personal infrastructure

In 2023, I semi-retired my blog in favor of a wiki. The contents of this page probably exist there, with newer content.

tldr - docker compose, isolated servers

Here I describe how my personal computing infrastructure is set up. These aren’t rules or a framework or anything - just a description of how things have ended up.

I thought this was going to be a fairly short piece, since all of this is contained in my head, but it ended up quite long.


Seems like an odd place to start, but security considerations have dictated the biggest architectural decisions. My view of security contextualizes the rest of the setup.

I have some basic assumptions about software security, main ones relevant to my infra include:

Every application is vulnerable

Every time you stand up a service that can be reached from the public internet you’re adding a huge amount of area to your attack surface. Even a single modern web application relies on so much software that it’s reasonable to assume there’s a security flaw in there somewhere. Stand up 10 of those and your surface area is quite large. For that reason I assume everything I run is vulnerable and can be hacked.

Docker based isolation isn’t reliable

I use docker for everything, mostly for its ability to isolate software and the filesystem from the host. That said, I assume that the container sandbox can be broken out of. I choose to make the assumption that isolation begins at the VM level. VM sandbox escapes aren’t in my threat model.

Can’t break what you can’t touch

Or, network isolation is a strong security measure.

All my compute infrastructure is organized into two separate spheres, public and private. The idea is that if my public infrastructure gets completely owned and everything in that sphere is exfiltrated or wiped, that would be annoying but would not be a disaster. I also make an effort to ensure that the public sphere is properly isolated, meaning you can’t get to the private sphere from the public sphere.

Whenever I’m setting up a new piece of infrastructure, the first thing I think about is what sphere it goes in.


There are other concerns but that’s the general thought process.



For the public sphere, I use cloud-based Linux VMs from one of the affordable providers. I run most of my stuff on a single shared CPU VM with 4 CPU cores, 8gb of RAM and 50gb of disk space (storage is a later section).

For things that need to be exposed in the internet I think cloud is the best choice. From a network isolation perspective serving things from your home means untrusted traffic will be flowing within your home network. Apart from security concerns there are other problems:

The main advantages of hosting at home are that it’s cheaper over the long run, you aren’t subject to cloud provider TOS and pricing changes, and are unaffected by cloud outages. The overall balance is in cloud’s favor for services that need to be served to the public internet.


For my private sphere, I have a home server. This a normal mATX desktop computer although the board is a server board and supports ECC memory, which I use.

Build details:


photo of home server

8oz Red Bull for scale.


On my home server, I run Proxmox. I don’t have many VMs on it - in fact, like the public sphere, most of my services run on a single VM. Some of the reasons I use a hypervisor:

Of course, you don’t really need a dedicated hypervisor to do any of this; you can do it all with KVM on a traditional bare metal server OS. But it’s much easier and more convenient in a hypervisor and in practice, there’s very few downsides to the hypervisor.

The main downside is that hardware passthrough can be tricky. I pass through the RTX 3070 to the VM, and then into docker containers, in order to get accelerated encoding for media related services. KVM GPU passthrough is annoying.

The OS that applications run on (ignoring Docker) is always a recent Ubuntu Server LTS with automatic security upgrades enabled. I find the Debian-based platform familiar, comfortable and stable. Ubuntu Server also has a very wide install base which means most problems can be resolved with a web search. This helps keep the maintenance overhead as low as possible. I enjoy building my infrastructure, but I do rely on it and dislike being forced to fix it, so choices in system software tend to be on the less exotic side.


For public infrastructure I use cloud storage as detailed in the next section.

