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commit 6db9b4f14337862980979eec1e092c40665e6b4c (patch)
parent 450381b6e46958ad86fd06b72059a057dde2ffd9
Author: Alex Karle <>
Date:   Tue, 13 Sep 2022 00:57:06 -0400

blog: Add State of the Homelab

Mwww/blog/index.txt | 1+
Awww/blog/state-of-the-homelab-2022-09.txt | 246+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
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diff --git a/www/blog/index.txt b/www/blog/index.txt @@ -12,6 +12,7 @@ For an up to date list of software/hardware I use, see ## 2022 +- 09/22 [State of the Homelab](/blog/state-of-the-homelab-2022-09.html) - 08/22 [Using the Plan 9 Plumber to Turn Acme into a Git GUI](/blog/plan9-acme-git-gui.html) - 06/22 [Automating Multi-User WireGuard setup on OpenBSD](/blog/wireguard-management.html) - 05/22 [Starting a Tilde Community for Fun and the Learnings](/blog/starting-a-tilde.html) diff --git a/www/blog/state-of-the-homelab-2022-09.txt b/www/blog/state-of-the-homelab-2022-09.txt @@ -0,0 +1,246 @@ +# State of the Homelab + +_Published: September 12, 2022_ + +I've been sinking some time recently into organizing my +homelab, spurred by the recent addition of a NAS, and thought +it might be a good time to write about it. + +## Birds Eye View + +Here's the network topology: + + ┌──────────────┐ ┌───────┐ + │ Wifi Clients │ │ Wired │ + └──────────────┘ │Clients│ + : └───┬───┘ + : │ + ┌───────▼───────┐ ┌────▼─────┐ + Internet │ Verizon ├────► OpenBSD │ + ─────────► Router │ │ Router │ + │ (FiosGateway) ◄────┤ (apu2e4) │ + └──────┬──▲─────┘ └──┬───▲───┘ + │ │ │ │ + ┌───▼──┴──┐ ┌───▼───┴────┐ + │ pi.hole │ │ NAS/Git │ + │ (Rpi4b) │ │(Odroid HC4)│ + └─────────┘ └────────────┘ + + +Excluding the Fios router, that's 3 servers hosting +the following services: + +- A git server for private repos (public repos hosted on + [](, and + [sourcehut]( +- A NAS (network attached storage) for backups, photos, music, etc +- A network wide ad-blocker ([pi-hole]( +- An OpenBSD router/firewall (dhcp / pf) to provide extra security + to my wired devices. + + +## Why Bother with a Homelab, Anyways? + +Before I dive into each component, I want to take a step back and +ask _why_. + +In a world where you can pay `$HIP_COMPANY` $5/mo to +run or host anything, it may seem like a homelab +is a waste of time and effort. Looking at what I'm running, +a lot of it could even be hosted for free! + +Despite the time cost of tending to this digital garden, +I've found that +running my homelab has been an incredible source of learning from +hands-on experimentation. At this stage in my career, this type +of experience is invaluable, especially because a lot of it +(hardware tinkering, sysadmin tasks, linux distros, etc) doesn't +come across my desk often. + +As an added bonus, I really enjoy the feeling of digital ownership +I get from hosting my private data. It certainly comes with the +weight of responsibility that I need to keep (and test!) backups, +but the learning and ownership feel worthwhile for now. + +## The Nitty Gritty + +### Fios Gateway + +I have no special attachment to Verizon--I wouldn't go so far as +to endorse them, but my coworkers don't complain about lag during +video calls, so I haven't mustered the courage to switch providers. + +It's on my long todo list to switch to a more local ISP, but with +both me and my fiance working from home it's the last place +I want an outage. + +### Pi Hole + +Pi-hole is a network wide adblocker. It works by acting as the DNS +server for your network and responding with localhost ( for +known spammy domains. + +As a concrete example, with pi-hole running right now, I can't access (Google ads): + + # Response from my router + $ host + Using domain server: + Name: + Address: + Aliases: + + has address + has IPv6 address :: + + + # Response from Google's DNS resolver + $ host + Using domain server: + Name: + Address: + Aliases: + + has address + [...] + +The default configuration for the Gateway router is to tell clients +to use it ( as a DNS server. By updating Gateway to use +pi-hole as _it's_ server (instead of the Verizon supplied ones), all +clients on the network receive pi-hole's filtering. + +What's brilliant about this is that no clients need updating. As far +as they're aware, they _really are_ trying to reach out to +It's just a network failure that isn't listening on 443! + +The results are most noticeable on mobile since I use uBlock Origin on +all my browsers. It's amazing how much faster and less cluttered +certain mobile apps are without ads (cough nytimes cough please stop +it with the full screen banners). + +Finally, as the name might imply, the pi-hole was designed to run on the +Raspberry Pi. I'm running mine on a +[Raspberry Pi 4b](, +which is definitely overkill for the resources it needs. + + +### Git Server + +Running a private git server is incredibly easy. In fact, there isn't +really any separate git daemon that needs running. So long as you have +ssh access to the host, you can clone/push/pull from: + + $ git clone user-on-host@host:/path/to/server + +I like to get a bit fancy and `adduser` a `git` user on the server so +that the repos can be stored in its home directory and ssh access can +be managed separately from the user account I would normally use. + +Assuming the `git` user has the home directory `/home/git`, the following +will clone `/home/git/repo.git`: + + $ git clone git@host:repo.git + +Much cleaner! + +A lot more detail, including securing the git user by assigning it the +`git-shell` for the login shell, can be found in the amazing +[Pro Git]( +book. + +As far as _what_ I keep on my personal server (that I wouldn't trust +to sourcehut, or even really my own, I host the following +repos: + +- My password repository (for [`pass(1)`]( +- Personal notes (public notes go on [gopher://]!) + +In the past (mostly for fun), I've hosted [cgit](, +[gitea]( and even GitLab (reverse chronologically +and also least to most heavy). I've found that for the few private +repos I host, I rarely want a web UI (let alone forking/user accounts/etc). + +### NAS + +The most recent upgrade to my homelab was the addition of a purpose-built +NAS using the [Odroid HC4]( +toaster-style dual hard drive board. + +Previously, my backups were distributed across multiple drives and +frequently offline (with all my operating system tinkering I have 5 +SSD's of which only 2 are in use at any time...). Things that I +needed frequent access to were stored on a (rather fragile) Raspberry Pi 3b +on a 64GB thumbdrive! Needless to say, the HC4 is a step up. + +It's only really been online for ~24hrs so I don't have a solid review +of the hardware yet, but initial impressions are: + +- I was a bit bummed that the Linux they support is an old forked kernel, + which strikes me as probably missing security patches (didn't poke around + hard enough to confirm though--it may be up to date and just old!) +- Despite being on the OpenBSD hardware list, I couldn't get it to boot. + Given the need to unscrew the plastic top to get the UART serial connection + in, I stopped trying after a few hours :(. I might email the mailing list + in the future to see what I overlooked. +- I was pleased to find that the [Armbian]( + project supported it (with a newer kernel!). This is what I ended up + installing (with no issues so far) +- I stumbled across [Chandler Swift's]( + awesome writeup about his experience with the HC4 and his golang + [odroidhc4-display]( tool + is the perfect easy-to-deploy service for the little display + +Overall, operating system quirks aside, I'm really happy with how it turned +out. I put in two 2TB western digital drives (whatever BestBuy had on sale +a few weekends ago) and encrypted both of them with `cryptsetup` using the +LUKS encryption mode as described in the +[Arch Wiki]( +I intentionally did not RAID-1 the drives together because I'm more worried +about accidentally `rm`-ing a file than I am not having access to the data +in case of drive failure. Instead, I have only one drive always online. A +cron job mounts the offline drive daily, `rsync`'s over the data, and +unmounts it when done. This should give me hopefully a few hours or more +if I realize I deleted a file. (I'll eventually also cycle in a third drive +for offsite storage somewhere trusted like my parents' house). + +In the future I'd love to use this NAS as an excuse to explore fancier +filesystems like ZFS, but I stuck to ext4 for now. + + +### OpenBSD Firewall/Router + +*Puts tinfoil hat on.* + +The final piece of the topology is maybe the least functional in terms +of hosting required services but the best learning tool: the OpenBSD router. + +There are arguably some security wins here by bisecting my network between +wifi and wired clients. For one, the Verizon router itself may or may not +be receiving security patches (it's proprietary, who knows?). By setting +up a firewall so that the only traffic going in to wired clients is the +traffic expected, the wired clients are a tad safer. + +While the security angle is certainly appealing, the much bigger reason +to have this in my homelab has been experimenting with router technologies. +In setting this up I had to grok `pf` (packet filtering for the firewall), +`dhcpd` (to give clients IP addresses), and just basic networking +(how _does_ a machine in one network talk to another?). There's no better +way to learn networking than having my wifi laptop trying to ping my +wired desktop and `tcpdump`ing the traffic. + +This is running on a PC Engines [apu2e4](, +mostly since it seemed popular with the community and I wanted to make sure +the device had good OpenBSD support. It's been running since April 2021 +without issues, so I'd recommend it! + +I would eventually love to write my own pi-hole using the DNS tools in +base, but for now it's low on my todo list. + +## Conclusion + +If you made it this far, thanks! I hope you learned something or found +something of interest. + +I'll hopefully write a similar "state of the cloud" post to cover the +services I'm running outside home, but I think this post might just be +long enough for now :)