Do you have a low power home server?

I’ve been meaning to post a follow-up to ‘Cheap low power home server options‘ for a while; partly for my own curiosity (I wonder what server I’d choose if I was looking now), and partly because more and more people seem to be looking for one (based on the highly scientific hit count for the original post, which is almost twice as popular as the second place post).

Rich is considering a SheevaPlug for example, some neat looking machines crop up on the Smart Home Blog now and then, and of course there’s the hugely popular (in Hursley at least!) Viglen MPC-L, which appeared just after I got my Netvoyager (still very pleased with my choice- up for 425 days and counting!)

The question is, what server are you using? And would you recommend it?! It’d be great to hear some experiences, whether you’re happy fighting something as small as a NSLU2, decided on a server anyone could use, counted the pennies, or splashed out on something more expensive.

Update: sadly Chris has discovered that the MPC-L and LX-1000 have been discontinued. (17 February 2010)

“so it looks like Viglen dont sell the MPC-L anymore and Netvoyager don’t sell the lx1000 anymore. What’s a low power geek to do?” @yellowpark

A few alternatives suggested by @rikp, @dllmr, @ScaredyCat, and @netcompsys:

Update: A couple more options which look quite tempting. (4 May 2010)

  • GuruPlug (the SheevaPlug2.)
  • O2 Joggler (very nearly got one of these when they were on special offer! Looks like a very useful device with the bonus of a responsive touch screen.)

Update: I gave in and bought a Joggler while they were briefly back on special offer, although I haven’t (yet) moved anything off my old Netvoyager. If you missed out on the Jogglers, the Aleutia T1 Fanless PC looks like another possible contender for home server duties. (6 July 2010)


Graphing CurrentCost using RRDtool

I’ve not been doing much with my CurrentCost data lately, having been slightly distracted with upgrading my home server OS. Well, upgrading is possibly a slightly odd description for a running a new live CD system but to compile rrdtool I grabbed the latest version (6.0.7) of SLAX instead of SLAMPPLite which is based on an older release. I really like the new version of SLAX so I’ve been experimenting with some home server type customizations, manually so far since MySLAX creator only seems to understand older versions, but I might give SLAX Tools a go too.

Anyway, while not quite as interesting as Dale’s CurrentCost bill, I now have a working RRDtool SLAX module. RRDtool seems ideal for graphing CurrentCost data. I’m aiming for something like this example, which would be perfect for viewing on a TV using the Wii but to start with I’ve been giving it a simple trial run over the last day. Here are the results so far:

RRDtool power graph

Looking pretty good, and I think there are a few more features of RRDtool that could prove useful.

Update: found another great example of using RRDtool for CurrentCost data, which has a link to another page with exactly the kind of RRDtool settings you’ll need for a CurrentCost meter! (17 November 2008)

Update: looks like Chris Dalby has RRDtool hooked up as well now. Hope to post about RRDtool again soon with the commands I’m using; just need a couple more tweaks! (7 December 2008)

Home server OS

Choosing the hardware took a while but that was nothing compared to tracking down a Linux distribution to use! I’m a big fan of DSL and, being damn small, it runs a treat on the Netvoyager but it’s purpose in life isn’t really as a home server. So began a hunt for a Damn Small Home Server Linux distribution which has eventually led me to…

SLAMPPLite uses the XAMPP server suite, and is low fat version of the “instant home server” SLAMPP. Sounded promising! So far it’s lived up to expectations, running the XAMPP samples without any noticeable delays- here’s how it looked with everything running (though not necessarily doing anything!)…

top - 02:55:44 up 9 min,  1 user,  load average: 0.49, 1.38, 0.94
Tasks:  80 total,   1 running,  79 sleeping,   0 stopped,   0 zombie
Cpu(s):  2.6% us,  3.9% sy,  0.0% ni, 93.6% id,  0.0% wa,  0.0% hi,  0.0% si
Mem:    119544k total,   116608k used,     2936k free,     9428k buffers
Swap:        0k total,        0k used,        0k free,    55916k cached

So a pretty tight squeeze, but on a £95 box (they reduced it after I bought one!) I’m more than happy. As an added bonus, SLAMPP/SLAMPPLite are based on SLAX, which made recompiling the broker for publishing CurrentCost data a snap, plus you get some handy tools for customisation, including the MySlax Creator gui for those of us who spend too long with Windows, so I’ve been tinkering with an extra lite version! (I may well be installing SLAX on my venerable old ThinkPad 240 as well since it seems so flexible.)

