home lab

Top 5 Home Lab Storage Solutions in 2023

When building a home lab solution, looking at the primary components of your home lab build includes considering your storage requirements. There are many options for building a home lab solution and storage considerations to be made. The great thing about building a home lab is you can build it according to your needs and the workloads you will be running. For many, starting with locally attached storage is a common way to provision storage. However, as your lab grows, other solutions can be used. Let’s consider the top 5 home lab storage solutions in 2023 and see the pros and cons of each.

Why is Storage an Important Aspect of Your Home Lab?

In a home lab environment, storage is much more than just a place to store files. The foundation allows you to run multiple operating systems, create virtual machines, and test new software on a dedicated server.

With a well-considered storage solution, you can simulate a mini data center in your home, running everything from a Windows server, storage servers, virtualization hosts, and single operating system servers.

The right storage solution also needs to cater to your specific requirements. For instance, you might need a high-capacity, cost-effective solution for storing extensive data or a high-performance solution to run virtual machines efficiently on your own server instead of running a single operating system on a whole dedicated server.

When choosing a storage solution for your home lab, consider factors such as the required storage capacity, the type of data you’ll be handling, and the performance requirements of your applications. This decision will ultimately influence the success and utility of your home lab.

Introducing the Top 5 Storage Solutions for Home Lab Configurations

In this blog post, we’ll be delving into the best storage solution configurations of 2023, each bringing unique strengths to your home lab setup:

Traditional enterprise HDD
Traditional enterprise HDD
  1. Local Storage (HDD, SSD, NVMe): The fundamental trio of storage technologies. These options cater to various needs using direct attached storage, ranging from cost-effective data storage (HDD) to high-performance applications (SSD and NVMe).

  2. TrueNAS Scale: This Network Attached Storage (NAS) system combines an easy-to-use interface with advanced features like file sharing, making it a versatile addition to any home lab.

  3. Ceph Distributed Storage in Proxmox: Ideal for home labs that handle large volumes of data and require seamless scalability. Ceph excels in redundancy and the ability to run different operating systems.

  4. XOSAN Distributed Storage in XCP-ng: A networked storage approach that uses the local storage of each server in your home lab to create a distributed, redundant storage space.

  5. vSAN in VMware vSphere: This enterprise-level solution offers extensive features and robust performance, suitable for complex home labs seeking to harness the power of enterprise servers.

Each solution has its distinct advantages and potential drawbacks. Let’s explore each in detail to help you decide on your home lab configuration.

Local Storage: HDD, SSD, and NVMe – The Trusty Triad

We find the conventional local storage systems at the core of any home lab storage solution – HDD, SSD, and NVMe. Despite the influx of newer technologies, local storage remains essential to many home labs. For instance, an SSD is much faster than an HDD, providing high performance for your home server.

I have found that typically many enter the home lab space using locally attached storage, and then as they scale to multi-node configurations, other storage types come into play. However, I still have a good bit of locally attached storage serving out storage for VMs ad containers.

M.2 NVMe drive provides blistering performance
M.2 NVMe drive provides blistering performance

Advantages:

  • Cost-Effective: HDDs offer more storage at a lower cost, making them ideal for storing large amounts of data. However, this is also becoming the case with SSDs and NVMe storage, or at least it isn’t as much of a consideration as it has been in the past.

  • Performance: SSDs bring a significant increase in write performance. Ideal for operating systems and applications where speed is essential.

  • Speed: NVMe introduces a new level of speed to local storage. For power users running multiple virtual machines or intensive workloads, NVMe is ideal and can easily fit in mini PC form factors.

    NVMe also allows you to get by with a bit less RAM in your system since paging operations are less impactful with NVMe storage than with traditional HDDs or even SSDs.

Disadvantages:

  • Capacity considerations: SSDs and NVMe drives have lower capacity than HDDs and typically cost more per gigabyte of storage. However, prices have decreased dramatically from what they were even 5 years ago.

TrueNAS Scale: Your Versatile NAS and SAN Storage Solution

TrueNAS Scale, a powerful NAS server, is another must-consider storage solution. Not only does it offer advanced features like file sharing, but it also presents an easy-to-use interface. With a TrueNAS server, you can store and access your files effortlessly, making it an excellent storage server for multiple users.

You can even run containers and virtual machines directly on the solution, which is excellent.

TrueNAS scale dashboard
TrueNAS scale dashboard

You can buy or build your TrueNAS server from white box hardware, or even run it inside a virtual machine.

TrueNAS rackmount server
TrueNAS rackmount server

Advantages:

  • Ease of Use: TrueNAS presents an easy-to-use interface. This aspect simplifies managing storage and file sharing on your home lab server.

  • Scalability: With TrueNAS, you can easily expand your storage capacity should the need arise.

Disadvantages:

  • Hardware Compatibility: TrueNAS may not support all hardware, so checking compatibility before setting up your server is essential.

Ceph Distributed Storage in Proxmox: Scaling Your Storage with Ease

For those looking to run virtual machines and deal with vast amounts of data, Ceph distributed storage in Proxmox is a powerful contender. It is also an enterprise-grade solution such as VMware vSAN. With Ceph, you get a storage solution capable of handling different operating systems and a system that scales seamlessly with your storage needs.

Below is a Ceph configuration running in Proxmox.

Ceph storage running in Proxmox
Ceph storage running in Proxmox

Advantages:

  • Scalability: Ceph scales seamlessly with your storage needs. This feature is crucial when dealing with large amounts of data in a home lab.

  • Data Redundancy: Ceph uses a network of storage nodes to ensure data redundancy and high availability, making it ideal for a home lab environment hosting critical services.

Disadvantages:

  • More advanced Setup: Setting up Ceph can potentially be challenging, especially for beginners. It requires a solid understanding of storage systems and Linux administration.

    Troubleshooting can also be more difficult. However, the Proxmox interface has made things much easier.

Check out my video on setting up Ceph in Proxmox:

XOSAN Distributed Storage in XCP-ng: A Networked Approach to Storage

XOSAN, a robust storage system integrated into the XCP-ng server, creates a distributed and redundant storage space using the local storage of each server in your home lab, much like Ceph and vSAN. This solution is perfect for those looking to run virtual machines on multiple servers with redundancy on the XCP-ng solution.

XOSAN in XCP ng Xen Orchestra
XOSAN in XCP ng Xen Orchestra

Advantages:

  • Cost-Effective: XOSAN utilizes existing hardware resources in your home lab environment. This utilization reduces the need for more disks or new hardware, keeping costs low.

  • Integration: XOSAN seamlessly integrates with the XCP-ng system, allowing you to manage your home lab server effectively.

Disadvantages:

  • Dependency on Local Storage: XOSAN’s performance largely depends on your local storage’s speed and capacity. SSDs or NVMe drives are recommended for optimal performance.

VMware vSAN: Enterprise-Level Features at Your Fingertips

Lastly, there’s vSAN in VMware vSphere, which offers enterprise-grade features for your home lab storage. Its extensive features and robust performance make it an excellent choice for advanced home labs looking to harness the power of enterprise servers.

VMware vSAN is the Cadillac storage of enterprise distributed storage for virtualized environments.

VMware vSAN storage provides excellent storage for home lab servers
VMware vSAN storage provides excellent storage for home lab servers

Advantages:

  • Enterprise Features: vSAN provides a storage solution that integrates seamlessly with the virtual machine environment, allowing you to create and run virtual machines effortlessly.

  • Performance: vSAN ensures data redundancy and performs well, even under heavy loads. This performance makes it an excellent choice for complex home labs running various technologies.

Disadvantages:

  • Hardware Requirements: vSAN requires specific hardware for optimal performance, which might be cost-prohibitive for some users.

  • Licensing: Licensing is required to run VMware vSAN. However, the VMUG Advantage subscription is the way to go for home lab users.

Honorable mentions

There are many great storage solutions out there and just because I don’t have each one in the list doesn’t mean it isn’t great for your use case. Here are a few more great storage solutions:

  • Synology NAS devicesSynology is known for its

    quality NAS devices. I have one, and they provide excellent storage.
Synology NAS device
Synology NAS device

Frequently Asked Questions

1. I am a beginner interested in starting my home lab. What storage solution do you recommend?

Starting with Local Storage, such as HDDs or SSDs, can be an excellent choice for beginners. They are easy to install and use and compatible with multiple operating systems. Once you’re comfortable, you can explore network-based solutions like TrueNAS or more advanced technologies like Ceph or vSAN.

2. How can I ensure that my data stored on these solutions is secure?

Implementing secure access controls and regularly updating your systems and software can help protect your data. Some solutions, like TrueNAS, provide built-in security features to ensure a secure way of storing and accessing your data. Always remember a secure home lab environment starts with good practices.

3. How do storage solutions like vSAN affect the power consumption of my home lab?

While solutions like vSAN offer high performance and advanced features, they might require more power due to their extensive hardware resources. However, with careful planning, optimizing your setup for low power consumption is possible while still getting excellent performance.

4. What storage solution is best for running multiple virtual machines?

A distributed storage solution like Ceph in Proxmox or vSAN in VMware vSphere could be beneficial if you run many virtual machines. These systems are designed to handle high workloads and can efficiently distribute resources among multiple operating systems.

5. Can I run a Windows Server on these storage solutions?

Yes, all these storage solutions are capable of supporting a Windows Server. It’s always a good idea to check the specific hardware support and compatibility details before setting up your own server.

6. Are there any cost-effective alternatives to enterprise servers for home labs?

A mini PC can serve as a great alternative. Mini PCs consume less power and are generally more affordable than enterprise servers. They can run multiple virtual machines, making them an excellent cost-effective home lab server.

7. I have an old computer. Can I use it as a home lab server?

An old computer can be repurposed as a home lab server, offering a good opportunity to learn new skills without requiring extensive investment. Make sure to check its hardware support for the storage solution you plan to implement.

8. Can I add more storage to my existing home lab server without downtime?

This is possible with certain storage solutions. For instance, TrueNAS offers scalability options allowing you to add more disks to your system without significant downtime. Remember, always back up your data before performing such operations.

Wrapping Up

Choosing the best storage solution for your home lab depends on your requirements. Whether opting for a basic setup with Local Storage or exploring complex configurations with solutions like vSAN in VMware vSphere, many options will fit the bill for providing lab storage for your workloads.

Remember, a home lab server isn’t just about hardware and storage capacity. It’s also about learning, experimenting, and enhancing your knowledge. As you build your home lab, each solution you explore, every virtual machine you create, and all the software you install helps to sharpen your skils, and that is what it is all about.

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Brandon Lee

Brandon Lee is the Senior Writer, Engineer and owner at Virtualizationhowto.com and has over two decades of experience in Information Technology. Having worked for numerous Fortune 500 companies as well as in various industries, Brandon has extensive experience in various IT segments and is a strong advocate for open source technologies. Brandon holds many industry certifications, loves the outdoors and spending time with family.

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2 Comments

  1. I don’t think you can call vSan enterprise without doing the same for ceph. Ceph can easily scale thousands of nodes, comes with s3 storage etc..
    It is heavily used in large companies and enterprises.

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