Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Maybe it's time for personal servers? (scripting.com)
31 points by genieyclo on Nov 15, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments

Here are a few issues that come to mind:

- Nobody wants to be a sysadmin. Being a sysadmin sucks, and taking care of servers is hard. Sure, your content may disappear if the startup goes offline, but it will disappear if you have a hard drive crash, are hacked, lose power, or any of the million other issues that can happen.

- People have come to expect fairly good reliability. Having everyone host their own content will be a big step backwards in this regard. Dave's picture? They've been inaccessible for a week... Guess I can't check them out.

- Most broadband connections in the US are not symmetrical in bandwidth: They have much more download than upload bandwidth. That means that most connections do not have enough bandwidth to serve even a moderately popular image, let alone a popular video.

- Last but not least, the vast, vast majority of people are not even close to technical enough to take even the most basic steps involved. For this vision to become reality, the process would need to get much, much easier.

In the long run, I think that people might be better off with some sort of customized hosting plan that has the following things:

- Some sort of social-networking software that uses some sort of (xml?) standard protocol to communicate with others' instances of the software. Basically everyone runs their own Facebook profile page/wall and comments/posts are pushed between instances.

- some sort of OpenID-ish thing that integrates PGP/GPG keys for improved security

- ready to go software for running automated backups from the user's home computer (this could easily support all OSes)

If this was some sort of 'cloud server' or shared hosting plan that cost users maybe $10 or so it could work out pretty well. Though I'm not sure how the existence of current 'free' options would affect things. But I feel that such an option would be the best option for people in the long run. They would retain their own backups of their data, so it's not locked away on some company's server where they can't extract it (and the company will say 'tough luck' if all your data is lost).

I think you forgot one of the most important aspects: personal media hosting, being able to watch your movies or listen to your music from anywhere in the world.

I'm not sure that's something that most home connections could handle (at least not video, or high-quality video). And I doubt that someone would be willing to setup hosting for you for $10/month that allows you to stream your music/movies/tv shows to you over the internet.

For this vision to become reality, the process would need to get much, much easier.

I think that's the whole point.

The services provided by Flickr and Facebook used to be quite a bit more difficult to achieve, too.

Hello Drusneko, re: "Sure, your content may disappear if the startup goes offline" good point. I mirror my Google Docs (in case Google goes belly up :-) and online pictures.

For "personal servers", S3 is very cheap for backing up information (static web pages, data stores), and a once a week or once a month cron job does the trick. Anyway, good point on backups.

Getting a vps for $8-$20/mo from linode, slicehost, prgmr, webbynode, rackspace cloud or any other vps provider is so much easier than dealing with a machine at your home.

And at the $8 end of the scale a VPS costs less than the electricity to run a normal x86 machine.

I have a couple of low end VPS machines with different providers. The liabilities include:

1) If it goes down, and you need it up NOW… there is nothing you can do.

2) It may become inexplicably slow as they move pigs onto your box.

3) Given your low rent neighborhood you may find yourself banned because of your IP range. (I live in hope that someday Comcast will lift their wholly unjustified ban on my email server and my daughter will be able to send email to her great aunt.)

4) Expect more outages than a simple PC. Sure they use "server grade"[1] hardware, but they also have insanely complicated setups. I generally reboot my physical servers when uptime goes past one year, just in case. That is not going to be an issue with the VPS machines.

5) Many packages have a predatory bandwidth overage charge. I've never triggered one, but it is a cause for concern.

6) Storage can be very expensive.

On the happy plus side:

1) When the server goes down, there is nothing you can do. Go have lunch. This beats the heck out of frantically diagnosing and fixing while the phone rings off the hook with people who want to tell you the server is down.

2) You automatically have two sites. Your house becomes "offsite backup".

3) Your VPS probably has much higher bandwidth than your house. (Except you lucky Koreans, and Finns, and Japanese, and.. well a lot of you people with real bandwidth to homes.)

[1] "server grade" means a 100% chance of a high price, and an X% (where X < 100) that it will be reasonable quality. I've purchased and installed batches of "server grade" machines from top manufacturers that had MTBFs under 12 months. By the time you know a model well enough to trust it, the vendor no longer sells it.

