Sunday, 28 September 2014

The home server. (you need one)

 
A few months ago I set up my home server. This morning, I turned it off for a few hours to clean the dust out of it and do some cable management. While it was off, Even though it was just because I was 'messing' with the hardware I realised just how much I would miss it if it were off-line for any length of time.

My server does some simple enough things for me, things that I appreciate a great dea.


Plex: The server provides all my downlaoded, recorded and backed up media (must or video) to the computers, tablets and phones in my house. Through the Plex web interface or Android app anyone on my network can use it. At first I thought it was a gimmick but after seeing how nice it is to configure and use Plex has become a must have application for my server. With Plex pass I can in theory at least stream content to my devices from the internet but my connection is no good for that.

Those download tools (not torrent): Some times you need to download Linux/BSD ISO's and none copyrighted indie movies and music from the internet, (poker face) to do that its best to have a dedicated set-up, I did use a Raspberry pi (that now works as my emulation station) but a full on server is by far easier for managing everything.

Storage: There is a lot to be said for having access to a handfull of hard drives that are no on your PC. For me using my server a a place to put things is invaluable. I can sort things out, back them up, index things properly and then access that storage from any device that can connect to my network.

Game servers:  Yes, I can run my own Minecraft/CounterStrike (or other, like you need anything else) server for my local network. its fabulous... not that I do that very often.

Syncing: You know how the pictures you take on your mobile no doubt go to dropbox/Mega/Google+ and Some other service? well know you can synch all those things to a local hard drive too so that you have your own little slice of cloud.

OwnCloud: OwnCloud is a software suite that gives you, your own cloud. Document editing, Dropbox like synchronisation and contacts databases among other things. Its nice.

The Reset factor: Some times my daughter is watching something from the server and I need to reset my PC, this is fine. Before I had a server, though, if someone was using my PS3/Tablet to stream media I would have to stop them from doing that while I restarted my PC. Not any more, Server!

Great, now I have told you what I use it for let me tell you how it works. 

The OS: no need for a windows license dear friend. Ubuntu Server edition is a great operating system for the home server. Download the ISO, drop is on a USB memory thingy and install it. its pretty robust and works headless with no issue.

Wait, Headless? Yes. I don't have to plug a keyboard and mouse and monitor into my server. well, not once its set up.

Once I had it all installed and the basics were configured I unplugged the keyboard, mouse and Monitor and it jsut works. if i need to make any changes or install software/updates on the server I can remotely connect to the servers command line interface (CLI) with a great application called SSH that is standard on most linux systems. There is a windows alternative for the client callet PUTTY. you simply connect to the servers IP address, provide a username and password and you have full command line access to the server. its like you are sitting in front of it.

I even use programs like MC (Midnight commander) to manage files with a basic interface.

The Hardware:  A server doesnt have to be a cutting edge piece of kit. Many people use an old desktop PC that has more than a few layers of dust over it. old PC's can work fine but mines was purpose built as i didnt have an old PC about. here are its specs:

CPU: Celeron G1620 - 2.7 GHz. Dual core.
RAM: 4GB (2x2GB corsair XMS3 memory)
HARD DRIVES: 3 single TB drives.
GRAPHICS: Onboard Intel (not that it matters)
PSU: Corsair Builder model - 80+ 400W. (Always use 80+ dudes)
COOLING: Stock CPU (its actually very good) exhaust 120mm and a 200mm intake fan. one exhaust on top vent too for good measure.
Case: An old Coolermaster HAF 912 I had about. Large case, very good air flow. lost of room for hard drives.

So far the Celeron has been powerful enough for everything I have needed. I was concerned that I had made a mistake choosing this CPU but it worked out well.

I have used three seperate hard drives and set them up to contain specific media, one for Video files, one for Audio and one for Booting, and ISO files. that way if i do have a drive failure i only lose one category (at some point im switching the whole thing out for a few massive drives on a RAID mirror setup) the drives are all pretty good though (WD green drives i think) so im not overly concerned at the moment.

One of the things I am pleased about is that in the future if I decide to switch to another machine or device for my server needs I can re-purpose this machine into a reasonable desktop for web browsing and email/office machine.

At the moment there is no cheap device that I could deploy on my network that would do all this as well as the server so I think its here to stay.


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