Monday, 26 May 2014

Home ESXi Server - Part 3

Okay so it's been quite a while, I'll admit it :-)

However something I have still been thinking about is a home ESXi server. Since I last posted on this topic I've setup my existing hardware as a FreeNAS server. The primary reason for this is that getting some stable storage was the most pressing need I had at the time. The FreeNAS box has been brilliant - super stable and exactly what I was after.

More recently I've had some other hardware available at home for a while so I've been experimenting with VMWare ESXi 5.5u1 to see how it would play out in practice. I've been pretty happy so far with how easy it is to setup. I'm currently running a Windows Server 2008 R2 instance which is running iTunes for the sole purpose of serving my Apple TV with media from the FreeNAS box (Since the Apple TV can't pick up files off a share by itself ><).

Now that I'm kind of getting a feel for what I can do with it I'm just starting to think about what the final structure will look like.

At the moment I'm thinking I'll want the following:

1: An external firewall/gateway
2: VPN access
3: A DMZ for webservers, etc.
4: A second firewall to interface between the DMZ and the internal network

I can achieve all these things on the same ESX host. Yes I'm aware of the security limitations of keeping everything on a single host, however for home-purposes I think this will suffice.

In addition to these key items I'll be wanting to run the following server:

 - directory server
 - the aforementioned AppleTV supplier
 - a Windows instance to run Repetier Host for my 3D printer (this will require USB passthrough)

I've got to sit down and work out a design so that I know what hardware I'll need (number of physical NIC's, etc.) Once I've got that sorted I can get the hardware and then start the configuration and build process :-)

I'll try post regularly here as I go.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Home ESXi Server - Proof of concept

So I decided prior to shelling out for new hardware for an ESX host that I'd try to get ESXi running on my existing hardware (a Core 2 quad process Q6600 based system). Turned out to be easier than I expected!

I decided to go down the route of installing the ESX image onto a USB drive (using the ESX appliance OS rather than installing ESX on a full host OS). I downloaded the iso, put it on a disk, stuck a USB in the back of the machine and I was away... The install failed when it came to detecting a NIC - which is understandable given it was a Atheros onboard network controller - not exactly the sort of hardware I imagine an enterprise OS would expect to encounter.

This temporarily stumped me and I got busy on other things for a week or so... Anyway last night I decided to do some more investigation. I found that there were a surprising number of other people trying to use the same sort of hardware, and fortunately someone had put together a VIB for the driver for the Atheros network controller that was on my motherboard. With some handy instructions (which I'll find again and post up here) I was able to create a custom ISO with the injected driver and have another go.

Long story short - great success.

The install no longer failed at the point of detecting a NIC and went on to let me start the install to the USB drive - below is a picture of the install screen where you can set the relevant install device (Remember that if you are installing to a USB stick you'll need to make sure that it's set as the primary boot device in bios before you try to boot off it).

I selected the flash drive and continued - during the install I got a warning that Hardware Virtualisation is not a feature of the system or enabled in bios - it lets you continue the install though.

First time during the install it had an IO error at 74%, second attempt and it installed... I rebooted the system and booted off the flash drive, all was going well until it had a "buffer too small" error loading one of the system files. A quick google indicated that this was likely to be an error with the install media - I checked the MD5 checksum of the original ISO and that was fine, then I recorded the injected version of the iso and then went through the injection process again. Interestingly the MD5 of the new ISO was different to the old one. I'm not sure whether this is because the injection process doesn't necessarily do things in exactly the same way every time or because there was actually an issue the first time. Anyway I burnt this new ISO to a CD and tried again. I also swapped to a new USB drive as I wasn't sure whether it was possible the drive failing and causing random IO errors. Anyway - this time the install went faster (so I suspect the first USB stick was bad) and everything ran a dream - a few minutes later I was booted into ESX host :-)

As you can see here I didn't actually have the machine plugged into the network at this point - anyway - today I plugged it in, booted it up and accessed it across the network. I downloaded the vsphere client and installed it (after putting a Windows 8 VM on my Macbook Air) and what do you know - everything seems great. I've got to buy some new disks before I can go installing clients etc, but this is definitely looking like a great option.

