9 Jun 2011

Mini Me - The Dell 9" Home Server

So, you fancy a home server for bits and bobs of development, but don't want to buy another bulky computer, and especially not something expensive and server class. Aside from a need to house it in the garage due to fan noise, server units aren't renowned for their energy efficiency and that RAID array, although fault tolerant, will suck up more power than you realise. Unlike work it's you who pays the bills 'at home'.

How about something you could fit in a shoe box, something which will run completely silently, at an energy efficient 5w, comes with its own built-in screen and keyboard plus SSD hard disk and combined UPS (Battery), and all for just over £100? Am I deluded? Not at all, I run a Dell Mini 9 Netbook. Totally useless as a computer but absolutely brillant as a home server.

Bought from eBay for a mere £113 (inc delivery) my 'server' is spec'd with a 16GB SSD, 2GB of DDR memory and a surprisingly competent Intel Atom 1.6GHZ CPU. It runs Ubuntu Server 10.04LTS and I tell you, it flies. It'll boot to the CLI in 20 seconds and serves up websites around the internet quite happily. I'd initially just hosted the website on there for testing purposes but it's so reliable, easy (and fun) I've had it sat there for months now and honestly can't see any reason to move it

In Terabyte world 16GB of disk space doesn't sound like much, but I never bought it for storage, I've a 500GB Buffalo Linkstation Mini for that, and as it goes for hosting websites 16GB is actually a huge vat of space.

The Mini 9 only offers 100base ethernet but that's fine for serving up my small six page flat HTML site, I only have a 10MB cable connection anyway and any streaming round the home LAN comes from the NAS which delivers a Gig of bandwidth. I also offloaded the blog back to Blogger (which has really come on in recent years) so there's no real overhead at all and it loads up as snappily as any other website.

As a systems guy I obviously enjoy home hosting and if you too fancy a go this is such a great way of doing so. A few years ago I had another Mini 9 which I took to Berlin to use for LAMP development (yes, I have history with these things). The Wi-Fi in the apartment was somewhat flaky so I rigged it up through a little Netgear x4 Port Switch to an AirPort Express and configured it as a localised DNS Cache box, it worked superbly and sat there all summer.

Check out my home (Front Room) 'Server Room' - Dell Mini 9, Virgin Cable Modem, Buffalo Linkstation Mini NAS and Cisco Linksys E2000 Router. All housed (rather tastefully, I must say) in period style with accompanying storage (i.e a drawer) for spare Cat5 cables or W.H.Y.

For anyone who's interested the cabinet cost me £45 from the local second hand furniture salesroom in Saltaire, personally I think it's the best part of the whole setup. Note rear 'ventilation', I did feel a bit harsh removing its rear panel but I was very careful and it can always be replaced if the IT room ever needs to be de-commissioned (Although as you can see there's still plenty of room for expansion, heck I could fit another ten servers in there and it would still only be half full).


the ITGuy said...

Brilliant!!! It's surprising how much you can do with so little, once you have crearly defined exactly what you're trying to achieve!

RichBos said...

When I was travelling I had a "LAN in a Bag"....! Dell Mini 9, MacBook Air, x4 port Netgear Mini-Switch + a few Cat5's and an Airport Express. It was superb and there wasn't much I couldn't mock-up for development.

Joe said...

Nice looking server room! Are you able to get you mini 9 to boot automatically after power failure?

RichBos said...

Hi Joe, unfortunately not, that would be the icing on the cake, however to be fair I can't recall the last time we had a power failure at home, it's so rare it's probably not worth trying to find a solution (although it could be fun to think about).

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