Over the years of working in technology, I always wanted to acquire as much equipment as possible to build the most realistic home lab I could. However, by the time I came around in my career where I could comfortably make this happen, the entire industry had shifted. You didn't need the physical equipment anymore because everything could be done virtually. That was definitely a game changer in so many ways. The cloud had opened up an entirely new avenue for people to approach building out a "home lab" and getting some experience. In my personal opinion, I believe learning to build a home lab of sorts in the cloud is going to be your best option moving forward. However, I still can't wholly discount having some of that physical equipment in front of you, or at least somewhat in front of you. If you are in a position where you can obtain physical equipment, it is always a good idea to get your hands on it to experience it in front of you.
You see, the point of me writing out this blog today(not just because I’m trying to practice doing this more in the shittiest way possible) is because I have been "in the process" for years of building out a home lab. The problem is I don't often listen to my own advice enough, and I listen to or watch what everyone outside of my personal bubble is doing. Which makes me start to think…" do I need to do that too?" Do I really need 4 Cisco switches, 2 Cisco Routers, a Firewall, a NAS, a rack server, a tower server, a blade server, access points, Linux boxes, a MacBook, 12 raspberry pi's?!
FOR FUCK SAKE
The list could go on and on, right?
DO I REALLY NEED THAT? That's the question I have to ask myself and that you need to ask yourself as well. How will all of this extra equipment help service your overall mission?
In my overall mission of self-improvement and learning, I picked up the network switches and routers to learn more about networking. I can tell you that I learned more about networking by experiencing this stuff in the real world and playing with Packet Tracer. The equipment was probably turned on a total of 3 times. It's been sitting on shelves for years at this point. I learned the fundamentals of what I wanted to know, and I moved on because I also learned that I'm not really that interested in learning networking…at all. I also picked up the servers, access points, MacBooks, and pi's, all the things I thought I needed to build out the best home lab I could. Unfortunately, I spent more time building out the lab I thought I needed than actually putting in the work of DOING THE ACTUAL THINGS with the lab.
What did I find that I really needed? Through the years of self-discovery and learning more about the information technology field, I realized that I really enjoyed all of the things that had to do with system administration and, more so than anything else, the world of cybersecurity.
So my home lab changed. But, as I said earlier, I didn't really need the switches. There was no point in me and what I was doing to have the networking equipment around. In all honesty, just having the networking equipment setup and implemented into my home would end up creating more head-aches than myself or any of my 4 kids would want to deal with when the internet goes down, and they can't watch Blippi, so Daddy has to spend 3 hours troubleshooting a switch, no thanks. Could I set up a small enterprise network with all of the crap I've accumulated over the years? I sure could. But, do I don't need to. Nowadays, as you can imagine, everything that you would NEED to learn is either available in the cloud or can be virtualized very easily. Yes, even the network equipment in the cloud or virtualized from your computer through something like Ciscos Packet Tracer. I've consolidated my personal home lab to one server(a custom-built computer). Because of what I'm utilizing it for and making it work the best for ME, it is running Windows 10. I virtualize everything I'm doing through Virtual Box and, yes, AND Vmware. I will be implementing Docker into this at some point as well. It doesn't need to be anything more than this, and fooling myself for all of those years into thinking I need ALL OF THESE things put me into a place where I have no idea how in the world I'm going to recycle… all of these things! The moral of the story. Don't be like me. Don't overthink yourself into more than you need. You can quite literally do almost everything you need to do with a Quad-core processor and 16GB of RAM, hell, even 8GB. It might be slow, but you can do it!