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Building a Linux based home server
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December 29, 2013, 08:44:19 PM
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  • BSD2000
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I've avoided Linux most of my 30+ year career as a computer professional. Sure, I dabbled here and there, but for the first time I actually want to use it full-time for my home server.

Specifically, I'm looking to replace my Windows Home Server with a Linux distribution that will act as my own web accessible 'cloud' server, file server, web server, ftp server and anything else I throw at it.

To start, I'm using an older Intel Q8300 quad core (socket 775) with 4GB of RAM and roughly 15TB of hard drives. Right now, it's running Windows Home Server, which is basically a neutered version of Server 2003. WHS doesn't support advanced format drives, which is becoming a problem since all new drives are advanced format. WHS uses a JBOD system called Drive Extender which makes adding and removing drives to a drive pool a breeze.

On the plus side, WHS is extremely stable. It just sits there, happily doing it job for months at a time without a single issue. There are rare times when it reboots (after receiving an update), but for the most part, it's very reliable, stable and robust. Plus, the files are written using the standard NTFS file system - so in the event of a crash, you can pull any of the drives in the pool and read them using any Windows PC.

On the downside, WHS can be slow. Sometimes, excruciatingly slow; and sometimes it just ignores your requests while it happily sits there indexing files and looking for file system errors - things it should only do while idle, not when files are being requested. For example, I can be watching a movie and half way through, the server will slow to a crawl - forcing my home theater PC to stutter as the movie stream slows to a crawl. This is really unacceptable since the servers first priority should be to serve files!

So far, I've tested Ubuntu Server 12.04 and Amahi 7.1. I also downloaded the latest versions of Debian, CentOS and OpenSuse since those are the main distributions that are the most frequently mentioned for server use.

Tonight I plan on installing Debian, Suse and CentOS on a spare PC to put them through their paces. I could try them in a virtual environment, but since I want to setup drive pools using LVM, it's better to test it out on actual hardware.

As I go through this process, I'll post my thoughts and experiences along the way.

This could get very interesting!  :)
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December 30, 2013, 04:05:59 PM
  • lshin80
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Prepare yourself for warp speed  ;D
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January 04, 2014, 11:34:47 PM
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Ok, so far I'm not impressed.  :(

While installing Debian, it stops to ask you to insert other install disks (there's 3) - but you can't because it locks the DVD drive door! How stupid is that? So, I disconnected the IDE DVD drive and started the install over using a USB DVD-RW drive. When it came time to insert the other disks - I used a paperclip to pop open the drawer so I could swap disks. This is a MAJOR bug and I just can't believe the developers released it like this.  ::)

During the install of Debian, I selected web server, file server and database server. After the install completed, I logged in and tested the web server. It worked! So far, so good. But I couldn't test the MySQL database because myPhpAdmin wasn't installed. So, I went into the software installer and searched for myPhpAdmin - it was already selected; as if it was already installed. I checked the var/www and the myphpadmin folder was missing. I tried uninstalling it, then re-installing it - but that didn't work. The installer fails when it tries to configure everything. You end up with a window that won't close because the installer crashed. Clicking the 'X' doesn't do anything.  >:(

So far, the only Linux distro that sort-of worked is Ubuntu Server. I got Apache, PHP, MySQL and Samba file server to install and work. I also got LVM installed for drive pools. At this point, it looks like I may end up going with Ubuntu...

CentOS is next to try out; hopefully that goes better than Debian.
« Last Edit: January 05, 2014, 12:38:05 AM by BSD2000 »


January 05, 2014, 07:10:24 AM
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 :// Never heard of so much troubles with a Linux OS...Makes me think of an incompatibility issue with your hardware, especially considering to the locked DVD drive door.
« Last Edit: January 06, 2014, 07:05:33 AM by lshin80 »


January 17, 2014, 10:52:06 AM
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I'm trying dozens of distributions and the one that I'm currently messing with is Zentyal Small Business Server, which I believe is built on Ubuntu Server 12.04 LTS. What I find interesting about it is the easy to use, custom web based interface and the integrated software packages. The interface is like webmin, but much more polished and integrated. Plus, you can add webmin on top to add even more control. Eventually, the server will be sitting in a corner running 'headless' so I need to control every aspect of the server remotely.

