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Intel NUC based mobile hybrid cloud in a travel case


Used a mobile DJ case to connect four rackmounted Intel NUCs and an Alienware laptop to create a self contained virtualization lab.
Images below.


I took on a project to create a virtualization lab to demo Hybrid Cloud concepts.

My requirements were pretty simple but not done currently with a commercial off the shelf offering.

Use a travel case like a Pelican or similar, it must roll.
My Alienware laptop must be able to fit in the case with everything else.
Fit in an overhead compartment because I travel with my equipment and I refuse to check it.
Use all four Intel NUCs that I based my lab on.
All wiring, power, and accessories must fit in the case.
Most importantly the case must lock.

The case:

I looked at several Pelican and similar cases but most just were not large enough or I couldn't fit the Alienware inside.
After a while I came across the mobile DJ market.
I decided on a case from SKB called the Studio Flyer 2U.
The case had room for rackmounted components 2U high and approximately 20" deep.
There is also a platform for the laptop on top and the lid closes to hold the laptop too.
After I found this case most of my requirements were met.
This was the most difficult part sourcing of the project.

The Intel NUCs:

I have four NUCs which run various pieces of my lab.
Two Microsoft Hyper-V servers
One SMB file share storage server.
One Hyper-V Virtual Network Gateway (a software router)

Rackmount NUCs?

So with 2U of space I had enough room for the NUCs but how to rackmount them?
There are very few options for rackmounting NUCs right now.
One company in the UK offers a solution but it is very expensive.
I improvised by using cases designed for thin mini-itx boards from Inteset.
Plenty of internal room for the NUC and modular plugs for network/usb/hdmi


One of my NUCs has a Thunderbolt port that I connect to a Caldigit dock.
This dock gives me another Thunderbolt port, USB 3, and gigabit network.
I use a Western Digital Passport Pro 2TB in RAID 1.
Pretty fast storage for what I'm using it for.


Since I wanted the case to be powered as a single unit I had a choice to pack all of the NUC power cords in the case.
This was a no-go. They didn't fit and transforming 120V AC to 19V DC generates a lot of heat.
After confirming that the NUCs will operate on 12V DC I decided to create custom power cables connected to the 12V rail of a PSU.
Honestly I cut the power cables and soldered a 4-pin molex then connected that to a SATA - 4-pin adapter.
For the PSU I selected the Silverstone SX600-G, a fully modular small PSU that fit in the SKB case.
I also created custom cables to power the Caldigit dock and the Cradlepoint modem.

WAN Connectivity:

In order to connect to Microsoft Azure via a site to site VPN connection I needed a public IP address.
This is accomplished by using Clear, they still provision public IP addresses.
I also use the Cradlepoint modem to establish the VPN link to Azure's gateway.

Wire it together:

I added a gigabit 8 port switch which fits nicely in the case.
The SKB case offers plenty of nooks and crannys to route the ethernet cables.
NUC to the Caldigit dock to the WD drive.
I originally had a HDMI KVM but I found a better software KVM solution called Multiplicity.
I replaced the space taken by the KVM with the power brick for the Alienware laptop.


Since I created a top hole in the SKB case I was able to use this to place the cases rather easily.
It also gave me great access to wiring on the sides of the cases to make sure there weren't any pulls or pinches of the cables.


Cut a hole in the top of the SKB case so I could access the peripherals from above.
Added fuzzy velcro to most surfaces to give the case a softer look and I can attach things quickly as needed.
Added a 1U blank bar in the rear of the top case hole to support the Caldigit and a place to attach the ethernet cables.
RJ-45 port on the top of the case so I can plug in the Alienware laptop.
Metal shelf that the Alienware sits on and to add strength when the lid is on the case.
Fold away detachable hinges so the metal shelf can be removed as needed.
Military power switch that switches the PSU on and off.
Exhaust fans from a laptop cooler powered by USB for the rear of the case.
The Microsoft ninja cat riding a fire breathing unicorn decal.