Skull Canyon ESXi Host

Published by matt@mattshore.co.uk on

Can an Intel NUC really replace your home server/lab?

Intel Skull Canyon NUC

Intel Skull Canyon NUC

***Spoiler alert**** Oddly the answer appears to be yes!

About a month ago my micro server was just getting even more sluggish than normal… no surprise for a 5 year old AMD 2 core bag of junk. To be fair, I did want it to do a lot. Mail Server, Web Server, Plex Server, File Server, Download Server, among other bits. So the time was calling to replace it.

I began by looking for a new micro server in all the obvious places. But for the life of me I could not find a box appropriate enough for a home. I mean, a box the size of a 4 bay NAS that is going to be nice and quiet. You can find loads of designs for tower servers that would work perfectly in a small office in a business environment. This wasn’t cutting it for me. So it got me thinking….

‘Do I need a server?’

I am what most people consider a complete nerd…. so yes, I need a ‘server’… But I don’t need a huge box. So the next route I took was to take a look at some Micro-ITX/ATX cases, but once again nothing appealed to me. By the time I finished configuring them they’d always end up being at the £1,300.00 mark and still not be 100% what I was after…

I’d seen and used NUC’s before but never really considered it feasible to use one as a home server, then I saw the Skull Canyon NUC! A ‘Gaming Barebone’ according to Intel. What I saw was a little pocket rocket that packed enough CPU to run a home media centre and a few websites/ projects off. So I took the plunge and bought one:

1 x Intel Nuc Skull Canyon NUC6i7KYK3 Core i7-6770HQ Gaming Barebone
1 x Crucial 16GB DDR4 2133 MT/s PC4-17000 SODIMM Memory

 

Turning a NUC into a server…

I am a bit of a VMWare snob/ fanboy… ESXi really is the hypervisor for me. ESXi does install on the Skull Canyon NUC with only really one slight issue. The hardware sensors don’t work. As this literately is a home lab for me to test and mess with, it isn’t really that much of an issue, just worth noting. For me virtualising anything that host files is habit and always the most logical choice, if the device breaks you just replace it and mount the VM image. Virtual hardware virtually no issues. Obviously you could go down the Windows route or Linux as a physical machine but… where is the fun in that.

So once I had ESXi on there I installed Ubuntu as my OS and setup Docker. (More about this on my other article)

Docker really does make the most of the hardware it is sitting on from a resource utilisation stance. I have just the one Ubuntu VM with all CPU/ Memory Allocated to it in ESXi. I have 16GB of RAM and it is currently averaging about 8GB in use and at the most 10% CPU utilisation after 6 weeks of benchmarking (Memory and CPU do spike when I am streaming 4k Video via Plex). The applications I am currently running include:

  • Plex
  • Mail Server
  • WordPress Server (what you are reading this off)
  • Sonarr
  • Radarr
  • Deluge
  • Headphone
  • Samba File Server
  • MySQL
  • phpmyadmin
  • NextCloud Server 
  • Portainer
  • LetEncrypt as reverse proxy

As a Media Server? Really?

I know what you are thinking…

“You can’t put any high capacity disks in that… what use is it as a media server”

Good point… Let me introduce you to my little friend: StartWind Virtual SAN. Basically I didn’t really have a need for a server, I had a need for compute and memory. My gaming machine already had 3 x 4TB SATA disks but I didn’t really use them as all my downloads and files were stored on my old micro server… (Note: my gaming machine never gets turned off) StarWind Virtual SAN allows me to share these unused disks via iSCSI and my NUC can connect via the network to this unused disk space. Check that out for investment optimisation! I will be writing another article on StarWind shortly but if you can’t wait for that StarWind offer a free version.

Alternatively if you are loaded chuck 2 x 1TB PCIe M.2 disks in there…

Conclusion

So for me I think NUC’s are the way forward for my home lab. Mighty mini’s that take the day to day slog of a nerd with pretty high demands and expectations. Yes I did choose a NUC on the premium end of the price scale but it did come in at half the price of the DIY micro ATX/ITX alternatives. I no longer need a noisy micro server sat in my cupboard, I have a bad ass little mini machine crunching binary and serving my needs.

 

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