Building a Proxmox Test Cluster in VirtualBox Part 4: Containers, Storage, and Replication

In the last installment in this series, I showed you how to build a cluster with separate interfaces dedicated to the cluster heartbeat traffic and to virtual machine migration. In order to see these in action, you need for your PVE hosts to run some VMs of their own. Once there are a three VMs running, we can play with the really great features of a Proxmox Cluster, like storage replication and high availability.

During the initial setup of the Proxmox hosts on VirtualBox, you probably saw an error message about KVM virtualization. I dismissed it as not a big deal. The truth is that this whole “virtualization inside of virtualization” exercise won’t produce any useful PVEVMs. I haven’t done much troubleshooting, but I am fairly certain that while the PVEVMs boot up and you can log into their consoles, they don’t really talk to each other or your physical internal network. That’s not as cool as I had hoped, but the point of this exercise was to figure out the network design for a Proxmox Cluster, not to play with cool double-layer virtual machines. I am sure that you can so some cool router Kung Fu to get them going for real, but for this exercise, PVEVMs booting up is enough. We’re just going to move them around the cluster so see how it all works.

Also, because each PVE cluster node is woefully under-powered, RAM is really at a premium:

So even if they did work as advertised, the PVEVM’s probably wouldn’t work well. Linux Containers are awesomely efficient, especially with RAM, but they can’t squeeze blood from a stone.

Downloading Templates and Building Containers

To build your PVEVMs you need to download a container template. It can be any of them. I prefer the LXC Debian 9 template or the Turnkey Linux Core template. How you want to go about building the test PVEVMs is your business, but the goal is 3 PVEVMs up and running. At different points in this exercise there will be one PVEVM running on each PVE cluster node, and all 3 PVEVMs running on one node. It’s up to you if you want to build them out:

  • Download the template to one node, build the container, and then migrate it to another node, OR
  • Download the template to each node and build each PVEVM from there, OR
  • Download the template, build the container, and then clone it.
  • The process is low as hell no matter how you slice it.

Once you have decided your approach, build 3 new containers. It takes a long time, but it demonstrates your need for a central data store for non-VM files. This is where a NAS would be handy. You could set up the NAS to store ISOs, container templates, and backups so that they would be accessible to all the nodes.

It’s important to note that you should build privileged containers. You do this by UN-checking the UN-privileged box. It’s stupid; I know.

At this point, you can migrate a container from one node to the other, but it takes a long time because you have to wait for the container to completely shut down, and then for the container files to completely copy from one cluster node to the next. On real hardware, this process will probably go a bit faster, but this is a good illustration of why we need storage replication.

Storage Replication

Before we can enable replication, we need to set up the ZFS storage properly. In the Building the Cluster Nodes post, we set up a ZFS array called ZStore, and now it’s time to set it up for the whole cluster.

In the Storage View for the cluster you have the option of adding storage. Here you will add a ZFS type and include the zstore/vmdata. Make sure to add all 3 nodes. I called mine “ZVMZ.” At this point it should be apparent that a RAID1 mirror, that is going to be replicated to 2 other mirrors is probably overkill in terms of redundancy, so you should probably do something different on your real hardware. If you have small but fast disks, you might RAID0 them to get nice write speeds, then replicate them for redundancy. Or do whatever.

Once the ZFS storage is set up for all of your nodes, you can move the storage for your PVEVMs to the ZVMZ storage. This will take a long time as well because everything has to copy over. This should be the last time you have to sit through a full copy of anything. Now we can set up replication.

Replication is done on a per VM and per host basis. So you will want to make sure that each VM has a job created to replicate to the other nodes. You only need two jobs for each VM. If you migrate a VM to another host, the replication job will update. The first time the job runs it will take a while. There isn’t a progress bar or anything, so you will have to check the ZVMZ storage on each node to make sure that there are copies of all of your VMs.

With replication set up, even if a cluster node fails, you will only lose 15 minutes (assuming you went with the default schedule) worth of data on the server and you can start up your server on another node with the snapshot. Migrate some VMs and see for yourself, and stay tuned for the next installment: High Availability.


Building a Proxmox Test Cluster in VirtualBox Part 3: Building The Cluster

In the last installment of this series, I discussed setting up the Proxmox VE hosts. Until now, you could do most of this configuring in triplicate with MobaXTerm. Now you can still use it to multicast, just be sure to disable it when you have to customize the configs for each host. This part of the process is a lethal combination of being really repetitive while also requiring a lot of attention to detail. This is also the point where it gets a bit like virtualization-inception: VirtualBox VMs which are PVE hosts to PVEVMs.

Network Adapter Configuration
I did my best to simplify the network design:

  • There are 3 PVE hosts with corresponding management IP’s:
    1. prox1 –
    2. prox2 –
    3. prox3 –
  • Each PVE host has 3 network adapters:
    1. Adapter 1: A Bridged Adapter that connects to the [physical] internal network.
    2. Adapter 2: Host only Adapter #2 that will serve as the [virtual] isolated cluster network.
    3. Adapter 3: Host only Adapter #3 that will serve as the [virtual] dedicated migration network.
  • Each network adapter plugs into a different [virtual] network segment with a different ip range:
    1. Adapter 1 (enp0s3) –
    2. Adapter 2 (enp0s8) –
    3. Adapter 3 (enp0s9) –
  • Each PVE hosts’ IP on each network roughly corresponds to its hostname:
    1. prox1 –,,
    2. prox2 –,,
    3. prox3 –,,

I have built this cluster a few times and my Ethernet adapter names (enp0s3, enp0s8, and enp0s9) have always been the same. That may be a product of all the cloning, so YMMV. Pay close attention here because this can get very confusing.

Open the network interface config file for each PVE host:

nano /etc/network/interfaces

You should see the entry for your first Ethernet adapter (the bridged adapter in VirtualBox), followed by the virtual machines' bridge interface with the static IP that you set when you installed Proxmox. This is a Proxmox virtual Ethernet adapter. The last two entries should be your two host only adapters, #2 and #3 in VirtualBox. These are the adapters that we need to modify. The file for prox1 probably looks like this:

nano /etc/network/interfaces

auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

iface enp0s3 inet manual

auto vmbr0
iface vmbr0 inet static
        bridge_ports enp0s3
        bridge_stp off
        bridge_fd 0

iface enp0s8 inet manual

iface enp0s9 inet manual

Ignore the entries for lo, enp0s3, and vmbr0. Delete the last two entries (enp0s8 and enp0s9) and replace them with this:

#cluster network
auto enp0s8
iface enp0s8 inet static
#migration network
auto enp0s9
iface enp0s9 inet static

Now repeat the process for prox2 and prox3, changing the last octet for the IP's to .2 and .3 respectively. When you are finished your nodes should be configured like so:

  1. prox1 -,,
  2. prox2 -,,
  3. prox3 -,,

Save your changes on each node. Then reboot each one:

shutdown -r now

Network Testing
When your PVE hosts are booted back up, SSH into them again. Have each host ping every other host IP to make sure everything is working:

ping -c 4;\
ping -c 4;\
ping -c 4;\
ping -c 4;\
ping -c 4;\
ping -c 4

The result should be 4 replies from each IP on each host with no packet loss. I am aware that each host is pinging itself twice. But you have to admit it look pretty bad ass.

Once you can hit all of your IP's successfully, now it's time to make sure that multicast is working properly. This isn't a big deal in VirtualBox because the virtual switches are configured to handle multicast correctly, but it's important to see the test run so you can do it on real hardware in the future.

First send a bunch of multicast traffic at once:

omping -c 10000 -i 0.001 -F -q

You should see a result that is 10000 sent with 0% loss. Like so: :   unicast, xmt/rcv/%loss = 9406/9395/0%, min/avg/max/std-dev = 0.085/0.980/15.200/1.940 : multicast, xmt/rcv/%loss = 9406/9395/0%, min/avg/max/std-dev = 0.172/1.100/15.975/1.975 :   unicast, xmt/rcv/%loss = 10000/9991/0%, min/avg/max/std-dev = 0.091/1.669/40.480/3.777 : multicast, xmt/rcv/%loss = 10000/9991/0%, min/avg/max/std-dev = 0.173/1.802/40.590/3.794

Then send a sustained stream of multicast traffic for a few minutes:

omping -c 600 -i 1 -q

Let this test run for a few minutes. Then cancel it with CTRL+C.

The result should again be 0% loss, like so:

root@prox1:~# omping -c 600 -i 1 -q : waiting for response msg : waiting for response msg : joined (S,G) = (*,, pinging : joined (S,G) = (*,, pinging
^C :   unicast, xmt/rcv/%loss = 208/208/0%, min/avg/max/std-dev = 0.236/1.488/6.552/1.000 : multicast, xmt/rcv/%loss = 208/208/0%, min/avg/max/std-dev = 0.338/2.022/7.157/1.198 :   unicast, xmt/rcv/%loss = 208/208/0%, min/avg/max/std-dev = 0.168/1.292/7.576/0.905 : multicast, xmt/rcv/%loss = 208/208/0%, min/avg/max/std-dev = 0.301/1.791/8.044/1.092

Now that your cluster network is up and running, you can finally build your cluster. Up to this point, you have been entering identical commands into a SSH sessions. At this point, you can stop using the multi-exec feature of your SSH client.

First, create the initial cluster node on Prox1, like so:

root@prox1:~# pvecm create TestCluster --ring0_addr --bindnet0_addr

Then join Prox2 to the new cluster:

root@prox2:~# pvecm add --ring0_addr

Followed by Prox3:

root@prox3:~# pvecm add --ring0_addr

One final configuration on Prox1 is to set the third network interface as the dedicated migration network by updating the datacenter.cfg file, like so:

root@prox1:~# nano /etc/pve/datacenter.cfg

keyboard: en-us
migration: secure,network=

Now that the cluster is set up, you can log out of your SSH sessions and switch to the web GUI. When you open the web GUI for Prox1 ( and you should see all 3 nodes in your TestCluster:

Now you can manage all of your PVE Hosts from one graphical interface. You can also do cool shit like migrating VMs from one host to another, but before we can do that we need to set up some PVEVMs. There are more things to set up, but to see them in action, we need to build a couple of PVEVMS to work with, which I will cover in the next installment: Building PVE Containers.

Building a Proxmox Test Cluster in VirtualBox Part 2: Configuring the Hosts

In the last installment of this series, I discussed setting up the Proxmox VE hosts in VirtualBox. At this stage in the exercise there should be 3 VirtualBox VMs (VBVMs) running, in headless mode. These VBVMs should be running Proxmox VE, ready to host their own VMs (PVEVMs).

Before you can set up the cluster, storage replication, and high availability, you need to do a bit of housekeeping on your hosts. In this post, I will go over those steps making sure that the hosts are up to date OS wise and that your storage is properly configured for later use. Most of these steps can be accomplished via the Web UI, but using SSH will be faster and more accurate. Especially when you use an SSH client like SuperPuTTY or MobaXTerm that lets you type and paste into multiple terminals at the same time.

Log in as root@ip-address for each PVE node. In the previous post, the IPs I chose were,, and

I don’t want to bog this post down with a bunch of Stupid SSH Tricks, so just spend a few minutes getting acquainted with MobaXTerm and thank me later. The examples below will work in a single SSH session, but you will have to paste them into 3 different windows like a peasant, instead of feeling like some kind of superhacker:

Step 1 – Fix The Subscription Thing

No, not the nag screen that pops up when you log into the web UI, I mean the errors that you get when you try to update a PVE host with the enterprise repos enabled.

All you have to do is modify a secondary sources.list file. Open it with your editor, comment out the first line and add the second line:

nano  /etc/apt/sources.list.d/pve-enterprise.list

# old and busted
#deb stretch pve-enterprise

# new hotness
deb stretch pve-no-subscription

Save the file, and run your updates:

apt-get update; apt-get -y upgrade

While you are logged in to all 3 hosts, you might as well update the list of available Linux Container templates:

pveam update

Finally, if you set up your virtual disk files correctly according to the last post, you can set up your ZFS disk pool:

  1. List your available disks, hopefully you see two 64GB volumes that aren’t in use on /dev/sdb and /dev/sdc:
    root@prox1:~# lsblk
    sda                  8:0    0   32G  0 disk
    ├─sda1               8:1    0 1007K  0 part
    ├─sda2               8:2    0  512M  0 part
    └─sda3               8:3    0 31.5G  0 part
      ├─pve-swap       253:0    0  3.9G  0 lvm  [SWAP]
      ├─pve-root       253:1    0  7.8G  0 lvm  /
      ├─pve-data_tmeta 253:2    0    1G  0 lvm
      │ └─pve-data     253:4    0   14G  0 lvm
      └─pve-data_tdata 253:3    0   14G  0 lvm
        └─pve-data     253:4    0   14G  0 lvm
    sdb                  8:16   0   64G  0 disk
    sdc                  8:32   0   64G  0 disk
    sr0                 11:0    1  642M  0 rom

    Assuming you see those two disks, and they are in fact ‘sdb’ and ‘sdc’ then you can create your zpool. Which you can think of as a kind of software RAID array. There’s waaaay more to it than that, but that’s another post for another day when I know more about ZFS. For this exercise, I wanted to make a simulated RAID1 array, for “redundancy.” Set up the drives in a pool like so:

    zpool create -f -o ashift=12 z-store mirror sdb sdc
    zfs set compression=lz4 z-store
    zfs create z-store/vmdata

    In a later post we will use the zpool on each host for Storage Replication. The PVEVM files for each of your guest machines will copy themselves to the other hosts at regular intervals so when you migrate a guest from one node to another it won’t take long. This feature pairs very well with High Availability, where your cluster can determine if a node is down and spin up PVEVMs that are offline.

    Now that your disks are configured, it’s time to move on to Part 3: Building The Cluster.

Building a Proxmox Test Cluster in VirtualBox Part 1: Building The Hosts

In my last post, I set the stage for why I built the virtualbox cluster, and now it it time to discuss the how.

In researching the best way to design a network for a Proxmox cluster, the bare minimum is one network connection. This one link does the following:

  1. Hosts the web server for the management GUI – The web UI is pretty slick, and it’s great for viewing stats and checking for errors.
  2. Hosts the network bridge for guest VMs – This bridge acts as a kind of virtual network switch for your PVEVMs to talk to the outside world.
  3. Connects the host to the Internet – The PVE host needs to download security updates, Linux container templates, and install packages.

This one network interface is sort of the lifeline for a Proxmox host. It would be a shame if that link got bombed by incessant network traffic. As I discovered (the hard way) one possible source of incessant network traffic is the cluster communication heartbeat. Obviously, that traffic needs to go on its own network segment. Normally, that would be a VLAN or something, but I have some little dumb switches and the nodes have some old quad port NICs, so I wanted to just assign an IP to one port, and plug that port into a switch that is physically isolated from “my” network.

Once a cluster is working, migrating machines happens over the cluster network link. This is OK, but if your cluster network happens to suck (like when some jackass plugs it into a 10 year old switch) it can cause problems with determining if all the cluster nodes are online. So, now I want to set up an additional interface for VM migration. Migration seems like the kind of thing that happens only occasionally, but when you enable Storage Replication, the nodes are copying data every 15 minutes. Constant cluster chatter, plus constant file synchronization, has the potential to saturate a single network link. This gets even worse when you add High Availability, and there is a constant vote on if a PVEVM is up and running, followed by a scramble to get it going on another node.

So, at minimum we will need 3 network interfaces for the test cluster on VirtualBox. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time tinkering with firewall and NAS appliances, so I am leaving the “Prox management on its own network segment” and the “Dedicated network storage segment” discussions out of this exercise. I can’t decide if the management interface for my physical Proxmox cluster should sit on my internal network, or on its own segment. For this exercise, the management interface is going to sit on the internal network. My Synology NAS has 4 network ports, so I am definitely going to dedicate a network segment for the cluster to talk to the NAS, but that won’t be a part of this exercise.

[Virtual] Hardware Mode(tm)

Once you are booted up and VirtualBox is running, you can start building your VBVMs. I recommend building one VBVM to use as a template and then cloning it 3 times. I found that I kept missing important things and having to start over, so better to fix the master and then destroy the clones.

I called my master image “proxZZ” so it showed up last in the list of VBVMs. I also never actually started up the master image, so it was always powered off and the ZZ’s made it look like it was sleeping.

Create proxZZ with the following:

  • First, make sure that you have created 2 additional Host Only Network Adapters in VirtualBox. In this exercise you will only use two, but it can get confusing when you are trying to match en0s9 to something, so do yourself a favor and make three. Make sure to disable the DHCP server on both adapters.
  • Create a new virtual machine with the following characteristics :
    1. Name: ProxZZ
    2. Type: Linux
    3. Version: Debian 64bit (Proxmox is Debian under the hood.)
    4. Memory Size: 2048MB
    5. Hard drive: dynamically allocated, 32GB in size.
  • Make sure that you have created 3 total virtual hard disks as follows:
    1. SATA0: 32GB. This will be your boot drive and system disk. This is where Proxmox PVE will be installed. Static disks are supposed to be faster, but this isn’t even remotely about speed. My laptop has a 240gb SSD, so I don’t have a ton of space to waste.
    2. SATA1: 64GB, dynamically allocated. This will be one of your ZFS volumes.
    3. SATA2: 64GB, dynamically allocated. This will be your other ZFS volume. Together they will make a RAID1 array.
  • WHile you are in the storage tab, make sure to mount the Proxmox installer ISO
  • Make sure that you have created 3 network interfaces as follows:
    1. Adapter 1: Bridged Network – this will be your management interface.
    2. Adapter 2: Host Only Network Adapter #2 – this will be your cluster interface.
    3. Adapter 3: Host Only Network Adapter #3 – this will be your VM migration interface.
    4. You may be tempted to do something clever like unplugging virtual cables or something. Don’t. You will be cloning this machine in a minute and you will have a hard time keeping all of this straight.
  • Before you finish, make sure that the machine is set to boot from the hard drive first, followed by the CD/Optical drive. This seems stupid, but you will be booting these things in headless mode, and forgetting to eject the virtual CD rom is super annoying. So fix it here and stop being bothered with it.

When it’s done, it should look something like this:

Once you are sure your source VM is in good shape, make 3 clones of it. Don’t install Proxmox yet. SSH keys and stuff will play a major role in this exercise later, and I am not sure if VirtualBox is smart enough to re-create them when you clone it. I ran into this a few times so just clone the powered off VBVM. I called the clones prox1, prox2, and prox3.

[Virtual] Software Mode(tm)

Now it is time to start your 3 clones. This can get pretty repetitive, especially if you start the process over a couple of times. While you will appreciate cloning the servers, there isn’t really a simple way that I have discovered to mass produce the PVE hosts. In a few iterations of this exercise, I misnamed one of the nodes (like pro1 or prx2) and it’s super annoying later when you get the cluster set up and see one of the nodes named wrong. There is a procedure to fix the node name after you build it, but seriously just take your time and pay attention.

When you first start the install you will probably see an error about KVM Virtualization not being detected. Which should be impossible, right? The PVE host is *literally* a virtual machine. This is probably VBox for Windows not passing something to PVE Linux, or VBox misidentifying your CPU. Whatever it is, this isn’t a showstopper because our test systems that will run on the PVE cluster aren’t going to be VMs, they’ll be Linux Containers, but in the interest of not making my head hurt I am still going to call them VMs. The PVE hosts are VirtualBox VMs, and the Linux Containers running on Proxmox are Proxmox VE VMs. VBVMs are VMs running under VirtualBox, PVEVMs are Linux Containers running under Proxmox VE. *whew*

As you do the install, select your 32gb boot drive and configure your IP addresses.
I went with a sequence based on the hostname:
prox1 –
prox2 –
prox3 –
Like I said before, go slowly and pay attention. This part is super repetitive and it’s easy to make a stupid mistake that you have to troubleshoot later. At some point, I guarantee that you will give up, destroy the clones, and start over 🙂

Send In The Clones

Once your hosts are installed, it’s time to shut them down and boot them again, this time in headless mode. This is where fixing the boot order on ProxZZ pays off. With all 3 VBVMs are started up, you are ready for the next stage of the exercise: installing your PVE hosts.

Adventures in Proxmox Part 2: Building a Test Cluster with Virtualbox

If you have read my previous post about my first foray into Proxmox, you know that the infrastructure of my home network is, as the Irish would say, not the best. I have been tinkering with routers and smart switches, learning about VLANs and subnets and all kinds of other things that I thought I understood, but it turns out I didn’t.

