’s a bad scene when that happens, so let’s try to preclude it.

Common Use Cases

Open tower PC computers. Depicts computer repair, maintenance, service or upgrade

Most home lab users get started for very specific use cases. The starter use cases are usually:

  • Game Servers
  • Media Servers
  • Storage and Archiving
  • Web Hosting
  • Certification Study
  • Remote Access
  • Development Servers
  • Home Automation
  • Crypto Currency and other Electric Waste

It is important to understand that your homelab project is not the first of its kind. There are an innumerable number of self hosted game servers, media servers, and self hosted web sites. Before breaking out the credit card, use (at-least) a google search to find a similar project which describes their setup to understand how the underlying hardware is being used. Understanding hardware is key to understanding what you will need instead of what you want or think you may need.

For example, a home media server doesn’t need a 24 port 10 G switch. It also doesn’t need an AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X 64Core 128Thread 2.9GHz 7nm sTRX4 CPU Processor. Both of those items will add expense and power usage, without providing a better media server. What is most important is overall disk space and making sure the disks are redundant (note disk speed is not of the utmost importance). With this in mind, you can search for a single server setup that can handle an appropriate amount of disk space for your needs.

Larger Use Cases

In the Modern Data Center: IT Engineer Installs New HDD Hard Drive and Other Hardware into Server Rack Equipment. IT Specialist Doing Maintenance, Running Diagnostics and Updating Hardware.

Larger use cases (or enterprise use cases) will combine multiple use cases from above along with new use cases, monitoring, multiple environments, additional access & control mechanisms, and more. An example of a larger use case can be an edge computing solution for home automation combined with a home security system. Another use case could be a web crawler, archiver, and data processor to create a custom search engine. A personal use case of my home lab is snapshotting/archiving documentation of older products and software so that if said documentation were no longer hosted by a third party, I’d still have access to it.

When diving into larger/enterprise use cases you often run into a different level of concerns. This particular blog post wont dive into such details; just understand there are additional costs that comes with enterprise setups. Backup power, layers of redundancy, DR & backup strategies, mitigating for natural and manmade disasters, and more. Each of these will increase cost and slowly transform a home lab into a datacenter.

Find a Deal

Buy nothing

Keep in mind that this post is meant for someone who’s already started labbing, but wants to up their gear to do more and doesn’t know where to begin.

The vast majority of us all started with an old PC or leftover parts from a previous upgrade or, maybe, from that box your parents didn’t need anymore after that they got a new present. Maybe you volunteer to take it and clean it for them and begin to use what they left behind. Personally, this is exactly how I got my original NAS.

I’d be very surprised if you’re not already sitting on a pile of old parts in some way, shape, or form. If you weren’t the kind to collect parts, you probably wouldn’t be labbing. Even if not, if all you have is one PC, use it. These days we have VirtualBox, which does a fine job of running just about everything you might want to try out. It might be a bit slow, but you can get started while you wait for your tax return/birthday money/lottery winnings to get here.

The key point is that nothing about learning the basics of homelab setup requires enterprise hardware, except, of course, for learning how enterprise hardware itself is laid out. That has its merits, but most of it can still be learned from building your own PC. Coding, Linux, FreeBSD, Win 2012 R2, containers, hypervisors, networking, storage; all of it can be done with a fairly recent laptop or desktop.

Understanding Hardware

Male computer technician repairing broken silver rack mount server while opening its parts and analyzing and understanding problem

Let’s discuss the different types of hardware options you’ll encounter; hopefully, this will save you from traveling an expensive learning curve. You don’t want to end up with a server that is so old it doesn’t support virtualization. Older servers can be power hungry and scream every time you turn them on. These tips will hopefully help you understand the difference between a $150 paperweight and a $200 deal.

This is such an important issue to me, because I have witnessed those uninitiated in homelab quickly lose their enthusiasm when they end up getting Pentium 4-era Xeons that are practically worthless. I point this out not to pound those who have just started with homelab builds into the ground, but to point out that if you don’t research, ask around, and make sure of what you’re getting, you could end up getting worthless hardware without even knowing it. And, trust me, it’s not always easy to see when you might be headed down this path. I speak from experience.

Ask Questions

Young woman asking questions to the speaker during the briefing.

