How I fell into the self-organizing rabbit hole in 2021


Source: Microsoft

In some corners of the internet, self-hosting is a big deal. There’s a huge community in places like Reddit, some great podcasts, and so many helpful resources to learn from.

But what does self-hosting actually mean?

Put simply, it’s about hosting your own services instead of relying on a public cloud wherever it’s coming from. It could be file storage, it could be a media server, home automation system, security cameras, whatever, there is probably someone out there who has at least tried to host it themselves.

I was very happy with my little home setup and the journey I took myself on. I’ve started learning some skills along the way, and as we move into 2022, here’s a little bit about the what, the why, and what’s to come.

Why even bother hosting yourself?

Homer dashboardSource: Windows headquarters

Public cloud services are extremely convenient. That’s why they’re so popular. And I’m not saying services like OneDrive are bad; far from it. But for reasons I don’t fully understand (maybe older and angrier, maybe lockdown boredom), by 2021 I began to be more interested in which companies had access to my data.

Some of it revolves around data protection, but I also become skeptical that if I have too many services I have to rely on a few large cloud providers. The recent AWS outages serve as a clear reminder that if something goes wrong, I will not be able to properly access my doorbell. That seems like a ridiculous problem.

So I started thinking about what I could do to both look after my data, and the rabbit hole then led to self-hosting. I haven’t replaced everything that relies on someone else’s infrastructure, but I’ve made a start. And maybe I’m a little surprised at how enjoyable the whole process was.

Learn new skills on the side

BashtopSource: Windows headquarters

One of the best parts of this whole process was learning some new skills. I’m hardly an expert on any of them, but without digging into self-hosting I probably would never have touched any of it.

I’ve been learning to use Linux since the first big lockdown in 2020 when I got bored and thought I’d give it a try. But that’s always been at the desktop level like Windows 11. By self-hosting, I’ve started dabbling in the world of servers and Docker containers as I learned more about tools like SSH and even networking basics.

I love learning new IT skills, but I’ve definitely gotten a little lazy over the past few years. For the past few months I’ve been looking at Ubuntu Server, Docker, Portainer, creating my own configuration files, and the wonders of VLANs until I got down to self-hosting. And the great thing is that it really is an endless rabbit hole. One thing leads to another, what leads to another, and so on.

Even though I’d spent more time using Linux a year ago, particularly WSL on Windows 10, the command line still put me off. In 2022, I find that working in a terminal is strangely satisfying.

What I actually host myself

DoormanSource: Windows headquarters

So, for the better: What do I actually host myself? I’ve tried a number of different apps and services on multiple devices. I started with my Synology NAS before branching out a little and repurposing old hardware. I have a 2012 Apple Mac Mini that is now useless as a Mac, but it’s a fantastic little server box. My old Raspberry Pi 3 was found in a drawer and it works too.

The main service I fell in love with this year is AdGuard Home. I’ve used Pi-Hole in the past but never really got stuck with it. As good as it is, my inner newbie is much better at home with AdGuard Home’s sleek user interface and more beginner-friendly approach. It’s running on my Raspberry Pi right now, although it may be postponed in 2022 when I finally get the right fiber.

Adguard home pageSource: Windows headquarters

A rudimentary local file server also runs on the same Raspberry Pi. It’s a simple samba setup that exists mainly because I read a blog post about it and thought I’d give it a try. It’s set up with a small USB flash drive connected to the Pi, and I use it to share files on my home network that I don’t need long-term or to sync across all of my devices. It probably won’t be long now, but it came in handy.

Most of the load is currently on the old Mac Mini. Of course, it doesn’t run on macOS, but rather using Ubuntu Server 20.04 LTS. Even for a computer that is nearly 10 years old, Ubuntu Server is extremely light without the burden of a desktop environment. And currently everything lives here in a Docker container that is managed via the Portainer GUI.

Portainer is especially good for Docker newbies like me as it eliminates the need to process Docker Compose files directly. You can either use one of the pre-selected app templates or just point to the Docker image for the service you want to set up and leave the rest to it. All that is required to access the apps is a web browser.

Currently hosted there:

  • Podgrave – A local podcast server that enables streaming or downloads and can generate OPML or custom RSS feeds for use on other devices.
  • Whoogle – Google search, but without Google’s crap. The search results are identical, but faster and much cleaner without ads and trackers.
  • Libreddit – A tracker-free, extremely fast front end for Reddit. You can’t log in but if you never comment, like me, the experience is pretty much perfect.
  • YouTube DL – A GUI for the popular YouTube DL command line app.
  • Homer – A customizable dashboard for accessing self-hosted services and more.
  • guacamole – A clientless remote access gateway that allows easy SSH access to my various devices through a web browser.

And on my Synology NAS, thanks to HDHomeRun integration, I finally got around to setting up a Plex server with live TV and DVR again. I have also used Nextcloud in the last few months, set up on a DigitalOcean remote instance. Nextcloud is really fantastic and I use it for a number of purposes including syncing offline copies of my work for the site, managing calendars and emails, file backups and syncing, and even handling RSS.

All of the services I host myself, with the exception of Plex, are free and open source, which was another priority in 2021.

2022: Homelab

Mac MiniSource: Windows headquarters

To say that I am addicted to self-hosting is an understatement. It’s addicting, and much like building a gaming PC, there’s always the “next step” with hardware and software.

In 2022, I’m determined to continue what I have learned and build on it, developing more skills and trying things out that I would previously have run away from at full speed like Forrest Gump. So I dive into the world of homelabs that comes with self-hosting.

A homelab can be a giant server rack with thousands of dollars in equipment, or it can be a Raspberry Pi. And everything in between. Most of the services I’ve used are incredibly lightweight, which means you really don’t have to spend money on new, expensive hardware.

ESXiSource: VMWare

But I’m looking for expansion. On the list of things to learn in 2022 is virtualization with Proxmox / VMWare ESXi, Kubernetes and (finally) learning to program, well, something. I’m planning on buying another 2012 Mac Mini or something similarly old, small, and cheap to wrap it up maybe, and at least a Raspberry Pi 4.

I have already built a cheap home server rack out of an IKEA lacquer table of all places (post will be added in the new year) and grabbed some ex-company network devices for Peanuts to set up a fully wired network in my office the home WiFi.

We have no idea if 2022 is going to be better or worse than 2020 and 2021 at this point, but I’m getting into the game with a new hobby and a pretty extensive to-do list.


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