A charity I volunteer for wants a file server for their mostly Windows machines (about five XP and 7 machines, with some Mac laptops every now and then). For the server, I have a PC with an Intel Core 2 Duo 3GHz proc, 4GB of DDR2 400MHz RAM, and a 500 GB HDD. (I should point out that they do not currently have any server - they are just using Windows to share a folder on one of the PCs.)

What is a linux distro that is easy to configure for Windows file serving yet stable and secure enough to protect sensitive data without an expert sysadmin?

I'm guessing that a Debian distro would probably fit the security bill, but I don't know of any tailored to novice sysadmins.

Also, are there any killer apps for making this easy to administer and set up (as a Windows file server, in particular - this answer is a good example)? Would FreeNAS be sufficient? Once it's all set up, what are the minimum measures I need to take to keep the data secure?

I found this somewhat helpful answer, but it's not specific to my question of just getting a secure file server up, running, and maintained.

  • 4
    FreeNAS is definitely enough for their needs.
    – Javier
    Jan 8, 2011 at 23:06

6 Answers 6


Entry-level solutions are Samba and FreeNAS. If you are not comfortable with looking after a *nix server, and given the low number of users, stick to FreeNAS.

  • Please don't let anybody get the wrong idea about Samba: just like any other UNIX tool, it scales up nicely :-)
    – DutchUncle
    Jan 9, 2011 at 16:20
  • 1
    very true, it even has a great 'clustering' setup that shares locks, getting near linear scalability in file serving performance (once you get a cluster file storage). Still, being OpenSource, you can also use 'the real deal' in the cheapest entry level settings.
    – Javier
    Jan 10, 2011 at 3:10

SME server. Free, ready out of the box, just install. Uses a web interface. It rocks.



I would suggest looking into Ubuntu server distro along with GlusterFS or Gluster Storage Platform. They're both a joke to setup and have a decent community. Gluster is going to be your best bet for redundant data.

  • gluster.org
    – Pat
    Jan 8, 2011 at 22:22
  • Pat is right in providing that link. My apologies. Gluster is a little unclear on what it is you should install so I'll elaborate a little. If you want a simple, redundant file-system you can load-balance, download GlusterFS. IF you want to dedicate visual hosts, use the storage platform instead. Its slightly less clear but easier, somehow. Also, check out howtoforge.com/…
    – Publiccert
    Jan 8, 2011 at 22:29
  • 3
    -1 to GlusterFS. Not only is that way the wrong scale for this question, there's a mismatch in project goals: on the one hand, simple secure file server for Windows clients, with half a terabyte of disk; on the other hand a very new (basically experimental) high-performance parallel filesystem.
    – mattdm
    Jan 8, 2011 at 22:35
  • 1
    Also, geez, you just posted a question serverfault.com/questions/220183 in which you say "If not, is there a source of more verbose Gluster documentation. I find the site to be lacking." That's no good for the self-proclaimed inexperienced admin asking this question!
    – mattdm
    Jan 8, 2011 at 22:37
  • If you had read my question properly, you'd understand I'm going beyond the standard feature list and trying something different that I don't understand to be SOP for this product.
    – Publiccert
    Jan 8, 2011 at 22:41

In my opinion Gluster is not a good solution for the server and situation that you describe. Nothing against Gluster as it has it's place but for a simple single small scale server I would keep things as simple as possible and avoid adding layers like Gluster. That said you'll have a hard time doing any real redundancy with a single 500GB drive.

My suggestion is to get a 2nd 500GB drive and use software RAID1 to give yourself the redundancy you're looking for. As for which distribution to use. FreeNAS doesn't allow the OS drive to participate in any RAID. So you could have a look at OpenFiler or Nexenta or ClearOS. Those may have similar limitations with their installer/web interface though.

  • Typically, OS drives are hardware RAID, not software RAID; in the unlikely event that the server doesn't already have at least an LSI 1068e or Intel ICH RAID controller on board, a PCIe card can be added very cheaply.
    – Skyhawk
    Jan 9, 2011 at 1:13
  • 1
    @Miles Erickson well in the world of small business I've come to the conclusion that nothing is "typical". And the original poster indicated that the computer in question is an older desktop class system. So chances of having a hardware raid is pretty remote. Maybe some fake raid but that should be avoided under all circumstances. There's nothing wrong with running Software Raid in this case. You don't get the security of battery backed cache but those onboard options you mentioned wouldn't have that either. Jan 9, 2011 at 2:22

If you just want reliable file sharing for a few machines with limited admin support I would consider one of the inexpensive network NAS devices from a major vendor. The WD Sharespace devices http://www.wdc.com/en/products/products.aspx?id=270 from Western Digital have worked quite well for me.


Debian Gnu/Linux is well known for its stability. But what you search is something running mostly samba and any *nix is capable of so go with what you feel.

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