When You Need A Home Server, How About A Low Power Netbook or a Raspberry Pi?

I had a problem, and this is the thought process behind how I solved it.  It isn’t the solution itself.  I have to take pictures and write all that stuff down.  I simply haven’t yet.  That will come in the future.  By the end of the process, I’ll have created a nice tidy, low power consumption file server that can be ignored because it will just work.

What this does also is to take that computer that was slid into the back of the closet with data on it, and clean all that once- important stuff off of it, and give the machine another 3 to 5 years of very important use.

Great way to reuse something that you were wondering how to get rid of isn’t it?

But here is the thought process, if you are curious…

 

 

We like to collect “stuff”.

Drive down any street in Suburbia during the weekends and you are guaranteed to find a $20,000 or more car sitting in the driveway because the garage is stuffed with things you can’t bare to get rid of.

That extends to the digital world too.

On my Main Computer, I have a 128 GB memory chip that I use as an external drive.  You know, like the one you stuff into your camera?

On it are my resume, personal files, picture collection, and many many more files.  That stuff is very important to me and must be safeguarded by frequently backing it up in case that chip gets lost or destroyed.

Just a few years ago, that would have been an inconceivable amount of space, if you could have found it at all.  Now, that size of an actual hard drive is getting to be Low End and harder to find.

What do You do now?

You being An Average Home User.  You have a Main Computer.  It could be any given thing from Mac to Windows to, if you are “odd” like me, a Linux Workstation.   You may or may not have other machines in the house.  Phones where you take pictures.  Actual cameras.  iPods and your music collection.

Where do you put all that “stuff”.

First choice.  External hard drive.  They’re about $50 for a reasonable sized drive, or $100 for a drive that will take you years to fill up.

But where do you connect it.  You start with plugging it into your computer’s USB port.  That works for a while, until someone else wants access to it.  After all “they” have stuff to save too!

It’s that Digital equivalent of the Two Car Garage.  But that doesn’t help the phone, it is not exactly easy to plug an Android phone into a standard external drive, and forget it for the iPhone.

Not to go too deeply into this whole thing, The First Choice hard drive needs to be moved.  If you are lucky your Wifi Router will have a USB port.  A Slot.  If you look in the little slot, the plastic tab should hopefully be blue for USB 3.0, but at least it should be USB 2.0.

(Yes, I know that is an inexact way of saying things, but I have a very broad audience here)

If it isn’t in use, that is, you plug your drive in to that USB port and go surf the administrative page of the router.  Mine is at http://192.168.1.1 and it brings up a login box asking me for user and password.  That is the page you use to configure where and who has access to that drive and your network.

I could spend hours writing here on how to configure your router.  I’m not.  See this is more of an intro to something that has been sitting in my mind.

Why?

You see we have already used that port with something else that needs to sit there.   It’s in use with the backup for that 128GB chip I was talking about earlier.

So I had to decide what to do next.

I have been given a number of “old” or “low power” computers over the years.  I won’t say specifically “Obsolete” because there’s always something you can do with a computer that is too slow to run Windows.

And that’s the crux of it.

The first time I tried this, I had attempted to use a RaspberryPi as a server.  Now, a RaspberryPi, or at least the “Model B” I have has the computing power of a cell phone of a couple years ago.   When I first got it, I put a lot of energy into turning it into a web server.

Take my word for it, there are better ways to make a home web server than a RaspberryPi.  It’s too slow for that.   You have the base operating system, and when you add all that “web stuff” it runs too slow to be useful.

But, the RaspberryPi is “just enough” for you to use as a desktop machine, if you aren’t slapping it around too much.  By that I mean, one browser with one or two tabs open, or some programming tasks.  After all it is not meant to be a “Screaming fast” computer.  Small tasks.

I did find out that the Pi was “just enough” to be a file server.

There is a software bug in the main operating system as I had it configured that had me choose another machine.  The amount of data that you copy onto an attached drive on the version of Linux called “Raspian” was limited to the free space on the boot drive.  Since it is common practice to use a 4 or 8GB memory chip for that, I only had 3 gigs free.   Another solution would be to get a larger chip and try again.  I will later.

You see the Raspberry Pi runs with so little power itself that it is like one of those old glowy neon nightlights that were used for years before they ended up being an indicator light in a power strip.

In other words it’s a Low Power Consumption alternative – very “Green”.

But since that didn’t work without my buying a very large chip, I looked around for an alternative.

The solution was that I had an old Netbook that was gathering dust.  After all, it was a Windows XP Era machine looking for a use case.

A Netbook of that first era had a very small display, 10 inches, with a small display of 1024 by 600.

Never mind the numbers, it was designed to be the machine you would use on the couch while watching TV.  That was why it ended up being set aside, I do too much graphics work to be able to live with such a small display.

Despite that the old beastly big CRT Monitors of the last century would not be able to do that resolution.

So I put that Netbook back on the air as what I call a “Drop In File Server”.

A Drop In File Server would be a computer configured to accept an external hard drive, sit on the network, and serve files.

The reality is that when you install the needed software, the Print Server comes along for the ride.  Configure and plug in a printer as well and you can print anywhere on your network.  You end up having a lot of benefits from having a dedicated machine doing that work.  All from something that was slow when it was new.

Another very important benefit is that all that runs on less than 10 watts of power, a refrigerator bulb of power consumption for something that will be left on pretty much whenever I am awake, 16 or more hours a day.

Now, the high order of this is that once you install Debian or Ubuntu Linux to do the actual work, you’re able to take that little netbook and put it on someone else’s network and serve files there.

That sounds kind of a strange need, but the idea for this would be to hand the little machine off to someone else let them plug it into their network and their own drive into the machine and that way I don’t have to be involved with computer support for someone who is 200 miles away.

You know, a Loaner Server.  Something to serve a need but not need a lot of service.

But it worked.  It would also work with just about any laptop made within the last 10 years, just like that old computer you forgot about under your jeans in the closet.

All that will just have to wait for another time.

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