Why I Have A Home Server

Home Server
My current HP Microserver and ADSL gateway.

It’s pretty much impossible to use a computer these days without also using the Internet. It’s also pretty much impossible to use the Internet without using a cloud service of some kind. Most people I know depend on cloud services entirely, but not me. There are several good reasons I have my own servers, including my own home server.

It’s a learning experience. This is certainly one for the geeks, but hey, I’m a geek. By running my own serversĀ  I learn about the building blocks of the Internet. I’m a professional systems administrator, and my own home environment is a good place for me to try out things that I don’t get to try at work, or don’t have time to. Part of IT is constantly learning, and that’s what I try to do.

I can run whatever software I want. I’m not limited by whatever Google decides to put into Gmail. I can run my own Exchange server if I want (I do). It may not be free software, but it gives me huge advantages in syncing between devices. If I want to try something out, I just can.

My own privacy is assured. I don’t have to trust my email provider that they aren’t reading my emails or looking through my online backups. I only have to trust myself with my data, and if you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust? I don’t have anything to hide, but I think we should value privacy far more than most people currently do. After listening to Jacob Appelbaum at linux.conf.au in January 2012, I’m assured of this.

I run backups to my own server, and for geographic protection send self-encrypted files to the cloud. I use GPG to encrypt my data, and so should you. I know DropBox and other like services say they encrypt your data so they can’t read it, but how would you ever know?

I will admit that running a home server can be more expensive than trusting the cloud with all my data, as I have to pay for hardware (I spend about $500 a year just on server hardware, but you could spend much less), for power, for a static IP address, and for software licensing (I spend $450 a year here, but with free software I could spend much less).

All in all, running my own home server gives me great satisfaction, confidence in my own abilities, more freedom and more privacy, at the expense of some time (though now it’s up and running, I probably do 10 minutes of maintenance a month) and a bit of cash. Not a bad deal.

On Julian Assange & Political Asylum

Within the last 24 hours, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been granted political asylum by Ecuador. Earlier this week, the Ecuadorian embassy in London reported that British police had threatened to storm the embassy in order to bring Julian Assange to justice. ABC News report here. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

Whoever it was that thought up the idea to storm an embassy must be completely bonkers… a single prisoner isn’t worth an act of war. To quote M in the James Bond movie Casino Royale: “You stormed into an Embassy. You violated the only absolutely inviolate rule of international relations…” I never understood why that was so until I discovered that an embassy is actually the territory of the country in question, so British police would be storming into Ecuador, pretty much. Not a good look.

It’s interesting that out of all the embassies in London that Julian Assange could have taken refuge in, he chose Ecuador. I suspect this was because Ecuador is one of the few countries that isn’t in bed with the United States… unlike Australia. Julian Assange is a citizen of Australia, and the Australian government should have offered Assange a far greater degree of assistance than they have. In essence, Assange seeking political asylum in Ecuador is basically saying that putting himself in Australia’s hands would have put him in personal danger. That’s not a thought I feel comfortable with, as the freedom from political persecution is a right I believe everybody should have.

I suspect the reason Australia haven’t given Assange more support is Geo-political in nature. Australia cannot defend itself in the case of invasion from either Indonesia or China (who I have little doubt would love to invade Australia for the sheer landmass that would afford them). We need the United States to offer us defense support, which is why they have air force bases in the Northern Territory (much as we don’t like them, they are a necessity for national security). If we support Assange against the United States, we’re basically giving a big F-you to the United States, which they won’t like very much… and on it goes.

Of course, this presupposes that Sweden has ulterior motives in it’s prosecution against Assange (that it wants to prosecute him simply to send him to the United States for further question), which is debatable. Very, very likely is that the CIA and FBI would like to question Assange, probably in a dark room somewhere.I remember reading about debate amongst academics in the US as to whether Assange had actually committed a crime (the gist is basically that he didn’t actually leak anything, just publish those leaks; not sure how legitimate those claims are) and thus whether a civilian (I guess US Supreme) court would convict would be marginal.

Basically, nobody could ever predict the outcome of what all this will be… but the way things have played out so far makes perfect sense. With that said, I believe Australia should offer Assange more support, starting now. The more teeth Australia shows in this matter, the more we can stand up and say we believe in human rights.

And then we can do something about the non-illegal “illegal asylum seekers”… but’s that for another day.

My new Mikrotik Love

Recently I’ve begun playing around with Mikrotik routers as part of my normal day job, and I’m really impressed by them! I’ve now used two different models:

  • The RB2011LS-IN, which I’ve set up as an edge router on our backup SHDSL link, so that I can do more complex routing than a normal consumer router could do, and survive the high-usage scenarios that our old router (a Cisco 877 router with suspect stability) was stressed by.
  • The RB751U-2HnD, which I’ve now set up two of: one as the main router in a small business, providing two virtual access points; and a secondary switch and access point to that same network.

I’m really loving both the web interface and the Windows GUI interface, but the fact you still retain the command-line interface as well (like a Cisco device) is pretty cool. The fact that it uses the same operating system across all devices is also great, as it means a nice upgrade path exists if we want it.

As far as I can see, Mikrotik routers are basically Cisco gear without the indestructible casing (though don’t get me wrong, Mikrotik stuff is still pretty well built) and a price tag that’s a fifth of what an equivalent Cisco router would cost (usually even less!).

I’m seriously considering buying a Routerboard for home; the only thing they lack as far as I can see is an ADSL2+ port. I reckon I’ll just use a simple TP-Link modem in bridge mode until my home gets provided with a fibre-to-the-premises link (hopefully) later this year. I’m not yet sure what model I’ll buy. My heart really wants a rackmount device, because rackmount is codeword for cool, but my brain says something from the RB751 series or the RB433 series would do the trick.


I’m beginning to think that the only thing that can save the world that we know and love from complete and utter destruction now is a revolution.

The slow progress being made in our courts and parliaments will not be enough to prevent the ruin of the earth’s environment by corporate greed that has gone unchecked for too long. We need an event like the Boston Tea Party, which in 1773 spurred on the proponents of the American Revolution and simultaneously worried the pants off the British Crown. Even as a British citizen, I still think the Americans did a good job claiming independence from what was an empire in it’s fullest stride of greed, just like the corporations of today. A very strong comparison can be made between companies like McDonald’s and the British East India Company.

Even if we do not get a full revolution, the world needs something akin to the Boston Tea Party that will spur action groups on, as well as create concern and chaos within our current power structures. Something huge, something powerful, something with a very simple message.

The occupy protests were a good start. They had the first two of these things. They were huge. Mainstream media was commentating events for months. They were powerful. Common people were on the side of the protests, and almost everybody could have got behind it. Unfortunately, the message wasn’t simple: most mainstream media couldn’t comprehend the purpose, and every protester who came on board muddied the water further, claiming the protest’s message as their own. You need something simpler than “We are the 99%.” That would be a very hard task indeed.