So far, it seems to do everything I need. It's compact, fast and works on my older hardware. I want to make sure I can get all the features I need up and running on a test server before I make the switch. One of the big tests will be how it handles drive pools and share volumes. I like the fact that it installs with a GUI desktop because I really hate doing everything from a CLI.  :-[

I did mess with FreeNAS, which also worked, but it lacked many of the more advanced features I need and I didn't want to spend a week trying to manually install and configure stuff.  ::)

So far, it looks like I'm leaning towards either Ubuntu Server or Zentyal.   8)


March 13, 2014, 01:10:19 PM
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Ok, after going through one of the worst winters in recent memory; and dealing with medical issues in my family, I finally had time to spend experimenting with Linux distributions and I finally settled on Ubuntu Server 12.04 LTS.  8)

So far, I installed the OS on a 2.4Ghz Intel quad-core (Q6600) system with 8GB of RAM and a 32GB SSD drive (boot). I setup SSH, LAMP, mail server and SAMBA. I also installed Webmin, PHPMyAdmin, ProFTPD server and Ajenti. Everything is working great so far. And Ishin80 - you were right - this thing is a rocket! The web server and database access is instantaneous. File transfers over my network completely max out the bandwidth of my switches; I get sustained file transfers to/from the server at over 110MB/sec, with burst speeds of 170MB/sec!

The last piece of the puzzle will be how to configure the hard drives as one large drive pool of storage space. I don't want to share out each drive individually; I want to mimic the 'drive extender' system that Windows Home Server uses which is basically a JBOD array with folder mirroring capability. I'll have to do more research, but I think the built-in LVM will work, or for a more advanced setup - maybe ZFS. I'm not sure if ZFS can be configured with a JBOD array. One of the advantages of Microsoft's drive extender system is that each drive is formatted as a standard NTFS drive and can be pulled and read on a different PC with no problems. I don't want to use a RAID system that relies on the health (or presence) of all the drives to operate - that's why I prefer JBOD.

The more I mess with it, the more I'm warming up to Linux. I'm still a die-hard Microsoft guy; but for server duties - I'm completely sold on Ubuntu.  8)


March 13, 2014, 01:21:57 PM
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:// Never heard of so much troubles with a Linux OS...Makes me think of an incompatibility issue with your hardware, especially considering to the locked DVD drive door.

I think the majority of problems I was having was due to the old, outdated hardware I used for testing: AMD 4800X2 on an Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe MB, 2GB RAM, 250GB SATA drive and an old Lite-On IDE DVD drive. When I switched to newer hardware, things went a lot smoother.  :)


October 05, 2015, 05:41:41 PM
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Well, after posting this message (It's been a while) I ended up building a Ubuntu 14.04 LTS server with an Intel S5000SL(A) motherboard, Hotpoint 2300 PCIE RAID card, an Intel Xeon L5410 LGA771 quad core processor (2.33Ghz, 12MB cache, 1333Mhz FSB; the MB supports two), 8GB of RAM, 32GB SATA II SSD (OS) and 12TB of hard drive storage. It's running my file server, FTP server, web/database server, cloud storage (Owncloud), DLNA services and SAMBA for Windows file sharing. It's been running rock-solid for over a year and it's extremely fast, stable and reliable.

I was also running two Windows Home Servers, one is custom built and the second is an Acer H340. I use the Acer server as my Windows backup server and as a Torrent client. The custom built home server was my first server and the drives in it have well over 50,000 hours of usage. One of those hard drives (Hitachi 2TB) is starting to fail. I've spent the last week or so babysitting the server, copying files and rebooting it when it locks up. I planned on retiring the original home server, but I never got around to backing up everything (3.5TB worth of data), so the drive failure couldn't have come at a worse time.

In the meantime, I started experimenting with Proxmox. Proxmox is a virtualization management operating system that allows you to run multiple virtual operating systems on one server. I setup a Proxmox server and started loading different operating systems and I got an idea - what if I ran Ubuntu server as a virtual PC using Proxmox? Wouldn't it be cool to have one physical server that runs multiple operating systems, like, say, CentOS 7, Ubuntu Server, Windows Server, Windows 10 - all at the same time?

To do this, I'm going to need to upgrade the server hardware first. I ordered a matching Xeon L5410 processor and 32GB of PC5300 DDR2 FBDIMM RAM. When that comes in, I'm going to install a fresh copy of Proxmox and see how Ubuntu Server runs as a virtual machine. Right now, I average 110MB/sec reads and writes over a gigabit network - so if I can get at least 100MB/sec as a virtual machine - I'll be happy.

Another option is CentOS 7. I loaded a spare PC with it and it seems to be a great alternative to Ubuntu Server. One of the sticking points for me is the fact that in general, Linux servers are controlled via SSH/terminal; a GUI interface (like Microsoft Server) isn't readily available for setting up and configuring the server (besides Webmin, but that's web based). I really hate using the command line to work with a Linux server - it seems foreign and archaic to me. I'm a spoiled Microsoft network admin who loves using GUI's for configuring a server and I miss that when I work with my Ubuntu server. CentOS can be installed with a desktop, but there really isn't any GUI based, front-end programs for working with the server (except Webmin). I'm testing out CentOS as a virtual machine and so far, I really like it. At least the desktop would make editing config files and drive management a little easier. CentOS also has virtualization support, which I could use instead of Proxmox to centralize virtual machines on one server. I'm gonna play with that option later this week.  :D

For now, I'm still trying to recover files on my old home server - some of which are hundreds of 96k/24bit vinyl record recordings and a few of my source files for my YouTube videos; plus, nearly 20 years worth of old email and documents.  :(
« Last Edit: April 08, 2016, 03:02:32 AM by BSD2000 »


October 12, 2015, 05:29:08 AM
  • drtebi
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I don't have an exact "answer" for you, but a few comments that may interest you.

I have been running a FreeBSD based home server since three or four years now. it's based on a  SUPERMICRO SYS-5027R-WRF 2U Server bare-bone server with Intel Xeon E5-2609 2.4GHz quad-core processor, 16GB RAM, an Adaptec Raid card and some 4TB of storage configured as RAID5. The FreeBSD configuration is very minimal. Besides the usual NTP, SSHD etc., it basically only runs SAMBA. That's really all I need :) It never crashed. It's on 24/7, and the only times when it did go down, was when there was a power outage (construction, black-out or whatever). FreeBSD rocks... it takes a bit of a geek to get it set up (I do everything on the console), but the documentation is very good and it's extremely stable. Very happy with it.

My main work station is running Arch Linux. I do a lot of photo editing, programming, music related things etc. Everything works great. I have been on Linux since almost 10 years now, and I am so glad I made the switch. Sure you have to tweak sometimes to get things right, and occasionally I run Windows in a virtual environment for Google-Sketchup or Photoshop, but other than that I am very happy that I left Windows.

I think Arch Linux would be another distribution worth checking out for you, or anybody that wants a Linux server. The arch community has become very large, there is a lot of help out there, and thousands of programs that can be installed easily.

In regards to music, by the way, I have just changed the soundcard in my work station to a Asus Xonar D2, and it works really great with Linux. I can now do 24bit 192khz without problems, and there was actually no configuration necessary at all with Arch Linux, it just ran out of the box. It's a nice soundcard. The only thing I haven't tested yet is the MIDI in and out.



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