For private infrastructure I have an 8x4tb HDD array.

photo of home server drive racks

These drives form a ZFS pool-of-mirrors with two hot swappable spares:

  pool: tank
	NAME                        STATE     READ WRITE CKSUM
	tank                        ONLINE       0     0     0
	  mirror-0                  ONLINE       0     0     0
	    wwn-0x50014ee266927a7d  ONLINE       0     0     0
	    wwn-0x5000cca22bca7cbb  ONLINE       0     0     0
	  mirror-1                  ONLINE       0     0     0
	    wwn-0x50014ee2113d2fa4  ONLINE       0     0     0
	    wwn-0x5000cca22be46d4b  ONLINE       0     0     0
	  mirror-2                  ONLINE       0     0     0
	    wwn-0x50014ee2bbe84236  ONLINE       0     0     0
	    wwn-0x5000cca23de171c4  ONLINE       0     0     0
	  wwn-0x50014ee2bf43a534    AVAIL
	  wwn-0x50014ee2bbe843cf    AVAIL

Total usable storage space is 12tb. One disk in each mirror pair can fail with no data loss.

I carve out virtual disks from this pool and attach them to VMs as needed.


Over time I’ve gravitated towards


Most of the self-hostable software I use is web based. Containers offer a way to run applications without contaminating the host, with (usually) easy upgrades and good lifecycle management and without reliance on the OS packaging system, which makes them platform agnostic. Serving everything via nginx reverse proxy simplifies web server configuration and simplifies TLS. nginx has great performance and security and since nginx reverse proxy to docker is a popular choice now, many applications now provide example nginx reverse proxy configurations, making configuration even easier.

Docker Compose

Every single application I run is a docker compose project. Docker compose makes it very easy to manage complicated multipart services as a unit. Many of the applications I run are complex web applications with an application component, a separate database (eg mysql or postgres), and sometimes additional components. Putting everything in docker compose means that bringing up the simplest to the most complicated of these applications is done the exact same way:

docker compose up

All dependencies, environment variables, mounts, port bindings, application settings etc. are all completely specified either in the docker-compose.yml file, the .env file, and the persistent data files on disk, and all of these files are contained in a single directory.

Disk layout

On my machines, I have a directory called apps in my home directory. Within this apps directory, there is a directory for each application I run, and within that directory there is a docker-compose.yml, .env and sometimes data files.

The entire state of any application is contained within that application’s directory. As long as I have that directory, I can bring the application back up with its previous state even if the host is completely destroyed.

On disk, the situation looks like this:

qlyoung@private ~> tree --prune -P "docker-compose.yml" -L 3 apps
├── calibre-web
│   └── docker-compose.yml
├── gitea
│   └── docker-compose.yml
├── healthchecks
│   └── docker-compose.yml
├── invidious
│   └── docker-compose.yml
├── jellyfin
│   └── docker-compose.yml
├── linkding
│   └── docker-compose.yml
├── miniflux
│   └── docker-compose.yml
├── nextcloud
│   └── docker-compose.yml
├── onlyoffice
│   └── docker-compose.yml
├── photoprism
│   └── docker-compose.yml
├── quassel-core
│   └── docker-compose.yml
├── tandoor
│   └── docker-compose.yml

Data files and .env are omitted here but live alongside each docker-compose.yml.

I set things up so that I only need a given application’s directory in order to completely restore its state. Consequently, I don’t use docker volumes since these are stored in /var/lib/docker. I only use bind mounts. I think it might be possible to have local driver volumes be located in a custom directory, but since bind mounts have always worked well for me, I haven’t tried it.

Application Storage


Storage on my private infrastructure is easy. I have a 32tb ZFS pool in my home server; if my VM runs low on storage space, I just make the disk bigger. If 32tb is not enough, I will buy bigger disks.


On my public infrastructure, disk space is constrained. My primary VM has 50gb of disk space. I used to have storage volumes provisioned in my cloud provder that were attached to the VM, with data files stored by applications symlinked to a location on the volume. However, while you can get as much storage as you want this way without needing to upgrade the VM instance size, cloud providers know that and thus tend to charge quite a lot for storage.

I use Backblaze B2 object storage, which is affordable and provides an S3 compatible API. When selecting applications to fill some infrastructure need that will need to run on my public infra, I only select applications that either have minimal disk requirements or support the S3 API. Each service has its own B2 bucket and its own access key that grants access only to that bucket.


If possible, I also configure applications so that users are served files directly from B2 rather than having them proxied through my VM, which improves performance both in terms of load time and bandwidth usage. When you watch a video on my Peertube server, your browser is downloading the video directly from B2, instead of B2 → VM → You.


This is identical on both private and public. Grand overview:



Each service is on its own subdomain. All subdomains CNAME to the main domain name ( which has an A pointing to the public IP of the VM. In my private infrastructure, the A record instead points to a Tailscale IP - but more on that in the networking section.


nginx runs on the host and binds host ports 80 and 443. All docker containers bind to (, P) where P is a host port number of my choosing. Each service has its own subdomain and a corresponding nginx configuration:

root@public /e/n/sites-available# ls | sort

Each of these looks more or less the same, and contains configuration to reverse proxy to the corresponding Docker container. For example, here is piwigo.conf. It reverse proxies requests to, which is where the container running Piwigo is bound:

server {

    location / {
         proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-Host $server_name;
         proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-Proto https;
         proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $remote_addr;

    listen [::]:443 ssl ipv6only=on;
    listen 443 ssl;

    <... tls details, misc settings omitted ...>

Note that Piwigo itself is bound to port 80 within the container, which is mapped to 8090 on the host:

qlyoung@public ~/a/piwigo> docker-compose ps
     Name                    Command               State                Ports
piwigo_mysql_1 --def ...   Up      3306/tcp, 33060/tcp
piwigo_piwigo_1   /init                            Up      443/tcp,>80/tcp

I find this setup to be clean and convenient. Service specific settings such as request body size are set in the nginx configuration and only need an nginx reload to be applied. Sites can be made accessible or not by enabling or disabling their nginx configurations without touching the application itself.


TLS is terminated by nginx. This makes TLS management very simple, since certificates can be issued and configured in nginx using Certbot with the nginx plugin. No container specific configuration is necessary. I think this is the correct separation of concerns - TLS configuration is a detail relevant to how services are exposed, but not to the services themselves. Having TLS configuration live in the web server with services unaware of it makes sense.

Certbot issues certificates using Let’s Encrypt. Certbot automatically renews certificates so there is no maintenance overhead.



Everything is served on public IP addresses. DNS is managed through my DNS provider (Namecheap).


My home server and all my personal computers are part of a single Tailscale network (tailnet). The network topology is full mesh.


For DNS, I have a small SBC (odroid-xu4) running Pihole which is also part of the tailnet (odroid in the diagram above). The tailscale daemon on each device configures the device to use that DNS server when resolving * domains. Otherwise DNS is the same as previously described, except that the A record for the primary VM points to a Tailscale address.


On the VM nginx is configured to only bind to the Tailscale address. This ensures applications are only accessible by devices explicitly joined to the tailnet, and not by e.g. a guest who has joined my home LAN.

Typical Deployment

  1. Identify a need, e.g., “I want a personal recipe book and meal planner”

  2. Search for Web-based projects that fill that need, select one based on presence of Docker support, features & community activity, e.g. Tandoor

  3. Log into server, clone, configure, and start application (pseudocode)
    $ ssh server
    # set up directories
    $ mkdir -p apps/tandoor && cd apps/tandoor
    $ wget docker-compose.yml .env
    # make any changes; set port bindings, env variables to set credentials, etc
    $ vim docker-compose.yml .env
    # start service
    $ docker compose up -d
  4. Set up new CNAME record; CNAME ->
  5. Configure nginx, request and install TLS certificate
    # create nginx configuration, usually by copying another one and tweaking it
    $ vim /etc/nginx/sites-available/tandoor.conf
    # enable nginx with chosen 
    $ ln -s /etc/nginx/sites-available/tandoor.conf /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/tandoor.conf
    # Log into namecheap, create new CNAME record (
    # Set up TLS
    $ certbot --nginx -d
  6. ???
  7. Profit

The deployment process is identical for both internal and external services.


Everything, private and public, is backed up with restic to offsite locations. It runs daily on a cron job.


Private runs for the cost of electricity.

Public bill:

28 Mar 2023