I know that using the free version of ESXi I miss out on a lot of the enterprise features but given that I don't want to run or manage multiple ESX hosts and given I don't really have any desire to do any fancy pass-through type stuff I don't think it's going to be any major limitation for me...

Anyway - more to come :-) 

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Home ESXi server


I'm currently pondering the idea of building a home ESXi server. When I first had the thought it sounded like total overkill - however the more I think about it the more I think it might be a good idea.

The primary driver is having had 3 data disks die in the last 4 years. The yearly stress of recovering data off dying disks is kinda getting to me, so some sort of RAID'd / High Availability storage is a key requirement for me... This is all very well, however it's a pain to have some other aspect of hardware kark out as well. In the last few years I've had two motherboards die - and rebuilding servers is a bit of a mission. So why not solve both of these issues with ESX. High availability disk + VM servers which can easily be brought back up on new ESX hardware (I'm not wanting high-availability servers so I don't need multiple ESX hosts, it's more about the ability to easily stand the virtual environment back up once the hardware is fixed).

I've been looking at a few sites that have articles on the topic - namely:

Now to be honest some of what they are doing is more than I really need - I don't plan on virtualising user machines - only server instances, and they really aren't going to be hardware intensive enough to require some of the more advanced features of ESXi, so I'm going to keep things simple and cost effective I think.

The server's I'll want to run are:

 - File Server + iTunes Server
 - Open Directory Server
 - Web Server

Plus the ability to easily stand up VM's for development etc. So definitely not anything hardware intensive. I'm planning on using something along the lines of the following for hardware:

CPU: Midrange i7 processor
MB: Something that has onboard LAN and SATA Raid that is supported by ESXi
HDD: Lots of standard SATA disk (2TB 7200rpm probably as that seems to be the best price point at present)
Network: the onboard LAN plus Intel NIC's (which I'll get second hand off ebay as it's about a trillion times cheaper than buying new in NZ)

I've tried installing ESXi on my current server hardware (an old desktop) and it only failed on the lack of an Intel NIC so I'm not forseeing any major issues.

Anyway - as you can probably tell I'm in the early stages of considering this - much planning still to be done.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

MendelMax 1.5 (Part 6) - It's Alive!!!

I've got a bit of a confession to make...


Given I've been working on the reprap in my spare minutes and hours it's proved a bit difficult to blog and document as I go along, particularly as I've spent a lot of time figuring it out as I go. What I'll do is now go back and document how the process went. My learning and observations etc.

Anyway - I got the first print on the weekend, stoked with how well it all came together! Here's a picture of the first print!

Yes, that is actually the first ever attempted print, so as you can see it's working amazingly well for having had no calibration! To be fair I did spend a fair amount of time calibrating the device mechanically with rulers and levels etc.

Anyway - I was able to straight away print some brackets for mounting endstops on (the initial printing was done with no endstops! (I was extremely careful).

I'll start updating the backlog of progress soon :-)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Draytek Vigor 120 & Apple Airport Extreme (PPPoA to PPPoE passthrough)

So something that I've been working on for a while, and finally have acquired and completed is linking up my AirPort Extreme with a Draytek Vigor 120 ADSL2+ modem. If you are familiar with the concept the idea is thus:

The AirPort Extreme is a wi-fi/LAN router, and, although it is not a modem itself, it has the ability to establish a PPPoE connection via a modem. This is advantageous in that it lets the AirPort handle everything from the internet connection, to NAT to DHCP. The problem in New Zealand at least is that pretty much all our DSL connections are PPPoA not PPPoE. This is where the Draytek comes in.

Unlike the sort of modem your ISP probably sent you the Vigor 120 has the ability to carry out PPPoA to PPPoE passthrough when in modem mode. This means that the AirPort Extreme can use the Draytek to establish what it thinks is a PPPoE connection to the ISP.

Good, good.

The whole thing is surprisingly simple to setup. Only thing is, you may wish to have an alternate internet connection handy in case you manage to stuff things up and need to do some investigative work to get things going again.

