Project: Home network lab setup for learning purposes, help with suggestions

linuxloverlinuxlover Banned Posts: 228

I would really like to nail down networking and server concepts by building a home lab for the purpose of learning. I have time until the end of the year or this time next year to prepare myself for a junior/entry level network/admin assistant position (I'm changing careers) and a few certifications (big: CCNA, MCSA, JNCIA-Junos(?), RHCSA(?), small: net+, sec+, linux+, server+, other: vmware, citrix). I don't care much for theoretical knowledge, I'm all for hands on experience and I'm not a total beginner either, I have some work experience (nothing fancy) but never did any serious engineering/administration so you might consider me a rookie. I want to learn and I need you to help me get on my feet with suggestions and advices. My desire is to work with servers and networks but I need to choose a career path and focus on one thing only and learn other things aside rather than trying to learn everything.

Project: Career change
Time: 1 year
Budget: max $2000
Part time: 4-5h/day
Topics to cover: SOHO networking, routers, switches, firewalls, subnetting, CISCO hardware (CCNA objectives), JUNIPER hardware (JNCIA-Junos), Windows Server 2008/2012, MySQL, MS SQL, virtualization, vmware esxi, citrix xen server, openvz, kvm, clustering, redundancy, security, linux, unix, NAS, SAN, VPN

What is the best setup for something like that? We're getting another internet package at home but from another ISP so I'd like to practice connection redundancy as well. What should I build in order to cover all those topics? How should I go about it? Any suggestions? What would you do? I don't want to wire switches and routers all over the place for no reason, I need a scenario to make this more realistic.

Scenario #1: I was thinking about building a very small datacenter and using CCNA material routers and switches for this to kill two flies with one shot. I would do this with 1 IP and subnetting (I don't understand subnetting yet but I believe the main idea is to split an IP into many sub-IPs and re-router the traffic to them, sort of having many new IP addresses). This is what I had in mind.

- 1x main website server (CentOS 6.3, LAMP, WHMCS)
- 1x web shared hosting server (CentOS 6.3, LAMP, cPanel/WHM, RAID 10)
- 1x citrix xen server running 4x VPS (FreeBSD, Debian, Redhat, Ubuntu)
- 1x vmware esxi running 4x VPS (Windows 7 Pro, Windows Server 2012 Datacenter/IIS, Windows Server 2012/Sharepoint, Windows Server 2012 Datacenter/Exchange)
- 1x server with monitoring software (zabbix)
- 2x name servers
- 1x backup server
- 1x MySQL server
- 1x MS SQL server

- CCNA lab kit number of routers and switches
- 1x hardware firewall

- design a network and implement it
- install all sofware manually
- secure and harden servers
- apply software optimization
- apply regular updates, patches and fixes
- last a year without getting hacked

I can do this two ways, either buying all the hardware myself or buying dedicated servers - whichever costs me less. If I go down the buying hosting path, I will have to do the CCNA on its own. Can this be done using one IP address? Also, can this be effectively done using 1-3 PC with virtualization or would it need to be separate PCs for better effect? Anyhow, this is just a preliminary design, how would you go about doing it? Do you have other scenarions in mind perhaps? I have a whole week to come up with something.

Thanks for reading!


  • nerdydadnerdydad Member Posts: 261
    My advice is to study the CCNA separately, on equipment that doesn't touch the actual internet and accessing the lab through a console server that does connect to the internet. Nothing worse than not being able to reach the internet for solutions to your problem, because of your problem. I also don't believe 1 year at 4-5 hours a day is enough time to study for a CCNA, Juniper, SQL, vitualization, ect ect. I would pick a topic, study it until you reach your goal for that topic and then move on, it is too easy to get lost when you are not focused. But that is just my opinion, and I sure there are many others that have made it work, I just haven't seen many do it that way personally.
  • jibbajabbajibbajabba Member Posts: 4,317 ■■■■■■■■□□
    I agree - you can manage it if your goal is to pass exams - but if your goal is to actually understand each one of the topics to a point where you can actually work with - and support it - you need a few more years in your plan. Even if you can go through 4-5hrs per day studying, your brain will likely be mash after a few weeks and you forgot what you read on day #1 :)
    My own knowledge base made public: :p
  • linuxloverlinuxlover Banned Posts: 228
    Thank you, your input is much appreciated. I didn't know it was better to work with CCNA equipment without connecting online. Why is that if I may ask? So you suggest I purchase a separate switch for my home lab and do the CCNA offline?

