How To Create A Home Server With Ubuntu, Amahi & Your Old Computer

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amahi ubuntu logo   How To Create A Home Server With Ubuntu, Amahi & Your Old ComputerYou’d have thought the world was coming to an end when James discovered that Windows Home Server – Microsoft’s $50 set-and-forget network storage solution – was being axed in favour of a far more expensive successor. Thankfully he soon discovered that all hope was not lost thanks to Amahi, a free Linux-based home server.

James’ original guide is getting on a bit now, having being written at the start of 2011. It focused entirely on using Fedora 12, but Amahi has now been ported to Ubuntu. Unlike James I don’t have any spare tower PCs lying around, and so I’m going to be resourceful and use whatever’s available to me – an old Dell laptop.

If you’ve been thinking about doing a spot of home improvement recently then why not start with your very own home server?

The Setup

Rather than Fedora 12 (or Fedora 14, or 16 which is the current supported version for Amahi) I’m going to be using Ubuntu. As an ex-Ubuntu user, I’m already familiar with the operating system’s UI, layout and some terminal commands. If you’re not at all versed in Linux then don’t worry too much, Ubuntu is a great choice for beginners as it aims to be as simple and easy to use as Linux gets. I’m going to be using version 12.04 LTS, which will be supported until at least April 2017 (LTS stands for long-term support).

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The hardware I’ll be using is an old Dell laptop, a Studio 1537 to be exact, though I concede that it’s not necessarily the ideal machine for a server. Laptop storage isn’t very expandable, most people prefer old tower PCs as they provide plenty of space for extra hard drives. One benefit the laptop does have, however, is a battery which will act as an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) should the power fail.

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Limitations and USB transfer speeds aside, the laptop is not being used for anything at all at the moment and so some use is better than no use at all. Ubuntu is also a good choice for this laptop, as if I ever need to “do” anything with it then there’s a usable Linux distro installed, ready to go. If you’re eyeing up your old PC as a potential Amahi home server, then make sure you’ve got the following specifications covered:

  • 512MB or more of RAM
  • A 1GHz 32-bit or 64-bit processor
  • 4GB disk space (though you’ll want more for storage purposes)

Note: Amahi requires a clean Ubuntu install, and will not necessarily work with an existing Ubuntu install. It comes highly recommended that you format and reinstall the OS even if you have an existing Ubuntu machine you would like to use.

As I’m a Mac user, I downloaded an Ubuntu .ISO on my main OS X machine, then used UNetbootin to “burn” the image to a spare, 2GB USB stick. The program notified me that the disk would not be bootable on a Mac, which is something to bare in mind if you’re using an old Mac as a server (though not too old, Amahi doesn’t support PowerPC architecture). If you need to make a USB drive that will boot on a Mac, check out the Ubuntu documentation.

unetbootin   How To Create A Home Server With Ubuntu, Amahi & Your Old Computer

Once you’ve got your copy of Ubuntu ready you’re good to go, turn on your soon-to-be server and ensure that USB boot is enabled in your BIOS (see here for newer UEFI Windows 8 machine instructions).

Installing Ubuntu & Amahi

The first thing you see when you boot the USB stick is the UNetbootin bootloader, which gives you the choice of trying-out or installing Ubuntu as well as checking your disk for errors and a few other options. Choose Install Ubuntu and wait for the installation procedure to load. First choose your language and when prompted don’t worry about connecting to the Internet for updates as Amahi works best using the default install.

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When asked how you’d like to install Ubuntu (either alongside an existing operating system, replacing the existing operating system or custom) choose either replace or custom. As your server will be left to its own devices for most of the time, dual-booting is pointless. I chose to use the whole available 320GB for my server, and for simplicity’s sake created just the one partition. Ubuntu will by default format this partition to EXT4, a Linux-native file system. Don’t worry about this, Amahi loves EXT4.

