What's in Your Lab?

Published: 2012-05-30
Last Updated: 2012-05-30 15:14:15 UTC
by Rob VandenBrink (Version: 1)
7 comment(s)

The discussion about labs got me thinking about what we all have in our personal labs.  The "What's in your lab?" question is a standard one that I ask in interviews, it says a lot about a person's interests and commitment to those interests.

I just revamped my lab (thanks to my local "cheap servers off lease" company and eBay).  Previously I was able to downsize and host my entire lab on my laptop with a farm of virtual machine and a fleet of external USB drives, but as I ramp up my requirements for permanent servers (an MS Project server, an SCP server, a web honeypot and an army of permanent, cpu and memory hungry pentest VMs), I had to put some permanent hosts back in.

So to host all this, I put in 3 ESX servers with 20 cores altogether (thanks eBay!).  I picked up a 4 gig fiber channel switch and 4 HBAs for a song, also on eBay.  I had an older XEON server with lots of drive bays, so I filled it up with 1TB SATA drives and a SATA raid controller - with a fiber channel HBA and Openfiler, I've now got a decent Fiber Channel SAN (with iSCSI and NFS thrown in for good measure).  Add a decent switch and firewall for VLAN support and network segmentation, and this starts to look a whole lot like something useful !!  The goal was that after it's all bolted together, I can do almost anything in the lab without physically being there.

I still keep lots of my lab on the laptop VM farm - for instance my Dynamips servers for WAN simulation are all still local, so are a few Linux VMs that I use for coding in one language or another for instance.

Enough about my lab - what's in your lab?  Have you found a neat, cheap way of filling a lab need you think others might benefit from?  Do you host your lab on a laptop for convenience, or do you have a rack in your basement (or at work)?  Please use our comment form and let us know!

Rob VandenBrink

Keywords: lab
7 comment(s)


I used to have a decent lab of about 4 desktop PCs a while back but I got tired of having all this in a 1 bedroom apt so I took it down / sold it off as I was able to learn at work.
Now getting more into security Im seeing the need to setup again. My current desktop is a 4 core 8G beast so I can use that for VMs but im still going to need a separate box for all the firewall(pf) network security tools (gpl) I want to try out.
I probably wont be setting up any fancy storage.
With this setup hopefully I wont be hearing fans 24/7 in my apt.
The folks over a backblaze.com have been kind enough to provide the details on how they build their storage pods:


I don't need 135 terrabytes in my vmware lab (yet), but the base design can be easily tweeked to meet a variety of needs.
I've moved towards more, small embedded systems instead of fewer, faster (noiser) systems. So I've got a little stack of soekris boxes (http://www.soekris.com/) systems doing a variety of tasks. My personal mailserver, for instance, runs on one of these with a flash card containing the OS (re-mounted RO, of course) and an SSD drive for logs, spools, mailboxes, etc. No moving parts, low power usage, absolutely silent. :-)
Currently I am using multiple Linux and Windows VMs located on my laptop and on a quad core desktop.

I have an empty rack in my garage and I am thinking about buying two powerful servers, a firewall, and ... I'll see later what. I also have an UPS I can use (after I'll change the accumulator).

My dilema is if I can put in in the garage. I don't want to put it inside the house because of the noise. The garage is partially heated, and I have no A/C. My biggest concern is the dust. Do you think that I should take the risk and build it there? If not, what other solution do you see?

I've focused a lot of my lab towards Cisco certifications, so a lot of hardware is in switches and routers.
I currently have a couple of 2600X and Non-XM routers, a 2520 for legacy stuff, a bunch of 1721 which are convenient in size but the power bricks are a pain. I also have a 6500 series switch, four 2950 Catalyst switches and four 3550 Catalyst switches. I can accommodate just about any networking configuration I can think of.

I also have two old HP DL160 servers that I'm setting up as LAMP servers. And i have two other servers that will serve as a Windows based server and storage server.

All of this was bought on eBay for pretty cheap.
I think I have the same problems as most everybody else so far - noise, power requirements, and heat. I've had some luck with liquid cooled and sound-insulated servers. SSDs and virtualization are a must, but add in ye olde routers, switches, and network appliances, and there's not a lot that one can do. Somebody needs to build a hackerspace for (actual?) hackers...
- big desktop system (4 cores, multi threaded), 12 GB RAM, no fancy storage, VMware Workstation, one additional physical NIC w/o IP address on host system (so one can connect the VMs to the NIC and outside world directly)
- several old notebooks to play with as victim / hack-me servers / IPCop firewall / pentest systems (we _do_ like real hardware ... don't we?)
- "hardware store" grade switches and cables

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