A New SOHO Server

For the last few years, we’ve been backing up our laptops to network storage devices at home. We’ve used several brands of devices with varying levels of success and reliability. A couple of years ago, we lost one of a pair of mirrored drives in our RAID network storage server, and then had problems retrieving the data from the remaining disk. The network storage device relied on booting from firmware written onto the hard drives. Any configuration changes prevented it from booting correctly. We have years of family photos and other things we absolutely do not want to lose. After that failure, I got a four drive Drobo unit with a USB3 interface to use instead of the internal drives of the network storage server. The Drobo was formatted with NTFS, with the idea that it could be disconnected from the network storage server and plugged directly into one of our computers if we ever needed to directly access the data. This setup worked pretty well, except the write speed with the network storage server to the external drive array was pretty slow. For incremental backups, this was usually not a problem, but with large backup sets, it could take 24 hours to complete a backup.

Recently, we decided it was time to upgrade this capability to increase the backup speed, plus provide additional capabilities such as VPN. I wanted something compact and reliable, and considered getting a Mac Mini. Only problem with the Mini was the current hardware is getting outdated, and to get the configuration I wanted, expensive upgrades would be needed. Enter the Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing). The form factor is very similar to the Mini, but it is very configurable, and less expensive. We settled on the i5 dual core version, so I ordered the NUC6i5SYH kit from Amazon. In addition, I got 16GB of DDR4 RAM and a 256GB SSD.

The form factor is quite compact. These photos show the top and bottom view of the unit.

IMG_0168 IMG_0175

Loosening the four screws on the bottom allows the disk tray to be lifted out, exposing the main board and the memory slots.
IMG_0169 IMG_0170

The 16GB DDR4 (2 X 8GB modules) was easily plugged in and locked in place.
IMG_0173

The 256GB SSD was also easy to slide in place.
IMG_0171 IMG_0174

The unit was then reassembled and the four screws were tightened. Here it is next to my Raspberry Pi development system for a size comparison.

IMG_0177
We wanted to use Ubuntu Linux for the operating system, so I downloaded the Ubuntu 16.04 LTS ISO image and burned it to a DVD. I then plugged in a portable USB DVD drive, and booted the system. First boot took about 15 minutes from the time the case was opened.
IMG_0180

I was then able to use the install Ubuntu option and load it onto the SSD. Ubuntu was loaded and booted on its own about 55 minutes after that. From there, I installed updates, configured the RAID array, and set up SAMBA file sharing to make the Windows clients happy. I had to read quite a bit on online documentation, so that took a while. Here is the final setup with the NUC sitting on top of the Drobo RAID array. The system has been in daily use for three weeks now with no problems or reboots required.

IMG_3243

I’m really happy with the system and I look forward to setting up additional capabilities in the future. Maybe I’ll set up a web server…

Leave a comment if you have questions.

Happy Making!

-Byron

Leave a Comment