Server Setup Guideajmatson - July 7, 2011
The software is the single-most important factor of a server. Without the proper software, the system is simply a pile of components with no purpose. On the other hand, any computer can be transformed into a server with the correct operating system and utility programs. In this section of the guide, I will introduce you to software that will get your new server box running and your content readily configured for storage and access.
There are many operating systems on which you can run your servers. Depending on your needs, you can opt for paid offerings such as Microsoft Windows or free offerings such as Linux. If you decide to use Windows, I would recommend two main versions; Windows Home Server 2011 and Windows Server 2008. Windows Home Server, the more cost-effective solution of the two, is geared toward the home user who may want to back up their files or maintain a personal web site. Based off the full-fledged Windows Server 2008 (as described below), you essentially have similar functionality as a professional server operating system. As a whole, Windows Home Server introduces a streamlined OS experience to everyday users who may not have the skills or knowledge to otherwise set up their own server.
Windows Server is a fully-loaded server operating system coupled with a respectively larger price tag. For those who want more control over the options and abilities of their servers, only a complete server OS experience will be adequate. Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2 allow you to run any server-based application such as websites, email, and SQL. If you require a Home Exchange server for your email, then this OS is your only option. For those looking to run virtualization with a host server system rather than a hypervisor, Windows Server gives you access to Hyper-V. This is a fully-featured virtualization system built into the OS and will allow you to run multiple client operating systems with one machine.
Finally, we have the all-inclusive open source OS, Linux. Not only is it free, but there is practically an endless list of versions to choose from, such as Ubuntu, Fedora Core, and Slacware. However, it is important to keep in mind that Linux is a pretty complex operating system to run and understand. Unless you are willing to accept the task of learning its intricacies from the ground up, it may be a good idea to gather some research before diving in. In my opinion, Linux is the way to go if you are ready for the challenge. You have access to a full OS that costs no money, and has identical or arguably greater functionality as compared to enterprise server operating systems.
To maximize your server's hardware, you can also install virtualization tools. They allow you to run more than one operating system at a time, eliminating the factor of needing a separate set of hardware for each server. There are several good virtualization tools for both Windows and Linux. For Windows, there are two pieces of software that I recommend; Hyper-V and VMWare ESX. The former is built into the Windows Server 2008 package and gives the user plenty of control over the server hardware. Running natively with Windows, it ensures greater compatibility with other software.
On the other hand, VMWare ESX is an excellent freeware solution that has been commonly used for enterprise virtualization machines. An important utility of the VMWare software is the ESXi hypervisor. It allows you to run multiple virtual machines as though they were physical systems. Unlike host-based hypervisors, such as Microsoft Hyper-V or VMWare Server, ESXi does not need an OS of which to run on top. It is a small host that runs on the physical machine and leaves a minimal resource footprint.
Before you begin building your server, I also want to leave you with a couple tools that may prove to be useful. One is an awesome little program called XAMPP. It will help you easily set up Apache, MySQL, PHP, and Perl servers together at one time. In minutes, you will be running not only a Web Server, but a Database Server, a FTP Server, and even a lightweight Email server. Just install the application, configure a few adjustments, and away you go. Best of all, it can be installed as a system service, allowing the program to run whenever the server is powered on, regardless of system login. XAMPP can be installed on Windows, Linux, Solaris, and even Mac OS.
Another great little tool is Rokario Bandwidth Monitor 2. This allows you to view and monitor the amount of traffic going to and from your server in real-time. It is especially useful when running a game server because you can now track and determine the amount of bandwidth available on the network card for extra players. Keep in mind, there is both a free and paid version of the software.
This concludes our mini-guide for setting up a server. As you can see, it only takes a little effort to configure a system that suits your personal needs. If you have always wanted your own gaming or file server, I hope this points you in the right direction to get started. We will be working on a more in depth guide shortly this is just to give you a little taste.