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Location: Vacaville, California, United States

Im retired military. I was U.S. Air Force and spent most of it at Travis AFB. Im married, and I have 2 sons.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Everyone can be an Internet server. Believe it or not. It takes far less machine to copy a file than it does to create it. And basically thats what a server is doing. It listens for requests from the net for a file, then it copies it out the proper port so that the other machine can receive it. That computer has to do the handling to properly display it. So it doesnt matter if its a web page, or a graphic, or a music file, video, whatever. It takes more machine to create it, or even to view it, than it does to serve it. It also takes far less bandwidth than most people think. If you think of it not as viewing it online, but as what it takes to copy it from one machine to another, then you will have more of a grasp on whats involved.

Again, the disclaimer. I am not saying this is the best way to do things. I am saying that its possible. If you are going to decide to do it or not to do it, then at least dont decide based on the wrong ideas about it. What is possible is that if you upgrade your computer to make fancier things for the net, then your old computer can become the server for those things.

If you host your stuff on some services machines, then dont be surprised if they do not want to show you or tell you anything about the machines you are on. You would be shocked at how many services would end up getting the response "**** my desktop is more than that". If their machines are far fancier than your desktop then chances are that its so that they can host thousands of you on that one machine. Your old throw-away computer can easily be 1/1000 of that machine. In fact, the computer in the closet that got upgraded because it wont run the latest greatest game can easily host a couple of dozen websites, and 100 email accounts, and host multiplayer games, IRC, forums, chats, wiki, etc etc. I know because Ive done it for 6 years now.

Even if you decide to build a machine to be a server, consider this..
You need a powerful CPU processor, and you need lots of memory. And thats about it. If you go to a computer store that can build you a machine, thats pretty much it. Of course you need a network card, and a graphic card, and a sound card, and a hard drive. But the minimum that a shop is willing to put into the machine is very likely to be more than you actually need. You do not need a monitor, or a keyboard, or a mouse. Most of the admin work will be done by connecting from your desktop machine and for the rare times that you need to work at the console then you can borrow those from your desktop or use old messed up ones (or use a KVM. Google it).

What about security? Well an amazing number of people now keep their desktops running all of the time, and have server software running (something that listens for requests from the net to answer it). No? You dont keep IM or Skype running all the time? No shared directories? No hosting a game or module? Well those machines have all the same security headaches, and the same answers. For just one of many solutions I mention Linux. I can now install a free Linux operating system and tell it on the setup that I want it to be a server. How is the security managed? The same as your windows machine. Automatic updates from home site for that operating system. And for problems? Well, Im a real good googler.

What about bandwidth? Yes there is a difference there. Most home connections offer more download bandwidth (what you can get) than upload bandwidth (what you can send). And that does impact serving. All I can say is try it and find out. Sending a webpage is not alot of bandwidth. Its just a text document being copied. And if you are heavy in graphics or music then you might want to see my other article about anyone-can-be-a-webiste for suggestions on splitting up a site to multiple services.

What about the number of people hitting a site? Yes of course thats a factor. Everything is. Im not so much talking to people who have 100 pages of website on their domain with 100's of people hitting it every minute. Im talking to "everyone can". Those big-site people might have been happier if they had considered this back when they were spending alot of money getting a site hosted that had a dozen pages and got 100 people in one day. I have a DSL connection thru my phone company. I have my WinXP desktop, my wife has her WinXP desktop, my son has his WinXP desktop, then I have my main debian linux server, and my old linux server. All of them are online thru that DSL.

What are some of the advantages? No limits for one thing. My servers started out as a test but now I cant imagine being without them. I can have as many email boxes as I want. I can store as much email, and recieve emails that are as large as I want. I can have as many web domains as I want using some special price offer to get another and have it pointed to my server. I can add anything I want to try to my webpages by adding some package for a wiki or a shopping cart or a web forum. I can host multi-player games (my favorites at the moment is Dominions 3 and Shadowdale MUD). I easily offer anything online such as pictures or files. I can offer email boxes or webspace to my friends.

Again let me say that I am not trying to pitch that everbody should do this. Im only saying that its possible. The reasons for not doing it, might not be what you thought they were. And some people out there might just be happy considering it. If your list of wants from your present web server is longer than they want to provide then maybe you are just beyond that type of service. Instead of shopping for a new service with pages and pages of must-haves, then you might want to test the idea of pulling that old computer out of the closet and putting it online. Chances are that you have already learned an amazing amout of what is needed to make this work for you.

Gandalf Parker

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