The Pursuit of Homelabs, Part 3 – How I Learned To Love the R710

homelabpart3_001LAST TIME in THE PURSUIT OF HOMELABS, I talked about what my options were in upgrading my at-home resources I could use for virtualization and storage. Until I took the plunge, I didn’t want to get too much into the specifics of what my decision was. I’ve done my research. I’ve done a lot of window shopping. I’ve slept on it for a while. And now… I’ve got some parts in the mail! Keep reading to see why (and how) I chose Dell’s R710.

Why the Dell R710

So, why would I want to get a rack-mount server for my homelab? Like I talked about last time, to fit my short- and medium-run needs, I’ll need a lot of RAM, some room to grow, and a lot of processor cores. I also don’t want to spend a ton of money. After several nights of intense research and nearly deciding against it, I found that a refurbished Dell R710 fit the bill perfectly.

“Almost decided against it? But why,” you may be asking. I’ll tell you why. I overlooked a core detail – you can add RAID controllers in PCI-E slots. What’s that mean to me? Let’s back up just a little bit, keeping in mind that hindsight is 20/20 and I’ve been spoiled by desktop hardware.

Launched in 2009, the R710 is a part of Dell’s 11th generation of servers. As is common now, and was equally common then, hardware manufacturers release base versions of their equipment and give customers the option to upgrade either at the time of order or later as their needs grow. 2009 was also on the cusp of “very large” (2TB or greater) hard drives. Back then, drives that size weren’t all that affordable, especially in SAS versions. They existed, and RAID controllers were released to accommodate them, but that was either at great cost and/or became more widely used later on.

Moving back to present day, many of the refurbished servers on the market now are usually base edition equivalents, stripped down to their core components and rebuilt. Many of the R710s in my price range came with integrated PERC6i RAID controllers, which will only recognize 3Gb/s SAS drives, with reported maximum capacities of 2TB each. I was really bummed out, to say the least. What was hailed on many a forum as the current top pick for homelabbing was terrible, and a bad value to boot!