Build a PC(Server)?

Hello Everyone!

I am not sure if this is the right place. I felt the “Enterprise Gear” section was too above my target for what I am envisioning. I was wondering if anyone here could assist me ?

I am an mid-entry level IT employee, Tech enthusiast, and beginner when it comes to Server/Enterprise grade hardware. I have seen a lot of Wendell’s videos about Workstations, Virtualization etc, etc. I would appreciate any guidance you all could offer me.

Objectives in order of importance

  1. Virtualization ( Learn Windows Server XXXX, Teach myself Active Directory, Learn how to do powershell scripts to speed up setting up users/desktops etc.)

  2. Media server / NAS for Emby or eventually Jellyfin. I have 5 HDDs currently(2x14tb, 1x12tb, 2x6tb)

  3. Create my own Email Domain/Server. I am tired of questioning if Google, Hotmail, Microsoft have my best interests at heart and I want to be in charge of my own email.

  4. 24/7, 365 uptime, Security, Redundant power and Surge protection.

  5. Still learning Python, can I use a server in some capacity to assist this.

  6. POE Camera footage storage (NVR?) via Ubiquiti/Bosch cameras with footage captured via RTSP

  7. Have a UDM Pro, was considering making my own PFsense firewall with a virtual machine or physical hardware.

Corresponding questions to each objective

  1. What year of windows Server is best? Any recommended books or sites for powershell scripting? I wish to virtualize a Rasberry PI with semi-overkill hardware specs for Pi-Hole.
    is Rack mounted gear more expensive? Would a workstation desktop be better?
    Should I buy used enterprise gear off Ebay? If so which CPUs, mobos, and etc. I know NOTHING about server skus.
    I plan to buy a Startech 25U rack, I currently have a ubiquiti UDM Pro and 24 Port POE switch, do I need more rack space?

  2. Would it be more cost effective to buy a QNAP or Synology NAS? Especially if I currently have 42tb of storage without any backups and want to have a redundant on site backup of what I have. I plan to have ~100tb of stored data(Not including Backups) at any given time. Going over that is hard to imagine at this moment.
    Should I ZFS and Raid?

  3. I don’t even know how to begin on this, what kind of security/hardware do I need? Can I use a virtual machine for this?

  4. I figured something like a APC 1500VA sitting on a shelf would be enough? Any recommendations?

  5. how could virtualization further my understanding of python, can I use python to help me automate or script things?

  6. Should I get an NVR or can I back this footage up to my NAS/Media server ?

  7. do i need a dedicated machine for this or can i use a virtual machine? Thoughts and best practices?

is a dell poweredge worth it? I was hoping for something that could be relatively quiet between 40-50db tops, maybe I can install some aftermarket fans ?? Is this an unreasonable expectation?

**** Are Startech or Navepoint racks good? Enclosed or open rack?

Soft budget is $2000 not including HDDs for the media server and the server rack enclosure/frame. Hard budget is closer to $4000. Is this a reasonable price range?

Some answers, which you may or may not like:

  1. If you want to advance your career by virtualisation, forget Win-OS and learn Linux and BSD.
  2. Probably cheaper to get a midi-size PC case, then install your disks on a platform like the Gigabyte MJ11-EC0. It’s an AMD Epyc based SoC board and offers 2x 4 SATA, IPMI, 2x 1Gb/s LAN among other interesting features. They are a bit rare ATM, but I found a Polish site who has them on order for about 500 USD. It only needs RAM for a working system (+PSU, case, SSD’s, HDD’s, etc)
  3. Don’t. You simply lack the skills to do this safely, for the time being. Revisit this once you have experience exposing servers to the internet. Your ISP will be grateful for not having his IP range banned for spamming from your system :roll_eyes:
  4. Ah, so you’re gonna build an entire datacenter full of cloud computing nodes? If not, adjust your expectations. Hardware fails, mostly randomly. The only way to minimise disruption is adding more hardware. Which leads to more power usage, which leads to more heat, which in turn means active cooling the area (HVAC) which leads to even higher electricity bills. And enterprise-grade stuff is way more expensive as consumer hardware!
  5. A VM will do nicely. Has the added benefit that if something goes belly up, spinning up a new instance and destroying the failed one is fairly easy and quick recovery.
  6. Depends on what you want to do with that data. If you want to make it available to authorities, keep it on a separate system, preferably a cloud solution.
  7. If you go for the pfSense route, use dedicated hardware. Can be low power, technically an RPi 4 suffices, but a low cost Intel system would provide better performance under (heavy) load. Plus you can add a 2nd NIC for separation of the WAN/LAN networks.

As for your budget, 4k isn’t gonna cut it for your entire wish-list. My advise is to gradually build up your home-lab, starting with the aforementioned AMD SoC system (or similar Intel Xeon-based system, that’s fine). Do what you can within the limits of the environment you can afford. :slight_smile:



Fully endorse everything @Dutch_Master has said

My usual advice for beginners would be getting a couple of cheap ($50) pcs, one to configure as a Nas prototype, and one for your virtualization experiments. Keep these two things separate so you protect your precious cat videos from badly configured hypervisor experiments.

Once you have the basics down, move your Nas and stable virtual machines onto “proper” hardware, (this is a rabbit hole and one I’m still stuck in, there is no right answer), then keep the other boxes as your test beds.

As for which version of Windows server, if you virtualise with hyperv or even use VMware or a Linux derivative, you can still run a virtual Windows server. You can try the latest one for free for a couple of months. I wouldn’t run Windows bare metal.

Probably not more cost effective but easier for beginners. Be wary of being locked in though and you will need to wipe the drives before putting them in the appliance, whereas with a homebrew server you can usually access the existing pools.

Don’t waste your initial 2k dollars on any of the following, not worth it for an initial build:

  • redundant power (unlikely to fail before other components)
  • racks (just put it on a shelf)
  • server licenses (proxmox for the win)
  • used enterprise servers (look at prosumer hardware to meet your needs, some great deals on x79/x99 or early rysen CPUs to get 8+ cores

Whatever you were planning to spend on hard drives… Double it.

Final point, have fun with it. The cheap kit is the best place to learn because if you make a mistake it’s unlikely to make you feel bad, and you can always get another motherboard etc. If you spend $500 on a server and fry it, that is a bad day.

Good luck

My advice would be to use Proxmox, ESXI, or XCP-ng then install windows server in a VM. Just back it up after. That way you can break Windows over and over without ever having to worry about needing to reinstall it.

As for hardware, I concur with the above… start with something you have or something cheap. I used to subscribe to the Tim Taylor way of thinking…grunting “more power” and needlessly spending money on something way overkill. For daily use right now, I run a bunch of turnkey linux containers in proxmox on a Lenovo mini PC that only has 2 hyperthreading haswell cores and 16GB DDR3 RAM. Even the RAM is way overkill but I had the DIMMs already.

What is your current home/gaming PC?

Chances are everything you want to do can already be done on that. Just about any CPU from the last 2-3years is enough to run a VM or two so long as you have the RAM to support it. GPU passthrough might be an issue on a lower end motherboard and depending on the GPU but is possible.

While I have a full lab with plenty of used enterprise gear, I run VM’s and Docker on my personal PC as needed because my Ryzen 5 3600 w/ 32gb of ram is more than enough.

Running applications like PLEX in docker vs a full VM saves greatly on the resources and “weight” on your system. So defiantly look at a base OS that can run docker directly IMHO. I run Manjaro as my day to day w/ docker and libvert for KVM/QEMU and it works great.

The downside is its not an “industry” tool like ESXI but tbh I dont care about that. Services are what I care about, not familiarity with the hypervisor/host.

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