What is a Homelab and What can You Learn from Them?

Let's talk homelabs! What are they and why do you need a homelab? It's much easier than you think to get started!

What is a Homelab and What can You Learn from Them?

Greetings, I'm Flavius, a homelabber, programmer, and game developer with an indefinite learner's permit. Since you are here, maybe this means you have an interest in homelabs or self hosting. If you don't yet know what a homelab is, or what it can be used for, don't worry, hopefully I will be good at explaining this, along with giving some examples to why you might want to join the foray into homelabbing. I'll try to make it entertaining to boot!

What is a Homelab?

To start, let's introduce ourselves to homelabs and what they are. A homelab is an environment, computers in this context, equipped for experimentation or research. These labs can range from a single low powered device to several chunks of rack mounted devices. When I first gained an interest in homelabbing, my brain was wrapped around this big concept that a homelab was a chunk of devices racked up like this:

A micro datacenter at home. Thank you TacoTuesday for letting me use this as a reference.

My first thoughts were, "Well, there goes that idea, I wont be able to afford that kind of equipment or the power bill to go with it." Technically, this is still true. However, that is just a single homelab, there are many like it and many unlike it. That one is not mine, no, no, not mine indeed. There are also homelabs like this:

Raspberry Pi 4b+

and this

Old HP 2in1 with Ubuntu

Do these seem more approachable? Maybe more sustainable? I agree, they are technically good starts or at least one of them still is. Sadly, Raspberry Pis are difficult to get your hands on and can cost way more than their MSRP. A laptop though? You may have tossed a couple away, given them away, or resold them in the past. Do you really need new equipment or to reuse older equipment? Not really, if you just want to try a few things out and see if it would be of interest, you can use virtual machines. This was technically how I 'officially' started.

Oracle Virtual Box VM running Ubuntu 18.04

Why have a Homelab?

You might ask, why get into homelabbing? For this I will explain why I chose to start a homelab myself. The quick answer: I was scared of messing up rented servers. The long answer: I have been doing solo game dev for a while now and I wanted a way to learn to properly set up servers that I owned as opposed to rented servers.

I needed a place where I felt it was alright to let things go wrong, to experiment. A place where I could minimize the guilt I would feel if I messed up something many others relied on. At the time I was developing applications that were suited to run on servers, however, I didn't actually know how to run them outside of my IDE, heck, I couldn't even remember how to run them from console, terminal, or cmdPrompt.

What can you learn from a Homelab?

It took me many months, even years, to get comfortable at first. I spent a month or two testing VMs before purchasing any other hardware than what I already had on hand. Then I bought a Raspberry Pi 3b+, a year after that the Pi4b+ came out and I bought some of those and even chose to make a Pi Camera out of one. I have learned a great many things through my homelab that I wouldn't have been as willing to take a chance to learn prior.

So what about you? Are you interested in homelabbing? Do you seek a place to learn unsequestered by the potential guild and the feeling of messing up something that belongs to someone else? Do you want an environment that is sandboxed from your day-to-day, in a VM homelab, so you are at less to no risk of having to fix something to continue your day-to-day? Or will you desire to branch into different hardware and segment part of your desk, shelf, closet, or even dedicate a full room to your homelab? Based on my experiences, all of these options are viable, especially if the goal is to learn.

A homelab can be as fun and difficult as you want it to be. Whether you choose to slow with VMs or go all in with different hardwares. What do you want to try a homelab for? If you already have a homelab, what is yours like? What did you want it for? Do you have someone in your family that fusses at you when homelabbing and you mess something up? I just stick my tongue out at my mother and tell her, "You supported my decision to do this, now you must have no internet when I mess things up!" I had fun writing this article and I hope you have enjoyed reading it and have gained something from it. Should you get into homelabbing or not, I wish you I fun and joy while learning.

This is my first official hardware homelab setup. I'll be posting a more current one in the Noted Discord!

Final Notes and Thoughts

Interested in discussing homelabs? We have a dedicated discord where you can come ask questions, join conversations, and ask about the Noted website. So come join the 900+ members! Or sound off in the comments below. ❤️