I'll be moving home shortly and my attention has turned to planning my (new) home network. Over recent years I've been relying on a Weston Digital network attached storage device - it runs on Windows-based software and that makes file sharing on a (predominantly) Linux network problematic at times: file permissions are constantly screwed up and, even a minor glitch can make access to directories impossible. It's time to create a Linux based server, that will allow me to access files from all of my machines without loosing ownership or permissions.
For my new network, I want a file server that is always available: i.e. always on. This means that I'd prefer a low-power option and I've been looking at Aleutia's D2 Pro Fanless Mini Atom PC. At a rating of just 18 watts, it should cost less than £50/year to run and be virtually silent in operation. I won't bother hooking up a monitor (that will also help to keep running costs to a minimum), but access the desktop (for maintenance purposes) using Gnome's Remote Desktop Viewer, Vinagre. That only leaves the selection of the server software and, as I happen to have an old (and not particularly energy-friendly) desktop hanging around, I've been playing around with a couple of options over the Easter weekend.
My first choice was FreeNAS: it's file sharing software that you access via a web browser. It took me a while to figure out that the operating software is designed to run from a USB stick or memory card as the files can't reside on the same disk as the OS. Partitioning the hdd didn't seem to help, so I installed the OS on a 4GB USB and got the system running without any real difficulty. However, creating and accessing storage proved impossible for my meagre skills and, after a few hours of toying with the system, I gave up!
Next stop, Ubuntu Server. Once again, I had no difficulty in installing the software and I opted for the Samba Server option during the initial configuration. However, despite having a reasonable grasp of smb, I still had difficulty creating, accessing, and using shares on the server. A couple of hours later I realised that I had another requirement - ease of use! I abandoned the server software and went to plan C.
A quick install of Ubuntu 11.10, updated with Samba, smbfs, and winbind and I had a perfectly usable solution. Creating shared directories can be achieved easily using the file manager (no need for the terminal) and you only have to remember to create a user to access Samba. When I'm ready to set up the new network on a more permanent basis, I'll mount the share at boot on each of the machines allowing me to dump all my files on one disk drive (with an appropriate backup protocol, of course!).