The best way to learn for many is by doing; the same applies to the IT field. From anyone looking to get started in the IT field to those looking to add new skills late in their careers, having a test environment to learn by doing is as important as ever.
Often times when you are asked to deploy a new system at work it is incredibly beneficial to do so in a test environment first; such an environment is not always available at work so having something at home can be a great tool to have.
Here are some important things to consider when getting started with a homelab in 2022:
Don’t buy more hardware than you plan to use because it gets old just as fast when it isn’t in use.
Look at refurbished hardware to save some money if it wont be critical to your ability to get online. Having some spare parts laying around can be helpful, but do you want to invest in spare parts for everything? Remember this is a homelab, not real datacenter…. or is it?
What hardware do you want to use? An old desktop is a great starting point for VMware or Hyper-V, while refurbished enterprise servers can provide a much more real life learning experience.
I personally started with a Dell Optiplex GX620 (Pentium D, 4GB of RAM) running Server 2012 and have piece by piece moved to a VMware cluster of 3 Dell PowerEdge R240 with shared storage from a Synology DS1821+ via iscsi. My homelab in 2022 looks much different than it did in 2012, but the objective is the same – learn more about my field and have fun doing it.
Everything costs money to leave running.
Do you plan to leave it running 24/7/365? Don’t be surprised when your power bill goes up by $30 or more!
Raspberry Pi and Intel NUC offer some lower power options to run some services that will not cost too much to leave running compared to datacenter hardware.
What services do you want to run? Are they useful to the rest of your home?
Virtualizing your homelab allows for much more learning for your money.
Matching the services you have at work for learning can be fun, but does it need to be at the same scale as at work? Aim for a minimal test environment to start out.
Many companies offer not for resale (NFR) licensing or free licenses with limited quantities for trial or home lab use.
Will this environment run inside your home network on an isolated sub-network or will your home network run inside your homelab?
I personally rely on many of the services of my homelab for my home network such as PLEX and Pi-hole. I also have services such as Active Directory, SCCM, Zabbix, Veeam, Qualys, Docker, and VMware Horizon available in my lab.
Isolation of some test systems or your entire lab onto other vlans is a good approach to avoid causing issues for your casual internet use. When you aren’t home and something goes wrong, interrupting the internet for your family or roommates is less than desirable.
How much time do you have available? If you don’t want to be doing work like activities at home to maintain or troubleshoot your network, consider having your lab within your existing home network and not relying on it for all internet access. Having a backup DNS server outside of your VMware environment on a Raspberry Pi running Pi-hole for example will let you not have to worry that issues with your VMs will take down your families internet access.