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Old 1st May 2016
Insider Insider is offline
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Default Small PC server instead of hub/port replicator for ultrabook (MacBook Air)? Which OS?

Here's the project: I was thinking of instead of getting an external hub/port replicator for my MacBook Air (a good one is $100 minimum), why not get a separate, fully fledged small PC server (I'm OK with a price of up to $200, you can buy a Kangaroo PC, Intel NUC and various other boxes in the price range. On a side note, if you want a 256 GB SSD in a MacBook Air/Pro instead of a 128 GB one, that would be $200 extra, too, that $200 is better spent at peripherals, hub/port replicator -> small PC server, especially), the PC server would connect to the MacBook air via fast (ac) Wi-Fi. The PC server would connect and share Ethernet Internet and various drives, such as a HDD/SSD for files, USB flash drives, SD cards... with the MacBook Air.

First, is this a good idea at all? I'm not a UNIX expert, I understand there is a learning curve for all the three, major BSDs I might be interested in taking possibly for other, future projects.

There are also things like 'ready made' (FreeBSD based) FreeNAS (for files) and pfSense (for network) and I seem like to want a combination of these two in one box, which might or might not be a good idea.

Your thought? How would you do it? What level of expertise is needed? What's my best bet if, for the time being, as a beginner/not so technical user, I want something that 'just works'? The recommended OS can be BSD or Linux based, or else.
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Old 2nd May 2016
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The one concern that jumps out at me is the desire for wireless AC. I know little about this, and would love to be proven wrong, but I suspect support for that in the BSD world is slim-to-none at this time. So that would be something to look into first (or re-assess the need). I don't have any AC equipment, so am not sure what the situation with that is on Linux either.
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Old 2nd May 2016
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Sure, I'm aware of the limited availability of ac Wi-Fi yet. But it's fast and it works (where available). N Wi-Fi is not so fast, and does not always work (the 2.4 GHz band is congested). OK, as a plan B, if we are talking about any Wi-Fi, not necessarily ac, then how do you evaluate my idea?

Last edited by Insider; 2nd May 2016 at 01:17 PM.
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Old 2nd May 2016
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I can only add a few simple comments due to lack of familiarity with ready-made solutions and Mac's. Hopefully others can add input too.

Regarding non-ac WiFi, one possibility is to use a wireless NIC in hostap mode (where the device acts as an access point rather than client). This mode is not supported for all wireless devices under BSD, only some. Even where it is supported, the performance isn't always reliable, AFAIK. So if you wanted to go that route, investigate carefully first what is reported to work well. OTOH, you could just go with a commercial wireless router on your LAN which, again for non-ac, could be extremely cheap.

I'm not sure what protocols a Mac would use for sharing files. Do you want to mount a whole filesystem, with something like NFS? This may not be terribly reliable over wireless. Or do you just want to use sftp to transfer occasional files piece-meal?

Also, I think there's an inherent conflict between wanting something that "just works" and being new to Unix-like OS's. There is a learning curve, so it will take some time, that's unavoidable. But don't be discouraged, the fact that you've found this forum and asked suggests you're capable to do it! If you had an old spare PC available to experiment with BSD and Linux and gain some experience, maybe that could be a first step, and then making a decision about your project could come later but be made with greater confidence?

Last edited by IdOp; 2nd May 2016 at 08:43 PM. Reason: typo
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Old 2nd May 2016
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jggimi jggimi is offline
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Hello, and welcome!

I agree with IdOp - experiment, learn, and above all research before making an investment.

Keep in mind, each BSD is a unique OS. These are not "distributions" of a shared kernel as with Linux. You may discover that only one of them has something you require. But if the hardware you believe would be needed is not supported, there may be alternative solutions.

As an example, you stated a desire for 802.11ac. This is not possible with OpenBSD, yet. But that does not stop you from deploying an 802.11ac bridge on a subnet that is protected by OpenBSD.

So don't just do a feature comparison with a checklist. Design a solution. This is where laboratory testing can be very helpful. You can prove the validity of the design and components before investing in any new hardware.