Steps to setup are as follows:

1: Plug in your Draytek to power and DSL. Connect a network cable from the Draytek to your portable computer of choice.

2: By default the Draytek device lives at, so set your computer to have an IP address of anything else on the 192.168.0.x subnet, go to your internet browser and go to

3: Hopefully you get a login prompt for username and password. Now the Draytek manual that came with by device stated that by default you should not enter anything in either field and just press ok. Usefully this isn't the case. I needed to enter "admin" as the username and leave the password field blank.

4: you should end up with a screen looking something like this:

5: Click on the "Internet Access" link on the left hand side, and then click on the "PPPoE / PPPoA" option. you should get a screen similar to below:

6: All you need to do is tick the little checkbox that is labeled "For Wired LAN" in the "PPPoE Pass Through" section. This configures the Draytek modem to operate in PPPoE passthrough mode and disables all other features (like NAT etc, which we are going to get the AirPort Extreme to do anyway).

7: You can now unplug the Draytek from your computer and plug it into the WAN port on the back of the AirPort.

Now we get into setting up the AirPort :-)

I'm assuming here that you're using the AirPort Utility on a Mac.

8: Open up the AirPort utility, select your AirPort and hit edit. You should get the screen below:

9: Hit the "Internet" tab at the top, you should get the screen below:

To set the AirPort up to handle your internet connection via the Draytek Modem you need to do the following:

Connect Using: Set this to "PPPoE"
Account Name: Your ISP account name
Account Password: Your ISP account password

Everything else can be left as-is.

10: Go to the "Network" tab and you'll get the following screen:

11: You should see that the Router Mode is set to "DHCP and NAT", if not you should set this. You can also configure additional options, DHCP reservations, port settings ,etc. but that isn't required at this point.

12: Hit "Update" and your AirPort will reboot to load the new config. When it comes back up you should be able to connect to it and see on the "Internet" tab that it has an ipv4 address listed (This is the external ip address of the AirPort now that it is connected to the internet.

At this point all should be working and your AirPort serving internet access to your client computers :-)

Hope this is of some use to people.

Monday, 19 November 2012

MendelMax 1.5 (Part 5)

So I got the additional hardware I needed from Anzor and have subsequently completed construction of the main frame. It's now looking like this:

Which is awesome. The great thing about the design is how easy it is to assemble and swap parts in and out. I realised that for the way I am going to build the y-axis I needed a couple of extra t-slot nuts in the lower ends of the frame. So you simply unscrew the particular aluminium extrusion and slide it out. No need to disassemble the whole rig or anything.

I'm stoked with my colour choice as well. It cost $25USD extra to get the aluminium in black, but I think black with the sky-blue PLA looks really awesome.

Since I took the above picture I've attached part of the y belt tensioner and the y-axis motor mount.

I've been talking to James about the y-axis carriage and I think I'll go the same route as him. Hardwood with 4 PLA holsters (one for each bushing) cable-tied, or similar to the hardwood. This seems like the simplest way of constructing it. Maybe later I can look at a printed carriage or something, but at the moment my main goal is to get the printer up and running, optimisation can come later :-)

James is currently printing the z-axis components that I need to continue construction. I'm also getting him to print the y-axis rod supports as well. Will get him to print the wade's extruder components later on.

Monday, 12 November 2012

MendelMax 1.5 (Part 4)

Right, so last week I commenced assembly of the lower portion of the frame. My aluminium extrusions finally arrived looking all nice and shiny :-)

The assembly is really easy and I soon had the lower portion of the frame looking like this:

I started assembling the upper portions but I ran into needing some countersunk machine screws to attach the upper portions to the base frame.

So I sent off an order to Anzor which is hopefully arriving this afternoon. I was also able to order my 8mm threaded rod and a bunch of other minor hardware that I need.

Ooohhh also - my budaschnozzle arrived :-) looking very shiny.

Hopefully the Anzor order will be waiting for me when I get home from work and I can continue on the frame construction. My next task after that will be to work out what exact equipment and printed parts I need for the y-axis (I'm going with a standard Prusa y-axis) rather than the rolling carriage type axis that the Mendel 1.5+ uses.