Hardware & Infrastructure
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3/23/2006
06:33 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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Langa Letter: A Complete Terabyte File Server For About $500

Fred Langa shows you how to get amazing file server capacity at an amazing price.

Installing An Operating System
There are at least three easy ways to install an operating system on a new system like this. But first, there's the question of which operating system.

As price is a driving factor in this example, Linux naturally rises to the fore. A tiny but complete Linux, such as the free Puppy Linux (oh, those Linux names…), will fit comfortably on a $10 flash drive and will give access to all the hardware in our test system, with no special configuration needed whatsoever.

Puppy Linux will fit in as little as 60 Mbytes, but I had a large USB flash drive from earlier exploration in this space (see "The USB Drive Revolution," "Solving USB Boot Problems," and "XP On Your Thumb Drive"). Although the large flash drive was vastly larger than Puppy Linux needed, I used it anyway.


Photo
Twenty-Three

There are several ways to boot the new system, but Linux on a USB flash drive may be the simplest and least expensive. This photo shows a 1 Gbyte drive in use, but even a $10 flash drive will suffice.

(click image for larger view)

There are several ways to boot the new system, but Linux on a USB flash drive may be the simplest and least expensive. This photo shows a 1 Gbyte drive in use, but even a $10 flash drive will suffice.

We'll come back to Linux, but Photo 23 also shows you something else: a standard 3.5-inch floppy drive, which I added to the system for convenience and as a virtually fail-safe fallback for booting. Although I had an extra drive handy, a search on Froogle.com yielded many sources for new floppy drives for as little as $5 or so. In the interest of completeness, I'll add that to the running total of our system, bringing the cost to $519 for a complete, bootable (from floppy) system.

To make sure the new drives were OK before using them for real, I used the floppy to run BootItNG, my favorite partitioner and boot manager. I accessed and divvied up all 1,000 Gbytes, formatting the partitions several ways and generally just exercising the drives a bit to make sure everything was OK. It was.

The next image is actually a screen shot captured from the first Linux boot. You can see the four drives (hda, hdb, hdc, hdd) and the partitions previously formatted with BootIt. Puppy Linux, despite its silly name, correctly identified and accessed all the system's hardware. I had sound and graphics and--a key thing--Web and LAN access. Using Puppy Linux running on the flash drive, I could format the drives as I wished and install Puppy Linux to the Primary Master hard drive, the boot hard drive. Or I could go online and download any other Linux I wished and installed it on the hard drive. Or I could pull an operating system across the LAN, either installing it via the LAN or first copying it to a local hard drive and so on. Or I could leave it alone and simply run the system from the flash drive. With the system up and running with any operating system, you can then go in whatever direction you wish.

By the way, Linux--including Puppy Linux--can work with Samba, which in turn can share the system's drives, giving you a zero-cost way to provide basic NAS services from the new system.

Here, you see Puppy Linux running on a flash drive, ready to mount, access, use, and share the 1,000 Gbytes in our new system.
Photo
Twenty-Four

Here, you see Puppy Linux running on a flash drive, ready to mount, access, use, and share the 1,000 Gbytes in our new system.

(click image for larger view)

Incidentally, there are floppy-based versions of Linux, too, although these tend to be somewhat skeletal. They can, however, be used to bootstrap a system, getting a basic operating system running and then using that to, say, FTP or network-access a fuller distribution to the system.

In a pinch, you can even hook in a temporary drive. For example, as an experiment, I temporarily connected an old CD drive as the Secondary Master in the new system and used that to boot Ubuntu and, later, XP.


Photo
Twenty-Five

If it's not possible to boot by floppy, USB flash drive, or LAN, then in a pinch you can temporarily connect a CD drive to the system and use that to get an operating system onboard.

(click image for larger view)

If it's not possible to boot by floppy, USB flash drive, or LAN, then in a pinch you can temporarily connect a CD drive to the system and use that to get an operating system onboard.

Once the operating system is installed, you disconnect the CD, reconnect the hard drive it replaces, and go on from there.

As an aside, XP was perfectly happy with the new system, too. Although adding the cost of XP would significantly raise the cost of our system, it would still come in at less than the current best cost of a 1 Tbyte Buffalo unit.

Photo 26 is another screen capture, but this time from inside XP Pro running on the new system. It shows the full 1,000 Gbytes partitioned in a variety of ways and ready for use and sharing. For full information on the Windows Disk Management tool, see this article.

Of course, the system will run just fine with Windows, too. Although this raises the final price, it can still cost less than the current best available price for a 1 Tbyte traditional NAS.
Photo
Twenty-Six

Of course, the system will run just fine with Windows, too. Although this raises the final price, it can still cost less than the current best available price for a 1 Tbyte traditional NAS.

(click image for larger view)

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