    My main certification goals are Net+ Sec+ Linux+ Server+ MCSA CCNA in that order. Others are left for 'maybe' hence the question mark. SQL and others are just topics to cover, not to master. I'm not specializing in any of that, I just need to cover them so that I know what it's all about. I'm looking to land an entry level job either as a system administrator assistant and network assistant and build up from there.

    EDIT: jibbajabba, I understand that but I want to familiarize myself with everything, not master it. Main reason for that is because all those skills are needed for whatever career path I choose. I go daily browsing for jobs just to see what employees are looking for and it doesn't matter if I look for network technician or linux technician, they all require other skills as well.

    As for deciding between Linux and Networks I don't know, I love them equally. I need to see what will allow me to climb up the ladder higher, what pay more, what offers more opportunities...input on that is also very much appreciated. Thank you for reading my post.
  • log32log32 Users Awaiting Email Confirmation Posts: 217
    you really don't need a "Mini Data Center" in order to learn everything.
    A desktop PC with 16GB~ of RAM will support your technological needs. you could pretty much go on for 6-8 VMS easily and most of the time you dont even need them all running at the same time.
    like the above mentioned, pick a subject, dig in. any combination of System Administration (Either Linux or Microsoft) goes along well with networking (ccna whatever). my suggestion is start with MCITP:SA or equivalent and then go for networking. the certifications will help you get the job but it's more important to understand what you do. you will get lost if you aim to learn so many big subjects at the same time. if you get to an expert level in at least 1 subject, you will do much better.
  • nerdydadnerdydad Member Posts: 261
    linuxlover wrote: »
    Thank you, your input is much appreciated. I didn't know it was better to work with CCNA equipment without connecting online. Why is that if I may ask? So you suggest I purchase a separate switch for my home lab and do the CCNA offline?
    Because you want your home network to be stable, everytime you reload your gear to practice a new technology, your going to first have to reconfigure your home network to work again and then begin labbing whatever technology you are working on. If you have a spouse or roomates, this will be a no go. Besides the fact that if you do break something in the lab, now you have no way to get to the internet to try to find solutions. YMMV.
  • ChooseLifeChooseLife Member Posts: 941 ■■■■■■■□□□
    I really like your approach to this. We need more admins who run crazy-**** labs at home and fewer paper tigers. Granted, as someone whose home lab looks like a zoo I am slightly biased, but nonetheless... This is how you gain real skills (short of running production systems)
    linuxlover wrote: »
    I have a whole week to come up with something.

    If you choose this path, young padavan, it will take a whole life :) Seriously though, don't try do and design everything at once, your lab will grow and evolve over time. The list of things you've mentioned will keep you busy for the next 3-5 years...

    The scenario #1 looks ambitious but doable. I tend to have compartmentalized projects with few dependencies on one another, kinda sandboxed proof-of-concept setups. You will discover that you will want to play with various components and they will break as the result. Whether the entire system collapsing gives you more or less motivation to fix things is for you to decide icon_smile.gif

    In any case, good luck
    “You don’t become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, and then doing it so hard that you become great in the process.” (c) xkcd #896

    - discounted vouchers for certs
  • paul78paul78 Member Posts: 3,016 ■■■■■■■■■■
    @OP - just how much IT experience do you have? And what kind?

    I would agree heartily with ChooseLife - running a lab can be a life-long endevour and a lot of fun. Don't try to boil the ocean all at once. My own lab is for tinkering and really has very little to do with what I do at work these days. But I've grown it over 25 years and I refresh it every couple of years. I'm in the middle of a refresh now and it's taken me over 4-6 months (mostly spend on sound-proofing). icon_smile.gif
  • the_hutchthe_hutch Banned Posts: 827
    Nerdydad is should ALWAYS sandbox your lab. This is especially true for infosec labs that deploy intentionally vulnerable systems. But with any lab, you are going to be consistently making changes that will impact the overall security of the network. Play it safe so you don't seriously regret it later.
  • linuxloverlinuxlover Banned Posts: 228
    Thank you all so much for your replies. I appreciate your effort in trying to help me with suggestions. You've been all very clear on the focusing on one technology and while I tend to do that, I would also like to have a little hands on experience with other things as well. The first thing I have to do is determine what I want to do in 10 years and that's really impossible because I haven't done any of these things professionally, so how do I know what I want to do as a career? I love computers, I love Windows, I love Linux, I love networking, I love programming, I love everything related to IT but I understand I can't do all those things, I need to specialize. So how do I decide what I like more when I like them all the same? I'm leaning a little bit more towards system administration or network administration, but I haven't done any as a job before so I don't know the pros and cons of each. I would like to progress in my career as much as possible and become really good at what I do so what area of expertise offers more opportunities, Win, *nix or networking?

