4 Alternatives To Windows Home Server
Written by Alan Friday, 29 April 2011 08:00
With the release of Windows Home Server 2011 I started thinking about homer server software. While the Windows offering works great and is priced relatively low, what about those who want free, or those that just have some reason to not use the Microsoft offering? I didn’t have to look far for an alternative – after all, my FreeNAS server is sitting next to the desk where I am writing this. But there are others out there as well that fit this same bill.
I have put together a list of four server operating systems that a reasonable technical savvy user can implement in their home using cheap hardware such as that last desktop PC that you have now replaced with a newer, better model. The hardware requirements for these solutions are all very low by today’s computing standards.
FreeNAS is based on the free and open-source FreeBSD software. To say the least, this is a very scaled-down server. In fact, it’s scaled down so much that it can be run off of a 32 MB flash drive. While possible, that’s not very practical. Servers need hard drive space, and lots of it. FreeNAS can handle as much as you can add. Despite it’s sparse design FreeNAS is very capable. It includes support for BitTorrent and remote web-based file management via QuiXplorer; it even serves as the perfect iTunes music server. You can boot FreeNAS off nearly any media: hard drives, optical discs, floppy disks, and flash-based media. It has support for both hardware and software based RAID, disk encryption, and management of groups and users via local authentication or Microsoft Domains. Mine runs 24/7 on an old Celeron processor with 24 MB of RAM. Add a syncing program like SyncBack and you have automatic backup of all of your files.
Apache is not actually a stand-alone operating system, but requires an existing OS for it to run on. That’s not much of a problem though, given that it will run on almost any OS you can throw at it, but primarily it runs on Linux. There is no installation instructions on the Apache site itself. You will need to find it from the OS you are installing it on or do a Google search. There’s no shortage of material to help you that can be found. Apache, like FreeNAS, is very capable for almost anything you will want to use it for.
Ubuntu Server Edition
Ubuntu Server Edition shares the ease of use that has catapulted its desktop-edition sibling to popularity. It runs on the standard LAMP – Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP – and the installation is one of the simplest around. While configuring Ubuntu isn’t going to be as simple as picking up a pre-configured Windows Home Server at your local big box store and plugging it in, there are a wealth of applications to help you integrate your Linux based home server with the rest of your network. Setting it up isn’t as simple as WHS, but it’s no harder than the other choices listed here. Ubuntu is also a lot more capable than the WHS and it can handle all of your media serving needs as well.
Debian may be the king of Linux. It has a bigger and wider range of software packages than any other distro. It will run on almost any hardware as well. In fact, there’s a a slim-to-none chance you’ve got a computer that can’t run it. You can configure this flexible operating system to do nearly anything you can imagine, from serving media and remote backups to running your own web server or running your own mail server. Like other Linux distributions, Debian can be used to run a low-power and headless server when run without a GUI and using remote administration.
There you have four free solutions that you can use to do almost any home server task. None are as easy as Windows Home Server, but if you follow instructions and search for some on-line help when you hit a snag then you should have no problems getting any of them up and running and doing your bidding.
Personal choice comes into play here and I would advise writing down exactly what you want to do and then making sure it’s possible with a particular OS (it probably is). As I said earlier, I use FreeNAS so I am a bit partial, but I have used both Debian and Ubuntu in the past and will probably use Apache at some point down the road. The bottom line is it’s just an individual decision and there’s no right or worng.