Intro Guide to Setting Up Your Own Home Server
The first question you may ask yourself is,”Why do I need a home server?” Well, jog your memory for a time you found yourself on a vacation, and needing access to files left on a hard drive back home? Or maybe you once wished your movie and music collections were centralized on one device, and accessible from anywhere? A great example is being in a household with a lot media-junkies who have a ton of entertainment on their computers you want access to. Why not pool all that media onto one home server for everyone to enjoy? Even if you haven’t found yourself in any of those situations, it’s possible you use a computer(s) for work. Great! You can get a lot out of a home server.
Here’s a list of the main purposes to set up that first home server:
- Accessible storage — Instead of piling all of your files onto your personal or work computers’ hard drive, move those files onto your home server and access them remotely.
- Sharing files — This server can be accessed securely by anyone with an internet connection and login details. Therefore, you can provide access to your staff, clients, project collaborators or family members.
- Entertainment — Put all of your downloaded music and movies onto the drive of your home server and stream that media through your home theater system. This may require you to utilize services like Airplay or ChromeCast, or you can even use an HDMI cable.
- Host a website — If you own a website, you can pay to host that site with a provider like Godaddy, or you can host it yourself. This is a highly unlikely scenario due to time/risks involved, but some people do use home servers for this reason.
Hopefully you have an idea of how you will be using this home server. Now, run an inventory to make sure you have these items:
- Computer (PC or Mac)
- Network connection (internet or other devices)
- Router (preferably wireless)
- Access (other device; smart phone or computer)
The computer you choose for this home server should be powerful — over 2GB’s of RAM, and at least a 1GHz processor. This will allow you to serve all of the tasks mentioned in the earlier examples.
If you are missing any of the items above, ask your relatives if they have any they don’t use, or just check out craigslist. You can buy inexpensive computers without the screen — any lightly-used PC tower will work great. If you are low on physical space for this setup, search for a “Mac Mini.” These cost around $400 used, but are about the size of a stack of napkins, and fairly powerful. With either, the operating systems should come preinstalled on the computer. That will save you a lot of time.
Now that you have everything you need, let’s get started.
Setup your system
You should be careful where you place the computer for this server. Choose a location in a cool dry area of your house. Elevate it off the ground if possible, and try not to spread these components too far apart. Ideally, the computer, router and screen will be in the same place.
Wire the system up by connecting each component to a power source, and then to each other. To protect this server from any power surges, try to use surge protecting power strip now. If you do not have one, make a note to pick one up from the hardware or electronics store sooner than later. Now power on the server and connect to your router.
Setup your operating system
Your computer may have a working OS ready to be set up as a server. If you need to set up an OS, you should use a Windows front-end because their server edition is free, and the video below will explain the setup process:
If you are a Linux fan, See Linux Home Server to for detail on how to setup a Linux home server.
Migrate your files
Is one of the reasons for your new home server data storage? Then your next step is going to include migrating files from a device to this server. Here is a great article on all the different ways to move files between hard drives. But, before you begin transitioning your data, you’ll want to insure you have proper backup of the servers’ drive. For those of you with multiple hard drives, check out Drobo. If you are going to rely solely on the internal storage of the device, then you may want to do manual backups to a portable hard drive as often as possible, or connect the device to a cloud provider like Carbonite, Google Drive, iDrive, iCloud, Mozy, or SkyDrive. But, be weary of security and privacy issues, as well as monthly/yearly costs for the level of storage you need.
All of the above options are very simple to set up. Depending on which you choose, the there will be tutorials on their website.
Accessing files on your new server
Your router will provide access within range (wireless) or via ethernet cord. But how can you access the content out of range, or even in another country? Well here are a couple options beginning with my personal favorite ;)
- The younity app — younity’s mobile app is one of the few pieces of software that provides unlimited access to any file type stored on any device, as well as the ability to stream media in a player user interface. This is unlike most cloud providers because (a) you do not need to move your files into another folder or onto their platform, (b) you can stream music and movie files instantly, (c) all of that content is organized the same way you had it organized on your computer/server, and (d) it’s private. There is also no syncing necessary. Simply download the desktop installer, then download the mobile iOS app. Immediately start accessing your files, when and where you need them.
- A VPN — This allows you to create a secure connection over the internet with another network. In this circumstance, you would patch into your home network (this new server) from work or at another location.
- Install an FTP server — Installing a file transfer protocol server onto your home server computer will allow other computers to access it. Access requires permission of course, but this FTP access is unencrypted and anyone can eavesdrop into your system.
- Cloud storage — Like DropBox, Box, Google Drive or OneDrive; most cloud service provider allow you to install a folder onto your desktop for all files you want stored in the cloud. Then, you’ll be able to access files with any internet connection. The largest drawbacks are technical ownership of those files on a shared cloud, cost, and the privacy of those files. When you put your files into a public cloud, you are essentially giving control to the provider. This means if they change their policies, you could be forced to pay more to access those files. Privacy in public clouds is also a major issue. iCloud was recently hacked, and a lot of people’s private documents were exposed. You can read how easy this it is to hack iCloud here.
Now you should have a home server all setup and have the ability to access it from anywhere with a data connection. Enjoy!