What I want from a home server (2): File Sharing and Backups

We’re covering File Sharing and Backups in part 2 of our multi-part series onDisk

What I want for a home server

In part 1, we covered the related topic of RAID. Let’s go on to file systems first.

File system

Here is what Svein points out:

Based on maximum security, there should go a lot of thought into what file system that should be used for the data drives. FAT32 would be a good candidate if it had been a bit more robust and allowed for bigger file sizes. But with a maximum of 2GB files, it is totally out of the question since many people would like to store backups of DVD’s on a server like this. A good solution might be to to use ext-2 or ext-3 and provide Windows and OSX drivers to be able to read the drives if there should be a major crisis.

While we do not yet support these on the Amahi Linux Home Server, we expect that support for this will come one day, hopefully sooner rather than later.

At the moment, we’re using Samba to provide file and printer sharing services in a way that is compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux, while still retaining the most excellent ext3 Linux file system for the base of the home server. We also use NFS to share some resources easily within the home network.

Backup

Our second topic today is backups. This is always a tough one. Everyone wants to have their cake and eat it too! Most times only a certain set of things are needed, depending on the network configuration, number of machines, etc. Here’s Svein’s take on it:

Even if we have a secure way of storing data on the server, we still need a good backup system. And I really prefer a centrally managed system. There should only be a small agent installed on each PC (Windows, OSX or Linux/BSD) and then the rest should be done from the server – setting up what to backup, when and how often. There system must be able to backup files that are in use and to control bandwidth use so it can run in the background even if you are working on the system.

There should be a wide range of options on where to store the backups. The backups of the pc’s in the network could be stored or cached on the server. But there must also be a way to wite to an different medium e.g. DVD+R or tape. Or some other kind of attached storage. Because of this it would be smart to have the backup program divide all backup files into chunks of 2GB or less.

That’s a tall order!

At the moment, Amahi supports two ways to back up. One is periodic, incremental and automatic, essentially as a NAS, and the other is a full disk backup, which restores the OS and all. These are sort of two extremes, for different tastes and different needs:

Versioning File Systems

There are several techniques to solve the issue of managing files in a safe way. Versioning file systems, while fairly well known in technical circles, are one of the newcomers that are starting to become popular. They deal with file systems and also with prior versions as backups, all simultaneously, since the file system includes support for versions built in. This makes the issue of handling versions much simpler, making any client user interface much easier to build.

This allows users to access their file system as it appeared at any point in time. In this area I would like to highlight two options:

  • One of them is the ext3cow file system. It’s an open source versioning file system based on ext3. It provides a time-shifting feature that allows a real-time and continuous view of the past.
  • ZFS is another one, from Sun Microsystems. ZFS is gaining wide adoption and has lots of acclaims, including encryption and scalability. Some people claimed this was going to be used as an underlaying implementation of Apple’s Time Machine, or perhaps in the time capsule

In the mean time, we have solved the issue of issue of using network disks, such as the HDA, with Apple’s Time Machine. It has been solved by using the handy utility called iTimeMachine. With it, your network drives are usable from Time Machine. Pretty cool!

Thanks to Svein Wisnaes, who wrote with great ideas.

In this series we will also feature suggestions from other home server enthusiasts, so write us or submit your comments!

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Thinnest Laptop Ever – The MacBook Air?!

Turns out that the MacBook Air, while a very nice and thin laptop, is not the thinnest ever. We’re no strangers to throwing a bone to Apple, but this story was amusing to us.

Transmeta Efficeon
Before founding Amahi, I worked at Transmeta what seem like eons ago. Although I started in the Advanced Development group working on a range of things like virtualization, x86-64 and other things, the majority of my time there was spent developing and productizing a chip codenamed Astro, later called Efficeon (pictured to the right).

Nowadays, only every once in a while the once great company Transmeta resurfaces in the news.

Most of the time, sadly, it’s due to people asking whatever happened with Transmeta (even in for-pay articles), or complaining.

Now, everybody is doing what Transmeta did in it’s time, but in hardware. I sense someone will continue to do it for many years to come.

MacBook Air
However, this time, it resurfaced thanks to Apple marketing the MacBook Air as the world’s thinnest notebook.

As it turns out, the thinnest laptop ever is believed to be Sharp’s Muramasa MM10. And I was involved in producing it!

The laptop, which was a thing of beauty and can can still be found on ebay, has an Efficeon chip in it (picture above), which I was heavily involved with (my job was to make it as energy efficient as possible).

Sharp MuramasaThe MM10 was 0.54 inch thick (substantially less than the MacBook Air), and shipped in the US in 2003. It came with a 1GHz Efficeon processor from Transmeta (not a Crusoe, mind you, as the Cnet article claims), an ATI Radeon graphics chip, a default of 256MB of memory, a 15GB hard drive and a built-in Wi-Fi module. It ran 2.5 hours on a regular battery, and cost $1,499. Sharp also had a Mebius notebook in the Muramasa family that measured 0.65 inch thick.

This laptop was truly beautiful and stunning. Not only the screen was beautiful, as Sharp is a top manufacturer of LCD screens, the whole laptop was elegant and stylish. The original web page is still around. Check out the pictures. It had a feature where you coul rest it on it’s side on an included cradle and it would make the disk available to your desktop machine. Truly useful, though it never caught on.

So, while the MacBook Air may be the thinnest laptop shipping, and a very very nice laptop, it’s not the thinnest ever. Take that Apple! 😉

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What I want from a home server – PART 1: RAID

We always find it exciting when enthusiasts write to us with with their wish list for a home server!

After the holiday and new years break, we at Amahi are still recovering from the food and excitement …

We’re starting the new year with a multi-part series on

What I want for a home server

This comes courtesy of Svein Wisnaes, with some editions and my own comments, who wrote with great ideas. We will also feature suggestions from other server fashionistas :-)

Without further ado, let’s start … (and pardon the pun in the picture!)RAID

What I want from a home server, Part I – RAID

RAID 1

Whether it is soft or hardware based (Svein really prefers hardware based, so
he likes support for Highpoint, 3ware and Promise drivers at least…), a
home server needs to have a solid system for securing files.

Now, why RAID-1?

Well, a single point of failure will always be the RAID control
mechanism, either as software or hardware. If you use RAID-1, you can
just take one drive out of the server and mount it on a different PC and
you have access to all your data. If you use RAID-5 or RAID-6, you are
not sure to be able to recover your raid if the controller goes south …

RAID-1 is not as efficient as RAID-5 or RAID-6 in terms of storage
space, but in his opinion, the security is higher.

The system drive should also be on a RAID-1 setup so it is not lost
because of harddrive failure. The whole OS including programs, not any
user data or backup data, should fit on a relatively small drive so
there is no cost excuse to skip running a RAID-1 for it.

Another Amahi Home Server enthusiast Toru writes that the RAID setup must be simple to set-up. Clearly this is a must in a tech-consumer market once you move out of the pure enthusiast!

RAID-1
Having been at NVIDIA before, we favor NVIDIA nForce solutions in motherboards,
though we’re not sure the tools are supported in Linux.

The Amahi Home Server is agnostic to the hardware it’s running on. The more hardware protection the merrier. We know we have had a fair share of disk failures over the years …

That’s all for now on the interesting subject of RAID.

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