Why would you want to install Ubuntu as a “server” rather than as a desktop? The simple answer is: If you need to ask, you don’t want to do it. But, there is a more nuanced answer as well: By installing a server, you get to a) have loads of fun installing a server; b) learn things about the system you never thought were even there to learn; c) have your own server, so serve stuff in your very own home, so when The Internet goes down you can continue to pretend like there’s an internet. Just a much, much smaller and less interesting one.

And, if you happen to have anything to serve up in your own home, or if you want to serve a web site of your own, the server setup will make more sense than the desktop setup.

In truth, you can take a desktop installation and convert it over to a server by just installing and setting up some stuff. I myself am not convinced that this option is not even easier than the server-from scratch option. However, server from scratch (as opposed to tweaking a desktop install) will probably be cleaner and meaner, but most importantly, you will understand what you have in front of you better if you do it from scratch.

There are several resources you can use to help make this work. I recently read and very much enjoyed the book Beginning Ubuntu Server Administration: From Novice to Professional (Expert’s Voice). (That’s a link to Amazon. If you go there and click around you’ll see a number of similar titles. None of the gay or lesbian server editions will be visible to you, of course.)

Here is a web site
that goes through the process on line. Which of these methods of learning (book vs. on line vs. trial and error) is of course a matter of personal preference.

Let’s go back for a moment as to why you might want a server. Your server may be a low-power draw machine with lower-end graphics that you use to access data (multi-media, files, etc.) and/or devices (printers, scanner, etc.) and in turn access via a wireless network elsewhere in your home.

So, physically, a server is different from another computer because it is not a laptop, it stays on, it is el-cheapo in the graphics department, and it has storage for stuff to serve up (all of these are breakable rules, of course).

In terms of software, there are big differences between a desktop and a server. The server has … servers. Like a web server (apache, for instance) and FTP server, and so on. That software can certainly run on your desktop, but the process of setting up a Linux server, such as the typical configuration known as a LAMP server (Linux, Apachae, MySQL databse, PHP), involves instaling, configuring, and turning on all these bits.

Another thing about a server, typically, is that it sits there without you interacting directly with it most of the time. Typically, you are not using your server for other things like day to day text processing, emailing, web surfing, etc. Again, these are all breakable rules. But a server normally is not your main interactive computer. One thing this means is that you can approach your server with a different personal affect than your regular computer. Your server can be a dangerous place, but because it is your server and not your day to day use computer, you can manage this.

Ubuntu by default does not allow a “super user” mode. A server usually does. So, you can sit down at your sever and check your email and stuff, but you can also sit down at your server and make modifications that only a super user should be allowed to do. Using the Ubuntu solution of “sudo this” and “sudo that” is not convenient, and can actually make some things hard to do, and some scripts that are designed to be run by super user will not operate with the sudo-only environment.

So, you want your server to have super user capacities that you can access, and when you sit down at your server you want to act in a responsible manner worthy of any super user. The book I refer to above does give instructions for changing Ubuntu so that there is a super user mode (you use sudo to do that, naturally).

Here is a web site that gives some suggestions for how to set up the hardware for a server, and also, info on installing Suse Linux.

I’d like to suggest two or three other resources that might make your bedtime reading for the next few weeks if you plan on playing server administrator. First you need UNIX for Dummies or Linux For Dummies 8th Edition, or something like this all in one book on Linux: Linux All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies (For Dummies (Computer/Tech)).

Then you need either The UNIX Philosophy or Linux and the Unix Philosophy, in order to get your philosophical approach in line.

Between the above five mentioned texts, pick one from the first paragraph and zero or one from the second paragrqaph. Go to the used bookstore in your neighborhood that sells computer books (here where I am that would be Second Hand Books) and get whatever they have along these lines that is used. You don’t need current references, as these books are talking about *nix at a level where details are not important. The idea is to get down some basics, get some philosophy, and learn what sorts of things are possible by viewing these possibilities form a variety of different angles.

Then, go out and get a fairly current all in one bible type book that gives you the reference source you will need, such as A Practical Guide to Linux(R) Commands, Editors, and Shell Programming.

Some people don’t like books, and prefer on line resources. You can find all of the above on line in some form or another, and at another time I’ll make some suggestions along those lines . Some people like the book for various reasons. I like having these books as my bedtime reading. No computer, just the book. I know, that’s strange, but it’s how I roll.

An expression, by the way, that I really don’t like that much (“how I roll” … that expression).

Comments

  1. #1 Dan J
    May 27, 2009

    I have an Ubuntu machine that is not necessarily a server, but not an in-use desktop machine either. It sits under my desk and serves as my home network’s router. I installed the desktop version of Ubuntu so that I could have GUI access for some of the tools I wanted to use. It has two wired network cards, and one wireless card. One wired card goes directly to my cable modem. The other wired card goes to an eight-port hub, and the wireless card serves as an access point for handheld gaming devices, or when someone with a laptop comes over and needs access. The wireless card and LAN-side wired card are “bridged” to appear as a single device. Firestarter (firewall program) uses that device as its LAN connection, and the other wired card as its Internet connection. The PC itself is a 566MHz machine without fancy graphics or a large hard drive. It was rescued from a small business which was replacing it with a newer machine. Why spend money on a single-purpose wireless router when I can put one together myself?

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    May 27, 2009

    Dan: Nice.

  3. #3 Tristanm
    May 27, 2009

    I’ve got an Ubuntu server. I’m not actually all that positive what all it’s specs are. It has a Pentium 3 at around 450mhz, I think 512MB DDR ram. It does have a raid card with two 80GB HDDs mirrored. It has a tape drive, which I have never used and have no clue how I would even access it by linux command line.

