Home Server Project: Part 1

I recently stumbled upon a HP ProLiant DL360 server, and after using an old ThinkPad T400s as a mail server I felt it would be a worth while investment.
Although this purchase was made without thinking about all the details in full such as the sound of the server and the weight and size.104684Specifications

  • CPU: 2x Xeon 5150 @ 2.66 GHz
  • RAM: 20GB (Mixture of 2 & 4 GB sticks)
  • HDD’s: 6 x 146GB SAS drive (876 GB SAS Total)
  • PSU: 700W
  • Storage Controller: Smart Array P400i Controller

hp-proliant-dl360-g5-1x-quad-core-xeon-e5440-2-8ghz-4gb-raid-700w-1u-rack-server-2-31583-p

So overall it is a decent bit of kit for the price, but the next step was deciding what to do with it. I had a number of ideas but was limited due there only being 4 CPU cores. After a small amount of research and a quick check on eBay there is the option to upgrade to two 4 Core CPU’s for between £10-£30.

Buy upgrading the core count it will alow for a much greater amount head room in regard to Virtual Machines. Ideally the server will run Ubuntu 17.10 Server and utilise a number of headless Virtual Machines to run the rest of my intended operations.

I have decided definitely on a Plex server to alow for distribution of media around my house and with Plex Pass outside of the home. This is something I have set up a number of time and feel that by running it through a VM will make it easier as I will be able to remote into a Visual environment. I have seen a number of posts online mentioning the creation of a headless Plex server but to keep it simple when using an external drive I have decided to use Ubuntu Desktop.

Then there will be a virtual environment that will run my mail server, this will be done with iRedMail for no other reason than top keep it simple and easy. As iRedMail is a kind of all in one solution adding all of the packages required and create a web system for admin and accessing emails.
I could use PostFix and create the entire server bit by bit, but have found this solution to be more tedious and not as efficient. The mail server its self-will not require anything to fancy and the web-based access will be very rarely used, as Thunderbird or Android email will be used to send and receive mail.

This leaves me with a couple of other options that I am debating, one of which is a small NAS back up server for both mine and my partners Laptops. This wont require all that much storage space as it will only really be for crucial documents and potently documents we need to share. So it would only be 150GB or so. I have not looked too deep into this yet as I am still debating buying a dedicated NAS system.

I would also like to host a small web server to potently host Michael Talks Tech from my own server, I am aware that using WordPress is probably a much more reliable system. But I feel that if I have the capabilities I should at least consider it, I am also working on a number of projects that will require dedicated web hosting. So to reduce cost and control my data a small web server is a potential idea.

This project will be on going and Part 2 will be mainly focused on the initial setup and installation of the system and Virtual Machines. I would love to hear any other suggesting that I might not have considered.

 

 

Reasons for Full Disk Encryption

To those who are unfamiliar with the concept of full disk encryption it is very simple, normal your computer or mobile devices will store data on a HDD (Hard Disk Drive) without the requirement for a password or any verification to access it bar maybe a password to log into the machine. And this is all fine and well in a lot of cases, your average user might simply use there laptop for basic web browsing or to use services such as Netflix or Gmail.

But for some users personal or sensitive information might be stored on the computer, meaning that if the devise was to be stolen then all of this information could be accessed and could potently have massive consequences. But by using full disk encryption it makes it almost impossible to gain access to the drive and therefore the information stored on it. The best part is you don’t need to be “tech-savy” or a “computer genius” to achieve this level of protection. And it is also a huge amount easier to achieve than it might sound.

Firstly there are a number off different methods to protect your computer with full disk encryption, this could be in the form of a downloaded application but most operating systems these days also allow the user the ability to use full disk encryptions.

Listed below are a few of the easiest options to secure your PC with full disk encryption

Bit Locker

Bit Locker is Microsoft Windows answer to full disk encryption, and was introduce with Windows Vista, but only on the higher tier packages such as professional and business. This could be a slight restriction to some users who have the home version of Windows.

But much it is a very effective and smooth process to encrypt your disk using Bit Locker, and with it being built it it is also very easy to set up and use. Unlike TrueCrypt this is ran through Microsoft, meaning constant updates and improvements to security and as a result making your data as safe as it can be.

TrueCrypt

Before Bit Locker was around full disk encryption was hard to come by, but there was an open source tool that gave users this ability. And this was TrueCrypt a very easy to use and secure full disk encryption software. That has unfortunately been unsupported since 2014. However your are still able to downloaded it, and even though it states on the website that you should migrate to Bit Locker I personally feel that for your average user that wants a little extra security it will still do an effective job. Largely due to the fact that if your devise was to get stolen, unless the thief was very technically able it would be incredibly challenging for anyone bar an expert to utilize the security vulnerabilities said to be within TrueCrypt.

