Felixthecat presents: A Journey of technological self-reliance, information freedom and geeky projects

This post exists to blog my expierences, both in success and failure, so others can hopefully learn from them or find inspiration on their own road to taking back their data and exploring technology for themselves.

A little Background

For the time I can remember I’ve been fascinated by technology and loved experimenting around with it.
Since I got my first PC in Elementary School and started soldering in Middle School, there’s been an urge within me to tinker and absorb as much knowledge as I can.

The way modern information technology enables us to change our lives for the better and accomplish things that were unthinkable just short periods of time ago are amazing.

But there’s been a dark trend within the industry for the longest time, which I have started to learn more about and tried to do more against year by year:

Technology is being used increasingly against its users; to exploit our privacy, freedom and dignity for the sake of profit and authoritarian control by companies and governments.

The Plan

So what am I planning to against that?
Take the technology into my own hands!

In recent years I’ve increasingly started to educate myself in the fields of Linux, Free Software, Self-Hosting and Networking. I am now trying to accomplish the following goals:

  • Free myself as much as possible from closed-source and proprietary software.
  • Take my data out of the cloud by self-hosting services or only using FOSS E2EE Software
  • Be as private as possible while still using the technology I love and being funcitonal in society

I’ve had past experience with a lot of the puzzle pieces that will need to fit together so I can accomplish these goals, but it’s only been in the past year that I’ve been able to really get started as my life had put lots of trouble in my way.

Certain endeavours that I have already undertaken will be revisited later throughout this series of posts, as I am starting this blog already into my journey. But if I forget to go into detail on something you have interest in, feel free to ask me questions.

Currently Aspired Network Diagram

The New and Improved Homeserver (as the plan stands for now)

I’ve had experience with Proxmox and DIY Hypervisors in the past but am currently using TrueNAS Core on old and not very reliable Supermicro X9 Hardware and a Xeon E3 as a NAS as I was on a low budget more recently.
But since I’ve recently had the resouces to aquire good hardware once again, that NAS will be transformed into my new homeserver.

The Hardware:

  • CPU: Intel Xeon E5 2620 V4, 8C/16T
  • RAM: 64GB DDR4 2400MT/s ECC RDIMMs
  • Motherboard: Supermicro X10SRM-F, has HTML5 KVM, 10 SATA Ports and enough PCIe for me
  • Case (from old build): Fractal Design Define R5 for it’s excellent quality and noise isolation
  • Mass Storage (from old build): 3x4 TB WD Red Plus HDDS for their quietness and low power usage
  • Flash Storage: Asus Hyper M.2 Card with two 500GB NVMEs in a ZFS Mirror for Containers and VMs

The Software:

My End-Goal here is to go with Rocky / Alma Linux and Cockpit as a graphical management tool, but I’ve not yet become enlightened enough by the Linux Bible to go down this route.

For now, my choice is TrueNAS Scale, for the following reasons:

  • It is superior to most other readily available Software when it comes to managing ZFS Storage and Data Safety Tasks
  • Based on Debian, KVM and k3s, all open-source and free software. This will allow me to switch over to a DIY Linux Server when I’m ready to do so in maybe a year more easily.
  • Uses KVM in an implementation that works well enough as of now. A Homeserver for me is a production system and not a Lab. Quickly Spinning up and Down VMs is what I do on my Workstation and not on a Server.
  • Docker instead of LXC or something else, right on the host rather than virtualized.

Some of the Services I’ll be running on it include:

  • Nextcloud, for Calendar, Tasks and Photo Sync
  • Jellyfin for Streaming of my Video Media Library and, if everything goes well, my Youtube Feed
  • Navidrome to replace Online Music Streaming Services
  • HomeAssistant for Security and Automation
  • Local NFS Shares for File Sharing and ZFS Snapshots that are duplicated to an online and offline backup
  • Vaulwarden to host my own Bitwarden Password Management Server
  • Cryptpad for collaborative Writing and Spreadsheets

Networking Gear

OPNsense Supermicro FIrewall + Router + DNS Server:

I have assembled this router two months ago after considering a Protectli for its coreboot, but couldn’t justify the price difference. I’ve paid 160 Euros all-in and have 6 Gigabit Ports and potent x86 Hardware.

