How to Build Your Very Own File Server

Every office that generates large amounts of data needs a file server so that users can access it all from a central location. The sole purpose of a file server is to provide the users on the network with files. Additionally, file servers can also provide data to other users over the internet via a website or FTP service. A file server is nothing but a simple computer with ample storage space, running a server operating system and configured with data backup or synchronizing software. The hardware is usually designed using special purpose processors, RAM, motherboards, hard drives, power supply units and cabinets so the server is able to be powered on 24x7. So they have to be rugged and efficiently cooled too.

The main component of a server is the storage space, but using a single spacious hard drive will not serve the purpose. The drives should also be highly efficient in terms of speed, should have a large volume, and last but not the least, they should be secure enough to keep your data safe. Hence, they are usually configured in RAID, where multiple hard drives are deployed to ensure speed and safety during data transfers. Hard drives can be configured in RAID using different modes— RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 or 01. While RAID 0 is considered the fastest as it uses the data striping feature, RAID 1 is the safest as it uses data mirroring. but both have their advantages and disadvantages. RAID 5, 10 and 01 are combinations, which uses both striping and mirroring to form fast and safe storage. We will show you how to configure a simple file server which uses RAID 0 or RAID 1 using two SATA hard drives and an old computer. You can also use multiple hard drives to form a RAID 5, 10 or 01 volume.

Note: To create a RAID volume, the hard drives must be of the same type, speed and capacity, otherwise the one with the lesser of these features will bring down the efficiency of the entire group.  A file server is usually untouched, except for maintenance such as application installation, user configuration or fixing breakdowns. You can build your own server and leave it behind a desk, in a loft or hidden inside a cabinet, but the place it's set up in should be spacious, well ventilated and easily accessible for maintenance. The monitor, keyboard and mouse can be disconnected until required.  



Any old desktop computer. A Pentium 4 or higher is preferable.
Two or more similar SATA hard drives.
2 GB RAM should be enough, unless you have more to spare.
A PCI SATA RAID card, unless your motherboard features built-in RAID.

An operating system. A server edition is highly recommended if there are many users accessing it.



Let’s begin. Open and clean the old computer thoroughly and ensure a dust-free interior for efficient cooling. Install a PCI SATA RAID card into a vacant PCI expansion slot and screw it in place, unless your motherboard features an onboard RAID controller. Install the two (or more) hard drives in the respective bays and connect the necessary cables (data and power). Confirm that all cables are neatly tied and tucked away from the cooling fans and ducts to ensure proper air circulation. Once done, your hardware is ready to become a server.

Now is the time to install the operating system, but before this, you will need to configure the hard drives in RAID. If your motherboard features RAID, then simply go to the BIOS setup and configure the two hard drives in RAID 0 or 1 and exit.

If you are using a PCI RAID card, then you will have to press the necessary keys displayed on the screen while the system is starting up to enter the card’s BIOS. Here again, configure the hard drives in RAID and save the settings. You’re finally done configuring the hardware. If you want a secure storage system, use the RAID 1 configuration, and if speed is the requirement, go for RAID 0.

Note: Hard drives in RAID 0 will allow the total combined capacity to be used while RAID 1 offers half the combined storage space. For Example: RAID 0: 80 GB + 80 GB = 160 GB and RAID 1: 80 GB + 80 GB = 80 GB.  
Begin installing the operating system. You can use a Microsoft Windows Server Edition OS (recommended) or a Linux OS. We have used Windows XP as the OS as an old computer would already have a licensed operating system. During the installation, you might be prompted to install the drivers for the RAID hardware so that the OS can recognize the storage/volume type. Insert the driver CD that came with the motherboard or the PCI RAID card. The setup will then detect the storage space and you can continue installing the operating system as usual.

Your file server is now finally ready to be configured. Once the OS is installed, make sure you have installed all the drivers and created all the users and their profiles as per the requirement of your network. Copy your data to the storage drives and share the respective folders with appropriate user rights. That’s it! Your file server is ready to be deployed. Just connect the server to the network after configuring the network card and then disconnect the monitor, keyboard and mouse.

Now that your server is on duty, there are some things that you should also consider. Use a UPS to avoid data loss during power failures, install an exhaust fan in case you are keeping it in an enclosed area, install an antivirus software for additional security, install and keep running a password protected virtual networking software so that you can access the server from another computer on the network instead of connecting a monitor and input device and operating the server. Additionally, we also recommend a few changes to your server hardware. Since you are using an older computer, replacing the power supply unit would be a good idea as this component might fail when used 24x7. Additionally, to lower the noise of multiple hard drives spinning inside the cabinet, design some foam or rubber sleeves for the hard drives to dampen the vibrations. Finally, use the power saving and/or WOL feature of the motherboard to power down the hard drives or system when the server is not being used. This will not only save power, but will also prolong the life of the server’s hardware. Your file server is finally ready for action.

Let it serve you better
Now that your file server is ready and serving its purpose on the network, why not use the entire efficiency of the server for other purposes to enhance your business productivity or home convenience. As we mentioned earlier, file servers are nothing but simple computers, and you can use them for multiple purposes apart from simply sharing a folder or drive. Some other applications that can be installed on the server to juice-out some additional functionality.

Media server: Install a media server application and store your complete collection of audio and video files on the server and stream them to all the computers or handheld gadgets from a centrally located location. Examples: iTunes, IceCast, Unreal.
HTTP server: Host your own website from home or office using an HTTP server. All you need is a live IP address from your internet service provider. You don’t need to worry about web space because your server’s storage space is the limit. Website down time is zeroed as your server would be online all the time in your own premises. Finally, hosting charges are nil as you own the server. Examples: Apache HTTP server, Xerver.
FTP server: Allow your friends and clients to access your data files or upload their data to your server using the FTP service. Here too you would require a live IP address from your ISP. Examples: Xerver, FileZilla, Xlight, WinFTP.

Printer server: Install printer(s) on the file server and share them across the network. You don’t need to worry about the printers connected to client machines on the network being shut down. All your printers can be in one location at home or office.
Database servers: Centrally feed in all your data and share it w ith a database management software to make information available to all users on the network. Examples: SQL, Oracle, Microsoft Access, FileMaker.
Accounting server: Similar to a database server, multi-user accounting server applications can be installed to provide multi-user access to accountants on the network. Examples: Tally, Busy.
Proxy server: Proxy servers help internet usage on the local network work much faster because of their caching feature. You can create user profiles to induce profiles to authenticate users or even block particular websites. Examples: FreeProxy, AnalogX, CCProxy.
Download server: Employ the server to be a single point for downloading files and torrents from the Internet. This is beneficial as the server can be used for managing all your data downloads by taking the benefits of its 24-hour uptime. Examples: DAP, FlashGet, uTorrent, BitComet.
Backup server: Install backup or synchronizing software on the server and configure it in such a way that it can automatically backup crucial data from all the machines on the local network at specific intervals. This would ensure that, apart from client machines, a copy of all your data exists on the server. Example: Fbackup, AceBackup.
Mail server: Mail servers can be very beneficial on a local network. Users can send and receive mails to the file server, which will do the job of sending emails outside or collecting emails and distributing emails from an online POP server to local users. Also send emails internally without the need of using Internet bandwidth. Example: hMailServer, netMailshar, Winmail, CMailServer.

Security monitor: Using a video security monitoring software, your file server can also act as a surveillance unit by recording video feeds from webcams and IP cameras. Example: WebcamXP, SmarterGuard Basic.

Published Date: Jun 16, 2011 02:33 pm | Updated Date: Jun 16, 2011 02:33 pm