Now that I have the LX1000 BIOS password, thanks to the very helpful Netvoyager customer support, I should be able to get it set up to boot back up after a power cut as well. Andy has also been asking about file serving but I haven’t given that a try yet. Plenty more to do!

Update: Another quick look at memory usage, this time after stopping a few unwanted services:

# free -t -m
             total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:           116        100         16          0         17         62
-/+ buffers/cache:         19         97
Swap:           78          0         77
Total:         195        100         94

DSL, Puppy Linux, Netvoyager and CurrentCost

After some procrastination I now have a tiny home server:

Netvoyager LX-1000

The Netvoyager comes with some thin client software pre-installed, which I’m thinking of leaving alone for now, since it might turn out to be useful if I ever get a SLUG as well. (Well it is my birthday in a couple of months!!)

The first tiny hurdle was trying to boot a DSL USB stick I have. Unfortunately I discovered the BIOS is password protected so hitting Del didn’t get me very far. Luckily Netvoyager support helped out by telling me to press F8 to bring up a list of devices to boot from. I’m hoping they’ll also tell me the BIOS password to avoid having to do that every time because it got a bit annoying this weekend!

My attempts to boot using DSL were met with mixed results: booting from a USB CD drive worked a treat, but no amount of hacking got it to boot from a USB stick. It seems to be GRUB rather than DSL that’s the problem. It turns out that there is quite a bit of information about for the Netvoyager, under its Microclient and eBox-2300 aliases. Puppy Linux seemed to be the favourite option, so I had a go with that and, while being a bit slower, it’s working a treat. It had an added bonus of having a few other bits I needed that DSL didn’t. For now it’s happily publishing data for CurrentCost power graphs but I plan to break it again at some point to switch to a command line only cut down Linux install.

Definitely pleased with the Netvoyager decision so far, despite people suggesting even more alternatives since I got it! Cost, features and power use are spot on for what I wanted.

Update: Found a couple of useful Netvoyager links while playing around with new Linux distros. (24 October 2010)

Cheap low power home server options

Unfortunately my CurrentCost meter only gets hooked up to an aging ThinkPad 240 on a time-share arrangement with Jo; she is currently cursing about how slow the web is, so my graph on the power meter page is blank. Other people have a more reliable connection and are tracking down 3KW spikes and 100watt-ish blips. Good excuse for a(nother) gadget I reckon!

Current thoughts, in roughly ascending price order:

  1. SLUG: £57 (as recommended by @andysc)
  2. Netvoyager LX-1000: £130
  3. MicroClient Jr.: $214 (same case as above but includes 2 RS232 ports which is nice. Not sure I can be bothered with importing one… but more than one? Maybe.)

Out of the running (probably) are:

  1. Minifsk: $200+ (Looks neat and claims to have a serial port but in the US again)
  2. TinyTuxBox: cheapest seems to be about £193
  3. Asus EEE PC: better value at around £200?
  4. Linutop 1: €250+

And finally, Dale suggested a Pocket PC option earlier and Steve suggested an ASUS WL-500g. I must admit I’ve not looked in to either of those. I do have a Palm V kicking around but not sure that’d be up to the job! I also have a Linksys WAG354G but that is gainfully employed and doesn’t have any USB/Serial ports.

Decisions decisions.

Update: I’ve been very happy with the choice I made (a Netvoyager) but if I had to make the same decission today, it would be much much simpler: the Viglen MPC-L is a steal at £79! In fact, it’s such a good deal that I caught myself contemplating buying one as a second home server yesterday, which is obviously crazy. (30 November 2008)