Running a server at home

I keep a server running at home 24/7 for ten years now. It started with a small 486 CPU based PC running NetBSD 1.1. Back then no ISP rented out servers and hosting your own machine in an ISP’s data center was very expensive. Running my server at home wasn’t that cheap either because of the analog leased line required for the permanent Internet connection. But it was really cool to have your own website, a permanent feed into your news system and mailing lists which operated in realtime.

Over time I got more bandwidth for less money and upgraded both the software and hardware of my server. These days it is a Pentium M CPU on a desktop motherboard with four SATA drives and a RAID hostadapter running NetBSD 3.0_STABLE. It provides mail service for my family and a few friends, hosts my websites (including this Blog) and is the fileserver for most of the computers at home. Running these service myself provides me a lot of flexibility and better service compared to the offerings of a lot of ISPs. But it also requires work to maintain the infrastructure and reliable Internet connection which provides fixed public IP addresses (what makes it more expensive).

A lot of other people prefer renting a server in a data center these days. There are numerous advantages of course:

  1. Less noise and heat at home.
  2. More bandwidth.
  3. Somebody else maintains the hardware (although you might have to pay for that).
  4. Your don’t depend on the reliability of your home Internet connection so much.

One of my fellow workers recently rented a server from the Hetzner Online AG because he doesn’t trust his cable connection at home – I wouldn’t trust it either :-). And foolish as I am I argued with him and told him that my DSL link is reasonably stable.

The universe does of course not forgive such bold statements and punished me. Two major BT outages within 24 hours, a power fluctuation this morning (no machine rebooted but the DSL modem lost the connection) and two more connection failures during the afternoon tought me humility. Only after I decided to write this Blog entry and admit my defeat the universe forgave me and stopped playing yo-yo with my DSL.

Despite the advantages and the problems in the last 48 hours I will continue to run a server at home. Besides the effort of relocating my server I also prefer to have certain services (e.g. the fileserver) at home and not in a data center, mostly for performance reasons. And splitting the services between two machine would only cause more work. My hope is of course that in a not so distant future you can get a 1Gb/Sec low latency Internet connection into your home which allows you to use a server in a data center just like the one you used to have under your desk at home. Such a setup would provide the advantages of both solutions and open new opportunities. I’m stilling dreaming of nice thin clients which I could give to my familiy members for reading e-mail and surfing the web. And if they have problems with their Windows PCs afterwards I can simply refuse to fix them. 🙂

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4 Responses to Running a server at home

  1. Dan says:

    What Operating system on your server are you running?

  2. I’m using NetBSD as mentioned in the article.

  3. frantz says:

    Hi, im thinking of starting to host my own server.

    With 800kbps upload speed and a dedicated 1mb ram and 2.4 ghz processor, how many users at a time do you think my website will be able to handle?

    Assume each page is approximately 400kb

  4. The machine will be more than fast enough for 800Kb/s. The number of users depend on your website. An HTML-only website doesn’t need much bandwidth, pictures use more bandwidth and videos a lot.

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