Doing stuff with server and network gear at home is a challenge because the family just doesn’t get Hardware Mode(tm). Hardware means being sequestered in the workshop, possibly interfering with our access to the Internet. I have to wait for those rare occasions when I am: 1) at home and 2) not changing diapers and 3) not asleep and 4) no one is actively using the Internet. I have been putting things in place, one piece at a time, but my progress is, well, not the best.

Part of my networking woes are design. I don’t know how to build a network for a Proxmox cluster, because I don’t know the right way to build a Proxmox cluster. I also can’t spend hours in my basement lab tinkering. I need to be upstairs with the family. So I decided to build a little portable test cluster, on my laptop, using VirtualBox.

The network design at my house looks a bit like a plate of spaghetti, with old, unmanaged switches in random spots, like meatballs. Little switches plugged into big ones. No tiers, no plan, just hearty Italian improvisimo. Last year, when I fired up two Proxmox nodes, with no consideration for what might happen… Mamma mia!It took a couple of days before the network completely crashed, and a couple of more days to figure out the problem.

The great thing about VirtualBox is that you can build Host Only Networks. A host only network behaves like a physical switch with no uplink. VirtualBox virtual machines (VMs) can talk to each other, and to the physical host without talking to the outside world. This seemed like a decent facsimile of my plan to use a small unmanaged switch to isolate cluster traffic from the rest of the network.

The other great thing about VirtualBox is that you can add lots of network interfaces to a VM in order to simulate network interactions. You can build a router using a Linux or BSD distro and use it to connect your various host only networks to a bridge into your real physical network. I tried that at first, I am not sure that it’s necessary for this exercise.

And last, but not least, VirtualBox lets you clone a VM. As in, to make a procedurally generated copy of a VM, and then start it up along side it. This is a great feature for when you are screwing up configs and installs.

It is the combination of these features that allowed me to create a little virtual lab on a PC so I could figure out how to set up all the cool stuff that Proxmox can do, and figure out what kind of network I will need for it.

Phase 1: The plan

The plan for this exercise is to figure out how to use several features of Proxmox VE. The features are as follows:

  1. Online Backup and Restore – Proxmox has the ability to take and store snapshots of VMs and containers. This is a great feature for a home lab where you are learning about systems and you are likely to make mistakes. Obviously, I use this feature all the time.
  2. Clustering – Proxmox has the ability to run multiple hosts in tandem with the ability to migrate guest VMs and Linux containers from one host to another. In theory, using a NAS as shared storage you can migrate a VM without shutting it down. Since the point of this exercise is to build Proxmox hosts and not NAS appliances, we are going to focus on offline migrations where you either suspend the host or shut it down prior to migrating.
  3. Storage Replication – Proxmox natively supports ZFS, and can use the ZFS Send and Receive commands to make regular copies of your VMs onto the other cluster nodes. Having a recent copy of the VM makes migrations go much faster, and saves you from losing more than a few minutes worth of data or configuration changes. I wish I had this feature working when I was building my Swedish Internet router.
  4. High Availability – If you have 3 or more PVE nodes in your cluster, you can set some of your VMs to automatically migrate if there is an outage on the node the VM is hosted on. The decision to migrate is based on a kind of voting system that uses a quorum to decide if a host is offline. I want to use this feature to ensure that my access devices are up and running to support my remote access shenanigans.

Phase 2: Preparation

To build the lab, you will need the following:

  1. A desktop or laptop computer with 2 or more cores and at least 8gb of RAM. You could probably pull this off with 4gb if you are patient. My laptop has an old dual core i5 and 8gb and it was pretty much maxed out the whole time, so your mileage may vary.
  2. A working OS with a web browser and SSH client. Linux would probably be best, but my laptop was running Win10pro. I recommend a tabbed SSH client capable of sending keystrokes to multiple SSH sessionsLike Moba XTerm.
  3. VirtualBox installed and running.
  4. The latest Proxmox VE ISO file.

With the plan in place, and the necessary software gathered, it’s time to proceed to Building A Proxmox Test Cluster in VirtualBox, Part 1: Building The Nodes.

Upgrading a hosted Debian 8 VM to Debian 9

A long time ago, I extolled the virtues of Cloud at Cost’s developer cloud. It’s a good tool for spinning up a box to mess with, but it’s far from being reliable enough for “production” use. What it is great for is having a box that isn’t constrained by a network (like a VM at work might be), but for which access to it may require modifications to a local firewall (like a VM at home might be), while avoiding the cost of a “real” production VM on Digital Ocean or Amazon.

Using a VM this way is a bit like building your house out of straw. It goes up fast, but it comes down fast too. So I have gotten used to setting up machines quickly and then watching them be corrupted and blowing them away.

Sometimes I do something stupid to corrupt them, sometimes they go corrupt all on their own.

The base Debian install on C@C is getting a bit long in the tooth, so part of my normal setup is now upgrading Debian 8.something all the way to Debian 9.whatever. This procedure will take a pretty long time. A long enough time that you will probably have to leave home to go to work, or vice versa. I recommend locking down SSH and then installing screen so you can attach and detach sessions that are running in the background.

Step 1 – update your sources and update your current version:

First, you should check your version of Debian, to make sure that you are on some version of Jesse, and not an earlier version for some reason:

# cat /etc/debian_version

The sources on a brand new C@C Debian 8 box are woefully out of date. Use your favorite editor (mine is nano; fight me) to edit the sources list.

# nano /etc/apt/sources.list

### Remove the entries and paste these in ####
deb jessie main
deb jessie-updates main
deb jessie/updates main

Once you have the list updated, save the file and run the upgrade scripts like so:

# apt-get update
# apt-get upgrade
# apt-get dist-upgrade

On a new install this will take a long time. Note that if you are having trouble installing screen or fail2ban, you probably have to do this step before installing them.

Step 2 – See how bad the damage is

Now we see what kind of hell we will be unleashing on this poor little machine by upgrading just about everything. First, see what packages are broken:

# dpkg -C

On a fresh debian 8 box, there shouldn’t be a lot to report. If there is you need to fix those packages. Assuming that you got no messages about messed up packages, you can see what’s been held back from upgrade like so:

# apt-mark showhold

If you got a message that packages are obsolete, you can remove them like so:

# apt-get autoremove

Hopefully you don’t have any messed up packages, and you can proceed to the next step.

Step 3 – Do the thing

Now it’s time to change the sources from Jesse to Stretch and basically do step 1 all over again.

First you update the sources.list file:

# nano /etc/apt/sources.list

### Remove the entries and paste these in ####
deb stretch main
deb stretch-updates main
deb stretch/updates main

And then tag packages to be updated:

# apt-get update

Now do a dry run to see if it will blow up or not:

# apt list --upgradable

Assuming there are no flashing red lights or whatever it’s time to pull the trigger.

Step 4 – Hold on to your butt

Once you run the next set of commands, you will be asked if you want to restart services without asking. Assuming that you are doing this in screen, you can lose your SSH connection and the process will still run. In the event of a catastrophic failure, you can probably open the console and attach to your screen session, so say yes and then buckle up.


# apt-get upgrade
# apt-get dist-upgrade

This will take a long time. Like a really long time. It’ll look cool tho. Having a command line window with text rolling by always makes me feel like Neo from the Matrix.

Step 5 – ??? Profit

Once it’s done, check the Debian version and revel in your victory:

# cat /etc/debian_version

Then check for obsolete packages, for which there will probably be a bunch:

# aptitude search '~o'

And then finally remove them all, like so:

# apt-get autoremove

Just to be safe, you should probably update and upgrade one last time:

# apt-get update
# apt-get upgrade

Step 6 – Diversify your backups

Now that you have gone through all of the difficulty of upgrading your house made of straw, it would be a shame for a big bad wolf to blow it down. For this reason, I recommend an old school Unix backup with tar, and keeping a copy of your backup on another computer. For this second part we will be using scp, and I recommend setting up SSH Keys on another Unix host. This might be a good time to set up ssh key pairs without passphrases for your root accounts to use.

The security model looks something like this:

  1. No one can log into any of the hosts via SSH as root.
  2. No one can log into any of the hosts without a private key.
  3. Your plain user account’s private key should require a passphrase.
  4. Your root password should be super strong, probably randomly generated by and stored in password manager like KeePass.
  5. If you want to scp a file as root without a passphrase, you should have logged in as a plain user with a private key with a passphrase and then used su to become root.
  6. If you can get past all those hurdles, a second public key passphrase isn’t going to protect much.

Change to the root of the file system (/) and run a giant compressed backup job of the whole filesystem (except for the giant tarball that you are dumping everything into).

# cd /
# tar -cvpzf backup.tar.gz --exclude=/backup.tar.gz --one-file-system / 

This will also take a long time, so you should seriously be using screen. Also, there is a lot of stuff in the backup that doesn’t actually need to be backed up, so you could add additional –exclude=/shit/you/dont/need statements to shrink the size of your backup file.

Once once the backup is done you can then change the name of the backup file to that of your machine name and use SCP to copy off the backup file to another Unix host. In the example below I am calling the backup randoVM. You should change the name because you may be backing up multiple VMs to the same source. I like to use my HUB VM at home because it has a lot of [virtual] disk space compared to my hosted VMs.

# mv /backup.tar.gz /ranoVM.tar.gz
# scp randoVM.tar.gz 

You can leave the big tarball on your VM’s file system, or you can delete it. There are merits to doing either. You will want to repeat this backup procedure periodically as you add features and services to the VM.

If you find yourself needing to restore the VM because you or the big bad wolf did something stupid, you can simply pull the backup down and expand it.

# cd /
# scp .
# tar -xvpzf ranoVM.tar.gz

Network File Systems and VMs: old school Unix meets the new school virtualization

I have been replacing low end servers with virtual machines for a while now, and it’s been kinda rad. In a previous post I mentioned replacing a physical server with a VM for Bittorrent. The results were fantastic.

The typical problem with BT is that it devours bandwidth and gets you busted by Hollywood. The other problem is that it also devours disk space. I solved the first problem using Swedish Internets, but my disk problem was actually exacerbated by using a VM.

In the past, I would just throw a big drive into a dinky little Atom CPU box and snarf torrents all day. When I set up my Proxmox cluster, my VMs were still using local drives. For a while, my Turnkey Linux Torrent Server VM had a 500GB virtual disk. That worked ok. I would grab videos and whatnot and copy them to my NAS for viewing, and once I seeded my torrents back 300%, I would delete them. This was fine until I set up a RetroPie and started grabbing giant ROM sets from a private tracker.

Private trackers are great for making specialized warez easy to find. The problem is that they track the ratio of what you download compared to what you upload, and grabbing too much without seeding it back is a no-no. I now find myself grabbing terabytes of stuff that I have to seed indefinitely. Time to put more disk(s) into the cluster.

I spent way too much money on my NAS to keep fretting about the hard drives on individual machines, virtual or otherwise. So the obvious choice was to toss a disk in and attach it to the VM through the network. I like using containers for Linux machines because the memory efficiency is insane. My research indicated that the best move with containers was to use CIFS. I couldn’t get that to work, so I went with the tried and true way: NFS. NFS is really the way to go for Unix to Unix file sharing. It’s fast, and fairly easy to setup. It also doesn’t seem to work with Proxmox containers, because kernel mode something or another… based on the twenty minutes I spent looking into the situation.

So I rebuilt my torrent server as a VM, and used NFS to mount a disk from my NAS like so:

In the /etc/fstab on my torrent server I added this line: /srv/storage nfs rw,async,hard,intr,noexec 0 0

Where –

  1. is the IP address of my NAS
  2. /volume2/Downloads is the NFS export of the shared folder. I have a Synology, so your server config will probably be different.
  3. /srv/storage is the folder that I want the torrent server to mount the shared folder as. On the Turnkey Torrent Server this is where Transmission BT stores its downloaded files by default.
  4. The rest of the permissions mean it’s read/write and that basically anyone can modify the contents. These are terrible permissions to use for file shares the require privacy and security. They’re fine for stolen videos and games tho.

Once that is in place, you can mount it:

mount /srv/storage

And you’re set.

Because the disk is on my NAS, I can also share it using CIFS, and mount it to my Windows machines. This is handy for when I download a weekly show, I can watch it directly from the Downloads folder and then delete it once it’s done seeding. I like doing this for programs that will end up on Netflix, where I just want to stay current, rather than hanging on to the finished program.

This worked out so well that I decided to spin up a Turnkey Linux Media Server. For this little project, I basically duplicated the steps above, using the folder I have my videos shared on. So far, I have it working for serving cartoons to my daughter’s Roku TV, and my Amazon Fire Stick. I have plans to set the Emby app up on the kid’s Amazon Fire Tablets soon, once I figure out the app situation which is probably going to involve side loading or some other kind of Android fuckitude.

Of course, my media files aren’t properly named or organized, so I will have to write a script to fix all of that 🙂

UPDATE: During the holidays, the private tracker in question did an event where you could download select ROM sets for free and get a bonus for seeding them, so the brand new disk I bought filled up and I had to buy another. I couldn’t migrate a single disk to RAID0, so I had to move the data off the disk, build the new array, and then move the data to it. An operation that took something like 36 hours for 4TB via USB 3.

Also, not being able to use NFS with a container is apparently a Proxmox limitation that has been remedied in the latest release.

Stupid SSH Tricks

I use this site for a number of reasons. One them is to keep a little diary of things that I have figured out so that I can reference them later. The problem is that those little discoveries are buried in rambling posts about why I chose to do something.

I have given 2600 talks about SSH tunnels but I really don’t have a permanent record of my various [mis]uses of SSH, so I thought I would put them all in a post for future reference. I have written about securing SSH with asymmetric encryption keys, but there are many more things that you can do with SSH.

IMPORTANT NOTE: – none of these tricks work unless your host has TCP port forwarding enabled. This option is usually enabled by default, but you should double check your /etc/ssh/sshd_config file:

nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config

Then make sure that the option is uncommented and enabled:

 AllowTcpForwarding yes

Also, if all this putty crap looks tough to do, just remember that all of this is way easier with UNIX. Particularly using the -J option for jumping SSH connections.

Dynamic Ports: slip past content filters with this one weird trick

This is the go-to use for an SSH tunnel. University and corporate networks are often overseen by petty tyrants who limit access to sites of questionable content, or sites that are prone to eating bandwidth, like social and streaming media. Ironically, most of these networks allow outbound SSH. SSH kills content filters dead.

You can create a SOCKS proxy using an SSH connection by creating a dynamic port. You can then point your browser to use your local address ( as a SOCKS proxy to smuggle all of your browser traffic thru the SSH tunnel.

I like using Firefox specifically for this task because Chrome or IE does dumb things when you mess with the proxy settings. Or rather, they did dumb things that one time I used them to tunnel 10 years ago and then decided on using FireFox. If you want to also tunnel your DNS queries, in Firefox type “about:config” in the browser bar and then find the setting “network.proxy.socks_remote_dns” and set it to “true”. There’s probably a more modern way to to that, but that’s the tried and true way. Tunneling DNS isn’t strictly necessary, but it does help you stay under the radar on a restrictive network.

It should be noted that once you tunnel your browser traffic through the tunnel, you are likely to lose access to intranet sites on your local subnet. For this and a number of other reasons, I like to run Brave (Chrome) for my normal stuff, and Firefox for the tunneled stuff. Running two browsers at the same time seems wasteful, but it saves a bunch of headaches.

On Windows, you can drop the port one of three ways:

If you are into radio buttons and text boxes, you can configure PuTTY to open one every time you connect. On the tree control to the left, click Connection -> SSH -> Tunnels. You’ll need to select dynamic and enter a source port (5555 in the picture to the right) and click ‘Add’. Your new port should appear in the list above as ‘D5555’. Be sure to go back to your session and click ‘Save’ of you want the port to be created every time you open the session. As long as you are messing with your PuTTY session, you might as well set your terminal colors to green text so you look like a real hacker.

If using the GUI makes you feel like a wimp, you can just script it with a handy batch file:

putty -D 5555

You can also feel like a real UNIX badass by copying putty.exe to c:\Windows\System32 and renaming it to ssh.exe so you can kick off your session from DOS like a real console cowboy.

OR you can dump the whole interactive shell pretense and use plink.exe to make your connection and drop your ports without the whole pesky PuTTY window getting in your way:

plink -D 5555

Plink is bascially PuTTY with no window. It functions basically the same in all other respects.

If you are using a Unix or Linux workstation, you can set up your dynamic port with a similar syntax:

ssh -C -D 5555

Note: the -C switch compresses traffic going thru the tunnel, theoretically increasing network speeds through the tunnel.

Local Ports: I heard u like shells so we tunneled SSH thru yo SSH so you can get a shell while you gettin a shell

You can use SSH to secure more than just your web browsing. You can use it to secure pretty much any TCP connection. I like using it to secure notoriously insecure VNC and X sessions.

Another use is to get around port restrictions. Some networks may allow outbound SSH, but only on port 22. Some home ISP’s get shitty about running servers on reserved ports like 22. This means you have to forward some bunk port on your home router, like 62222 to the SSH server on your home network. I used to do this when I had Time Warner cable. The problem would get worse when I was trying to connect remotely from a restrictive network that only let SSH out on port 22.

To get around this problem, I would have to SSH to a public access Unix system like the Super Dimensional Fortress on port 22 and then drop a local port that forwarded to the bunk SSH port on the IP of my home router. When I did that with different windows that had different text colors it looked like I was on CSI: Hacker Girl back tracing the killer’s IP address.

The setup is pretty much the same as for the dynamic port, only you have to specify a destination IP and port as well. The idea is to connect to a remote host that is on the other side of a restrictive firewall and using the SSH tunnel to make something accessible to your local your local network. It forwards all traffic to your local port to the remote destination thru the tunnel. In the example above it was SSH but it could be RDP or any other TCP connection. I’ll use RDP (port 3389) in the example below.

To tunnel a Microsoft Remote Desktop session through SSH using the PuTTY gui, use the tree control to the left, click Connection -> SSH -> Tunnels. You’ll need to select local and enter a source port (13389 in the picture to the right), set the destination address or host+domain name and the port ( in the picture to the right) and click ‘Add’. 13389 will be the port on your workstation that is now connected to the RDP port on the remote network (3389). Your new port should appear in the list above as ‘L13389’. Be sure to go back to your session and click ‘Save’ of you want the port to be created every time you open the session. In your RDP client, you would connect to

If you are scripting this setup, use the -L switch along with your source port, destination IP/host and the destination port. Using the scenario from above, you forward local port 13389 to port 3389 like this, where your SSH username is ‘alice’ and your home network’s dynamic DNS hostname is casa-alice.dynamic.DNS:

putty -L 13389: alice@casa-alice.dynamic.DNS

And finally, the syntax is the same with plink:

plink -L 13389: alice@casa-alice.dynamic.DNS

You can actually specify multiple local ports to remote destinations. I do this with PuTTY to get direct access to the web interface on my Proxmox cluster and to RDP to a Windows host using just the one tunnel and without having to mess with my proxy settings.

Remote Ports: SSH kills firewalls dead.

In the local port scenario, you are connecting to a remote host behind a firewall and using the SSH tunnel to make a host inside the remote firewall accessible to your local your local network. You can also do the opposite, which is to connect to a remote host outside of your firewall and use the SSH tunnel to make a host inside your local firewall accessible to either the Internet or to hosts on a remote network.

You do this by dropping a port at the other end of the tunnel. On the remote host. The obvious use is to temporarily punch a hole in the local firewall to expose an internal web server to the Internet. If the remote host that you are connecting to is directly connected to the Internet, (like a hosted VM from Cloud At Cost) you can temporarily open a port on the remote server to tunnel traffic to the web server on your internal network.

A more nefarious use for a remote port would be for a leave-behind box (formerly known as a dropbox before the term became a brand name for cloud storage) to phone home from a target network. Basically you build a cheap single board PC, like a Raspberry Pi or a plug server that you physically plug into a network that you plan on hacking testing for security holes. This approach saves a ton of time reverse engineering firewalls to gain access. There are two basic approaches, load up the box with tools and drop it, or use a minimal box as a router/pivot for tools you are running outside the target network.

To do this with the PuTTY gui, it’s basically the same as setting up a local port. Use the tree control to the left, click Connection -> SSH -> Tunnels. You’ll need to select remote and enter a source port (58080 in the picture to the right), set the destination address or host+domain name and the port ( in the picture to the right) and click ‘Add’. You also need to click the check both of the boxes next to “Local ports accept connections from other hosts” and “Remote ports do the same (SSH-2 only)”. Your new port should appear in the list above as ‘R58080:’. Be sure to go back to your session and click ‘Save’ of you want the port to be created every time you open the session.

If you are scripting this setup, use the -R switch along with your source port, destination IP/host and the destination port. Using the scenario from above, you forward remote port 58080 on to port 80 on your internal home web server with the IP like this:

putty -R 58080:

And finally, the syntax is the same with plink:

putty -R 58080:

The only gotcha with scripting your remote port drop with putty/plink is that I don’t think that there is a command line switch for enabling connections from other hosts, so you have to enable the remote port sharing on the SSH server side.

Making Local and Remote Ports Accessible to other hosts

Sharing your remote and local hosts lets you set up your SSH tunnel on one host and then connect to the tunnel from a different host.

In the case of a local port, you could initiate the SSH session on your home Linux server, and then connect to that port from your Windows workstation. This is handy if you are tunneling RDP and you don’t have PuTTY available on your Windows box. Although PuTTY is super portable so it’s dead simple to smuggle it onto the most locked down of Windows machines.

In the case of the remote port, it’s pretty much mandatory for the web server or dropped box use cases. You can still script the connection, you just have to modify your sshd_config file on your SSH server. On a Debian-esque server you do this by using sudo or su to become root and then type:

nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config

You then add the GatewayPorts option. You can put it anywhere in the file, but I prefer to keep it in the first few lines of the file where entries for port configuration are.

# What ports, IPs and protocols we listen for
Port 22
GatewayPorts yes

Then save the file and restart SSH:

systemctl restart ssh

Or on Debian 9, you use ‘service’ to restart SSH:

service ssh restart

I am sure that this option is a big security risk, so I recommend a cheap low powered VM dedicated specifically to bouncing SSH connections. I also recommend securing it with SSH keys. If you are looking to script SSH connections that are secured with SSH keys, I recommend not setting a passphrase on your private key. You can include your private key on the putty/plink commandline with the -i switch:

putty -L 13389: alice@casa-alice.dynamic.DNS -i c:\path\to\your\key\key.ppk

Turnkey Torrents and Swedish Internets

A few months ago, I wrote about using a Turnkey Linux OpenVPN appliance to route network traffic thru Sweden. Since that time I have gotten my BitTorrent machine running. The other post was mostly about getting the VPN tunneling and routing to work. This post will mostly be about setting up the torrent server.

The Turnkey Torrent Server is neat because it’s a minimal Debian machine with a pre-configured Transmission BitTorrent Client, a web interface for managing BitTorrent, a working Samba server, and a webDAV client so you can use a browser to download files. Basically, you use the web interface to grab things, the Samba server to makes them accessible to your media players on your internal network, and webDAV makes the files accessible to the rest of the world, assuming you have the right ports forwarded. My preferred method for watching torrented videos is on a PC plugged into a TV running VLC Media player controlled with a wireless keyboard. I know I should be using Plex and shit like that, but I’m old school.

The Swedish Connection
For some of my friends who aren’t pirates (especially the friends that are into British TV) I am like their coke dealer except I deal in movies and TV shows. That means that sometimes I get asked to find things when I’m not at home. Like a third of my remote access shenanigans, A.K.A. reverse telecommuting, is so that I can pull up BitTorrent and snarf shit for friends and relatives when I’m not at home. Being able to expose the uTorrent remote interface to the web was great for letting my more technical non-hacker friends grab torrents without any assistance from me.

My VPN provider gives me the option of forwarding ports. When I was running uTorrent on a dedicated Windows machine, those forwarded ports were easy to configure. I would just set them up on the VPN site and map them to the ports I configured in uTorrent. One was for BitTorrent transfers to make sure that my ratios reported correctly on private trackers. The other was for the uTorrent web interface. For a long time I ran Windows for torrenting because I used PeerBlock to help me fly under the radar. Times change tho. Real time block lists is old and busted. VPNs is the new hotness. Unfortunately, with this VPN router setup it messes up forwarding ports. When I set up port forwarding on the VPN provider side, the forwarded ports hit the doorway server rather than the torrent server, so that has to be fixed with more IPTables kung fu on the doorway server.

I know I said that I wasn’t going to write anymore about the doorway server, but I lied. I needed to configure the doorway server to open those ports and then forward them to the torrent server. Let’s assume that my internal network is a subnet (a class A block, a range of addresses from to with a default gateway of All of my traffic goes through my local router and hits the Internet from my ISP, in the US. If a device asks for an IP via DHCP, this is the network configuration that it will receive, along with red-blooded American Internets. Here is an awful network diagram because why not?

The doorway server has a static IP of and it’s configured to route all of its traffic through the VPN tunnel to Sweden. Any device that is configured to have a default gateway of will also hit the Internet via the tunnel to Sweden, thereby receiving Swedish Internets. At this point, all the configuration is done, and your torrent server will work, but there won’t be any ports forwarded to it, which is lame. No forwarded ports is especially lame when you are using private trackers because it can really mess with your ratios. Now, you could just open a port on your firewall for the web interface on the American side, but that’s also pretty lame. If you want to use your torrent server, you should strictly be using Swedish Internets.

Welcome to Swedish Internet
To forward those ports, first set them up in Transmission, then with your VPN provider. The web interface port [12322] is already configured for you by Turnkey Linux. You can set the other port in the Preferences->Network->Listening Port blank. Once the entry points and the end points are configured, it’s time to do more iptables kung fu.

Let’s assume the following:

  1. The web interface port for Transmission is 12322.
  2. The listening port in Transmission to 9001.
  3. The static IP for your torrent server is
  4. The doorway server IP is
  5. The forwarding ports you were able to get from your VPN provider are 9000 and 9001.
  6. You want to use port 9000 on the VPN side for the Transmission web interface.
  7. You wand to use port 9001 on the VPN side for the Transmission listening port.

What needs to happen is for the VPN tunnel interface (tun0) to listen on ports 9000 and 9001, then forward traffic on those ports to Then, you want any traffic on those same ports that comes from the doorway’s internal network interface (eth0) to be modified so that it doesn’t look like it came from the tunnel interface. This is super important for TCP handshakes.

First create your rules for accepting/forwarding connections on the VPN side:

iptables -A FORWARD -i tun0 -o eth0 -p tcp --syn --dport 9000 -m conntrack --ctstate NEW -j ACCEPT
iptables -A FORWARD -i tun0 -o eth0 -p udp --dport 9001 -m conntrack --ctstate NEW -j ACCEPT

This was probably configured fine in the doorway server post, but this specifically allows all the traffic that passes between your VPN and the local network connections once a connection is establshed:

iptables -A FORWARD -i eth0 -o tun0 -m conntrack --ctstate ESTABLISHED,RELATED -j ACCEPT
iptables -A FORWARD -i tun0 -o eth0 -m conntrack --ctstate ESTABLISHED,RELATED -j ACCEPT

Now add the rules to rewrite packets destined to the web interface and then rewrite the responses:

iptables -t nat -A PREROUTING -i tun0 -p tcp --dport 9000 -j DNAT --to-destination
iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -o eth0 -p tcp --dport 9000 -d -j SNAT --to-source

Add the rules to rewrite all the BitTorrent packets, including responses:

iptables -t nat -A PREROUTING -i tun0 -p udp --dport 9001 -j DNAT --to-destination
iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -o eth0 -p udp --dport 9001 -d -j SNAT --to-source

All the strict rewriting probably isn’t a big deal for the BitTorrent traffic because it’s UDP, and UDP don’t give a fuck.

If it’s working, point your browser to https://the-ip-address-of-your-vpn-server:9000 and you should be prompted to log in to the web interface. Once you’re sure it’s all good, then it’s time to save your working iptables config:

iptables-save | tee /etc/iptables.up.rules

Make sure that your rules work well after you reboot your VM. And then run your backups to make sure that they have your latest config because there’s nothing worse than trying to piece all this crap together for the third time.

You can skip having to remember the IP by registering it as a subdomain somewhere, either with a dynamic DNS service, or with the registrar for a domain that you own.

In the unlikely event that I made this, or any other technical thing look easy, rest assured that it took me at least a couple hours. Also, I had it working a months ago, but I forgot to update my snapshot and had to redo it again because I am not a smart man. Then during this second go around I had to restore the VM from a backup because iptables just isn’t my bag. Thankfully BitTorrent is my bag. Happy pirating!

Adventures in Proxmox Part 1: Words About Boxes

The Proxmox logo
It’s been a few weeks since I exorcised HyperV from my life like an evil demon. I have replaced it with Proxmox and so far it’s been mostly great. With a couple of serious caveats.

Plastic dinosaurs betraying each other.My transition to Proxmox has been a rather involved, not so much because Proxmox is hard to set up (it’s not), but because I am tired of slapping old junky hardware together and hoping it doesn’t die, and then scrambling to fix it when it inevitably betrays me. Unlike most dudes with home servers and labs, most of my acquisitions were made years ago to support an MMO habit. Specifically multiboxing.

PC case made from peg board.

I call them “computers” because they are computers in the sense that they have CPU’s, RAM, and HDD’s. But they were low-budget things when they were assembled years ago. The upgrade path works something like this:

  1. A computer begins its life as my main gaming machine that will run my favorite game at a satisfactory speed and resolution.
  2. Then I find a new favorite and upgrade the gaming machine’s guts to run the new game.
  3. The old gaming guts get transplanted in to my “server” where they are *barely* able to run a few VMs and things like that.
  4. The final stage is when the server guts are no longer up to the task of running VMs. I then add a few old network cards and the “server” then becomes my “router”.
  5. The old router guts then get donated somewhere. They’re not really useful to anyone, so they probably get shipped to Africa where they get mined for gold and copper by children at gunpoint.

Breaking the [Re]Cycle of Violence
Wall-E holding a pile of scrapIn the years since then, I have taken to playing epic single player games like Skyrim. These games really only need one machine. The rest of the gear I used to run little “servers” for one thing or another, which I have slowly replaced with VMs. The problem with using old junky computers as servers is when you run them balls out 24 hours a day. In my search for a replacement VM host, I spent a lot of time researching off-lease servers. My goal was to have 8 cores and 32gb of ram, with the ability to live migrate VMs to another [lesser] host in an emergency, something that my HyperV setup was lacking. After a lot of consternation, I decided that since a single VM would never actually use more than 4 cores or 8gb of RAM, why not use 2 [or more] desktops?

A room full of old PCs.I found some old off-lease quad-core Intel desktops for about the same retail price as a low end server processor. I used the RAM from my older gaming machines/VMservers and some hard drives from some old file servers to build out my “new” Proxmox cluster. With two quad core desktops running maxed-out memory(16GB each) I managed to satisfy my need to be like the other kids with “8 cores with 32GB of RAM” for about the price of an off-lease server chassis, with the added bonus having a cluster. The goal is to add nodes to grow the cluster to 16 cores and 64GB of RAM, while also adding clustered storage via Ceph to make use of old hard drives from file servers.

New hot servers is old and busted. Old busted clusters is the new hotness.
For me, the clustered model is better, in my opinion for a number of reasons. It mostly has to do with modularity:

  1. You can build out your infrastructure one paycheck at a time. Part of the problem with off-lease servers is that while the chassis is cheap, the components that go in it are expensive and/or hard to find. The deal with servers is that the cost of the motherboard and CPU are nothing compared to what you will spend on RAM. I was looking for something I could start using for less than $200, and a refurb desktop and RAM from old gaming boxes got me going at that price point.
  2. Desktops stack on top of each other for free. I don’t have any server or telco racks, so in addition buying ECC RAM, I would also be buying a rack, rails, and all of the other stuff that goes with them. This would easily eat up my $200 startup budget before I powered on a single box.
  3. Moar boxes == moar resiliency. My gear at home is part lab and part production environment. Yes, I use it to hack stuff and learn new things, but my family also uses it in their daily lives. Network shares stream cartoons; VOIP phones connect friends; keeping these things going is probably as important as my day job. Being able to try bold and stupid things without endangering the “Family Infrastructure” is important to my quality of life.
  4. Scaling out is probably more important than Scaling Up. A typical I.T. Department/Data Center response to capacity problems is to regularly stand up newer/more powerful [expensive] gear and then dump the old stuff. I guess this is a good approach if you have the budget. It certainly has created a market for used gear. I don’t have any budget to speak of, so I want to be able to increase capacity by adding servers while keeping the existing ones in play. There are still cost concerns with this approach, mainly with network equipment. In addition to upping my server game, I am going to have to up my networking game as well.

It works…ish

I have my two cluster nodes *kind of* working, with most of my Linux guests running as containers, which is very memory and CPU efficient. I am running two Windows VMs, PORTAL for remote access and dynamic DNS, and MOONBASE which I am using for tasks that need wired network access. All of my desktops are currently in pieces, having donated their guts to the “Cluster Collective” so I am mostly using my laptop for everything. I am not really in the habit of plugging it in to Ethernet, or leaving it turned on, so for now I am using a VM in place of my desktop for long running tasks like file transfers.

I say that the cluster is only kind of working because my home network isn’t very well segmented and the cluster heartbeat traffic straight up murders my little switch. It took me a while to figure out the problem. So the cluster works for a few days and then my core switch chokes and passes out, knocking pretty much everything offline. For now, the “cluster” is disabled and the second node is powered off until my new network cards arrive and I can configure separate networks for the clustering, storage, and the VMs.

Coming soon: Adventures in Proxmox part 2: You don’t know shit about networking.