Getting Started

Before starting out you need to know if a home server is the right choice, and what you can get out of a server. I created my first server in 2001 to host a website, since then and many machines later I use my server more for media and file storage, but continue to run web services and more.

Home servers can be as versatile as you want, so with the example of my server, even if it is initially created for one purpose it can be expanded on later. There are a number of different roles that the server can take with the more common ones discussed here:

  • File: Very common with easy setup, the server brings all your files into one central location making things easier when it comes to finding up to date documents and backing up data.
  • Print: Wireless printers are starting to take over, but if there is a USB printer in use then it's easy to connect to the home server and allow all home computers to use it.
  • Media: Bring all your pictures, music and video to the server and share around the home, access them on TVs, games consoles and tablets. Plus adding streaming capabilities gives access on many more connected devices.
  • CCTV: Capture footage from in and around the home 24 hours a day for safety and security. Choose from a variety of recording methods and be able to immediately review footage.
  • Web: Have the freedom to create a website without the constraints or extra charges that come with hosting services. Plus make learning new web technologies easier by testing and deploying on a local web server.
  • VPN: Get secure access to your files when away from home. Plus add an extra layer of security when using public hotspots by creating a VPN gateway.
  • Download: With the server always on, internet bandwidth that goes unused when you are away can be utilized to download content, whether it be regular HTTP, Usenet or Torrents.

Benefits of a Home Server

My first home server was born as a necessity to create a dynamic content website without paying the astronomical charges that existed in 2001, but ever since it has proved to be great learning tool.

Jumping in head first will give hands on learning with aspects of computing.  From hardware components and configuration, more in depth look a networking both locally and on the internet, and better understanding in setting up an operating system to work at peak performance.

First Home Server
My First Home Server, Cira 2001
Above, seperate Router and Network Hub

For the more security conscious a home server allows complete control over data and what happens with it. Instead of leaving services to a number of different 3rd parties that can lose or sell data, or as history proves even pull the plug on a whole service with little to no notification. In addition outsourcing the roles to a number of different service suppliers can add up to be costly, operating a home server could work out cheaper after any hardware purchases and ongoing energy consumption.

Things To Consider

While it may be cheaper in the long run, the initial outlay on equipment needs to be taken into account, setup can cost next to nothing by using an old pc and the network you already have while at the other end of the scale corporate grade servers can easily run into thousands.

If purchasing a new machine is viable or the only option, take into consideration the power consumption and avoid adding extra performance to a computer that will be seldom used. A server that is running all day every day can really add to electricity bills, and a high end machine that is doing something that a low power machine could do just as well exacerbates the cost.

Finally, downtime will become a part of your vocabulary, hosting companies use this measure as an advertising feature of their quality (if its good, of course). Even with the most meticulous of planning downtime can crop of at any time from any location, this can become an issue especially when you are running internet facing roles such as web and email. To minimise the chances of long periods of downtime budgeting redundancy options can be considered, ranging from a spare hard drive as they are the most common failure point in computers, up to a second server on standby or a backup internet connection.