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DIY Data Center – From Zero To SharkServers

4 min read

Everyone loves DIY, but DIY Data Center? Crazy idea? Yes, but we did it! The idea was in my head long before SharkServers existed – I had a home lab at home (huh!) at the time. I say home lab. In reality, it was a 42U server rack in my kitchen with a number of servers, routers and switches in it. I loved playing with these things, and I still do.

Needless to say, at some point the server rack was getting full and, as much as I wanted, I couldn’t fit another one in my kitchen.

Fast forward to June 2015. I was meeting an ex-colleague or a coffee. A very intelligent guy whom I’ve known since I was 16, and who helped me to get my first proper job in IT at the local municipal government. We both love coffee, so it’s no surprise that we had about 3 cups in a row whilst discussing life. “We need to think big”, I remember saying when he expressed interest about my homelab. Turns out, he’s been thinking about building a DIY datacenter himself. Not to make profit – it was just to educate himself. That was my dream too, so I was immediately sold on the idea. We chose offshore hosting as our business model because at the time it was easy to get in.

Location

It was decided that we need to find a place that’s inexpensive, as we would be funding the project from our own pockets. Weeks spent looking for a suitable location – one that was not too far from where we lived – and we hit a jackpot. We were living in Reading, UK at the time, and Reading Borough Council owned a business park just about 15 minutes drive from us. We were incredibly happy to see that they had a unit for rent in that business park at a relatively low price, so we went to have a look.

DIY Data Center
Before it all changed

The unit was previously used as a bakery, so there were lots of things we needed to change to transform it into what we wanted it to be. As a bakery, it had industrial extractor fans built into the ceiling. Those we kept, and they proved to be very useful later on when the summer came. Even though we had air conditioning set up, it was struggling a bit, so these definitely helped. Yes, I know what you think about British summers, but I swear it can get really hot indoors if you have 90-some servers running at all times. Sinks – industrial massive things, we removed – servers just don’t like water. Must be in their nature. We also got rid of all the heaters in the unit – we were about to bring in our own in the form of servers. Lots of them. Our DIY Data Center project was starting to materialize.

Office Space

We also wanted a separate office space, so that we can work, whilst still being in close proximity to all the hardware, in case things needed to be changed, removed or upgraded. We could build it ourselves, but we were busy with other things, so we hired a company called Office Partitions to do it for us.

The guys were amazing, and 2 days later our wallets were £3000 lighter, but we had our own office space. Walls, door, LED ceiling lights – the whole lot. I’ve purchased computer desks and office chairs a couple of days earlier, and was now waiting for delivery. The server rack from my kitchen was also brought here, and it was time to think about what to do next.

Connectivity

No DIY Data Center would be complete without Internet connection, but let me just start by saying that Virgin Media is a joke! They may be good for your usual home broadband, but as business customers we felt cheated, lied to, and just outright ignored.

We called up Virgin Media Business as soon as we moved into the unit, and asked what options we have to get some fibre connectivity there. They offered 1Gbps at a very good price with a lead time of 2 months, which was fine with us, as we needed to sort out many other things first. However, we would need _some_ Internet before they provide the gigabit connection, so they offered a DSL line, which we would be able to cancel as soon as the fibre is up and running. A week later, to our surprise, a BT engineer showed up to get the DSL running. On behalf of Virgin. Really? We wouldn’t ever expect these two working together, as their infrastructures are fundamentally different.

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