Still, at $20/month I use a small $100 plug computer (such as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SheevaPlug) as a home server instead. Your use case may be different to mine but that is more than I'm willing to pay within a student budget.

That's yet another overselling shared host running cPanel. Pretty much the stark opposite of what this article is talking about.

Oh, I'm not in any way suggesting that this is what the article is talking about. I'm specifically curious about how cheap shared hosting delivers (or fails to deliver) in a price / performance comparison to one of those "plug on the wall" servers. Not trying to be snarky here; I'm actually hoping for a legitimate response, as I have no experience with them (but they sound kind of interesting).

I don't think those are private servers, and they are fairly poor on the storage/$ scale. But $25/year is a lower entry point then most, and if it is enough then good.

I think that most developers have a "personal server" (or two!)

I keep MongoDB, CouchDB, Sesame, PostgreSQL+PostGIS, etc. "always on" for my personal and research projects - keeping my stuff separate and using customer's VPSs or EC2 instances, etc. for their work.

Would I want to have all of this stuff running all the time on my laptop? I don't think so.

I used to keep at least one server running on our home network but now I mostly use a really cheap VPS, and a small "3 year pay in advance" EC2 instance. Running a server or two in my house is something that I only do for special needs.

Anyway, I live with the network latency hit for the convenience of (usually) not having to run servers in my home.

i don't, other than my linode virtual servers (i definitely have a non-work personal one for experiementing with).

i consider myself a developer along the lines of programmer and maker, even software engineer at times. i love extensible code. i love making things that work, are useful and have code that i can be proud.

code is TOTALLY different than configuration files and installing things. i only do system administration because i have to, and even then i consider it the worst "waste" of time (it's not actually a waste because yeah, it's nice to have a webserver and cron jobs, etc).

i'd much rather be writing documentation or even better, designing and diagramming how some neat pieces of code are going to work together.

i feel like people who figured out how to make allen wrenches keeping thinking it'd be cool if everyone else made allen wrenches. i just want to make bikes, including choppers and tall bikes and elegant fixies. other people just want to ride bikes, and that suits me fine because maybe i can sell my bikes to them, just as i don't mind buying allen wrenches.

maybe we each of us have a maker inside, but luckily we don't all want to make the same things. don't fight the business model.

A few weeks ago, I searched a bit for "appliances" that would run on GoogleApps and found basically nothing. One would think that, given 5M free pageview/month, there would be much interest in semi-private forums, poor-man's http proxy (to circumvent The Man) and the like.

My wife participates on a semi-private forum of mommies, and it concerns me that none of them have strong control over the data they generate.


There's some pretty good stuff in there, and it's dead simple to enable if you're using Google Apps for your domain.

I realized after it was too late to edit that I typed "Google Apps" instead of "App Engine." However, I'll check out the Google Apps add-ons as well given that my wife and I are now a "company" and share Google calendars on our Android phones.

I had to double check this was written in 2009. In the last four years I've moved away from having a personal server at home to The Cloud(TM), and life is much, much easier. There's certainly a class of people for whom a personal server at home is a great idea, but I don't think it's the tech-savvy mainstream in the long run.

This is a branding and marketing issue and not a tech issue. The word "server" is scary to the mainstream audience that would adopt it. The tech is there whether it's windows home server or ubuntu with Samba. Making it easy and how you market it to the digital home is the real key. More and more media is being created+consumed in the digital home. A digital home looks something like a multi-computer household with a wireless network + at least one HDTV. There's certainly a very big need for this, now more than ever.

My "digital home" uses FreeNAS on a old 400mhz beater box. http://www.freenas.org/

FreeNAS is really great, especially for using older spare parts,etc.

I have to give that project some major props. It was the most painless install I have ever done and it is simple to use.

I was rambling on about this in 2001. You use Gnutella to search the 'transient web', which is just a bunch of home webservers serving up people's pages. Gnutella would link them all together and perform searches, as it does for MP3s now. Note: not searching filenames, but - like Google - a list of words in a HTML document.

I tried to get Gnucleus (John Marshall's Gnutella project) to incorporate full-text searches. He said he'd help but my code ended up - disabled - in Morpheus Preview Edition [itself based on Gnucleus] which was downloaded over 100,000,000 times (!). If anyone can be described as blowing a chance, that was me with MPE.

Then I tried Limewire, and wrote the code to interface with Lucene (a Java full text search engine), and they blew me off too.

Since then I've given up, but I did at least get a poster paper at HT03 about it!

I've thought that kademlia or some other DHT would be the ideal solution to this.

Think newsgroup/forum style conversational threading, with a separate data channel for large transfers, and landgrab DNS based on popularity.

That's really neat to know. I really like that idea of defining a static service, similar to DNS, for looking up a user's "transient web" data. Do you have a link to your paper? I'd love to read it.

Doesn't Opera unite fit the bill here?


Hell, Apache fits the bill here. I think that the author was more concerned that more people aren't hosting their own content. Which is a pain, evenw ith Opera Unite. So, it's no surprise why most services are still based on corporate servers.

AT ~$20/month why not have both?

One can setup dynamic DNS to map one's physical home server into the cloud. This gives you all the advantages of a legitimate POP whilst also providing the security, redundancy, and local audit-ability of your own hardware.

I completely agree, however I dont think broadband is going to be good enough for the next X years for "personal" to mean quite the same thing, not to mention the issues of backups, power saving and such.

I expect to see something like myopera / couchdb / ubuntu one type system where your personal machines are mirrored for full uptime, services like flickr should integrate with these machines instead of actually owning your content outright. I havent thought about how this would work too much but glad to see people like couchdb / ubuntu and mozilla try to attack it it

> however I dont think broadband is going to be good enough for the next X years for "personal" to mean quite the same thing

Not to mention that most ISP agreements forbid you from running a home server unless you upgrade to 'business level.'

This is something that really irritates me. Clearly what they mean is that if you are going to run a commercial server (with the attendant increase in outgoing traffic), you should buy a business account. But that is not what is stated in the contract. As it stands, the Verizon FIOS contract disallows running sshd and logging in to your own computer from outside your home network. Now, they don't block this, and won't, yet the contract language disallows such a personal and reasonable use.

I have tried writing to Verizon, politicians, the FCC, and the BBB on this issue. The only one that bothered to reply is the FCC to say, basically, "not our problem." I would appreciate any ideas as to who else I can contact to try to improve Verizon's language.

Once network neutrality kicks in we could try to convince the FCC that prohibiting servers is a form of non-neutral discrimination.

Isn't this the exact opposite of our favorite over-hyped buzzword: "The Cloud"? Instead of accessing all your data via freemium 3rd party hosts, you keep your own data, and those 3rd parties pubsub to/from your server. I like this idea since it's an elegant solution to our current web mess of walled gardens, multiple accounts, vendor lock-in, privacy, and the low quality of content on the web in general.

But I think we're 10 years away from having this because the hardware just isn't there yet. The idea will have traction when our cell phones can run as this "universal personal server". Then it can actually have the mass-scale adoption required for it to work. But the majority of end-users can barely operate an OS, they don't even know what the difference is between a browser and an app, and almost nobody understands what the Internet actually is. From the common point of view, the Internet might as well represent the highest achievement of magick rather than science. So until it's as ubiquitous as having a cell phone, personal servers will remain in the domain of geeks who will hack up, tweak and preen their own solutions.

It's interesting how the software industry is utterly craptastic at anticipating how the plummeting cost of better and better hardware changes the kind of software services which people will use. In short time spans too. Amazon, Google et. al. have spent billions going long on the bet that 12 years out, everything will be served from global super-computer clusters distributed across mega-datacenters around the world. It is interesting to ask if Amazon, Google and everyone else are about to get blind sided, and not only miss the boat, but fail to even see it.

Run Tonido in your desktop. That will solve this issue.

In the interest of "truth in advertising", the author should add an "h" to his last name. His blog makes a lot more sense then.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact