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Supercharging a home network with Amahi

By David Pendell on November 07, 2008 (9:00:00 AM)

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Many network-attached storage (NAS) devices, in addition to offering network storage, offer features such as VPN access, calendaring, wikis, and even an iTunes server. The open source Amahi Linux Home Server provides all of that and more in a complete NAS box integrated with a Fedora 9 base.

Amahi's Web 2.0 interface provides the power home network user with a complete set of services; it is essentially an intranet server. In addition to sporting a file server and an iTunes server, there is also a calendar server with WebDAV integration. A backup server provides total system backup service over your network. Amahi provides a domain name server and DHCP server so that all of your home machines can access Amahi's Web interface without your having to configure each machine individually. Amahi.org's support wiki provides instruction for adding an open source map server with Google Maps-like functionality and an open source WordPress blog server as well. A torrents server works out of the box, as well as other Web apps like a personal weight tracker, a slide show viewer, a household wiki, and links to Amahi.org's wiki for help on these applications.

To install the system, visit the project site and register. You must provide the site with a username, an email address, a domain name, and a set of private IP addresses that you wish to use with your internal network. The project uses this information to make the installation of the system almost completely automated, so as to provide a system that works out of the box and has no complicated installation steps for the end user.

The Amahi project prefers that users have the project's repository accessible during installation installation of Fedora 9 so that when the process is finished, the user only has to type one command to install the Amahi system. The fresh install of Fedora 9 ensures that none of the many packages that will be loaded will have existing configurations that could break Amahi or, conversely, break the existing setups. You should do a clean install of Fedora 9 and follow the installation steps that display after registration to the letter so that you have a clean slate to work with. You can also install on an existing installation of Fedora 9, but the project doesn't recommend it.

Once the Amahi is installed, reboot the server. After logging into Fedora, bring up Firefox and enter http://hda to get to the Amahi Dashboard. The clean interface gives access to the core Amahi apps. From the MyApps page, available in the upper right corner of the Dashboard page, you can bring apps online by "installing" them. Click on the app icon on the left instead and you can configure the server and check its status. The personal wiki, calendar server, and Amahi setup page are available from links across the top of each Amahi Web page. There are even themes available for you to choose from, though the application of themes leaves a little to be desired as not all of the pages use themes.

The Amahi setup page allows you to monitor drive space on your Amahi server as well as the temperature of the individual drives, and manage users, shares, installation of Web apps like WordPress and Maps (which run under a customized version of Apache), dynamic and static IPs from the DHCP server, and the various themes. A debug page provides you with information to send to amahi.org should there be any problems.

Amahi's file server is based on Samba, and performs as well as the configuration and the Ethernet card allow. You can configure it from the Web browser. To get started, just click on "New Share" and enter a name for the share. Amahi takes care of the rest. Shares for Books, Docs, Movies, Music, Torrents, and Pictures are already installed and ready to go when you boot up.

Amahitunes, the iTunes server, uses Firefly, a DAAP server, which means that clients can use not only iTunes on the Mac and PC to stream music from Amahi, but also Rythmbox, XMMS2, Amarok, and other DAAP clients. In addition, it supports commercial products such as the Roku's Soundbridge player. Again, you configure the server within the Web interface, and the controls are intuitive and easy to use. The number of clients you can support depends on the speed of your network.

The calendar server works with calendar clients such as Mozilla Sunbird to publish all of your homes calendars in one place. Each member of your household can publish a calendar to the server, and subscribe to every other member's. You can then coordinate any conflicts with the other subscribers. The published data synchronizes well, and the Web calendar looks good. The data is organized in a tabular format, with each calendar's information highlighted in a different color. Unfortunately, the current system does not allow users to edit each other's calendars.

The Personal Backup Appliance, available through the backups status page in the Web interface, is based on NFS, and lets an administrator boot a client machine with a limited Linux distro that has the sole purpose of doing a network backup. The system uses Intel's PXE system to network boot the client backup system. For clients that don't support PXE, a boot CD is available with the same limited Linux distro.

To back up my laptop, I turned on the PXE boot in the BIOS and rebooted. PXE found the backup server and booted the Linux distro over the network. The Linux distro prompted me to either Backup or Reload. I chose Backup, and when it was finished, my complete system existed in a compressed backup on the Amahi server. A 20GB backup of my old hardware took about 40 minutes; your mileage will vary depending on your hardware and amount and type of data being backed up.

Amahi's domain server, which is based on BIND, is installed and working on first boot. So is a DHCP server, to give you a simple way to configure the clients on your network to use the Amahi server. The setup works well, but if you have a router that also has DHCP capabilities, you will need to turn off one DHCP server or the other. I recommend using Amahi's; if you don't, you will need to configure your router to use Amahi's nameserver if you want all of your machines to have easy access to Amahi's various Web pages. Amahi uses OpenDNS for its forwarding nameserver. If you want to change that, you must work with the support group to reconfigure BIND to use your ISP's nameservers.

Amahi's map server is impressive. Using entirely open source data from sources such as Open Street Map and Open Arial Map and code from Open Layers, the development team managed to come close to the level of sophistication of Google Maps. At the moment, it lacks the ability to search by address or get turn-by-turn instructions for moving from point A to point B, but the program is still in the early stages. Installation, while not a one-click venture, is simple -- click on the New Web App button, then unzip the code in the /var/hda/web-apps/my-new-app directory, and Amahi automatically adds the alias to Apache's configuration.

Installation for the WordPress software is much the same. Once it's installed, you can change the theme and behavior of WordPress, as well as add users, from the browser interface. In just a few minutes I had a functional blog page. If you want to make it available to the world, again work with the support team. Instructions for installing both Maps and WordPress are on the amahi.org wiki, and work well.

I do not have high-speed Internet yet and rarely have use for torrents, but Amahi includes a torrents server. To add files to the server, copy the files that you want to publish to the torrents share. The torrents server should then take over and do the rest. To access the configuration page on your server, go to http://torrents.

Other included apps are very basic and, I think, just show what Amahi can do. You can create a slideshow of any pictures on the Pictures share, store and find recipes on your server, and track your weight from one date to the next.

While Amahi is a powerful and easy-to-use tool, it has its problems. I sometimes have intermittent problems with the dashboard -- it sometimes won't initialize properly. The developers know about the problem and are working on it. Some of the tight integration, particularly with the named and dhcpd servers, causes me grief when I try to bring unusual networking situations into the mix, such as when I use my dialup laptop for a NAT server for my Amahi box. Getting the default route and DNS settings just right is sometimes a pain as Amahi is trying to do one thing and dialup is trying to do another. If you have problems, help is quickly available through the #amahi channel on irc.freenode.net, via email, the mailing list, or the wiki on the main project Web site. I found the developers quick to respond and pleasant and helpful.

If you install Amahi clean on good hardware, you shouldn't have much trouble with it. Its current applications are useful to the home user right away, and more are planned. Amahi raises the bar for what a home network appliance can do.

David Pendell has been working with computers for the last 23 years in a variety of capacities, including for programming and audio and video processing. He has been using Linux since Red Hat 5.1 and has used a variety of distros.

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Supercharging a home network with Amahi

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.83.118.27] on November 07, 2008 10:19 AM
The Amahi server is an excellent home server package. I have been using it for a couple of months now, and as development progresses it gets better and better. I have not had any major issues at all with the Amahi HDA, it has been rock solid since I first installed it. One minor issue I have is the calendar application, it works beautifully, as long as I don't have an event after 9:00 P.M., they won't show up in the daily view of the calendar, they do however show up in the weekly and monthly views, so at least they are there.

The personal backup appliance works exceptionally well for me. I have successfully used it to do "bare metal" backups and restores to multiple computers. I have not used it as a backup solution for files, I already have a freenas server doing that, but I am planning on transitioning everything over the the Amahi in the future.

I have also successfully gotten FreeNX up and running on the Amahi server for remote administration. I wish they would roll this application into the default installation, it is so much faster and better than VNC. Setting it up was actually quite easy, and quick, worked first time around.

My only real issue, as the author already pointed out, is the networking support. I would like to be able to "self install" and modify my network settings on the fly, currently that is not supported. It would be wonderful if the Amahi server had a local network configuration capability, but I guess most home users don't change their network layout too much, so I am probably in the minority on this issue.

