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  • Writer's pictureFrederick Dopfel

My Projects may be getting out of Hand... Or why I built a 30U home lab (network rack)

As my projects have become more numerous and more complicated, the demands on my network increased.

First it was needing more ports to connect devices to, so I bought larger switches.

Then there was the problem of performance: the growing number of clients demanded a more powerful router.

Then I wanted to organize the various devices I had, especially my many raspberry pi projects, so that they weren't in such a rats nest of cables.

Then I began having concerns about security. I did not trust many of the IoT devices in my home (such as my plant watering pump), or viewed some of my projects as a substantial target for attack (such as my Dogecoin node) and so I wanted to isolate and firewall them on their own subnets.

As my projects and the size of my network grew in size and ambition, I needed to better manage all of my components, and so I bought and built a 15U rack. Over time, I even outgrew this, leading to a spaghetti of devices and their wires spilling out onto the floor of my closet.

When I finally bought and moved into my own home, I took the opportunity to design and build a more permanent, elegant solution.

My old rack (not pictured: additional devices spilling on the floor)

The coat closet presented an ideal solution: It was centrally located and had grounded power. Most importantly, it was connected to my attic, which allowed for Ethernet cables from around the house and the sonic fiber internet line to be routed to a single hub easily. Unfortunately, I am too big to fit in my attic, but with some help I managed to route Cat6 Ethernet to every room of the house (including bathrooms) with many rooms having multiple drops. Some drops I mounted in nice plates against the wall, but given the number of drops I needed to make (over a dozen), many just came straight from the ceiling along a wall and found their way around the room via the crown molding. Cable guides hide the drops for the remainder of their path.

Running some cable through plaster and lath, bonus knob and tube electrical inside.

In the server closet, I built two identical 15U racks and stacked them on top of each other. Although a single 30U rack would have been preferable, most of them were too deep or too wide to fit inside this closet, or would leave no room to close the door to the closet when accounting for the wires connected to the front.

In order to improve their wireless performance, as well as to save space in my new rack, I decided to mount the wireless bridges / antenna systems (Lutron, Smartthings, Hue) for my various smart home devices just above the closet, and drilled a hole for power and ethernet to run through.

I decided to find a way to keep the server rack more tidy than previous iterations: using patch panels I routed all the Ethernet drops through the house, plus all the Ethernet cables for devices in the rack through the back of the rack. I could then use very short patch cables to connect those devices from the front of the patch panel where they are all neatly labeled to the network switches. This creates a very neat look and makes it easy to diagnose problems.

I also decided to clean up and label my raspberry Pi KVM system so that it would be easier to work with my various projects with a shared keyboard, monitor, and mouse (located on top of the rack).

After adding my NASs, new switches, rack mount power delivery systems, battery backups, and all the cable routing panels, I am using a total of 22Us of my 30U system. 8U should be enough for the foreseeable future, but with how aggressively I've been building, you never know.

My next steps to complete this project are to finish installing cable runners where needed, caulk the holes to the attic and through the walls to make them cleaner, and install a new ventilation system for the closet. My current plan is to cut two holes in the door for a filter and two "high static pressure" fans to pull air in through. With filtered air coming in, the positive pressure should keep dust from the attic and from under the door out.

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