Ever heard or read the phrase ‘the server must be down’ or something like ‘connecting to the server’, ‘server full’, ‘server under maintenance’, etc. so what basically is a server and what are its applications. Is it similar to a normal computer and how can a normal PC be converted into a server? We will take a start by defining server and then head towards other related topics.
What is a Server?
A server is either a computer or a program (computer-based) that provides a service to other computers or users, aka the client. So it can either be hardware or a software-based device that accepts request over a network and responds to them accordingly. In a general technical context, a server is a dedicated computer system that receives a request from users or clients over a network for a web document or information, access or rerouting and responds in the appropriate manner.
They are used for the management of online and network-based resources. They can be used for a variety of purposes some of which include:
- To control access to a network.
- Sending or receiving emails.
- Hosting a website.
- Storing information to be accessed a larger audience.
- Performing and managing intense calculations.
Types of servers:
There are several types of servers that are being used commonly including:
- File server.
- Print server.
- Application server.
- DNS server.
- Mail server.
- Web server.
- Database server.
- Virtual server.
- Proxy server.
- Monitoring server.
- Management server.
- Real-time communicational server.
- FTP server.
- Open source server.
- List server.
- Telnet server.
How to Convert a PC into Server?
On to the big question, how do we indeed convert a normal PC into a server? But before that, why would you want to convert a PC into a server? Well, if you have an old PC collecting dust in the storage room or basement, good use would be to convert it into a server. Your own server can serve you in a variety of way. You can host your own website or use it to host your own multiplayer games. You can use it to download and manage torrents or use it as a media server to stream movies and TV shows.
We will be covering one of the most popular methods of converting your old PC into a server. It is with the use of FreeNAS (Network Attached Server) software. We will be covering the entire process in a step by step guide and hopefully, by the end of this piece, you will have a complete understanding of how to convert your old PC into a reliable server.
Just as the name suggests, FreeNAS is free software that can convert you old PC into a server. Not only it is easy to install, but it is easy to configure and run as well. The process isn’t your stereotypical method of downloading and installing; rather, there are a few steps that set the entire process apart from installation of normal software. But it is still nothing too difficult or complex. Here’s a step by step guide:
- Visit the website and download the latest version of FreeNAS into your PC. The current version is FreeNAS8 but the previous version FreeNAS 7 (also called NAS4Free) is still very popular.
- Next, find a USB with a minimum of 2GB storage. This USB will become the bootable device for your PC to run this software from. The USB will then remain in the port where you have placed it for the rest of the time your server is active. You can also use a small SSD in case you are worried that someone might remove the USB (you do not want that to happen, ever!!!).
- Burn the downloaded FreeNAS into the USB drive (in .iso format. X86 for 32-bit processor or x64 for 64-bit processor).
- Now your bootable thumb drive is ready. Connect it to the ‘server to be’ and power it up. Press F12 to boot up the BIOS and select the option to have it booted from the optical drive.
- The computer will restart and boot from the optical drive instead of the hard drive. The program will start executing itself and you will see FreeNAS’s FreeBSD-based Linux commands running through your screen.
- Afterwards, a simple installation screen will appear with four options to choose from.
- You will be selecting the first option of install or upgrade FreeNAS 8 (or the previous version if you have downloaded that). Press enter and you will arrive on the next screen.
- There, you will be shown any storage media connected to your system. You will then select the flash/hard drive as the target for installing. This will create two partitions in the flash drive; one for the OS and the other for any future updates. Approving the installation means that all the previous data will be eradicated from the flash drive, so make sure you don’t have anything important that you would want to salvage.
- Proceed with the installation by choosing the thumb drive, selecting yes and pressing the enter key.
- A prompt will appear after the complete installation of FreeNAS. Press enter key and from the main menu, select the option to reboot your system.
- Here, you will repeat the process where you choose which drive FreeNAS will boot from by default. You will specify that you want it to be booted from the thumb drive plugged in one of the USB ports of the system.
- The software will take some time to load up and a screen will appear after that, showing all the networking options that can be set for FreeNAS. This is an indicator of your server being ready and running.
- The whole point is to have it connected to the internet in order for it to be functioning as a server. So have your PC connected to the internet via Ethernet cable. You will receive an IP address to access the primary settings of FreeNAS. Type this IP address into the address bar of any browser of another device connected to the same network and press enter key.