  • Supermicro 1U Box with an E3940, 4 Cores @ 1.6 Ghz Base
    → The CPU is on par and in some Areas (Encryption) better than Atom C2000 chips, while providing much better value out of the box
  • Intel i350T4 Quad Gigabit NIC on a PCIe Riser
  • OPNsense handles inter-VLAN routing while applying it’s rules and at Gigabit Speeds as the downlink to my switch is a Dual Gigabit LACP
  • All DNS Requests (HTTPS, TLS, Normal) get redirected into Unbound, which acts as a Recursive DNS Resolver and DNS Filter intead of Pi-Hole
  • Power Usage: Only 13 Watts at the Wall all-in and under load!

Wifi AP:

For this Task. I’m using a Sitecom WLR-8100, which supports OpenWRT out of the Box.
I’ve configured OpenWRT to act as a dumb AP by bridging two LAN Ports for two VLANs on the back to one Wifi Network Each and disabling any internal routing and firewall features.
This way both WiFis are fully isolated from each other and the OpenWRT Control Interface, which is only accessible though a third LAN on the back for increased security.

I’m planning to create a Guide on this and some other things later on.

Switching and diverse:

  • D-Link DGS-1210-24 24-Port Gigabit Managed Switch, no Layer 3 / Routing. Am Planning to hopefully upgrade this in the future, but I have other priorities for now.
  • A bunch of CAT5e and CAT6a patch cables at around 3m long, which I bought in bulk for 1 Euro each in an eBay Auction years ago
  • Fibre Media Converter is provided by the ISP and I don’t see a reason to replace it, as it’s luckily a dumb box.

Workstations

Both my wife and I have Fedora Workstatons with Intel CPUs and iGPUs, running most of the time Gnome Sessions with Wayland and Pipewire
This has provided to be an excellent choice as it’s a dream to work with in terms of Hardware Acceleration through the iGPU and overall stability, performance is excellent for what we do with them.

There is a strict no-closed-source policy on that VLAN and we try to use Free Software whenever possible, with a few exceptions like the Intel Media Driver, which is Open Source but not Free.

Phone

Pixel 4a 5G running GrapheneOS and only FOSS Apps, with the exception of one or two which are open source. Great Experience so far with only very minor hiccups.
Some of the Apps I use to replace proprietary counterparts include:

  • OsmAnd+ for Navigation while Walking, Driving or Cycling
  • Transportr to Navigate through Public Transport
  • NewPipe for watching YouTube Videos
  • Fritter for Reading Twitter
  • Signal to Communicate with Family and Friends

Conclusion

That’s it for the First Post in this Series. In the coming days I’ll follow this up with a Build Log on the Upgraded Homeserver and some stuff around TrueNAS Scale.

To everyone reading this, thanks for taking the time.

7 Likes

Index of Major Updates:

Upgrading my old Hardware into a potent Homeserver

Adding Dual NVME SSDs via Asus Hyper M.2 Card

1 Like

Wow you’ve really gone all in on the foss/secure/selfhosted path. Have you had to make any compromises for this? Or does everything work smoothly. I know everything is still a WIP, so sorry to pester you.

2 Likes

Overall things have always been pretty smooth for me

As I hinted, I ran Jellyfin, Nextcloud and some other Applications virtualized in Proxmox for a longer time in the past, but haven’t done so for a bit since I moved and only had a potent NAS for the last little while.
I’ve never had many issues with self-hosted Software, it was more so the old Enterprise Hardware it ran on which turned out to be unreliable. But that is soon to change when I get fully set up again.