There are a number of guides on the internet to help with buying of used/refurbished/old servers. Using your search engine of choice will lead you on many adventures. It cannot be stressed enough that you should understand your use case before you purchase a machine. Here are a list of questions to ask yourself:

  • What kind of connections does the motherboard provide for hard drives?
    • Does the server have a raid card?
      • If the raid card fails, how hard will it be to replace?
      • If a drive fails, how hard will it be to recreate the raid cluster?
      • What is the maximum memory supported by the raid card?
    • Is this server primarily reading or writing data?
      • Is the primary reading or writing a central focus of this server?
      • What level of redundancy is needed for this data?
      • Can this server use a NAS instead of local hard drives for the non-OS (or all) data?
    • Will this server need to “trust” the hard drives attached to it? (A server may not be able to read the temperature of a hard drive and consider it to be overheating. The fans will then go full blast driving up the energy consumption and noise generation of the machine. This is a problem in servers like Dells, where there is an expectation of a Dell Certified hard drive)
  • What are the network throughput needs of this project?
    • Is the network card fast enough for this project’s needs? Is the switch/router it is connected to fast enough for this project’s needs?
    • Does the card provide enough ports for the considered management setup?
    • Does it provide redundancy at the card or port level?
    • If the network card fails, how hard will it be to replace?
  • What are the memory needs for the project and what are the memory options provided by the motherboard?
    • Not a question, but a note – use ECC RAM. Servers are not personal use computers and with multiple workloads running on them, ECC RAM can prevent a systemic crash that destroys all the workloads on the server.
    • Another note, don’t use DDR2 memory. Its a power hog and getting harder and harder to replace.
    • Does the motherboard except UDIMM, RDIMM, or LDIMM and in what configurations?
    • What RAM is currently available from other projects to reuse?
    • Are any processes or workloads memory intensive or is RAM general use?
  • What level of compute power is needed?
    • Does the motherboard for this project support the expected CPU?
    • Does the CPU support the RAM for this server?
    • Does the CPU support virtual machine passthrough (Intel VT-d or AMD-Vi)?
    • Are vendors readily stocking this CPU?

Places to purchase

Shopping basket with computer device and accessories, 3D rendering isolated on white background

The primary place to find “deals” on retired server equipment would be eBay. eBay serves as a single point where recyclers, repurchasers, and refurbishers can sell IT equipment. In fact, most shops will have multiple “stores” that they use so that they can have a single location with different store fronts. Some shops will have a brand name that is its own web store. eBay is the place that I personally go to first when I am bored and want to look at stuff I will never buy.

There are a number of different categories to check that are not eBay: (It should be noted that this section is from an American perspective. If you searching elsewhere this guide may not be perfectly applicable to buying in your region)

Local Electronic Recyclers

Electronic recyclers are sometimes tasked to clean out old data centers. This leaves the recycler with enterprise servers and networking equipment that will need to be sold. Some items are best to pick up in person. Renting moving equipment and moving server racks to a house or office space from an electronic recycler can save thousands on such a purchase (from personal experience). Personally, I have built/purchased both my mobile testing platform and my server racks from a local electronics recycler. It’s as simple as setting up an appointment with the recycler and taking a tour of their warehouse. There may be more than just the equipment for the project being planned in there for purchase.

The major benefit of visiting an electronic recycler is that they may be willing to make a deal NOW. You are there, you have money, and they do not need to ship out the product. This can reduce their costs and in turn pass that savings on to you. However, make sure that you can move and transport the items that you bought. Server racks can weigh upwards of 400lbs and not fit in a standard rental box truck standing up. Make sure you can transport whatever you buy and that it will fit, not only in the room you purchase it for, but through the doorways to the room in question.

Government Surplus

A surplus store in the Commonwealth of Nations sells items that are used, or purchased but unused, and no longer needed. A surplus store may also sell items that are past their use by date. Additionally, there are government auctions for similar property where some amazing deals can be found. Note, these amazing deals are sought after by many personal and professional hobbyist, so don’t expect too much of an amazing deal.

Online Sales

All that can be said for online sales in this article has been stated. Anything not said should be known from your own online shopping experience. For the sake of being somewhat useful, here is a list sourced from the reddit homelab wiki buying guide:

Using the Cloud

Private cloud left connected to Public cloud right with Hybrid cloud placed between

The cloud can be utilized to keep costs down. You read that last sentence correctly, it can be used to keep costs down. From a business perspective, it can be utilized to shift capital expenses to operational expenses. For a home lab, it can be used so that $10,000 in equipment cost can instead be spread out month to month over the course of years. As a Microsoft MVP for Azure, I have a good sense of when to use the public cloud vs when to invest in the private cloud. Hopefully, this section can provide a quick guide to when and where your project can benefit from either.

A thought that should be shared is that the entire integration with the public cloud can be dynamic, if you so choose. From the VPN components to the different offerings being consumed (unless there is a need for persistent state), the items can all be created on demand. This is said with the understanding that certain items require physical components and long term contracts. If your project requires those parameters, then the project may fall outside the definition of “home lab” being used here. Also, some items, like a VPN Gateway in Azure, may take a half hour to an hour to provision on demand. For a home lab, some pre-planning may be required due to those time constraints (as compared to an enterprise environment, where all those items will be persistent).

For a home lab, the primary purpose is to own and house the equipment running your projects. That being the primary purpose, does not mean there are no other benefits to using the public cloud in a hybrid scenario. The following are a few scenarios where using the public cloud could help reduce costs:

Scaling Out

From the above listed options for projects, some could benefit from being able to scale out due to demand. Web servers, game servers, development servers, and more may have inconsistent demand. If your project involves a forever online game server and suddenly one thousand of your closest friends plan to play together one night, then there may be a need to scale out beyond the capacity of your home lab.

Assuming the project is set up for this scenario, hosting it in the public cloud may be as simple as changing a public DNS entry and uploading your virtualization configuration of the server to a public cloud provider. An example would be Minecraft server running inside of a container. It can be quickly uploaded to something like Azure Container Instances for the evening and cost a fistful of dollars. Compared to the thousands in hardware costs that would be needed for that one evening, the public cloud can provide the required infrastructure for a fraction of the cost.

Another example could be a public web server for a one day conference. For ~360 days out of the year, the site will receive one or two hits a day. When the week of the conference arrives, it may suddenly get hundreds or thousands of hits per day. Instead of running the site in the cloud the entire year or spending capital enough to host it in your lab for the week of the conference, use the cloud the week of and the rest of the year use the home lab (private cloud).

Disaster Recovery

Some of the key tenants to a proper disaster recovery protocol is secondary location, offsite storage, or any other type of physical separation of the recovery environment. This acts as a hedge to a physical disaster in the private cloud region. This multi-locality is a primary tenant of any cloud hosting but in the home lab scenario is mostly not feasible. A public cloud offering can be a cheap disaster recovery option for the home lab. Having encrypted backups of configuration and servers paired with separately located media backups of sensitive data can be combined to form a DR strategy for the home lab.

Not everything will be cheaply hosted in a public cloud for DR purposes. If the project is a media server or data lab, then the storage fees on any media not hosted within the lab may prove to be too costly. The DR scenario that the cloud can help with, on a home lab budget, is one where the underlying data is small enough to make running costs too high.

Core Infrastructure

The recovery strategy used in my personal lab starts with core infrastructure. First, the physical hosts are configured for virtualization and then a mix of VMs and containers are deployed to start:

  • Certificate Authority (with root certs being loaded from backup physical media)
  • apt-mirror & docker-registry
  • DNS
  • LDAP
  • Data Systems
  • Web Servers

By using cloud offerings for some core infrastructure, both costs and restart time are minimized. For each of the following, an option could be:

  • CA – Let’s Encrypt
  • apt-mirror & docker-registry – use public free apt repos and docker hub
  • DNS – use the name servers provided by the registrar
  • LDAP – use Azure Active Directory where it can replace LDAP (don’t write me an essay about how AAD is not LDAP! I know its not but for something like an internal website or gitlab it can make a suitable replacement.)

PAAS/SAAS

Some services in the public cloud can easily out scale a home lab configured version for a lower cost point (even over the long run). Also, some offerings in the public cloud can make the completion of specific portions of the home lab project much faster. If you are building a machine learning setup, utilizing the dynamic compute capabilities of something like Azure Machine Learning to host notebooks or add compute power for the models will have a drastically lower price point than configuring the same in a home lab setup.

Another example could be adding a text messaging feature for two factor authentication. Adding in a twilio messaging account will be much lower than trying to add an entire phone. Similarly, using Office 365 or Zoho mail could be cheaper than any self hosted alternative. Moreover, the free tiers offered by Github are so fully featured now that self hosting is purely for the hobby and not for any feature benefit.

Home Lab – a lie I tell myself

Since March of 2020 I’ve been working on building out a homelab. Something about being inside a little more drove me to want to work with the computers at home. Normally that free time would be spent at community events or with presentations. Something had to fill the void and a homelab was it.

At first, the goal was simple; learn about different server technologies and edge computing by building a “data center” in a closet. The “data center” part of it is where most at home sysadmins fall into a bottomless pit of self-hosted technologies and I am no different. First it is a home media server, then a dashboard, then a database, then a data system, then a clustered set of systems, then there is suddenly a need for documentation for a lab you built yourself as it becomes too much to handle at once.

This will, hopefully, be the first of many posts about home labs that is written from personal and professional experience. Throughout the series there should be a showcase of how to use home labs for:

  • Home Media
  • Automation
  • Edge Computing
  • Archiving
  • Game Servers
  • Development Servers
  • Access and Control
  • Dynamic Public Cloud Integration
  • Redundancy and Disaster Recovery
  • and… more

The first and foremost discussion to have is price control. Enterprise server contracts can start at seven figures. If this is what you are looking for, then this is not the blog you seek. What this blog will focus on is how to keep a relatively low budget. Lets see how far we can make the homelab budget go!

At this point, you may be wondering why the title is “Home Lab – a lie I tell myself”. When this journey started, this was a 1-2 tower server adventure. Over time this has exploded, both in scope and in price. At this point, the name “homelab” no longer describes the system I’ve built. Not just in size but also due to the fact that it is no longer at my home. Hopefully, this series can serve as both enablement and deterrent to an ever expanding homelab.

Some helpful resources I used when I got started: