Personal Cloud “On-the-Cheap”, part 2: Operating System

In my previous post about my personal cloud server project I walked through choosing and installing the hardware. Now it’s time to look at the operating system.  Hardware ain’t gonna do much without an OS, right?

I decided immediately that Windows was off the table.  I use Windows when I need to, but for something like this, where I’m building the system myself and trying to keep costs as low as possible, I need to look for a free alternative. Fortunately there are about a million distros (there I go again with the techy words) to choose from. I could have experimented with different ones to see what struck my fancy, but I decided instead to go with something I knew; Linux Mint.

I’ve been a fan of Mint (specifically the Cinnamon desktop version) for years.  It’s close enough to a Windows environment to be familiar, yet has a small footprint and runs fast.

Mint will provide me with a solid OS to run my personal cloud software.  Its Update Manager will make sure I keep everything a shiny and new, and I should have no trouble installing the apps I need.

A Twelve Letter Dirty Word

Let’s see how new you are to Linux: PARTITIONING.

If your palms start sweating just now, you’re probably more of a Windows person. Partitioning simply refers to how an operating system divides up the space on your hard drive for different uses.  A “partition” is a chunk of space.  Linux users know the ins and outs of partitioning because it’s normal for a Linux system to have multiple partitions on a hard drive, for everything from your home directory to your swap space. You can control this or you can let Linux handle it for you.

partitioning
…and then my head exploded

While it can be a little scary, partitioning has its advantages, the main one being that you can wipe out a broken installation of Linux and reinstall without affecting your data.

As nice as that is, for my project I’ve opted to create a single partition instead.  I have a relatively small (32GB) OS drive and I don’t want to worry about running out of space on any of the partitions. So a single root partition is the ticket.  I’m not storing any data on this drive, so if I need to wipe and reinstall I’ll have nothing to lose.

A Potentially Bad Decision

I’m also opting to not use swap.  Swap is just space on your hard drive set aside to be used when your system runs out of physical memory.  So, for example, if I have 1GB of RAM and I’m running enough stuff to use all 1GB, as soon as I go over that the swap space will be used. Swap is a great safety net, but it can also shorten the life of flash memory, so I’m not using it here.  Plus, with 4GB of RAM I should have plenty to spare. The apps I’ll be running shouldn’t come close to that. The risk, of course, is that if I DO hit my 4GB limit (actually a bit less, since the video memory is part of that) the system will crash.  It’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Security? What’s That?

You’ll notice in the video I’m using weak security. DO NOT DO THIS. I can get away with it because this is a test build. Think of it as a trial run. I may make some changes to my setup later, but if everything goes well I’ll be wiping the drive and starting over with better security.

WiFi

You might think that’s the end of the OS installation, but there’s one missing piece: WiFi. After rebooting I found the wireless card wasn’t recognized. Looks like the on-board AC 3165 card is just a little too new for Mint. Fortunately, I’m not a giver-upper, so I went with my old standby:

20160615_055825

This guy has helped me through issues like this in the past. He’s big and bulky, but he happens to work without extra drivers on just about any OS.  So I plugged in my little friend and got online. A bit of Googling let me to the instructions to get the AC 3165 card working, which I posted here. After that, the built-in WiFi worked just dandy, and I was able to run Update Manager to make sure everything was up to date.

Hardware? Done
Operating System? Done
Flux Capacitor? Fluxing

Up Next: Choosing, installing, and configuring the cloud software
And still to come: Testing it out!

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