Add your timezone, keyboard layout and configure the default user account with a computer name, username and password you’re going to recognise and remember. Hit Continue and watch Ubuntu install, remembering to take the USB stick out when it’s finished and booting into the OS for the first time. Next it’s time to install Amahi, which we will be doing using the terminal.

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Note: Amahi cannot be uninstalled, which means in order to get back to a clean Ubuntu you will need to format and install the OS again. As previously mentioned, a fresh install of Ubuntu before installing Amahi is required.

At some point you will be prompted for your “install code”. To get an install code go to Amahi.org and register an account. You will be asked for your network gateway IP (your router’s address, commonly 192.168.0.1) and the fixed internal IP address of your HDA (that’s the server you’re installing Amahi on). You should setup a fixed address within your router, the process will differ depending on the manufacturer but a simple search should help you out. Amahi recommends you turn off DHCP (automatic IP assignment) on your router, but it’s not always necessary and in my case I left it on with no problems.

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Next you will be asked to set up your local DNS domain, which is a domain that you can use internally within your network to access the server. Choose something short, unique and not the same as any site you wish to access. I chose “server.hda” but feel free to make up your own.

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Finally click on the Create your HDA profile button, and make a note of your install code.

Before installing Amahi you will need to connect Ubuntu to your network, either using an Ethernet cable or good old Wi-Fi. Resist the urge to download your favourite browsers, codecs and other add-ons or updating Ubuntu just yet. Once connected, click the Ubuntu logo or hit your Windows key and type “terminal” followed by enter to launch the command line interface then type the following:

wget http://u12.amahi.org/install-amahi

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This will download the Amahi setup files, then start the install by typing:

sh install-amahi

At this point you will need to enter your install code, which you created earlier, followed by your server’s admin password.

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Now you can sit back and watch Amahi install, which can take a while. There’s lots to install including the server software, MySQL, storage pooling, Samba and HTTP servers and more. Now might be a good time to adjust my power preferences so my new server didn’t switch itself off when left unattended or (if you’re using a laptop) when you close the lid.

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Once your installation has finished, you will need to reboot as per the instructions in the Terminal window (that’s the button in the upper right corner, in case you haven’t used Ubuntu before).

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Make sure you’re connecting using your default network device, “eth0” which is likely to be your Ethernet port. Disable all wireless settings and double check your network settings to ensure the static IP, MAC address and so on match up. I spent a long time troubleshooting my server only to find out it was down to the fact that wireless was still enabled and causing issues.

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Upon restarting you will notice two new icons on your desktop. Double click Amahi Dashboard to launch the web-based setup within Firefox. Login using the username and password you created when you installed Ubuntu, no other password or user combination will work. From here on out you’re free to manage Amahi, set up users, shares and install apps.

connect to hda   How To Create A Home Server With Ubuntu, Amahi & Your Old Computer

Your server should be visible on the network already, if not consult the following resources for further help:

Also be sure to check out these articles about adding apps, shares and other actions with Amahi:

Have you got a home server? Did you use Amahi? Any favourite apps? Add your thoughts in the comments, below.

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36 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Efi Dreyshner

I have created a home server with Debian and Cent OS :)

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Michael Jan Moratalla

nice article thanks for this it’s really good this really help

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Jonthue Michel

Wow ty its so simple I did not realize how easy it is. I might just buy from old towers and a router and give it a try.

Tim Brookes

Or you could give Freecycle a try, I see people giving away old computers all the time, check it out: “>Freecycle.org

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Paul Simard

Nice article, and timely too. Planning a home server expansion after the holidays. Given any thought to adding media services, so we can stream video, TV, and music throughout the house?

Tim Brookes

I had a quick look myself, though I haven’t set up the DLNA/uPnP side of things yet. Amahi charges a small fee ($4.99) for their basic DLNA streaming app, which is fair enough because the whole project is free. Unfortunately it doesn’t offer transcoding, but it seems good enough: https://www.amahi.org/apps/dlna

It looks like it can tackle most formats – even MKVs – though your receiving hardware will also need to support whatever it is you are streaming. There are a couple of (free) dedicated music streamers too, which I haven’t even considered yet. At the moment I’m really enjoying just rediscovering some old media I’ve been unable to access using plain old SMB sharing.

