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I have around 10 windows PCs on my network, sharing files in the most straightforward (and ugly) way. I'd like to clean that up a bit and install a simple & clean Linux server to act as a File Server, MySQL server, web server (intranet), and backup repository, among other things. I'm thinking of using RAID 1 for both simplicity and reliability.

question: is there a "proven" recommendation for both HW and Linux distro ?

I'd rather go with Dell, but their offering is large. I could probably use one of their simple Vostro / Optiplex, what would I lose compared to their PowerEdge models ?

as for linux, even though I'm pretty sure any of RH / Ubuntu / Suse would do, is there a specific recommendation ?

thanks...

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4 Answers

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The biggest question you need to address is how you're going to get support for the system. There are vendors out there producing pre-configured hardware and providing support, SuSE and RedHat both offer support packages (OK, Ubuntu does too). You're probably going to need more hand-holding than the odd post on ServerFault. There's probably a Linux Users Group somewhere near you - go find them and talk to them.

I started off using RedHat distributions, then switched to SuSE due to ease of management. But then stopped using SuSE when it became rather bloated and slow (I've not revisited this ifor about 5 years). I've also used Mandriva, PCLinuxOS, Knoppix, Debian, Gentoo and others. Ubuntu is my least favourite distribution - it just tries to be so different from a standard Unix system. Currently my home system runs Fedora (the community/bleeding edge version of RedHat). Note that although you can't get 'free' RedHat distributions anymore, since its all GPL software, RedHat can't stop other people from compiling their code! You might want to have a look at CentOS - which is essentially RedHat Enterprise Linux.

Regarding hardware, Dells are certainly cheap, IBM don't make them any more. My Own preference for branded boxes is HP - but currently HP do not seem to ship boxes pre-configured with Linux.

If you're thinking of DELL, then I'd recommend a proper server (poweredge) over a desktop machine - they do different jobs - and there's no point in paying for stuff you don't need - like a fast graphics card. Having said that, I see that Dells cheapest server is approx 3 x the price of their cheapest desktop (and running a cluster is always more fun than a single server!)

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about the OS: agreed for the support part, that's why I'm thinking more about flavors of RH or Ubuntu. for the HW: this is exactly my point: do I really need to go for a PowerEdge (2 or 3x the price of a desktop) for such use ? what would warrant the price difference ? HW RAID controller ? not too sure... global reliability ? service & support associated ? –  Bastien Sep 15 '10 at 0:34
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I had a lot of success with a Samba server running on (older) Dell hardware, with a Debian distribution underneath. It's not as cutting-edge as Ubuntu will be, but Debian's stable branch lives up to the name. Also, the base Debian distribution tends to leave out all the heavy GUI stuff, so it's less overhead on your system - this assumes you're a command line junkie, but that description never stopped me!

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Ubuntu Server has no GUI stuff by default too. That being said, I agree with the Debian Stable recommendation - a very solid OS. –  Matthew Iselin Sep 14 '10 at 6:03
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I would go Ubuntu just because of the community backing it and the mass of documentation around it.

As for hardware, just about anything will do. I went with a small book style Atom PC for my home file server. It's got a CF slot for a 8GB card I run the OS off and 2 bays for HDD that is my storage in raid 1.

Performance reading/writing files across the network is around 40MB/s. Yep Mega-Bytes. And when the drives go to sleep, it draws all of 16 watts of power.

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Every one of your requirements can be easily met by even a bottom of the range machine, running any Linux distribution you care to use. I do agree with the use of RAID but then again, in my opinion if it doesn't use RAID it doesn't even qualify as a server because that should be the absolute minimum level of redundancy for any server.

You haven't told us anything about your Linux expertise or what you're experienced with but the general recommendation is to use whatever you are most comfortable and familiar with. The one thing I would add is to install it without the GUI. It's not required and only adds overhead and (potentially at least) more vulnerabilities.

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