What is a Homelab and Why do I Need One?
I’ve blogged about EPM for a few years now but I have recently decided to try to spend some more time dedicated to just homelab content. So…what on earth is a homelab and why on earth do I need one? I’ll try to answer this question and provide some resources for those of you interested in starting down the homelab path and wondering where to start. I’ll approach this question from two different perspectives: EPM people and non-EPM people. This should allow you to skip sections of content that just don’t apply to you.
Introduction to EPM
With my recent uptick in content related to homelabs, there is actually a large portion of my readers that wonder…what is EPM? Well, for starters, EPM is my day job. EPM stands for Enterprise Performance Managements. EPM is essentially an industry acronym use by Oracle and others to define a segment of their software products. Oracle has their Hyperion products, OneStream has their CPM (Corporate Performance Management) products, and a variety of other vendors out there like Anaplan and Host Analytics are in this space.
So what is this space? Essentially, medium to large companies have a set of financial activities that they perform each month, quarter and year. Some of those activities are more accounting specifics, like consolidating hundreds of legal entities into a single set of reporting. Others are more finance driver like putting together a budget or forecast for the month or year. The list of buzz-words goes on, but basically EPM includes Financial Consolidation, Planning, Budget, Account Reconciliation, Profitability and Cost Management, Strategic Modeling (long range planning), and financial and sometimes operation reporting.
Traditionally, EPM has been reserved for companies generally in or around the Fortune 1000 list. Companies whose revenues are generally in the billions of dollars or at the very least hundreds of millions of dollars. Why? Because the software has been very expensive and the implementations aren’t exactly cheap. These days, the landscape has changed a bit. Companies of all sizes can now start to afford many of the cloud-based products that require shorter and less expensive implementations.
The larger companies are of course still using it, but the installed base of Oracle’s Hyperion Planning has more than doubled since it became a cloud-based product named PBCS (Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service). This of course shouldn’t be a shock given the price difference. Hyperion Planning is $3500 per user initially plus 20% per year forever. In contrast, the cloud-based product (PBCS), which boasts considerably more functionality starts at only $120 per user per month. So, with the price of the cloud being so attractive, why would I need a homelab? We’ll get to that…
Introduction to a Homelab
So what exactly is a homelab? A homelab, in the simplest terms is a sandbox that you can learn and play with new or unfamiliar technologies. They can be as simple as a set of VM’s on an old PC or laptop to as complex as my lab (or even more complex than my lab in some cases). Some people will use a lab to learn things for a certification around networking or virtualization. Some people will use their homelab to try out a variety of new software options that they are interested in. Others will be more interested in the hardware aspect of things like say, networking and switches. Still others may just be toying around with cryptocurrency. At the end of the day, a homelab is whatever you want it to be.
Why do I need one (EPM)?
As the EPM industry continues to change with the major push to the cloud, I often hear that I don’t need an on-premise environment any more. While the cloud has certainly changes the landscape, I believe that having an on-premise environment is still critical. Why? Because the cloud provides us so much and so little all at the same time. I get all of my infrastructure and patches…and zero access to things we look at all the time when implementing on-premise software. Things like the outline file. Here are a few use-cases that I’ve run into in my implementations of various Oracle EPM Cloud products.
Dynamic Smart Lists in PBCS
We implemented the dynamic smart-lists based on dimension in a PBCS implementation. We discovered that when you migrate the application, the HSP_OJECT ID’s change. Because the alias table where these ID’s exist is hidden by PBCS, we had no idea that when we migrated, it didn’t take that into account. Instead, our business rules based on the dyanmic smart lists just started producing incorrect results. Once we took at look at the outline file, we were able to determine the issue and build a work-around.
This one may seem basic, but I’ve had it bite at least three very seasoned consultants. Basically if you have a member shared between plan types, that member will be dynamic with a system generated formula in the non-primary plan types. The way you turn this off is to add a UDA to the member (HSP_NOLINK). The problem is that you can’t see the formula, so if you just look at the member in PBCS, it is set to stored and there is no formula. But, if you download and open the outline, you will see the formula on the member and setting of dynamic. Then you remember that you forgot to add the UDA and move on with your day. Without the outline, you could spend hours trying to fix a very simple mistake.
Yes, because. Because many of us just want to play with the software and push it to its limits. The cloud doesn’t let us do that as we don’t really have a place to play. And even when we do play, we can’t really see whats going on. So you need a homelab as an EPM professional…because. Be sure to use this reason with your significant other should they question the need. Hopefully it works better for you than it did for me.
Why do I need one (Non-EPM)?
If you are a non-EPM person, you are likely just interested in learning new things. I won’t dwell on this, because most of you already want a homelab if you are reading this post anyway! So what does a non-EPM person generally do with a homelab:
- Network Learning (CCNA, etc.)
- Virtualization Learning (vmWare, etc.)
- General IT-related administration activities
- Learning new software
- Development of new software
- This list can go on and on
How do I start building a homelab?
Where you start will all depend on your specific needs. When I started this 20 years ago, virtualization wasn’t even a thing, so I just had a few physical boxes, mostly older system from upgrades of my gaming computer. Now…it may be as simple as a memory upgrade to your existing desktop so that you can use a desktop-based virtualization. For those of you that are looking to build or buy a separate box, I’ll have an updated series on this topic coming over the summer. In the meantime, you can check out my older series:
- Introduction and Choosing Your Hypervisor
- Choosing Your Processor
- Choosing Your Motherboard
- Choosing Your Memory
- Choosing Your Chassis and Power Supply
- Choosing Your Storage
- Putting It All Together
- The Build and Installing ESXi
I’ve found that there are a lot of great resources in the form of communities for homelabs. Here are a couple of my favorites:
- https://www.reddit.com/r/homelab/ (120,000+ subscribers with massive amounts of information)
- https://www.reddit.com/r/homelabsales/ (11,000+ subscribers looking to buy and sell hardware…a great place to find a server or components to get started)
- https://www.reddit.com/r/homelab/wiki/index (the reddit homelab wiki is a great place to find information about getting started)
- https://www.servethehome.com/ (A great site that has regular articles on new technology and old technology on the secondary market…ebay and such)
- https://forums.servethehome.com/index.php (The community for the previously mentioned servethehome website. 15,000+ members with a lot of information sharing and gear for sale)
- https://www.labgopher.com/ (a site to help you find gear on ebay without just searching ebay for specific gear)
- http://www.ebay.com (a place to get anything you ever wanted for your homelab…and life in general of course)
Hopefully this was a helpful introduction for those of you considering a homelab. Good luck on your quest and be very careful as homelabbing can be addictive. You could end up with something like this: