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Bubba Two: The little server that could

By Dmitri Popov on October 02, 2008 (7:00:00 PM)

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Converting an old PC into a home or office server may look like a good idea on paper, but in reality, the idea has a few serious drawbacks. For starters, old PCs tend to be noisy, power-guzzling monsters, and older components make them less reliable. Turning an old PC into a server also means installing and configuring all the necessary software, which can be a time-consuming and laborious process. If the drawbacks of this approach outweigh for you its possible advantages, consider instead Bubba Two, a nifty Debian-based device that can be used for a variety of tasks.

Bubba Two arrives in a nondescript package containing the server itself, a power supply, a crossover Ethernet cable, and a two-page getting started guide. The server is surprisingly small -- about the size of of two stacked VHS tapes -- and thanks to its low-power processor and passive cooling, the only moving part in it is a hard disk. While the server is not completely noiseless, it's quiet enough for most environments. My review unit came with a 500GB hard disk, but Bubba Two is available in other configurations, or without any disk at all. Bubba Two is based on a 200MHz ARM9 processor backed up by 256MB DDR2 RAM. The server consumes only between 7 and 12W of power, depending on the installed hard disk. Bubba Two's body is made of solid aluminum, and it feels like it can withstand anything, with the possible exception of a direct hit by an anti-tank rocket. A thin layer of sprayed rubber gives the server a classy black finish reminiscent of IBM ThinkPad laptops. The back panel of the server sports two Ethernet jacks marked as WAN and LAN, two USB ports, and two eSATA ports for adding more storage and connecting a printer. There's also a power connector.

The supplied quick start guide provides a brief explanation of how to get the server up and running. However, the setup procedure in the guide describes only one usage scenario, where Bubba Two sits between your Internet connection and local network, acting as a router and firewall. If you want to use Bubba Two purely as a server on a local network, you should look at Bubba Two's manual, which covers other possible scenarios.

The initial configuration of Bubba Two takes only a couple of minutes. Use the supplied crossover cable to connect Bubba Two directly to your computer via LAN ports (you need this computer to configure Bubba's settings). Turn the server on, wait till it boots, then point a browser on the connected computer to http://bubba. Log in as administrator using the default user name and password, and add a new user. That's it: your server is ready to go.

Bubba Two comes with a vast collection of preinstalled software, which makes it suitable for a wide range of tasks. You can use Bubba Two as a file server with support for the HTTP, Samba, FTP, and SCP protocols. Apache allows you to use Bubba Two as a tiny Web server, and publishing Web pages is as easy as copying them to the Web folder in your user directory on the server. Since Bubba Two comes with both PHP and MySQL, you can use it to host LAMP-based applications. It took me literally five minutes to get DokuWiki up and running on Bubba Two.

Fetchmail lets you retrieve messages from multiple email accounts, and you can read them in a browser via the Web-based PIM and email front end. The Firefly media server can stream music stored in the music directory to DAAP-compatible music clients. The server even comes with its own downloader, which lets you download files via HTTP, FTP, and BitTorrent. As if this weren't enough, you can use Bubba Two as a print server courtesy of the CUPS printer software. The best part is that all this functionality is wrapped in an intuitive and easy-to-use Web-based interface, so configuring Bubba Two doesn't require any system administrator skills.

The server sports a nifty feature called EasyFind that can come in handy if you want to access Bubba Two from the Web but you don't have a static IP address. Give your Bubba Two server a unique name, like "littlebubba," and you can access the server using the littlebubba.bubbaserver.com address.

Since Bubba Two runs Debian Etch, you can treat it as a regular Linux system. You can connect to the server via SSH, manage it, and install additional software. Install, for example, the rsync package, and you can use Bubba Two as a backup server (this post on an Excito forum describes how to use Bubba Two for automated rsync backup).

Simply put, Bubba Two is as good as a simple server appliance gets. It can handle pretty much any task you throw at it, while the easy-to-use Web interface makes server configuration and maintenance a breeze. The tiny size and discrete design coupled with low power consumption and low noise level make Bubba Two a perfect solution for home and small offices. In other words, if you are looking for a small and versatile Linux-based server, Bubba Two should be at the very top of your list.

Dmitri Popov is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Russian, British, US, German, and Danish computer magazines.

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Bubba Two: The little server that could

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 195.241.19.12] on October 02, 2008 07:19 PM
Obviously I tell nothing new that there are more similar products available. Like the NSLU2 from Linksys. I am using it already for a couple of years. Indeed it is a very nice small low power home server. Admittely it does not run the original firmware anymore.

Just to point out: I agree with Dimitri that such small boxes are usally a better solution for an average SOHO server compared to an old PC.

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Bubba Two: The little server that could

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.71.57.25] on October 02, 2008 10:37 PM
The line of this article annoys me:

"Converting an old PC into a home or office server may look like a good idea on paper, but in reality, the idea has a few serious drawbacks. For starters, old PCs tend to be noisy, power-guzzling monsters, and older components make them less reliable."

1) Using an old computer is much more environmentally friendly - simply because you are recycling old components
2) Often is old hardware uses less power that modern
3) Unlike mechanic hardware - electronic equipment has the same statistical chance of failure at any point in their life. Hence you should never swap out old electrically components out simply because they are old.

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Re: Bubba Two: The little server that could

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.168.40.186] on October 02, 2008 11:48 PM
Buying new PC's which may use a little less electricity make environmental sense if you take out the energy required to make the new PC, the energy required to obtain the materials. Also take into account the impact of a dumped old PC into landfill.

Green computing is a marketing gimmick.

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Bubba Two: The little server that could

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 64.252.43.167] on October 03, 2008 04:05 AM
They're using Debian. Why isn't there a link to download SOURCE up on their website???

Not that I want it, but it really is starting to get me hacked about the number of businesses using FOSS software that casually forget about the conditions of the GPL.

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Re: Bubba Two: The little server that could

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 217.133.52.44] on October 03, 2008 08:18 AM

Bubba Two: The little server that could

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.244.98.225] on October 03, 2008 05:39 AM
$325 (estimated, 230 Euro w/o VAT) for a server with no drive - seems pricey for such a small server. You could make a nice, expandable server with the Shuttle KPC K4500 for $199 (suggested retail price) for a server with a Celeron 430 CPU, 512 Meg RAM, 80 Gig HD and one gigabit Ethernet port. This is larger, but if you add an external HD and the Power Brick of the Bubba Two, you wind up with a similarly-sized pile of electronics, but with lots of interconnecting cables. The Shuttle system can be upgraded (faster CPU, up to 2 Gig RAM, a second HD AND a PCI slot for additional NICs, if needed.

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Bubba Two: The little server that could

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.90.171.153] on October 03, 2008 04:53 PM
hope Bubba Two is way more powerful than Bubba One. Had one of these which when faced with little traffic was fine but as soon as I got > 20 concurrent users Bubba ground to a halt (http://jbcobb.net/?p=31). However it does continue to be a decent mail server for me....

Jeff

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Bubba Two: The little server that could

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.171.234.176] on October 03, 2008 06:36 PM
"Buying new PC's which may use a little less electricity make environmental sense if you take out the energy required to make the new PC, the energy required to obtain the materials. Also take into account the impact of a dumped old PC into landfill."

Yeah--today's "old PCs" are likely EnergyStar compliant, and power saving features are more likely to work on older hardware than new. We're past the days of recycling 286s to use as mailservers.

I don't throw out any hardware until it either no longer works, or I can otherwise no longer use the hardware. It then goes either to a recycler or to charity. Much to my wife's chagrin, I'm also happy to take peoples' old hardware.

Having said that, if your choice is a brand-new dedicated box or a brand-new generic PC, this sort of thing might be worth looking at, I suppose.

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Bubba Two: The little server that could

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 213.67.42.254] on October 04, 2008 10:55 AM
Just want to point out an error in the article: Bubba Two uses a 333 MHz Power PC, not a 200 MHz ARM9 as mentioned. This to satisfy performance-needing users.

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I would say the Fit-PC is a better cadidate

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 62.90.144.208] on October 05, 2008 10:45 PM
I'm using a Fit-PC which IMHO superior in every aspect:
Smaller, 3-6W power, CPU is stronger (500Mhz), 512MByte memory, integrated WiFi, internal drive and most important: it is an X86 CPU. Runs Ubuntu or Gentoo.
With these special distro version for PowerPC you are the last to get updates, and your software stack is limited. The software you get is only what the manufacturer has prepared. With X86 you have the freedom to choose.

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Re: I would say the Fit-PC is a better cadidate

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 99.14.133.179] on October 08, 2008 08:33 AM
I looked up fit-pc and noticed a few things. The wi-fi version of the fit-pc that you mentioned has only one ethernet so it can't be used as a router. the (older?) fit-pc without wi-fi does have 2 ethernet ports. None of the fit-pc models have e-SATA ports like bubba. Bubba seems to be built more solidly. Bubba seems to be doing a better job at design, community building, marketing, etc. Neither bubba or fit-pc has gigabit ethernet.

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Bubba Two: The little server that could

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 87.186.65.133] on October 17, 2008 08:20 AM
I'd like to repudiate some statements made by earlier posters:

1) Using an old computer is much more environmentally friendly - simply because you are recycling old components
2) Often is old hardware uses less power that modern
3) Unlike mechanic hardware - electronic equipment has the same statistical chance of failure at any point in their life. Hence you should never swap out old electrically components out simply because they are old.


While it is true that _every_ new piece of equipment will comsume energy in production and create waste, you'll have to offset this against savings in power comsumption and eqipment reliability.
And, if one were to follow the 'old = better' argument all the way, then nobody should be driving a clean Toyota Prius, and we all should still be using our great-grandparents Ford Model T.
As for power consumption: The Bubba 2 uses (depending on the used hard drive) between seven and twelve Watts of power. Compare this to modern power guzzling several-hundred-Watt computers, and do the math yourself: Let's take my 4 year old rig, which had a 300W power supply, and though I never measured it's average power consumption, let's assume it's 20% of peak capacity. That gives us about 50W saved by using a Bubba 2 server.
Now keep this machine running 24h, 360 days a year and this will get you ~430 kWh of power saved per year.
Regarding the 'electronic equipment has the same statistical chance of failure at any point in their life' I cannot even begin to tell how wrong that statement is.
Every piece of equipment suffers wear-and-tear. In electronics you have thermal stress (check Nvidia latest graphics chip CF), Capacitor aging, and you should *really* check that nasty little number called 'MTBF' on your hard drive ;)


I'm using a Fit-PC which IMHO superior in every aspect:
... it is an X86 CPU. Runs Ubuntu or Gentoo ... With these special distro version for PowerPC you are the last to get updates, and your software stack is limited. The software you get is only what the manufacturer has prepared. With X86 you have the freedom to choose.

Last I checked Debian Etch (which is running on the Bubba 2 server) listed 2 million entries in it's x86 contents overview compared to 1,96 million for PowerPC (with 1,90 million for ia64) which amounts to about a 3.5% difference.
Alas, if you just *have* to run some windows x86 emulated software on wine, then any x86 distribution is clearly the way to go, but claims like 'special distro version' and 'last to get updates' are utterly rediculous.


Neither bubba or fit-pc has gigabit ethernet.

The Bubba 2 server actually offers *two* GBit Ethernet ports.

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