I’ve always tried to focus on good storage and Backups, in that way nothing can ever catastrophically fail.

Running Linux as my Main Workstation for the last 1.5 years has worked very well, I’ve never had anything (really!) break on Fedora, but to be fair, I’m using pretty optimal Graphics Hardware. I would surely have had it rougher with an Nvidia GPU.

GrapheneOS has been smooth overall. I did have issues with my fingerprint sensor once, but that turned out to be an Upstream Android Issue and was easy to fix.

To be clear, I am a power user and do lots on those devices. Don’t think I only check E-Mails and browse the Web once a day.

No, but that is specific to me. I don’t need or want to use any Proprietary Software and don’t have an employer which is mandating me to do otherwise.

My Core Focus with Privacy and Security is to use only Open-Source Software, which ideally is Free as in Libre as well. This way there is many like-minded folks who are looking over the Code and I’m sure to know about any Spyware upfront.

For me personally, that part of the journey has been a big Liberation:

  • Nothing is Locked in the Software I use, be it features, where I can run it, or modifying it
  • No Ads or Notifications are pestering me to get more money from me
  • Due to FOSS Software mostly being made by Users, the User Experience is amazing and if there’s an issue it will get fixed quicker as there’s no corporate structure holding things up

The Last Point really is the most amazing part. Basically every FOSS Software I have used was more user-friendly than the proprietary counterpart as the people making it are often also using it.

That’s the secret to why it worked well for me. I switched my phone from proprietary to 100% Open Source at once, same with my Workstation. I’ve never tried to mix proprietary with FOSS, for the reason of privacy and security, but also since I was consciously trying to fully switch.

I hope this answer some questions for you and maybe other future readers :slight_smile: .

4 Likes

Upgrading my old Hardware into a potent Homeserver

With the last few parts having arrived, I’m ready to fully assemble my new and improved Homeserver.
I’ll combine a new Server I aquired recently with parts from my already-existing NAS.

Parts from my NAS that will be re-used:

  • Fractal Define R5 Case
  • 400 Watt beQuiet Power Supply
  • 3x 4TB WD Red Plus Hard Drives
  • 250GB Crucial SATA SSD as the Boot Drive

Newly Aquired Parts:

Most of these are salvaged from a Server I scored used, the rest has been bought new online.

  • Xeon 2620 V4 8C/16T 2.1-3 Ghz
  • Supermicro 4U LGA 2011-3 Cooler, PWM Controlled
  • 64GB of DDR4 2400MT/s ECC RAM
  • Supermicro X10SRM-F mATX Mobo, HTML5 KVM, 10xSATA
  • Asus Hyper M.2 X16 V2 Card, 4x PCIe 3.0 M.2 (has not yet arrived)
  • 2* 512GB Kioxia Exceria Plus G2 NVME M.2s (has not yet arrived)

Pictures of the Build Process so far:

The New Server I got used, which will donate CPU, Mobo, RAM and Cooler:

My Old NAS Build, donating everything but the above mentioned:

Finished with the transplant:

FInal Notes

Overall, this upgrade went very smooth, I had all needed parts prepared and done my research.
I realized that I still had an SFF-8087 to 4xSATA Cable and plugged it into the Motherboards Header, reducing some wiring mess and giving me access to all SATA Ports.

The CPU Cooler needed some re-pasting and a repair on the fan mount, but that was quickly done with the help of pliers and a srewdriver.

A quick note on power usage:

The Server uses 41W at Idle in its current state and in the 50s under light loads. (measured at the wall)
To my suprise, that is the same power draw as with the previous E3 1220 and X9 Board!

What’s next:

What I’m missing now is the M.2 SSDs and PCIe Card to carry them, which should arrive shortly.

Right after that should also be the Release of TrueNAS Scale 22.02, so expect more to come soon!

