Lab Infra Rebuild Part 4

This is an ongoing post about rebuilding my lab infrastructure, see the initial post here.

Today I’ll talk about my physical office and office hardware.

Office Space

When my son started going to school I did not look forward to all the driving so figured a office near his school would be good, I’d spend the days there and come home after pick up. I rented a nice place in a town called Mosta, it was nice and had ample storage and would have made a really great maker space as it had about 4 car garages worth of underground storage that was well lit and ventilated.

Unfortunately this place was opposite a school and parking was absolute hell. I ended up just not using it for months at a time since I could drive home in 12 minutes or spend 45 minutes finding parking, no thanks. I gave up trying to find a garage to rent around there, it’s just crazy.

When I started looking the 2nd place in Żebbuġ I saw seemed perfect, a fantastic bright 7m x 7m office with a underground 1.5 car garage at a reasonable price. I took that and just recently extended my lease to 5 years. My sister-in-law is also moving her business to the same street and there’s a 3D printer shop around the corner, bonus. Parking is always easy even on the street and it’s like 5 minutes from my house.

Here I am able to set up 3 workstations, my main desk, one for guests with a little Desktop for my son and big work station for soldering, assembling IoT projects and such. I also have a nice 2 seater sofa with a coffee table. With the garage I have space to put things like a lazer cutter and more in future - though I am eyeing a small space across the road as a workshop space also for that kind of thing.

Location wise I could not want more, it’s a easy walk or cycle from my house through a beautiful car-free valley and the town is pleasant enough with food options and a small corner shop nearby.

Read on for more about the hardware.


Lab Infra Rebuild Part 3

This is an ongoing post about rebuilding my lab infrastructure, see the initial post here.

Today I’ll talk a bit about Configuration Management having previously mentioned I am ditching Kubernetes.

Server Management

The general state of server management is pretty sad, you have Ansible or Puppet and a long tail of things that just can’t work or are under terrible corporate control that you just can’t touch them.

I am, as most people are aware, a very long term Puppet user since almost day 1 and have contributed significant features like Hiera and the design of Data in Modules. I’ve not had much need/interest in being involved in that community for ages but I want to like Puppet and I want to keep using it where appropriate.

I think Puppet is more or less finished - there are bug fixes and stuff of course - but in general core Puppet is stable, mature and does what one wants and have extension points one needs. There’s not really any reason not to use if it fits your needs/tastes and should things go pear shaped its a easy fork. One can essentially stay on a current version for years at this point and it’s fine. There used to be some issues around packaging but even this is Apache-2 now. If you have the problem it solves it does so very well, but the industry have moved on so not much scope for extending it imo.

All the action is in the content - modules on the forge. Vox Pupuli are doing an amazing job, I honestly do not know how they do so much or maintain so many modules, it’s really impressive.

There’s a general state of rot though, modules I used to use are almost all abandoned with a few moved to Vox. I wonder if stats about this is available, but I get the impression that content wise things are also taking a huge dive there and Vox are holding everything afloat with Puppet hoping to make money from selling commercial modules - I doubt it will sustain a business their size but it’s a good idea.

Read on for more about Puppet today in my infra.


Lab Infra Rebuild Part 2

Previously I blogged about rebuilding my personal infra, focussing on what I had before.

Today we’ll start into what I used to replace the old stuff. It’s difficult to know where to start but I think a bit about VM and Container management is as good as any.


My previous build used a 3 node Kubernetes Cluster hosted at Digital Ocean. It hosted:

  • Public facing websites like this blog (WordPress in the past), Wiki, A few static sites etc
  • Monitoring: Prometheus, Grafana, Graphite
  • A bridge from The Things Network for my LoRaWAN devices
  • 3 x redundant Choria Brokers and AAA
  • Container Registry backed by Spaces (Digital Ocean object storage)
  • Ingress and Okta integration via Vouch
  • Service discovery and automatic generation of configurations for Prom, Ingress etc

Apart from the core cluster I had about 15 volumes, 3 Spaces, an Ingress load balancer with a static IP and a managed MySQL database.

I never got around to go full GitOps on this setup, it just seemed too much to do for a one man infra to both deploy all that and maintain the discipline. Of course I am not a stranger to the discipline required being from Puppet world, but something about the whole GitOps setup just seemed like A LOT.

I quite liked all of this, when Kubernetes works it is a pleasant experience, some highlights:

  • Integration with cloud infra like LBs is an amazing experience
  • Integration with volumes to provide movable storage is really great and hard to repeat
  • I do not mind YAML and the diffable infrastructure is really great, no surprise there. I hold myself largely to blame for the popularity of YAML in infra tools at large thanks to Hiera etc, so I can’t complain.
  • Complete abstraction of node complexities is a double-edged sword but I think in the end I come to appreciate it
  • I do like the container workflow and it was compatible with some pre-k8s thoughts I had on this
  • Easy integration between CI and infrastructure with the kubectl rollout abstraction

Some things I just did not like, I will try to mention some things that not the usual gripes:

  • Access to managed k8s infra is great, but not knowing how its put together for the particular cloud can make debugging things hard. I had some Cilium failures that was a real pain
  • API deprecations are constant, production software rely on Beta APIs and will just randomly break. I expected this, but over the 3 years this happened more than I expected. You really have to be on top of all the versions of all the things
  • The complimentary management tooling is quite heavy like I mentioned around GitOps. Traditional CM had a quick on-ramp and was suitable at small scale, I miss that
  • I had to move from Linode K8s to Digital Ocean K8s. The portability promises of pure kubernetes is lost if you do not take a lot of care
  • Logging from the k8s infra is insane, ever-changing, unusable unless you really really are into this stuff like very deep and very on-top of every version change
  • Digital Ocean does forced upgrades of the k8s, this is fine. The implication is that all the nodes will be replaced so Prometheus polling source will change with big knock on effect. The way DO does it though involves 2 full upgrades for every 1 upgrade doubling the pain
  • It just seem like no-one wants to even match the features Hiera have in terms of customization of data
  • Helm

In the end it all just seemed like a lot for my needs and was ever slightly fragile. I went on a 3 month sabbatical last year and the entire infra went to hell twice, all on its own, because I neglected some upgrades during this time and when Digital Ocean landed their upgrade it all broke. It’s a big commitment.

See the full entry for detail of what I am doing instead.


Lab Infra Rebuild Part 1

I’ve been posting on socials a bit about rebuilding my lab and some opinions I had on tools, approaches and more. Some people have asked for a way to keep up with my efforts, so I figured it might be time to post here for the first time since 2018!

In this post I’ll focus on what came before, a bit of a recap of my previous setup. Additionally, to a general software refresh I have also been in Malta now 8 years and a lot of my office hardware was purchased around the time of moving here, so we’ll also cover replacing NAS servers and more.

My previous big OS rebuilt was around CentOS 7 days, so that’s about 3 years ago now, high time to revisit some choices.

My infra falls in the following categories:

  • Development machines: usually 10 or so Virtual Machines that I use mainly in developing
  • Office support equipment: NAS, Printers, Desktops, Laptops etc
  • Networking equipment: mainly home networking stuff for my locations
  • Hosting publicly visible items: This blog, DNS, Choria Package repos etc
  • Management infrastructure: Choria, Puppet, etc
  • Monitoring infrastructure: Prometheus and friends
  • Backups: for everything
  • General all-purpose things like source control etc
  • My actual office

Below I’ll do a quick run through all the equipment, machines, devices etc. I use regularly. I’ve largely replaced it all and will detail that in the following posts. It’s not huge infra or anything, all told about 20 to 30 instances in 5 or 6 locations.