I spend a fairly large amount of time browsing /r/homelab because I, at one point, had a rudimentary “home lab” set up. It wasn’t anything fancy, mostly because back in 2003 or 2004 server virtualization wasn’t a big thing, as far as I can tell. It was mostly a firewall and single whitebox server with a couple of other desktops or laptops. Certainly not anything to really be super proud of, but it was my local server, so it was cool.

Fast forward a decade or so and I learned that people were buying or building servers to run the free version of VMware ESXi with which they’d build a mini datacenter. I started musing on the feasibility of setting one of these up. At that point, I didn’t really have any suitable hardware, so I shelved the idea temporarily but kept reading /r/homelab because the idea fascinated me.

A former coworker of mine gifted me with a Supermicro X8DTL-iF motherboard last October, and in the time since I replaced the CPUs it had with a pair of Xeon E5620s and upgraded it to 48GB of RAM. Right now the machine runs FreeBSD and serves as little more than a fileserver with two VMs running in bhyve: a VPN-connected downloader, and a CrashPlan host. It serves its purpose but isn’t nearly using all the available resources. Enter my mind. I picked up a IBM ServeRAID M1015 SAS RAID card, crossflashed it to be a LSI 9211-8i SAS HBA, and have the necessary breakout cables on the way, along with 4 SSDs and a mobile rack for those.

The plan is to back up /home from the current FreeBSD install, destroy the ZFS array, and migrate the 6 500GB drives to the LSI controller, attach two of the four SSDs to the LSI controller as well, and attach the other two to the onboard SATA ports, with ESXi booting off a USB drive plugged into the connector on the motherboard. Once this is done, I’ll pass the LSI controller through to a FreeNAS VM like Ben Bryan did. Thanks for the great guide, Ben!

After that’s done, I’ll migrate my ham radio machine along with the aforementioned bhyve VMs to VMware, likely having to rebuild these from scratch, which isn’t a big deal at all, just time consuming.

This should be a ton of fun and give me a good platform to build from as I have 8 hyperthreaded cores and quite a bit of RAM!