I’d recommend Amahi to anyone!

Victor Nitu

Please be aware that new new Samba (released in the last couple of days or so) is sporting a much better integration for hybrid environments, e.g. Windows+Mac+Linux PCs + other devices.
Since its release was a work in progress for the last 9 years, and Samba 4.0 is nowadays compatible even with the infamous MS Active Directory and can act as a domain controller by itself, I’m taking a wild guess and saying that plain SMB sharing isn’t deprecated anymore ;-)

Also, you could have used a less power-hungry GUI, such as LXDE, since you don’t use it daily anyway.

Anyway, this is a very valid use of old computers, I did it myself many times before (only I did everything manually, obtaining the same effect) and I strongly suggest to either donate or do something useful out or old hardware. It is a plain waste of resources to just have them gathering dust while there are so many smart uses for them. But I’m getting too verbose, and this is not the place.

Great article, good job!

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Junil Maharjan

ubuntu is always great for many things. This is great.

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CP Lawson

@Paul — There are a ton of apps distributed through Amahi. I use the Amahi Time Machine (for my Macs) https://www.amahi.org/apps/amahi-time-machine. For streamer, the best app they have is called DLNA. https://www.amahi.org/apps/dlna But there are a few more, like mediatomb (can do transcoding on the fly if your hardware can take it), or Videos5, for streaming to iOS/Android clients via browser.

Theophobia

Nice to see the main developer of Amahi here, why do you not mention that this is your baby? Fear that someone can realize that that the setup is so complicated just for making some bucks? dunk that install code, make a install CD and Amahi can be a killer App…..

CP Lawson

Not at all.

There is really no need to be a hater (it’s not cool).

We have been trying to make Amahi viable for a fair bit of time and the community has been very supporting of doing it that way. In fact the install code is a much more familiar and easier way than asking people to put some API keys or do complex CLI command and whatnot. None of that has to be done with an install code. Further it allows for seamless extensions automatically, like we did with Amahi Sync and other apps we will do down the road.

Amahi has proven to be a far more popular service than just a hobby, which is what it was.

The FSF encourages commercial applications of open source, which is what Amahi is. We even reach out to the original authors and provide venues for them to collect some money from their creation, in a completely open-source compliant and friendly way.

In any case, the community has been very supportive. Remember, you can install your own server, manage it, install the apps, etc. .. it will just take more than an order of magnitude more time and effort than with Amahi. Not only that, you could also install Amahi yourself.

That’s the power of open source! :-)

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Chew Jian Yue

It will be better if you don’t use the Desktop version… There is a GUI which might be buggy!

Tim Brookes

Well the GUI gave me no troubles, but you’re right – you can use the non-GUI server edition of Ubuntu for this task. I just figured for the newcomer it might be a little overwhelming (sorting out networks and such) to use just a command line. Plus Ubuntu’s GUI is a lot more lightweight these days than a few versions ago (I’m pleased to announce!).

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Thomas Petrucha

hmmm nice article … I should try this simple way myself …
Always using “the selfmade” way ;)
… debian or ubunu … thenn settig up the network and go on remote from my Desk to install samba, etc.

thanks

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Vishal Srivastava

Can I ask you how Amahi home server is better than say Ubuntu Server (http://www.ubuntu.com/business/server)?

Tim Brookes

Amahi seems to me to be a lot more user friendly, I guess. There’s the equivalent of an “app store” which provides two-click installs for things like DLNA, Time Machine Backups, torrent clients… the list really is endless. Some cost a small fee, which isn’t usually true of other Linux software, but then again it’s pretty much foolproof.

I guess it stands to reason that Amahi is just simpler to get up and running and requires very little manual work to install additional services. Very newbie-friendly!

