Running your own server at home may sound like an expensive and complicated undertaking reserved for those with extensive technical knowledge. However, setting up a home network server is relatively cheap and requires only basic tech knowledge.
What is a home server?
A home server is a server used at home, rather than in a business environment or a public space. For example, a home server could be a simple personal computer with a big hard drive, sufficient memory, and a network connection. In most cases, home servers act as media storage, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. You may want to use a server for several reasons, from better speeds to secure data management.
Why you should consider having a home server
A home server can have tons of uses, and it can be incredibly convenient for those who now have to work from home because of the pandemic. It can be used for storing and managing data, gaming, taking the load off your personal computer, web hosting, and even home automation (more on that later).
It can also have more advanced uses. With a home server, you can run a Tor node or your own email and chat server, or even create a home VPN server. However, some of these may require more technical know-how. For now, let’s take a look at some of the more popular uses.
What can you use a home server for?
So, what can you do with home servers? Here’s a more in-depth look at why having a server at home is a good idea.
Provides a central location to store your media
Think about all the different media, like photos, movies, or music, stored on each of your devices: your laptop, tablet, and mobile phone. Now take into account your entire family’s devices and media — keeping track of and managing all those files can be a bit of a hassle.
Then there’s the size of those files. For example, a movie can take up a few gigabytes, and any cinephile will agree that the space on your computer runs out pretty fast.
A home media server is an excellent way to free up storage capacity and have all those media files in one place. Instead of keeping your entire household’s files scattered across different devices, setting up a home server lets you save that data in one centralized location. Since the server is connected to your home network, anyone in your family can access and play the media in real time from their own devices. This also makes file sharing between family members easier.
Takes the load off your main PC
Playing media does take up a significant amount of your computer’s processing power. So, let’s say you want to do some work on your laptop and play a movie in the background. In this case, a home server can take care of playing the film so you can smoothly multitask without the risk of your personal computer crashing.
Automatic data backup to a home server
Backing up all your data is essential. One click on a malicious link or simply a clumsy move with a cup of coffee next to your laptop, and all that precious information is gone.
A home backup server can be an excellent solution for keeping your information safe. You can also back up your files with NordLocker. It not only encrypts your files and protects them from any prying eyes but also allows you to choose where to keep them: on your computer or in the NordLocker cloud.
Thinking of starting a blog? If you want complete control over the website’s management, or you’re not keen on paying for a hosting service, a home server can do the job. While it won’t handle millions of users, your old computer can perform about the same as a hosting service up to a certain amount of traffic.
Just like with website hosting, you can set up a home server proxy. A proxy functions as a gateway between your device and the internet. There’s plenty of software and online tutorials that will take you through setting up, configuring, and opening the right ports for your proxy.
However, keep in mind that a personal proxy won’t give you the same privacy and security as a VPN.
Provides a platform for home automation and security
A home automation server is the perfect centralized platform to manage your smart home from. You can manage heating, lighting, or IoT home appliances from a centralized server to optimize energy saving, or you can use it as a control panel for all your home security systems.
Some online multiplayer games offer dedicated server software so the players can host games on their own home servers. This enables you to play multiplayer games with improved performance and stability. Not to mention you will have the opportunity to customize your gameplay however you want.
Bonus: connect your server to a VPN
Install a VPN on your home server. This can be compatible with most other home server applications, however may require extra configurations to function properly. But, if you’re up for it, it will add extra features and security to your server. By rerouting your internet connection through a VPN server, you’ll be able to secure it from snoopers.
Additionally, you can opt for a dedicated IP. Services like NordVPN offer this feature. With it, you can have a secure dedicated IP address and allowlist it. This way, only those with a specific IP will be able to connect to the server.
One more interesting use is with NordVPN’s Meshnet feature, which you can use to turn your server into your very own VPN exit point.
It’s more affordable than you think
A home server setup doesn’t have to be wildly expensive. It’s cheaper than getting a brand new computer since it doesn’t require a desktop, a mouse, or a keyboard. Depending on what you need it for, you can use an old computer you abandoned before opting for new tech — in this case, it’s entirely free.
You can also build home servers from scratch, hunting for cheaper parts individually. All in all, depending on how powerful you want it to be and whether or not you have an old computer to re-modify, it can range from a few bucks to a few hundred.
How to set up a home server
The complexity of the setup depends on what you’re going to use it for. Each of the above server functions may require different configurations and even different hardware. However, that doesn’t mean your home server has to be limited to one use only. Whatever you decide, to set up your server, follow these main steps:
- Select a piece of hardware, like a computer, to act as the server.
- Buy and install a home server client on your computer, making sure that the software is (A) compatible with your operating system and (B) suitable for your server needs.
- Once the home server software is installed, your server is ready to use.
Here are some additional pointers on selecting the right hardware and software for your home server.
- Choosing your hardware. You can repurpose an old computer you no longer use. It doesn’t have to be powerful, so don’t be afraid to use an older machine. You may need to upgrade parts like RAM, storage, or the cooling system, but it probably won’t cost too much. Alternatively, you can purchase a server. There are quite a few budget options available, so it shouldn’t cost you more than a few hundred dollars. NAS devices are also often used as home servers. Depending on your requirements, there are plenty of options to choose from. They are easier to use than regular servers, but you also have less room for customization.
- Choosing your operating system. You can choose from any of the major operating systems, including Windows, Linux, Ubuntu, Unraid, Amahi, and others. Which operating system best suits your server mostly depends on the kind of operations you want the server to run. Gamers might benefit from Unraid, while family members may prefer FreeNAS. Ubuntu is the most versatile, as you can use it as a file hub, streaming portal, or even a remote management system for your IoT devices.
- Choosing your home software. Home server software also comes down to what you’ll be using your server for. But your decision doesn’t have to be set in stone — you can modify, upgrade, and reconfigure your home server software any time you want to try something new.
Aspects to consider
You might be wondering whether it’s worth the effort to set up your own server rather than move all your data to a cloud storage. Here’s what you should consider:
- Security. When you operate a server, you’re the only one responsible for security, and it’s your job to take the necessary measures to protect your files. However, when signing up with a cloud provider, you’re handing your security over to somebody else.
- Privacy. You don’t know how your data will be stored in the cloud and who will have access to it. Having a server guarantees that you’re in charge of your data and can decide whom to share it with.
- Price. Setting up a decent server at home can cost you at least a couple of hundred dollars, whereas a basic cloud subscription should cost no more than $5 a month. However, the more cloud storage space and additional features you need, the more you’ll have to pay.
- Risk. If any natural disaster happens, your server might be broken and your data lost forever. If you want to back up your files like a pro, you need to use cloud storage.
- Speed. Depending on the hardware you use, your server might be extremely fast or super slow. With a cloud, it’s a different story, as your speed heavily depends on your internet connection.
You can also use a hybrid cloud system and combine an in-house server with cloud storage. However, these solutions are mostly used by enterprises and are not typical among home users.
On the subject of alternative server setups, you can also create virtual servers. Using a process called virtualization, you can partition your hardware and create multiple separate servers on a single device. Like cloud servers, though, this is a solution that probably won’t be needed for most home users.
Setting up a home server is convenient, relatively cheap, and a great learning experience. With little to no investment and some research, you can turn your local network into a data hub for your friends or family.