How do I set up a server at home?
January 19, 2006 10:43 PM   Subscribe

ServerFilter: How do I set up a server at home?

I have no idea where to start looking, so help me please! I have access to an old Pentium (probably vintage 2000 or so), with a 40gb hard drive with something like 192mb of RAM. It's a Pentium.

I'd like to do one of two things with it:

1) Turn it into our gateway to the internet. The materials I have on hand for that are three recent generation Pentiums (to be connected to it) and a pretty decent 4-port router. The computer itself has two ethernet ports, one on the motherboard and one card, though there seem to be some sort of intermittent conflicts between the card (provided by Shaw Cable) and the motherboard.

2) Simply use it as a file server for music/etc for everyone in my apartment.

1 is preferable to 2 (since 1 includes 2). I have access to a legit Win98 install (the computer isn't powerful enough to support XP), but I'd prefer to use some sort of easy Linux distro to do this.


What do I do? Where do I look? What Linux distros should I look at? (Let's assume, correctly, that I like Linux but tend to get really sketchy around command-line manipulation of...stuff. I was raised on Mac, and really like point-and-click whenever possible).

Ideally, I'd like to also be able to use this computer as a webserver in the future, should any of us decide for some reason that we want a website. or possibly just email or whatever.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've had great success with smoothwall, although it is so easy, that if you are doing this as a learning project, you may want to try something more difficult.

I would not recommend having your file server being the same machine as your gateway. It doesn't sound very secure, but I suppose it is possible.
posted by meta87 at 10:51 PM on January 19, 2006

Response by poster: No, this is not a learning project. This is "I want X, what's the simplest and least head-banging-into-the-wall-inducing way to do it".
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:07 PM on January 19, 2006

What you are looking for is a simple unix installation so you can configure a firewall / gateway and a SAMBA server (I assume your other machines are windows or macs).

From a security POV you should sepeate but as long as you do your firewall well its s negligable risk.

Try an installation of Ubuntu and google setting up a firewall / gateway then a SAMBA server. It should be all point and click.

Have fun

BTW 40 gig is never enough, but a cheap hard disc and all it to the mix.
posted by Vroom_Vroom_Vroom at 11:30 PM on January 19, 2006

Then I stick with my smoothwall recommendation. :)
posted by meta87 at 11:31 PM on January 19, 2006

When I was looking at setting up a fileserver at home a year ago, I was pretty intersted in SME Server, which had a good reputation for easy setup.

I ended up going with a headless Ubuntu box with Webmin for web administration because I wanted to do stuff with LVM that SME Server didn't support.

I'm with meta about keeping the server seprate from the gateway. Besides the security issue, its just nice to have those functions compartmentalized so that, for example, you can still get on the web to look for help when your server fails to boot after an upgrade.
posted by Good Brain at 11:32 PM on January 19, 2006

This might be a better link for SME Server
posted by Good Brain at 11:36 PM on January 19, 2006

I'm with meta87 on both counts.

I had a very good experience with SmoothWall as my internet gateway/firewall. The only thing to watch for is that it pretty much takes over the machine it is installed on. In fact when you install it, it erases the existing contents of your disk(s) and replaces it entirely with itself. Once set up it is very easy to use with a pretty full featured.

Also, as meta87 states, you probably don't want your firewall to also be your local file server. The fact that SmoothWall is so self contained may complicate this further if you attempt it. Better to use a separate machine behind your firewall.
posted by hwestiii at 2:45 AM on January 20, 2006

A couple of additional notes:

Win98 won't work. Period. It isn't a network OS, and can't provide any sort of security structure or anything, so you'll have to go with Linux or one of the other systems recommended above. If you're at all serious about having this thing work, you need to learn Linux; otherwise, you're going to spend more time trying to figure out what's going wrong then you will enjoying your new network. Also, having "intermittent conflicts between the card (provided by Shaw Cable) and the motherboard" is a recipe for a lot of headaches - either figure out what the problem is or replace the card with one that will work reliably.

Vroom is 100% correct that 40GB isn't anywhere near enough space for a file server. HDs are super cheap these days, so watch the local newspaper ads or start visiting TechBargains regularly and get a much bigger HD or two - something in the 250-300GB range. (Although, if the machine has room/power for multiple HDs, keeping the 40GB as the primary drive for the OS and having a second drive for files isn't a bad idea, either.)
posted by robhuddles at 7:05 AM on January 20, 2006

1 doesn't always include 2.
Given that most ADSL Modem routers will do everything you need from a gateway / firewall, and are cheap to boot, I'd use it as a samba fileserver. Instructions here.
posted by seanyboy at 8:47 AM on January 20, 2006

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