Mini servers: the next big thing?
written by craig, 9 April 2008
Many homes and businesses have more than one PC. They’re also likely to have a number of digital devices; MP3 players, cameras, camcorders, PVRs, game consoles, etc. There’s a lot of data floating around but few people consider the consequences of losing it.
It’s inevitable that disks will fail. Backing up to a CD or DVD is cumbersome so no one does it. A USB flash or hard drive is great for backing up a single PC, but it’s more tricky for multiple devices. Network storage is definitely the way to go and dedicated server is even better.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while. The server market is likely to grow now that Microsoft have released Windows Home Server (even though MS have admitted that the system can corrupt files, so shouldn’t be used for backup!) But I really don’t want a large, noisy, over-powered server … what I want is:
- A server that’s tiny, quiet (no fan), and has low power consumption. Ideally, it shouldn’t be any larger than a router – in fact, I’d like my router to sit on top of it.
- I want to be able to switch it on and off at will – without going through a long-winded shut-down/start-up process. In a perfect world, I could just switch off the power: the machine could use a small rechargeable battery, detected the power off, and shut down safely or copy it’s RAM to the hard disk and go into a deep hibernate.
- Forget Vista or WHS: I want a small, fast, lightweight, OS. Ideally, I want to have the choice of installing my own OS and applications. It’s likely I’d want to use it for programming source control (Subversion), but installing a web server (Apache, PHP and MySQL) would be great and would free up my main PC.
- Good storage and backup facilities are an absolute must. That’s easy enough to achieve, but the server should also be able to back itself up to a USB drive.
- I’m not convinced I’d need a domain, email, print, or media streaming server, but you never know.
The best option I’ve found so far is the eXcito Bubba; a mini server that uses a 200Mhz CPU, 128MB RAM, up to 750GB hard disk, Debian Linux, and consumes just 10W of power. It does everything I want and more – it’ll also handle HTTP, FTP, or torrent downloads and stream media.
It’s been getting great reviews and is around £330 for the 500GB HD version. I’m tempted to get one, but I’m not sure the machine’s specifications will handle complex PHP/MySQL web pages and the price seems a little high.
The market for small home servers is definitely hotting up. Has anyone heard of any other devices? How easy would it be to build one?