ThinkCentre M58 Server Project

Exciting DIY Home File and Media Server Project...


For some, the summer holiday is a time of consistent parties, sunbathing and endless enjoyment.. where others prefer the darkness of the cave, researching and catching up on some much needed projects. 

A project that has been off and on for quite some time is the DIY home server, Nas box or what ever sprung to interest. I'm a huge fan of Do it Yourself computing and the term Ghetto Nas is often interchanged around the technology communities. As much as I love the look of the Synology 2 bay Nas and the diskstation operating system, the price is steep (when incorporating large spindle drives into the equation) and as a student. This option is not on the cards, as of yet. 

The Lenovo Thinkcentre, in particular the M58 series of small form factor computers are a cheap and feature pact way to enter into the server world. Going back to 2016, I purchased a Core 2 Duo box on Windows 7 with 4gb Ram. The box was later upgraded to Windows 10 during the free upgrade period and was used for various small projects and testing. However, was never able to get the time together to invest in researching and designing a cheap Server System. 

Today, I have changed the OS from Windows 10 to Linux Mint for both stability and security (Keeping in mind the system will run a few web servers and serve as a Nas to both Windows and Mac), after not getting along with the latest Ubuntu instalment. As Linux Mint is based off of Ubuntu/Debian Linux, the same packages and apps are available which is a huge plus. Furthermore, I found most packages were easier to install inside of Mint MATE (chosen for light weight reasons) as opposed to Ubuntu 18 LTS.
I'm no way near a Linux mastermind and find the unix operating system a challenge to configure (I'm Currently thinking of transitioning back to Windows 10 but motivated to learn something new, my advice for a project like this was to go with what you feel most comfortable with/easier to troubleshoot). I'm very much hoping that the switch to Linux will be positive after configuring. 

Web Server / Nas

With the introduction aside, now it's time to discuss the core operations of the server box. As mentioned earlier the machine would work as both a web server hosting machine and a local Nas box. I happened to have a 2tb external hard drive, no longer used due to a temperamental usb connection (that is fine when stood still). I'm currently using this 2TB drive to hold data and Media for network shares and Plex. 

Plex 

Probably the most famous Media server application currently available but is by far the best and most reliable solution I have tested, plus features a ton of features for free and easy access to your content outside of the home. I've tried numerous media server and client applications such as Windows Media Centre (now discontinued) and XBMC or Kodi which I had streaming from a laptop to a Ps3. Both were pretty good solutions but the introduction of Plex has blew away the other options...

Plex is simple to use and features a wide range of Client applications for game consoles, amazon firestick, Alexa and much more. Plus the option to have the media player app available on both Windows and Mac OS X makes the updating and interaction of the Plex server much easier and a seamless experience. I often update and edit the server from the Plex app on Mac and Windows laptops and it is a breeze. 

The hardware requirements for Plex are lightweight and can run on pretty much anything!!! (keeping in mind you are not trans-coding large movie files to a plethora of clients on the fly. I have a Core 2 Duo based system, streaming a music library in and out of the network and showing family photos on the TV; working flawlessly. I do not intend to store film files as I'm a huge fan of  purchasing Blu-ray and DVD videos (call me old fashioned, but something physical is so much better, I also collect Vinyl Records too). Back to Plex, It works wonderfully as a self hosted Spotify or other music streaming service. which I'd never understand why people pay a monthly fee for! 

Network Share

Pretty straight forward and used by everyone! I have Smb set up through Linux Mint which took a bit of Googling to configure (not as simple as in Windows, if you feel like familiarity is better stick with Win). I'm still to find a way to stream AFP ( Apple Filling Protocol) as Smb (Samba) is not the best system on the Mac. 

The 2TB external Hard drive connected to the PC is not the highest performing method but it seems to be doing the job just fine. Currently I have my music library stored on the Network Drive, where I rip new CDS to (What are they, I know????) using a free program called, 'Media Monkey' on Windows (not too sure why it does not have a Mac Port, but iTunes is still what I use on my Macbook despite it being a terrible program.) 

Final Thoughts 

With these free software programs, reusing an Old PC becomes more and more like a dedicated Nas machine. Using old parts is never going to be a Synology or Drobo but on a tight budget it is all we can do!. 

Data Redundancy is a big part of why people buy consumer Nas boxes in the first place. My setup will never perform as high as these options in a Hardware Raid of 1 (Mirroring raid -  which basically means the same data is stored on both drives to avoid data loss). But after some online searching, I came across a range of free and open source software that acted like a Raid (software raid 1 or file sync). The one I downloaded in Linux Mint was called 'FreeFileSync' which looks dated but does the job of syncing new files to two selected directories or drives. The software also comes bundled with 'RealTimeSync' which allows the user to save a batch script of the two directories which looks out for changes made. I will soon be purchasing a secondary 2TB external drive to have a sync of the network drive. 

Furthermore, Most consumer NAS devices are now shipping with a range of free mobile apps to access the data stored on the drives outside of the network (as port forwarding an SMB share is not recommended in terms of internet security). If you are interested in hosting your own Cloud based program similar to that of Dropbox, Google Drive and Icloud from the same machine. You can look into both Tonido Cloud Server (looks pretty interesting as it works as a redirection from the Tonido servers using an encrypted SSL https connection relaying to your own web server hosted on your machine, allowing you to have large drives available over the internet) or alternatively OwnCloud. I am having trouble getting Tonido to work in Linux but worked very well in Windows 10 (partly the reason why I may switch back to Windows in the near future). 

Other sources of interest: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swKo3X-yV3E
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67_XndaYBq0
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5fg8RAWp1I

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own. Not liable for any damage made to the software or hardware of the PC you are using due to miss configuration of the software or malware downloaded from websites.

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