Help me choose a file server OS
April 24, 2006 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Home network consists of two XP machines, an OSX laptop, and an Ubuntu laptop. Have just been given an old PIII to use as a file server. What OS should the file server run and what should I use to format the disks?
posted by humuhumu to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think that Samba is the best choice. Don't bother with netatalk or anything. I haven't found a linux AFP server that works worth a crap anyway.

So since you have Windows boxes, Samba 3.x would be the most logical solution.

What OS? Well, you can't run OS X Server on there, and unless you have a license for Windows Server 2003, it'll cost you. If you're already familiar and comfortable with Ubuntu, install it onto the Pentium III box as well.

you'd use whatever tool Ubuntu gives you to format the disks. I use ReiserFS on all of my boxes. Never had a single problem with it.
Whatever you do, at least try to use a journaling filesystem (ext3, ReiserFS) - I don't remember if XFS does journaling. It may be faster, but for a home file server, it's probably overkill.

Now, what do you want to do with the server? What options were you thinking of?
posted by drstein at 10:45 AM on April 24, 2006

If you'd like to access the files remotely, perhaps you should consider WebDAV shares instead of Samba.

Don't forget to backup.
posted by unixrat at 11:22 AM on April 24, 2006

Best answer: A quick note: Samba and Subversion both crush resource forks, so if you are dealing w/ Mac files w/ them you'll want to be careful.

My recommendation for a file server:
* Definitely Linux based, it'll be your best be for simplest, most efficient and reliable, especially if you're already running Ubuntu. Like drstein said, throw a copy on the P3. I also agree w/ drstein that running a Samba server is the way to go.
* I don't know about b1tr0t's suggestion of also using Subversion. If you run w/ autodeltas, it's going to balloon in size ridiculously, and if you don't then you're going to need to manually run svn adds/imports/commits as you change stuff. At the very least it'd more than double your space usage, and if you're running checkouts on the client systems, unless you're fastidious you're gonna be in for a world of hurt merging. I'd *not* run Subversion unless you really know what your doing. Actually, I don't think svn has much to do with the issue of file serving at all.
* File system: I use XFS which is better with large media files (yes it's journaled), but I'd probably recommend EXT3 for most people. It's a bit slower, but a lot more mature/common and there's more recovery software out there. (I've had a heck of a time recovering from ReiserFS corruption in the past, so as tempting as the ReiserFS 4 features are, I'll be waiting for a long while until things stabilize and I'm happy w/ my backup/recovery system)
* As a recommendation for handling resource forks if it's not too many files, just use disk utility to make a small DMG disk image on your network drive that you can mount to put those resource-fork files in. If they require resource forks they won't be very cross-platform friendly anyway.

Long story short, my recommendation: slap on Ubuntu, format drives w/ ext3, share using Samba
posted by lhl at 11:29 AM on April 24, 2006

How about using NFS to serve to the OS X and linux machines and using Samba for the Windows machines? I have a set-up like this that, admittedly, came into being due to a sort of ad-hoc evolutionary process, but it seems to work well. Is there anything to recommend against NFS?
posted by mr_roboto at 12:03 PM on April 24, 2006

Response by poster: It will be used as a media server (mp3s, videos) and also a file server (mostly html files but also Word / PDF) - but the document files won't change very often anyway and I'm more concerned about media server performance than file performance. So I'll give Ubuntu and Samba a go - which is fine by me, given how easy the former was to install. I'll take a look at ReiserFS also - never investigated file system differences before.

Thanks for the help all!
posted by humuhumu at 12:32 PM on April 24, 2006

I'd also stay away from Reiser... it has a pretty bad reputation. Ext3 works fine for most folks. If you don't know you need something else, you probably don't.

FWIW, I use ext3 on all my system partitions, and XFS on the one I share on the network, because it deals well with large files and runs fast. But that doesn't mean you should emulate me. :)

Samba is a relatively easy way to share files... it'll probably take you about an hour to set up your first server. After that... ten minutes, tops, unless you have an unusual configuration.
posted by Malor at 12:40 PM on April 24, 2006

Yes, linux with Samba, but OSX has had problems with smb shares in terms of file locks and resource forks. The solution where I work is to add Davenport on top of Samba. Windows boxes attach via smb, Macs attach via http, which then attaches via smb, so Samba can keep track of all the file locks and everyone plays nicely together. You'll also probably want to tell your Macs to not write .DS_Store files on network shares. Just more clutter and file locking problems.

Having webdav available also gives you the added benefit of just connecting to the file server in a web browser if you just want to download something from a random laptop or linux box without mounting a drive.