    Second, technically I could get away with my home lab relatively cheap.

    1x 10/10 line = $30/month
    10x Raspberry PI as servers running Debian = $350
    1x PC with 16GB RAM for other OS (8-16) running in virtual mode = $250
    1x Netgear switch with 12 ports = $50
    1x Netgear firewall = $100
    1x UPS = $100

    Total = $850 + $300 for 10 months prepaid internet = $1150

    I could host 10 websites with that and get some real experience on how things work. That's technically max 26 servers to manage. After I'm done playing with it, that's last day of December this year, I could sell everything for half the price and get half the investment back. So that's more like $600 for a setup. It's still a lot of money to spend.

    As for renting servers at a hosting company:

    1x VPS running shared hosting managing 50 websites = $30/month
    4x lowendbox VPS for other servers (billing, name servers, monitoring) = $15/month
    1x PC with 16GB RAM for other OS (8-16) running in virtual mode = $250

    Total = $700

    So that's a solid $450 less than for my home lab setup, but I wouldn't be able to sell anything after, except the sandbox PC, so in the end it's pretty much the same. The question then is, which option would give me more technical experience? $700 is half of my paycheck so I'm not too worried about spending that, after all I invest it in myself. I would purchase CCNA lab kit separately as you all suggested not to mess with internet.

    The only downside of a home lab setup that I see is the missing opportunity to play with IP addresses, because I would have to do port forwarding to run multiple servers on one IP and the fact that I'll be managing 10-15 websites opposed to 50-100 if I offer shared hosting.

    Why a home lab anyway? So that when I go to an interview and the employer asks me how much memory MaraDNS consumes as opposed to Bind9 I don't look like an idiot and when they ask me how to do port forwarding or questions related to server optimization and user support I don't look like I just fell from the sky. It's one thing to read about it and another to actually do it. Home lab project is definitely under way, that's not the question since I've already made up my mind, the question is more of technical nature and this is where I need you guys to jump in with suggestions and tips and tricks on how to set up this thing properly to get as much as possible from it.

    I'm still deciding between the hosting and home setup.

    Here's one for you. Where do you see more employment opportunities, in Windows or Linux technologies?

    Thank you all for reading.

    P.S. Someone asked what have I done so far, it was putting PCs together in a local PC repair shop.
  • boolveboolve Member Posts: 6 ■□□□□□□□□□
    Just curios about your sucess. any good?
    I hope you alright. just drop a line.
    I'm beginer too. veri intresting in posts like yours.
  • ViorelfmtViorelfmt Registered Users Posts: 1 ■□□□□□□□□□
    Hello linuxlover,

    I signed in here to reply to this thread and maybe get in touch with you.
    I really like your passion about leaning new cool stuffs and I was curious about your progress. It felt like I was describing my thoughts about what should I do with a homelab when I read your post.

    How far did you get with your homelab? What have you learned there? What projects you’ve been using ? Maaan so many questions. I really hope you’re still active on this forum. Would be great to hear from you.

  • TechGuru80TechGuru80 Member Posts: 1,539 ■■■■■■□□□□
    My first piece of advice is to focus on something and learn it well...then study something else. Honestly if you get all of that stuff, you either will study one subject like I suggested or be so scatter brained you won’t know what to study to feel like you are making progress.

    You don’t need a completely different internet connection to practice redundancy...setup failover inside your current ISP hookup and save the money.

    If you have a school email you can get many of those software installs for free from Microsoft.

    One last point is if you are going all out, make everything at your house go through your network. If you mess something up you will have to troubleshoot and that will help. People who have a lot of knowledge didn’t get it by cramming for 6 months, it’s acquired over years so don’t feel like you have to get it all in a year (it won’t work).
  • TechGuru80TechGuru80 Member Posts: 1,539 ■■■■■■□□□□
    Smh I hate when people bump 4 year old threads.
Sign In or Register to comment.