3 Likes

Adding Dual 512GB NVMEs via an Asus Hyper M.2 V2 Card to my Homeserver

I’ve finally received all the parts in working order and am ready to get started with this step.
I’ve decided on the following SSDs and Adapter Card:

2 * Kioxia Exceria Plus G2 512GB

I bought these SSDs for just 45 Euros each, 90 Euros in Total.
They’re at a great point of price/performance ratio while maintaining good specs:

  • 3400MB/s Read, 3200MB/s Write while SLC-Cached
  • 512MB of LPDDR4, plus SLC Cache
  • 200TBW @ 500GB and reportedly far exceeding it
  • 650k/600k IOPS at 4k

Because it’d originally been brought up, the manufacture date of these is April and May 2021, so long before the contamination at the WD / Kioxia facitily.

Asus Hyper M.2 x16 Card V2

I’ve chosen this Card at the price of 40 Euros as it was the only one available. All other Cards are either PCIe 4.0, which I don’t need, or much more expensive because they say Supermicro or Dell EMC on them, while only taking 2 SSDs

This way, I’ve not only saved money but also more options for expansion in the future, at the cost of using my only full x16 PCIe Slot.

The Asus M.2 Adapter Card with the Heatsink Removed:

SSDs have been installed:

The Adapter Card and SSDs, installed in my Server:

How I set it up

Configuring my X10SRM-F for PCIe-Bifurcation

This Process was pretty straight forward, once I figured out that all over the manual Supermicro had written “Bifuraction” instead of “Bifurcation”.

Following these Steps is all what’s needed:

  • Enter the BIOS
  • Navigate to Chipset Configuration → North Bridge → IIO Configuration → IIO1 Configuration
  • Select IIO0 (IIO1 PCIe Port 2) with Enter
  • Change to x4x4x4x4
  • Hit F4 to Save & Exit

After a Reboot, all the Drives showed up in the BIOS and I booted into TrueNAS Scale.

Adding a ZFS Mirror in TrueNAS Scale

This step could not have been easier.
The OS had immediately recognized the Drives and their properties and I configured a singular ZFS Mirror VDEV with these two drives.

Having left atime and compression off, performance seems quite good with Encryption, but I won’t show any numbers before I get to do proper benchmarks.

2 Likes

Good luck to you

2 Likes

Conclusions from 2 Months of TrueNAS Scale and New Hardware

It has been a while since I’ve posted last, but I haven’t been just sitting around!

After testing TrueNAS Scale for a few months before, I’ve now been running it on my main “Home Production” Server and also switched my Backup Server over from Core.

Using the Experience I gained, I put together a Series of Guides on the Forum to make the entry into this great OS easier for others and document my knowledge in an accessible way:

An Applicance OS will always be an Appliance OS:

TrueNAS Scale is built by iXSystems as an Appliance OS. Configuration is stored in a database, which makes the underlying installation practically replaceable, as the System Dataset can also be stored on any Storage Pool.

While this is great for easy Upgrades, Recovery and Backups more simular to my OPNsense Router, it comes with one disadvantage:
Any changes in the underlying Debian OS will either now or later result in breakage during operation or updates

So what does this mean for me?
In Contrast to Wendell and others, I’m trying to not introduce anything that would break during a disaster recovery or major update.

Some Rules:

  • No changes in the CLI which would be reversed during a reinstallation, others are okay
  • Any Configurations must be in the Database
  • What can’t be done on the Host, goes into a VM or Container with persistent storage in a pool
  • Solid Networking that can’t end up as a collapsing house of cards

NVME SSDs in HyperM.2 stay cool without the noisy fan:

As I was worried, the Asus Hyper M.2 Card turned out extremely noisy due to its miniature fan.

Luckily the Heatsink seems to provide more than enough passive cooling for my two PCIe Gen 3 SSDs to stay under 33°C (11°C over ambient) at all times, so I always leave the fan switched off.

This was even the case during Scrubs and Major writes from VMs and CTs too.
It seems I have enough thermal potential left for a future Upgrade with another two SSDs.

1 Like