Building a home server is an excellent weekend project that lets you centralize your files and backups and get more out of the computers in your home. For little more than the cost of a netbook or inexpensive desktop, you can create your own server that can work as a mail server, a media server, or a backup device. Your first step is choosing which platform you’d like to run on your home server. This review of the top four home server software suites will help you get started.
Ubuntu Server Edition
As the granddaddy of user-friendly Linux-based home server software suites, Ubuntu Server Edition pulls together everything you need to create a home server. It comes with LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) pre-configured, which saves you from having to install and set up each component a la carte. It still won’t be quite as easy as buying a Windows-based server from a big box store, but you’ll have ample opportunity to customize your server with the programs and applications you need. And best of all, because it’s open source, you won’t pay a dime in licensing fees. With a bit of set up, you can easily get a full-featured Ubuntu server that offers media streaming, remote back up, file serving and web hosting, all for a very affordable price.
FreeNAS, as the name implies, is a free web server software that allows bare bones home server setups that are slim enough to run off a flash drive. Because of its small footprint, FreeNAS is best for setting up a server for disk storage. But it also boasts other features, such as support for BitTorrent, remote web-based file management (thanks to QuiXplorer) and even iTunes music servers. FreeNAS can be booted off practically any media, including external hard drives, optical discs and flash-based cards and thumb drives. FreeNAS supports software and hardware based RAID, disk encryption and local authentication for groups and users (or Microsoft Domains). Requiring only 96MB of RAM, FreeNAS is a good choice if you’d like to turn an older computer into a headless server.
Debian is another Linux-based operating system, but it’s a bit more flexible in terms of support for hardware architectures. There are also vast quantities of Debian packages that you can use with your Debian server that you can’t use on an Ubuntu-based server, in spite of the fact that Ubuntu is derived from Debian. Debian can be run without a GUI and can be accessed via remote administration, making it another good choice for a headless server fashioned out of an aging PC.
Windows Home Server
Windows Home Server is a commercial product, but it makes up for its price in ease of use and user support. Windows Home Server will be the easiest server software for the average user to get up and running, especially if you buy a server off the shelf with Windows Home Server pre-configured. Windows Home Server will work incredibly well with your other Windows-based PCs and makes remote file storage, file indexing, remote backup, file and printer sharing a breeze.
Bottom-line: Go with an open source option for low cost and go with Windows Home Server for ease of use. Ubuntu Server Edition provides a nice balance between usability and affordability.