And you may as well just go with ext3. I doubt you going to see enough of a benefit from reiser in your setup to make it worth the trouble.
posted by team lowkey at 1:34 PM on April 24, 2006

ReiserFS works better with small files, and I've never heard of this 'bad reputation' you speak of. I've had reiserfs on all of my boxes for many years now, and it's been great.
ReiserFS 3 - I haven't touched 4 yet. I think that maybe it's 4 that's getting the bad reputation.

There's nothing wrong with NFS, but in his situation, it's probably overkill and just One More Protocol to dork around with. Samba will work just fine.

Since he's worried about media performance, may I suggest an upgrade to Gigabit ethernet all the way 'round? ;) At least the desktops. Your Mac might already have it.
GigE stuff (copper) has come down in price. You'll appreciate the speed if you're dealing with media files.
posted by drstein at 2:04 PM on April 24, 2006

I don't think there's anything wrong with reiserfs. I use it on my mail spool, specifically because in that situation, I need fast access to thousands of small files. I just don't think it's worth his trouble in this scenario. He's probably just going to accessing one file at a time occasionally. His bottleneck will be network, not disk access. Unless he's really interested in learning all the ins and outs different file systems, he should just stick with ext3. The performance difference won't be that noticable, and it will be easier to fix if something goes wrong.
posted by team lowkey at 2:41 PM on April 24, 2006

Reiser3 had tons of problems in its early releases (in the 2.4 timeframe). They eventually hashed out the worst of them, but then the Reiser people mostly stopped maintaining the 3 code branch, preferring to work on 4. So the kernel devs were forced to fix problems with it instead, which irritated them a great deal.

There's a reason why Reiser4 hasn't been accepted into the kernel mainline. I suspect it never will be.

Reiser3 is probably okay now, but ext3 is absolutely guaranteed to be supported by any rescue disk in the world. It's a safe choice. XFS handles big files better; Reiser handles small files better. Without more info from the OP, ext3 is likely a safe compromise.

Also... I'm pretty sure that Reiser3 is more CPU-intensive than most other filesystems. (that's VERY true of 4). On an old P3, he might get better throughput on the simpler ext3 anyway.
posted by Malor at 2:46 PM on April 24, 2006

Gigabit is great, but only modern machines will make much use of it. I converted to gigabit here, and didn't see that much difference with an Athlon 1900+ server with regular PCI slots.

When I converted the server to a Pentium-D with onboard gigabit and PCI-X slots, it got smokin' fast... it's so quick the network shares feel like local drives. But until the server could really speak gigabit, it didn't make much difference. His P3 will probably be straining to fill even regular Fast Ethernet.

I've found that Samba tends to work better than NFS, even between native Linux clients. It's just better-designed.
posted by Malor at 2:50 PM on April 24, 2006

Gigabit is great, but only modern machines will make much use of it. I converted to gigabit here, and didn't see that much difference with an Athlon 1900+ server with regular PCI slots.

That's ridiculous. I've been using Gigabit ethernet since my main desktop was a PII-400, and the speed boost is immediately noticeable.

Also, you should absolutely RAID5 your file server for redundancy. Nothing beats having a disk fail and not have to reinstall anything.
posted by Caviar at 4:04 PM on April 24, 2006

Openfiler (Linux) and FreeNAS (FreeBSD) look promising.
posted by Sharcho at 4:19 PM on April 24, 2006

Best answer: My quite similar network (same OS's, but also an XBMC) uses Ubuntu with Samba for the fileserver, with ext3 disks. I know bugger all about filesystems, but it works.

No problems with the mac on samba (so far)... I found a good howto somewhere (hmmm... here) about getting the mac to mount a share at boot, and have zero trouble with that.
posted by pompomtom at 6:22 PM on April 24, 2006

Microsoft Services for Unix has an NFS client, and I believe it is free.

I've been playing with a third party NFS client for a couple of days.. It seems to be working now, but it has been a little twitchy so far (in particular, loging in gives strange and unpredictable responces).

I'd love to hear about other NFS on Windows experiences.
posted by Chuckles at 6:55 PM on April 24, 2006

Chuckles: Services for UNIX is ok. Its NFS implementation works just fine too. I used v3.5 a while back, and it was ok.

But there's almost no need for it when Samba works just as well. :-)

If you can do it server side, might as well!
posted by drstein at 8:52 PM on April 24, 2006

Convincing argument drstein, but I'm really just freeloading on the question..

I need an NFS client because I have a QNX data aquisition PC, and I want to be able to access its drive.
posted by Chuckles at 9:19 PM on April 24, 2006

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