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Paul Hays

I was disappointed as well with MS canning WHS. I am checking out alternatives, found this on MUO and thought it looked interesting. Thanks for your perspectives.

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Brenden Barlow

this is something ive been meaning to do for a while….i suppose with this article in hand, i really have no reason to not do so.

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Mac Witty

Seems easier than I thought. Perhaps a joint Christmas project for a computer in the basement

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Austin Halsell

I like the whole set-it and forget-it ease of setting up a home server this way. Thanks for the helpful article!

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Rob Mills

I see you tell us to use our Ethernet port and not wireless. I am needing a wireless server, will this work via my wireless network? Also, will my 360 and Wii be able to get into this machine for streaming?

Tim Brookes

It might not work, no. Apparently Amahi uses the networking device configured as “eth0″ to connect with the network. If your computer has one, this is almost always a physical Ethernet port.

Of course if your computer doesn’t have an Ethernet port then it stands to reason that the default networking device must be a wireless link, and in that case you should be fine. You might be lucky and it will just work, but I specifically had problems just because wi-fi was active (despite the fact that I wasn’t actually using it).

A wireless servier won’t perform as solidly as wired one, you’re possibly going to get interference, poor network speeds, drops etc… if possible I’d always choose a wired link!

Tim Brookes

Sorry I didn’t answer the second part – if you install the $4.99 DLNA plugin then yes your 360 will be able to access media. Remember that this plugin doesn’t offer transcoding (plus your hardware might not be able to handle it) so the 360 will need to be able to natively read the file format in order to play. This means you might not be able to run containers like MKV, though H.264 and MPEG4 and so on should be fine.

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Douglas Mutay

Wow! I don’t have any home server but was planning to create one. I will definitively try Amahi and follow your so well explained step-by-step process! Thumbs up!!!

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AHAMED YASEEN

Thanks for sharing….

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Márcio Guerra

I’m starting to get into Linux (Peppermint) and am yet knowing my way around, so, this tutorials come in handy! Thank you!

Cheers!

Márcio Guerra

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Saumyakanta Sahoo

I am using amahi …..its very lightweight .

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themainliner

Amahi is fabulously simple base for home server. Unfortunately Ubuntu 12:04 is a terrible base for Amahi. I’m not fan of Unity, however my biggest problem with the server was the constant RAID array activity and the inability to smoothly shut down the array prior to rebooting. This caused massive power issues and long periods (up to 13 hours) of unavailability as the RAID 5 array was rebuilt after reboots.

I switched back to Fedora (14) and both these problems went away. Power consumption was more than halved and array is smoothly taken down and brought back up after a reboot. If I am forced to restart the server there is no extended period of unavailability.

Ubuntu is an appalling foundation for any home server and I would recommend the rock solid and reliable Fedora to all.

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Ă‚dil FarĂ´Ă´q

Ubuntu Rocks :D thanks for the article…

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Muhammad Rizwan

One of the best home server articles..n i also appreciate the great work done by the Ubuntu guys. i find unity desktop bit slow and buggy but im sure they ll sort this out in coming release’s.

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Geoff (Sadden)

Now I have a use for an old Dell! Great article, you make it look so easy

Tim Brookes

That’s because it is easy, Geoff! I’m sure you’ll get on just fine.

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Jeff Berman

Thanks for this article. I was curious if you (or anyone here) has set up Greyhole as a replacement for WHS’s Drive Extender. And, if so, how reliable has it been? I’m having some difficulty in finding much feedback from actual users.

Tim Brookes

No I have not, though I’m sure someone at the Amahi forums has and can probably give you a better idea?

They seem like a friendly and helpful bunch, and the main developer (CP Lawson) is an active part of the community as you can see above.

https://forums.amahi.org/

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billy

serviio is awesome for media streaming. does encoding on the fly. you can even add online sources like youtube. you extract the source code and run the server. so it’s distro agnostic.

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