Build a Linux home server

Alex Camp­bell re­veals how your op­tions range from free to a few hun­dred pounds

PC Advisor - - CONTENTS -

If you’re look­ing to host your own ser­vices in­stead of pay­ing for or re­ly­ing on those in the cloud, run­ning your own home server is a great way to keep your fi les pri­vate

Ask any Linux en­thu­si­ast, and they’ll tell you how fan­tas­tic an op­er­at­ing sys­tem Linux can be. For the desk­top user, the free­dom from worry about most viruses is a big plus, and not spend­ing £100 up­grad­ing Win­dows is a big plus too. As great as Linux is for desk­top use, it truly shines as a server. While pro­vid­ing web-based ser­vices is one of those server-type op­tions Linux does re­ally well, the OS can do a lot more than host a blog about fam­ily out­ings.

If you’re look­ing to host your own ser­vices in­stead of pay­ing for or re­ly­ing on those in the cloud, run­ning your own home server is a great way to keep your files pri­vate.

Choos­ing soft­ware

Choos­ing the spe­cific Linux dis­tri­bu­tion for your home server can be daunt­ing since there are so many strains to choose from. Most of the time, we just uses Ubuntu and rec­om­mend that first-time users do the same. The rea­son is sim­ple: Ubuntu Server is easy to ad­min­is­ter, well doc­u­mented, and has a pretty low learn­ing curve.

The next big thing you’ll have to worry about is what pro­grams to run on the server. There is a huge amount of free and open-source soft­ware you can host your­self, but find­ing it can be tricky. Luck­ily, a GitHub user named Ed­ward D. main­tains a list of self-hosted soft­ware at tinyurl.com/nf9qfbr that you can run on a Linux server. The list has ev­ery­thing from blog soft­ware to

CRM. It even fea­tures some awe­some meta pack­ages (which let you bulk-in­stall a group of ap­pli­ca­tions) like sov­er­eign.

In­deed, sov­er­eign is a good start­ing point for users who are look­ing to be dig­i­tally sel­f­re­liant. With a cou­ple com­mands, sov­er­eign will in­stall an email server, a VPN ser­vice, nightly back­ups, a CalDAV and CardDAV server, and ownCloud, just to name a few.

Once you have an idea of what you want to host on your server, the next step is choos­ing the right hard­ware.

Choos­ing hard­ware

One of the most com­mon ways to use Linux in a home server is to in­stall the op­er­at­ing sys­tem on an old desk­top.

The hard­ware re­quire­ments for Win­dows have marched for­ward as time and ver­sions have pro­gressed. While you might tech­ni­cally get Win­dows 10 to run on a PC that’s been sit­ting in the garage for five years, its per­for­mance might be less than ideal.

That old PC could be a nice host for Linux. On top of sav­ing you some money, re­pur­pos­ing an old PC as a Linux server is good for the en­vi­ron­ment. Reusing the PC keeps e-waste out of land­fills and stretches the life of the heavy met­als and pre­cious and/or toxic ma­te­ri­als that com­prise many PC parts.

Rasp­berry Pi 3: £30 and up

There’s a rea­son peo­ple love the lit­tle Rasp­berry Pi. For £30 you get a palm-sized com­puter that has net­work­ing, USB ports and gen­eral-pur­pose pins to sat­isfy all of your tin­ker­ing needs. While the Pi is a great tin­kerer’s toy, it’s also great as a low-power server.

It’s pow­ered via a Mi­cro-USB con­nec­tion and sips power com­pared to big desk­top com­po­nents. If you’re look­ing for a server to host just a cou­ple of ser­vices to a small num­ber of users, the Pi is a won­der­ful plat­form to start with. It doesn’t have any stor­age on-board, but if you plan on run­ning a file or me­dia server with it you can al­ways buy or re­use an ex­ter­nal USB hard drive or a large USB stick.

NUCs and small PCs: £130 and up

Small PCs are of­ten mar­keted as low­pow­ered desk­tops or home-en­ter­tain­ment PCs, but they also make great servers. In­tel’s Next Unit of Com­put­ing (NUC) mod­els (see im­age be­low) are well equipped for light- to medium-duty server use in a home.

Much more ro­bust than their ARM-based Rasp­berry Pi coun­ter­parts, In­tel’s NUCs will con­sume more power but be able to han­dle more com­pu­ta­tion­ally in­ten­sive tasks. Some

NUC mod­els will have room for a 2.5in SSD for on­board stor­age. Other mod­els will force you to out­source bulk stor­age of big files to an ex­ter­nal drive, not un­like the Pi.

If you pre­fer AMD to In­tel, there are some other op­tions as well, in­clud­ing Gi­ga­byte’s Brix, which of­fers many of the same fea­tures as the NUC.

Net­work at­tached stor­age (NAS) ap­pli­ances: £83 and up

If you’re wor­ried you don’t have the tech­ni­cal chops to in­stall and main­tain your own Linux server, you can al­ways go for a net­work-at­tached stor­age (NAS) sys­tem. A NAS is ba­si­cally a small Linux or BSD server with the pri­mary func­tion of host­ing files. You can think of a NAS as your own ex­ten­si­ble Google Drive or Drop­box.

Lots of com­pa­nies of­fer NAS so­lu­tions in one form or an­other, but two of the big names are QNAP and Synol­ogy. Both com­pa­nies of­fer many of the same fea­tures, but the web in­ter­faces are dif­fer­ent for each.

For small busi­nesses that just need some­thing to work, a medium-sized NAS can

be a sim­ple, plug-and-play so­lu­tion. With a NAS, you gen­er­ally don’t have to fight with driv­ers or set­tings dur­ing setup; ev­ery­thing can be ac­com­plished us­ing an easy-to-fol­low web in­ter­face. While you can find disk­less NAS de­vices for as lit­tle as £83, they will come with­out any hard drives. Hard drives for NAS boxes tend to cost a lit­tle more than the typ­i­cal desk­top hard drive, since they are de­signed to be al­ways-on, and to keep data safe for a long pe­riod of time. (See our best NAS drive chart on page 138.)

Vir­tual pri­vate server (VPS): £3.50 per month and up

Okay, so this isn’t a way to have a Linux server in the home. A vir­tual pri­vate server is ex­actly what it sounds like: a vir­tual ma­chine in­stance in a server farm. ‘Pri­vate’ refers to the fact that other VPS ma­chines in the same server farm can’t steal re­sources or in­ter­act with your VPS. In ef­fect, it’s like hav­ing your own lit­tle Linux box con­nected to a server farm some­where.

VPS so­lu­tions can be great if you need to run a small blog or some other ser­vice that you’d rather not run from home. Un­like run­ning a ser­vice on a home server, a VPS does not re­quire you to open up ports on your router and fid­dle with dy­namic DNS.

Of the VPS providers out there, Dig­i­tal Ocean of­fers some of the bet­ter deals for the in­di­vid­ual or small busi­ness. Its servers start at £3.50 per month, and you can spin up more in sec­onds if you need them. Be­sides be­ing a great way to learn how Linux works, run­ning your own server at home can let you break away from com­mer­cial ser­vices and take back con­trol of your data.

Be­sides be­ing a great way to learn how Linux works, run­ning your own server at home can al­low you to break away from com­mer­cial ser­vices and take back con­trol of your data

Re­cy­cle an old PC

In­tel’s NUC mod­els can be used as home servers

Rasp­berry Pi 3

Servers at SAP’s fa­cil­ity in St. Leon-Rot, Ger­many

Synol­ogy DS716+II

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