In this last post I talked about picking up a computer at my university’s surplus sale to use as a replacement server in my home setup. The plan is to use this machine to run several virtual machines on, mostly to play around on but also as my home server. I didn’t go into to much detail in that first post, so I’m going to break this down into multiple posts that can go into more detail. I’m not sure how many parts there will be as of now, but I’ll be sure to try and link all the posts together so they should be easy to find. First up is a discussion about the hardware and my final decision about what virtual environment I decided to go with.
There are pros and cons to working on any kinds of projects, and a setting up a home virtual server is one of those projects that you really need to weigh each and see if you’re up for it. Having started well down the path of implementing one in my home, I think for me it’ll be worth it in the long term going this route. I’ll tell you some of the benefits and drawback I think I’ll have as well as some of the requirements I started out with in my head.
I came to a sad realization about a week ago now. My university will occasionally have a surplus sale about once a quarter and at least once a semester. They usually sell stuff like desks, chairs, and old couches from the dorms (disgusting). They also use this way to unload computers that get replaced and can’t find a home somewhere else in the school. I’m lucky because they sell computers individually (monitors separate), where a lot of other schools I’ve seen will bundle a pallet and sell them at surplus auctions. In order to sell them individually they have to sell them really cheap ($2 per desktop, $4 per LCD monitor, $10 per laptop) and this will draw quite the crowd. People will camp out the night before in order to be the first in line to get some computers/laptops, it’s a bit like watching footage of Black Friday shoppers.
Dynamic DNS services allow people with a dynamic IP address from there ISP (like me) to access resources using a name instead of by IP address. Most routers have support for updating dynamic DNS services, but are usually limited to one service. I use DynDNS (free, which is no longer offered) for this type of access. I wanted to switch my DNS servers to OpenDNS and while they don’t require the same type of updates like DynDNS to work, they offer some interesting features like stats and category filtering using a dynamic DNS type service. The problem is my router only support updates for one dynamic DNS service and it was already updating DynDNS. Luckily, OpenDNS also runs a service called DNS-o-Matic which will update multiple dynamic services at once. Here are some quick steps to set this up on DD-WRT.
I’ve played around with FreeNAS in the past. If you aren’t aware it underwent some major changes a while ago where the main developer (Volker) stopped developing and handed over development and maintenance to a company to handle. They basically re-wrote the (now) legacy version (0.7) focusing on business requirements first and foremost and removing many of the features that excited home users about FreeNAS. Since then Volker has been working on a NAS project written on top of Linux (Debian Squeeze) called OpenMediaVault (OMV). Every once in a while I would peek in on each and see how the development has been moving, and from what I can tell OMV has made up a lot of the ground it lost having to write everything from scratch. I’ve started playing around some with OMV in a VirtualBox install and am trying to do some more research to see if it’s “Production” ready for the home environment and would meet any requirements I might have.
So with Christmas and the Steam Winter sale over now, I have A LOT of video games that I haven’t played. Between getting a PS3 bundle with 2 games, 2 Xbox 360 games, 7 games in the last Humble Indie Bundle, and 8 games from the Steam Holiday Sale I’ve built up quite the backlog. Of course this is on top of my existing game backlog which is already pretty long.
FreeNAS is a task specific operating system designed to be used in Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. It’s built using FreeBSD as the underlying OS which lets it have some fairly low power hardware requirements. For example the Dell I used is an old Pentium 4 1.7 GHz with 512 MB of RAM and it runs like a charm, granted I don’t put a lot of demand on the box in the way of concurrent transfers or running processes. It’s worth mentioning that the recommended way to install FreeNAS is to install to, and boot from a USB thumb drive. This is the recommended method so it can save as much hard drive space for data storage, but even though it looked like I could boot from the thumb drive like a hard drive in the BIOS I had trouble getting it to boot so I installed the OS to the 160 GB hard drive with partitions for the OS and data. Here’s the parts list with some specifics after the jump.
- Old Dell Dimension 4400 – bought at university surplus sale, $5
- Various old IDE hard drives I had sitting around – two ~20 GB; one 160 GB, probably cost me something at some point…
- USB thumb drive – “borrowed” from family, free