Clarifications About The Downside Of Setting Up A Linux-Based Home Data Server

Yesterday I wrote about some of the problems with taking an old PC, installing a system like Linux on it, and trying to use it as a file server. That article generated some interesting discussion. Specifically, it is the first comment by a poster named “techiem2″ that I will be responding to.

I think you understood the first part of my argument correctly. Yes, we are trying to store our data, which presumably has some value to us, so we want to make sure it does not fall victim to an old and failing hard drive. Thus in our old PC we would want to install a new drive, ideally. This will be costly, both in terms of the drive itself, as well as the electricity needed to power the old PC containing the drive. If your time is valuable, that’s a third cost.

Now, I think you missed the point when it comes to going with an external USB or FireWire drive. I may not have been as clear about the benefits as I could have been. First of all, you greatly reduce the power consumption costs associated with running a separate PC. Second, you get the added portability and space saving benefits of the smaller external drive.

However, you do not lose the full network accessibility offered by the separate PC. You can easily connect that drive to one of your existing computers, and share the data a variety of ways. I know some people who mount such drives on their main Linux system, and then share them via NFS or even FTP. Then they access it from their other systems as if it were connected to a separate, older PC they repurposed as a storage system.

But we can find a use for old PCs. Another poster, named “sander”, understood this point. While such PCs are often not a good idea for file storage purposes, they do often prove adequate as various types of network filters. Two that most people and businesses would use are firewalls and filtering web proxies.

The web proxy is perhaps the most useful for a home-based network. Such a proxy would allow for web pages to be cached, as well as for advertisements to be filtered. Instead of having to share Firefox AdBlock settings between systems, one could set up some rules on the proxy to take care of such filtering. And that way the ads would be blocked regardless of which browser one is using.

So as I said in my previous article, old PCs and servers are often useful for data transmission tasks, where data is being passed through the system, and potentially modified or stored for the short-term. But it makes little sense to use such systems as long-term data storage facilities. The reliability issues are significant, especially when it comes to valuable data. And the costs to overcome these reliability problems are often unjustifiable. A much more cost-effective solution is an external hard drive.

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