I’ve been planning a lot of administrative work lately… I have a few machines that need OS upgrades, my backup system is barely functional (it needs both a new, large disk and a configuration overhaul), and I’m planning a switch to static IP service - which means not only a new router/firewall to design, configure and monitor, as well as moving some services previously run by IPcop over to a dedicated box, but also finally adding three IPsec VPNs, monitoring them and tunneling all sorts of stuff over them, and reconfiguring all of my DNS, finding any hard-coded URLs, and a slew of other projects.

So this got me thinking. While there are a number of reasons why I run such a complex network at home (mainly including maintaining my presence on the web and my email, providing temporary hosting for freelance work, the convenience of file access from anywhere, the breadth of administrative experience it gives me, and a way to test new technologies) there are some parts of it that I just don’t like dealing with. I’ve never been a really network-centric guy, and the idea of having to setup a router/firewall (I’m going with Vyatta as it seems to be the only thing that will deal with the complex configuration I want) for all this just to get 5 static IPs seems a bit much. Not to mention there’s just too much running on all those boxen (8 at home, 2 at school, plus 3 others at 2 other locations) for me to keep a handle on all of it and still be a full-time student, work 30 hours/week, and do freelance work. Something’s always bound to get ignored - sometimes backups stop for a week, sometimes Nagios goes haywire, and sometimes Cacti stops graphing for a month before I notice it.

The biggest thing I learned from running all of these systems for personal use is to start everything consistently and with a plan. My oldest box in semi-production is running SuSE 9.3, installed somewhere between April and October of 2005. It was ignored for so long (a period when it wasn’t being used for much) that I now can’t even perform updates, as the update sequence is virtually impossible to accomplish. Then again, re-purposed desktops shouldn’t be in “production” for 4 years. Anyway, perhaps the biggest lesson in trying to deal with all of this is the importance of consistency. Not just attempting to standardize on one distribution, but also making a local image that includes the standard packages, configurations, and other important stuff - like the Nagios user account and local plugins and maybe even the public SSH key of the Nagios box. Even better would be a configuration management system like Puppet or CFengine, or even manually keeping all of the distros updated to a common version.

But, I digress. The real point of this post was supposed to be a simple idea: I have all of this running at home, and I know quite a few IT people who have a similar setup at home or at work, or have considerable resources at a hosting/colo facility. So, why not start a “community datacenter” project? At home I have to do everything from backups to firewall and router administration to security. I’d be much happier just handling network/service monitoring, log analysis, and some tool and web scripting. I know a few Cisco-heads who run their “home” LANs on chassis switches, but find it such a pain to reconfigure Apache or run a monitoring app. I’m sure someone’s thought of this in the past, and probably tried it, but why don’t some guys (who can be trusted) get together, find some colo space (or anywhere with power and connectivity) and start, essentially, a co-op data center? Assuming you could find a large enough circle of trusted friends, I’m sure you could find someone willing to volunteer every service needed - from network engineering to backups, monitoring, and security - in exchange for some rack space and connectivity, or even a virtual host. I know I’d opt in any second - or even let someone throw a box in my basement in exchange for someone to help read through logs or setup a HTTPS VPN, if it weren’t for the archaic equipment I’m running.

Just a thought…


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