Your own privacy-aware, personally controlled server, part one

Jan 2012

This is part one of a series.

Why Run Your Own Server?

There are lots of reasons why someone might want to run their own server, but I think the important ones boil down to freedom, privacy, and autonomy. If you're not sure why you should run your own server, Eben Moglen does an excellent job of explaining why everyone should. I recommend this recording to become familiar with the issues.

What Hardware To Use?

Now that you know why it's important, the next step is to get your own. The server for a single person doesn't need to be very powerful. Indeed, Eben was talking about computers that were no bigger than a plug, so any computer should work fine.

If you already have something that can function as your server, great. If not, I recommend building one from scratch. It's a great way to become familiar with computers (assuming that you're not already) and is currently the only way to ensure that you're only running free software from top to bottom.

Specifically you should select a motherboard that is supported by Coreboot. The Free Software Foundation explains why having a free BIOS is essential and I wrote about it in The Importance Of Free Firmware.

Computer motherboards come in a variety of sizes. The technical specifications don't matter as much in these cases, because practically any modern computer is powerful enough to run as your server. That doesn't mean you can ignore the technical specifications entirely, though: You should pay attention to which CPUs and RAM are compatible with whatever motherboard you select, and make sure to get compatible parts. In addition to a CPU and RAM you'll need to get a hard drive (I recommend at least two so that your server can perform automated backups), a power supply to run it, and a case to put everything in.

What Software To Use?

I recommend using free software on your computer. If you're not familiar with free software, Bradley Kuhn, former executive director at the Free Software Foundation, gave a speech that I consider to be an excellent introduction to free software. Richard Stallman, founder and president of the Free Software Foundation, also regularly gives talks on this. Here's one. I recommend both of these recordings to become familiar with free software. (If you need a program to play these files, VLC can do so.)

Now that you're familiar with the basics of free software and why it's important, the Free Software Foundation maintains a list of GNU+Linux distributions that contain only free software at gnu.org/distros. I use Trisquel, and that's what this series is based on.

This covers the basics. In the later parts of this series I'll get more detailed: Getting a domain name, and things to consider before getting one, installing Trisquel, configuring it to do what you want, and more.

Continue to part two.