I am especially pleased with the support that I have received from the development team. Responses have been very fast, almost as if they don't have anything else to do with themselves. Support is quickest over IRC, even real time in some cases, although email support is very responsive as well. The developers will go out of their way to make sure that your issue is addressed in a timely fashion. I have seen them go out of their way to help the end user, even when it turns out that the problem is NOT with Amahi!

Bottom line, if you don't have a home server running already, I would highly encourage you to try this out, it is truly an exceptional piece of work. Quick and easy to setup, simple to use, ongoing development, and exceptional support make this stand out from other software available.

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Supercharging a home network with Amahi

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 148.87.1.172] on November 07, 2008 08:11 PM
Hi David,

Very nice article. I build my own NAS server from scratch recently and wasn't aware of Amahi. Instead I went with Ubuntu and setup everything manually. Looks like this could have saved me a lot of time. Do you know if it supports RAID? (no mention of that in the article). I used mdadm on Ubuntu and have a 3TB RAID6 array running. Have you looked at FreeNAS (FreeBSD based NAS software). It is much lighter than Amahi I think and offers similar functionality (+ and also RAID). I could not get it to work on my server, fairly common I think on a new system because driver support for FreeBSD is usually a bit behind.

I started a blog (http://www.imovedtolinux.com) logging all my issues and how I resolved them, more for therapeutic reasons than anything else.

Cheers,
Mark.

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Re: Supercharging a home network with Amahi

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 64.92.145.109] on November 08, 2008 12:09 AM
Raid is a function of the hardware and the kernel, so of course it would. Amahi shouldn't care.



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Supercharging a home network with Amahi

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.83.151.199] on November 08, 2008 11:51 AM
I too have made the leap to 'the unknown side' with Amahi. :-)
I'm a Windows user that needed to setup a nas@home. Doing it manually on a bare Ubuntu-installation wasn't my cup of tea. I then tried microsofts own Windows Home Server which ... formatted all my internal hd's (which i was told during installation) and was not as manageable i hoped it would be. I read some articles about WHS corrupting data on the hard drive and i noticed a lot of people move over to a Win20003 server system and build it up by themselves. I thought about setting up a Win2008 Server but then went to google and searched for 'WHS alternative'. While searching i stumbled upon Amahi and it caught my eye. It was everything i needed it to be. A home Nas with backup support AND the ability to run whatever i wanted on it (for me personally i wanted to turn it into a newsgroup-download server with nzb-support). After meeting the maker (cpg on the #amahi-channel) i was so enthusiastic and gave it a try. He told me they were working on a ubuntu-version but for now he proposed the Fedora 9 release as a base. I did the installation from a network-cd i downloaded of Fedora which gave me the advantage to not to download to much (i live in Belgium where we have a limited download amount). The disadvantage was that it was a minimal install and i was not able to install Amahi as easily. No worries: Cpg was online and was superb in his support. The channel is not crowded but the people that are in there are awsome. Linux-noob is my middle name, but with the help of cpg and others i was able to install amahi, set up ssh, install a web-app, configure VPN and (as a true Windows-user) set up remote (X)control with VNC.
This whole experience so far has made me wanna format my work-laptop and install Fedora, ubuntu or another linux-flavour. Too bad my work is MS-related so i'll try it with either a multi-boot system or via virtualization.
The only minor glitch i have in my amahi-system right now is that i'm not able to write to my external disk. Let me explain. I have an external Lacie 750Gb disk that is formatted in NTFS. Creating Samba shares on it is extremely easy with the Amahi-interface but ... i'm not able to give write permission to it. I know it's not an Amahi-issue and that all will be solved if i can convert NTFS to Ext3 but my disk is filled with data i can't put anywhere else. Plus it will still be an advantage for me (or my friends) if the disk stays in NTFS (for connecting to their windows-pc's). Together with the help of those Amahi-enthusiast on irc i bet we'll get it fixed soon.
Apologies for the long text and the bad english but i'm so impressed with Amahi i wanted to share it with you guys. Give it a go on an older system lying around and be amazed about how easy, fast and modular it all is. Big thanx to all.
Greetings.
JenZ

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Supercharging a home network with Amahi

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 89.155.2.14] on November 08, 2008 04:43 PM
Check http://www.smeserver.org/. It's a great product.

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