Home Server Project: Part 3 (Operating System)

In the previous post in this series I mentioned the ProLiant DL380 G7 and how it has become the new work horse for my Home Lab, in this next part I am going to discus the operating system being deployed and some of the reasons why.

When initially delving into server operating system I had only ever uses Ubuntu Server 16.04, and while this is an ideal server operating system I required a OS that would allow for me to manage numerous elements with very little effort.

This lead to a hunt around the depths of the internet and I kept coming across a number of different options, the top three where UnRaid, FreeNAS and Exsi. Although each boast different features and use cases they all became very viable options.

vSphere Hypervisor

With the initial intention to deploy everything as a virtual machine Exsi was at the top of the pile, it is an industry standard and partnered with VMware’s vSphere it has remote management capabilities. This would allow for simple deployment of numerous virtual machines. The benefit of this is the ability to throw a new virtual machine up every time I required one.
Although this solutions would cost money I am able to receive it for nothing due to a deal offered by my University. Excluding Exsi there are a number of other solutions that allow for the deployment of virtual machines, Proxmos appears to be a popular solution and due to it being open-source is free to use.

FreeNAS

FreeNAS is a solution based on the FreeBSD operating system, once deployed on a system it allows for network attached storage to be utilized across your network. It also offers back up services for Windows, Mac and Linux meaning that as a NAS solutions it is very effective.
But aside from offering the previously mentioned features it also boast a number of plugins ranging from Plex Media Server to OwnCloud. This allows the the NAS to be used in a slightly more beneficial manner than a simple storage and back up solutions.

Although eventually FreeNAS was not deployed onto my main system, I do have a project to utilize the back up and storage abilities it offers.

UnRaid

UnRaid is a very intriguing service as the name would suggest it allows for you to “unraid” your devices. In my current system I have 8 146GB SAS drives all in raid 5. This allows for no data to be lost in the case that one drive fails.
UnRaid however allows for a software based solution to manage a similar system, with drives of varying size and speed. While I do not personalty utilize this features I can see the benefits if someone was to throw a server together using parts they had laying about.
UnRaid allows for both Virtual Machines and Dokcers to be used, this features is something that I have found very beneficial as the docker repository has hundreds of items that range from personal cloud storage to Plex Media Server. This is an easy and effective method to deploy software onto the server with very limited interaction from the user bar setting some parameters.
The use of Virtual Machines within UnRaid is also a huge benefit as it allows for virtual labs or mail servers to be deployed and easily managed from one window.

 

I finally settled on UnRaid as it appeared to hit all the criteria I was looking for and after having used it on my previous server I felt confident that it was the solution that would benefit my home lab the most. While it is not the free option and in some cases could be perceived as somewhat limiting I have found that if you tweak around with it enough there wont be much you can not do with it.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Plex Media Sever

I have recently started using Plex much more in my home media setup, this came to light as I always rip my DVD’s and BluRays to a digital format for more continent viewing. But this then leads to having a huge amount of windows files to scroll through when you fancy watching a film or just having a look to see what you fancy. 

This lead me to using Plex and I was so impressed with it. I’ve used it in the past but never really got that into it. But the other day I started using it again and saw it’s broad scope, not only will it organise your meaid in a very neat and tidy manner it also provides you with cover photos for the content and a little description and rating. This makes it look and feels very smooth and professional. It also adds a certain Netflix feel to the whole thing, meaning that your home media system has a very nice user friendly feel to the whole thing. 

Firstly it’s so easy to set up, because Plex scans all the folders you have your media on and it just does it all. It’s also used across so many platforms meaning you can have your Plex “Server” on one machine and then distribute all your media through your house, and even on the go if you pay for Plex. This means you can be watching one thing in the lounge on a smart TV using the Plex app and someone else streams it to their tablet or laptop. 

Over all I have used a few media centre applications in the past such as XBMC and I feel the over all feel of Plex. And although there are many good points to XBMC or Kodi as it is now know the distribution factor of Plex wins out as well as the look and style it is not to busy or cluttered but delivers a huge amount of information in a helpful and pleasant manner.