TrueCrypt Disclaimer
Source – http://truecrypt.sourceforge.net/

 

Ubuntu Home Folder

If you are a Linux user then Ubuntu has you covered on the encrypted folder front, during the install process for Ubuntu you are given the option to password protect your home folder. If you opt to set up a password your home folder will then be encrypted requiring a password to access once logged into the system. It is really nice to see it in the installation stage as it means once your system has been installed everything is set up for you and you will not have to go and set it up after. Although if you use Ubuntu and didn’t do it during the start up, don’t worry about it because you can do it after while usng the system. There are guides to this on the official Ubuntu website.

 

In some cases there are different methods to unlock an encrypted drive, this could be done in a few different ways. One of the more popular is using a UBS drive as a decryption key. Meaning to access the encrypted drive the user will need to have access to the specific USB drive. This is very similar to using a key card to access the encrypted drive. In my opinion it is also a little bit more user friendly as you will not have to keep typing out what should hopefully be a lengthy and complicated password.

And one of my personal favourites is the use of biometrics such as a finger print scanner. These can be purchased online and with a little but of work in some cases, allows the user to have a scanner on the desk, and once a finger print is detected open the encrypted drive.

There are also other methods to be able to add secure sections to your files system, one I have a lot of experience with is use BitDefender. The BitDefender has an option to protect certain folders, Essentially setting up an encrypted location that requires a password to access, although it is not quite full disk encryption its a very easy and manageable way to secure some of your files. It also requires the user to select how much space is going to be need meaning that the area that you secure could be a large as you need.

 

Lenovo T400s: Ubuntu Machine Part 5

So after using the T400s as my daily driver for the past week I have found that the small screen is a slight limitation. Largely due to the fact that i tend to use it on a desk and have to lean in occasionally to see certain things.

Then I remembered that I had an old 21.5 inch monitor lying around somewhere, and I could find it then i would be able to utilise it in my set up. As part of the setup I modified an old file box that i had lying around by cutting 2 slits into it one on the front and another on the back. The purpose of this was to not only raise the T400s screen to around about the same level as the monitor but to also alow for me to attach a keyboard and mouse with out the being cables all over the place. I then found a USB hub that i placed within the box that the mouse and keyboard connected to. This mean that when the T400s was in the ‘Dock’ only one of the rear USB ports was being used.

When I connected the monitor I was unsure what would happen, as is the case with windows that you can occasionally be greeted by either an extended display or and extension of the primary display. But this wasnt an issue, as soon as the VGA cable was connected the monitor sprung to life and extended the desktop onto the monitor. This was a very pleasant experience as not only was i able to use a full size keyboard and mouse but for some graphical work i needed to do. So after using ubuntu across 2 screens and on more of a desktop based manner, I have the intention of installing Ubuntu to my main desktop PC that is currently running windows 10. This will of course be in the form of a dual-boot as im not yet ready to commit myself fully to ubuntu due to the requirement of specific software that i use not being available on Linux. But unless I need to use them certain application there is a high chance i will be using ubuntu because the dual screen felt smooth and clean.

 

Lenovo T400s: Ubuntu Machine Part 4

I have been using Ubuntu as my daily driver now for about 4-5 days, and i had not really had to touch on productivity applications and other utilities of this nature. When you install Ubuntu it comes pre-packaged with a nice free office suite called LibreOffice. I have only really touched on the word processing application and was plesentaly surprised. Although it does look rather basic in comparison to other office packages such as the most common Microsoft office.

It does how ever have all the features needed for a nice writing exsperiance, i have not written any large documents on it yet but feel it will be nice and accessible when it come time to write some larger reports. I have also been able to download drop box to my Ubuntu system, this was nice because i can back up all of my word documents and images to my dropbox starlight from the file directory on the system. This is great because it means I can use these documents on a number off different devices quickly and easily, but it also means that if I decided to uninstall Ubuntu to do a fresh install it won’t effect any of ,y documents.

I have been using my Ubuntu machine to write most of these blog posts as well and was surprised and deleted to find a WordPress as in the Ubuntu Software Center. This is basically just a port of the website, but it is nice to have your browser and blog software somewhat separate. I found this useful during research stages as to not keep clicking on word press. It works well as I said it’s just the word press website but it has a nice logo and fits well in the launcher bar. 

I am still finding my feet with Ubuntu and have not yet hit any limitations as to what I can and can’t do within it. And as I keep exsplorimg I will keep finding solutions to the issue I have.