  4. #4 Jason Thibeault
    May 27, 2009

    The great thing about using Linux in an X-less setup is that it can do a hell of a lot more than an equivalent box that has to carry all the weight of the graphics processing. A computer that can barely run XP as a desktop would make a great server to play with Ubuntu on, so grab that old hunk of junk on the side of the road and see if you can use it for something cool.

    In fact, I’m using an old Dell Optiplex GX260 (pumped up to 512 megs RAM) as my newest Ubuntu server at work — the third I’ve implemented so far. I didn’t even specifically start out with the Ubuntu Server installation, just grabbed my desktop edition CD which was handy, installed that, uninstalled xserver-xorg and its dependencies, and started installing all the bits and bobbles I wanted (full LAMP installation, Samba, LDAP server, BIND, etc., etc). Ubuntu has all the parts that make up a server, available to you even on the desktop distribution.

    Plus you could go and install something like Rogue or ToME for console-based gaming if you really need something to do on console 2 while console 1 is doing updates. :)

    One thing I usually tell people who want to set up their first Linux server and are worried about power consumption — find an old laptop that almost doesn’t work, e.g. one whose backlight is gone, plug in a monitor long enough to get things set up, then set power management to ignore the lid state, put it someplace out of the way (in a closet, on its side on your computer desk’s bookshelf, etc.), make sure it’s ventilated enough to keep working, and you have a server that sips at power rather than drinking deeply. Or you could look into one of these guys: http://www.tgdaily.com/content/view/41525/136/ I’ve been wanting one of these since I first heard of them.

    Thanks Greg for yet another platform from which to proselytize to the masses!

  5. #5 Dan J
    May 27, 2009

    Thanks Greg for yet another platform from which to proselytize to the masses!

    I’ll be proselytizing to the masses from my own blog in the next few days. The DNS hasn’t propagated yet. I’ll get WordPress and necessary plugins set up very soon, then work on my own special theme over the weekend. Linux Rocks!!

  6. #6 mrcreosote
    May 27, 2009

    I have an old compaq laptop, with a dead screen, running CentOS as my proxy server and print server.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    May 27, 2009

    Is the screen just sitting there or did you take it off?

    Anyway, yes, the whole headless server thing is worth keeping in mind. Servers do not need monitors.

  8. #8 mrcreosote
    May 28, 2009

    Screen is still there, it just doesn’t work, so it’s useless as a laptop. I keep the lid closed, and it sits up on a shelf, quietly doing its job. Occasionally I will ssh in and run a ‘yum update’, but otherwise I hardly ever need to touch it.

  9. #9 Jason Thibeault
    May 28, 2009

    To Greg’s point, even if the backlight is off (due to being burnt out), there’s still power going to the laptop. If you have the nerve to disassemble it (not as hard as you’d think), go for it, you’ll probably save about 1/3 of the power consumption it has presently by removing the monitor. As it’s headless anyway, there’s hardly any use for it to have that monitor on, and most monitors treat that laptop monitor port much like a VGA port, not requiring it to be plugged in to turn on and function otherwise normally.

  10. #10 Michael Spencer
    May 28, 2009

    Oh, Greg.

    This linux-fixation is so charming…

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    May 28, 2009

    If you cut half or more of the screen off, say with a chainsaw, and also remove the keyboard, your power consumption will go down and there will be better cooling.

  12. #12 Jason Thibeault
    May 28, 2009

    Also, if you need more ventilation to the motherboard, go ahead and use an icepick. Be generous with where you put the holes. The more ventilated, the better!

    Alternately if you’re a gun owner, you already know how to ventilate things, go ahead and practice that way. I guarantee it’ll consume less power after you’re done!

  13. #13 sikiş
    May 28, 2009

    Come to think of it, perhaps Johnson is just a simple country lawyer after all, the operative word being “simple.” Or maybe he just demonstrates the same level of knowledge about cancer and medical science as the “alternative” medicine boosters he represents; i.e., either zero or nothing but gross distortions of real science. Indeed, I think that may be the case, given the rest of the ignorant blather in his arguments for Daniel. Again, if this was the quality of the case he presented, no wonder he lost and lost big. Perhaps Danny needs a new lawyer, particularly given that his current one actually used as part of his argument to the court such a lame Internet urban legend among the anti-chemotherapy “natural cancer cures” crowd:

  14. #14 sevişme
    May 28, 2009

    Indeed, I think that may be the case, given the rest of the ignorant blather in his arguments for Daniel. Again, if this was the quality of the case he presented, no wonder he lost and lost big. Perhaps Danny needs a new lawyer, particularly given that his current one actually used as part of his argument to the court such a lame Internet urban legend among the anti-chemotherapy “natural cancer cures” crowd:

  15. #15 megan
    May 28, 2009

    Ooo, Linux newbies pissing over themselves in joy now that there are Linux OPs out for idiots to escape Windoz hell.

  16. #16 Agencja Reklamowa
    July 14, 2009

    Great article. I will use it and try to install my first server. I hope it goes nice and smooth but I doubt that. We will see.

  17. #17 BigM
    July 17, 2010

    I’m coming way late to the conversation (just found this article via a Google search, although I’m a long time reader of several SB blogs), but I wanted to chime in that I just set up an Ubuntu server. It’s a good use for an old computer, which you probably can’t sell on Craigslist (because there are way more sellers than buyers, in my experience) and will probably just end up filling up a landfill.

    Without a GUI, you can run Ubuntu Server on 128 MB of RAM, making even a 10 year old computer useful (once again). And you don’t even need a monitor after the initial installation, since you can administer the whole thing remotely with ssh.

    And if you don’t have an old computer sitting around, you can buy one for under $100 from the surplus on Craigslist, and keep one of THOSE computers from ending up in a landfill.

  18. #18 James Cartwright
    Where ever you are!
    April 9, 2014

    Farts and Dingbats……

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