Old hardware, spare hardware, and virtual machines can all be part of a testing (and education) regimen.
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Old 3rd May 2016
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Insider View Post
Here's the project: I was thinking of instead of getting an external hub/port replicator for my MacBook Air (a good one is $100 minimum), why not get a separate, fully fledged small PC server (I'm OK with a price of up to $200, you can buy a Kangaroo PC, Intel NUC and various other boxes in the price range. On a side note, if you want a 256 GB SSD in a MacBook Air/Pro instead of a 128 GB one, that would be $200 extra, too, that $200 is better spent at peripherals, hub/port replicator -> small PC server, especially), the PC server would connect to the MacBook air via fast (ac) Wi-Fi. The PC server would connect and share Ethernet Internet and various drives, such as a HDD/SSD for files, USB flash drives, SD cards... with the MacBook Air.
I have this

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16856205007

as a firewall/UTM (Unified Threat Management). I had 4GB of laptop RAM laying around and I got 16GB SSD drive for $10. I run flashrd of USB drive for about 6 weeks but running non-embedded vanilla OpenBSD is making easier to thinker with it.

I also built NAS appliance using ECS NM70-I2 (V1.0) Intel Celeron 1037U 1.80GHz Intel NM70 Mini ITX Motherboard. It runs DragonFlyBSD

Quote:
Originally Posted by Insider View Post
First, is this a good idea at all? I'm not a UNIX expert, I understand there is a learning curve for all the three, major BSDs I might be interested in taking possibly for other, future projects.
Depends on your aptitude and how much time you have to "waist". Could be very rewording experience, a new hobby. Also could lead to collapse of your marriage if you spent too much time tinkering with it.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Insider View Post
There are also things like 'ready made' (FreeBSD based) FreeNAS (for files) and pfSense (for network) and I seem like to want a combination of these two in one box, which might or might not be a good idea.
FreeNAS is a fine product. I have several FreeNAS servers at work. I opted for FreeNAS instead of vanilla FreeBSD at that time because it had less step learning curve and I we needed a pair of file servers quickly. ZFS learning curve with FreeNAS was still very steep even for a guy like me who has being using UNIX circa 1991. On the long run you will be better avoiding turn-key appliances as you will find yourself using a small subset of features but paying a huge price of the lack of flexibility.

I don't recommend pfSense for production use. Any product which is named after a software coded by a group they prefer not to mention is non-starter for me. On the more technical front PF has always felt as unwanted bastardized child on FreeBSD and it is on the life support IMHO (please no flames I'm entitled to my opinion). That being said if you have never managed a firewall or even if you have managed but looking the ways to improve monitoring/backup, add few trick to your repertoire you will learn a lot by installing and playing with pfSense.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Insider View Post
Your thought? How would you do it? What level of expertise is needed? What's my best bet if, for the time being, as a beginner/not so technical user, I want something that 'just works'? The recommended OS can be BSD or Linux based, or else.
If you want stuff that just works I would recommend

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...0001-_-Product

with the original software (runs OpenBSD fine with few caveats). FreeNAS of for that matter anything ZFS based is not an option for home users due to high hardware requirement. Again please no flames I run multiple ZFS/(FreeNAS and TrueOS) file servers. My largest file server has currently over 144TB of data so I should know something about it. HAMMER is awesome for home use but it is not for inexperienced users. Linux lacks a decent file system but if you are OK with 90s technology (XFS is nice file system) you could use something like

https://www.turnkeylinux.org/fileserver

or

OpenMediaVault

http://www.openmediavault.org/




Somebody mentioned WiFi. I really like this device

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...-148-_-Product

but as somebody pointed out the WiFi performance will be lacking comparing to a dedicated WiFi router which you can buy for about $30. Again Ubiquity has really nice WiFi mips-64 based routers/hot-spots.

Last edited by Oko; 3rd May 2016 at 02:06 AM.
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Old 28th November 2016
Insider Insider is offline
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The project has changed quite a bit from the time I posted the topic starter, see here.