- You have now entered web-based configuration setting. Here, you would want to personalize your server by changing the name and password. On the left side, there should be a ‘My Account’ which you can click to expand. Change the user name and password from here and click ‘save changes’.
- On the upper left corner of Web-based configuration screen of FreeNAS, there should be a Storage button. From there, you can set up storage volume. On the said screen, there should be a ‘Create Volume’ button. Assign a name to the volume and select the total number of drives you would want to use to create the said volume. Be sure to select ‘ZFS’ as the file system type since it delivers a number of benefits that Unix file system doesn’t.
- At this point you will have the opportunity to decide upon the RAID type to use if you are combining multiple drives. When ready, click the Add Volume button.
- If your storage is supposed to be a shared resource (whether it is a server for home or office), select the ‘Change Permission’ icon and grant write access to ‘Group’ and ‘Other Users’ while also selecting the ‘Set Permission Recursively’ option and click on the ‘Change’ button to save all the changes made.
- You have now successfully created basic storage volume on your server. The next step is to set-up ‘Sharing Arrangement’ so the contents of your drive can be found by the users of your servers. If the users of your server use a variety of OS and machines (Linux, Windows, Mac, etc.) then CIFS shares are the best options for you. In the Web Configuration, click the ‘Sharing’ button and select ‘Add CIFS Share’. Assign a name to the share drive and select volume you want to give by clicking the ‘Browse’ button on the ‘Path’ line. Make sure to check the box next to ‘Allow Guest Access’ and click on OK afterwards.
- Click on the ‘Service’ button which should be on the left side bar, go to ‘Control Service’ option and flip on the main panel’s CIFS setting.
- To test whether the whole thing is up and running, type two backslashes (\\) and then the IP assigned to you by the FreeNAS into the Windows Explorer window and press the enter key. This should take you to the shared drive.
Congratulations for having set up your own FreeNAS powered server. You can now utilize this server in a variety of ways and have it set up according to one of the types of servers that we have talked about above.
Another way you can convert your old PC into sever is by using Ubuntu server edition. It is the same Ubuntu that is the well-known PC based OS, the only difference is that this is the server OS version. One of the most popular versions is the Ubuntu Server Edition 8.04. You can download a CD image for it from this link. The only limitation is that you need to have it burned and installed via CD. Be sure to download the ‘Server Edition’ and burn the image in the CD as .iso. Steps for installation include:
- Have your computer connected to internet at the time of installation as it will automatically detect and configure the network setting.
- Have your computer booted at the time of starting it up (by pressing F12) and have the software booted from the CD.
- After installation, you will come across the text-based interface. To make it GUI based, install Webmin.
- After logging in with your credentials, input the following commands:
sudo apt-get install perl libnet-ssleay-perl openssl libauthen-pam-perl libpam-runtime libio-pty-perl libmd5-perl
sudo dpkg -i webmin_1.430_all.deb.
- To make your server accessible from anywhere, open the router’s homepage. Log in the router and go to the tab that says ‘Port Forwarding’.
- In the table type form, enter the application name, port-to-port forwarding, protocol, and your server’s IP.
- Enter the following values:
HTTP 80 80 TCP serverIP
FTP 21 21 TCP/UDP serverIP
SSH 22 22 TCP serverIP
- Save settings and enable these forwards.
- If you want to get a free domain name instead of using your IP every time, there is a free domain site where you can get a name. You can access it from here.
- The instructions are really easy to follow and you can be done in limited time.
- Try accessing your server from another device, if you have done everything right, then you should be able to get to it.
- To be able to access your server for upgrading or making changes, go to the server and enter the following commands:
sudo chown yourusername:www-data /var/www
sudo chmod 775 /var/www
- On the system that you are using to access server, download and install a program called ‘WinSCP’. Enter domain name in the hostname for the server, and credentials in the name and password form.
- And now you have access to see all the files in your server. Go to the var folder and enter the www folder, copy new website material in those folders to update your server or to further modify it.
- To be able to remotely execute commands, use PuTTY which is an SSC client program.
And there you have it folks, two of the most popular ways to convert a PC into a server. Rather than having your old PC lie dormant, you can make better use of your old machine by having it utilized more efficiently. Beats having it simply recycled or hoarding up space for no practical reason.