Some things still relevant here:

Quote:
Originally Posted by IdOp View Post
The one concern that jumps out at me is the desire for wireless AC. I know little about this, and would love to be proven wrong, but I suspect support for that in the BSD world is slim-to-none at this time. So that would be something to look into first (or re-assess the need). I don't have any AC equipment, so am not sure what the situation with that is on Linux either.
What's your go-to source for hardware friendly to free software? If I'm not mistaken, Linux supports AC Wi-Fi by now more or less, so why not BSD? Is there less interest, or the drivers are closed? I have found some, seemingly open-source friendly AC Wi-Fi dongles as well.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jggimi View Post
So don't just do a feature comparison with a checklist. Design a solution. This is where laboratory testing can be very helpful. You can prove the validity of the design and components before investing in any new hardware.
These are all good points, what I would like to drive away, if you can point me to a good source on designing a system or a solution - in general? This sounds good.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Oko View Post
I don't recommend pfSense for production use. Any product which is named after a software coded by a group they prefer not to mention is non-starter for me..
That's a bit puzzling to me. What does it mean?

Oops.
Oko
Banned


Well... Location: Kosovo, Serbia

I don't take my stance on this. I hope he wasn't banned because of his above, helpful post to me!

Thanks for your help, all!
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Old 28th November 2016
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jggimi jggimi is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Insider View Post
If you can point me to a good source on designing a system or a solution - in general? This sounds good.
In general? A list of requirements, paper and pencil, and 10 or more years as a network engineer.

Seriously, there's a short book which I recommend to any IT person who wants to understand networking: Michael W. Lucas wrote Networking for Systems Administrators and it is readable, helpful, and ecumenical, as it covers networking and administrative tools for BSDs, Linuxes, and Windows.

---

Your focus in this thread had been - and may still be - on hardware, and not on specific functions needed by the network you have not yet designed.

Each function you determine to be an operational requirement will affect your design. And any design point will have multiple options.

So, instead of writing a list of nice-to-have shiny new hardware bits, why not start with what your network is required to support? That list of requirements will inform your design, and the design and budget will inform your hardware and/or OS choices. And you will have many choices.

I'd brought up one example of choice in my previous post. There are two ways to deploy an 802.11ac capable WiFi Access Point:
  1. With an 802.11ac capable NIC, using an OS that has a driver supporting that NIC in 802.11ac Host Access Point mode.
  2. In an external 802.11ac-capable WiFi Bridge, connected to a wired infrastructure.
Even with the simples of topologies -- a single LAN, and a single ISP connection -- we have many choices. Since WiFi was mentioned above, let's look at WiFi choice. We need to know whether the WiFi will be required to support 802.11ac, 802.11n, 802.11a, or 802.11g, or 802.11b. Or some of them. Or all of them.

But you may have more to consider than just the speed and bandwidth of Ethernet over Radio (WiFi). Wired Ethernet has similar (if fewer) choices. And you may discover you need multiple LANs, whether wired or WiFi.
These days, even small networks may require separation for different purposes. Commonly, there may be separate LANs for "DMZ servers," for backup, for management, for application servers to communicate with database servers .... the list can be long. My home network has more individual LANs than there are rooms.
So, consider first what your network needs to do. That will inform your design, which will have many choices. Your design will inform your hardware, and again, their will be many choices. Considering which bright new shiny toys to acquire is the very last step in your design phase.
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Old 1st December 2016
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Insider View Post
What's your go-to source for hardware friendly to free software?
A concise answer (without trying to be flippant) is "the past"; I get the majority of my hardware out of a dumpster. Since it's stuff that typical computer users have thrown out, it tends to be older and has had time for open-source support to be developed if possible. Similarly, bought stuff is often clearance, which is a bit older. This explains why I don't have any wireless AC gear. Generally with bought stuff, I'll try to look around the web for reports of success with Linux at a minimum before buying.

Quote:
If I'm not mistaken, Linux supports AC Wi-Fi by now more or less, so why not BSD? Is there less interest, or the drivers are closed? I have found some, seemingly open-source friendly AC Wi-Fi dongles as well.
I'm not really sure about the state of AC on linux since I haven't needed it, but it wouldn't surprise me if there's usable support by now. As for why not BSD, I'd guess the usual multiple reasons like lack of funding and person-power, licensing, etc. Many of the BSD manual pages for wireless N gear will say they only are supported in G mode. So AC support would seem rare/surprising. I also don't recall reading of AC support on this forum, which doesn't prove there is none, but sort of concurs with the general picture.
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