Serving up Storage

Smarten up your storage by converting your old PC into a beefy file server. Here’s how...

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By  Cleona Godinho Published  March 1, 2006

|~|servermain.jpg|~||~|Simply put, file serving is a method of data sharing that is used primarily by many businesses. Thanks to falling component prices however, you can now turn your old machine into a file server without your wallet taking a big hit. This gives you the advantage of storing large data files on one main system rather than on each user's PC. Why use a file server? A file server lets you store information in a central location on your network, which means any other PC on the network can easily access this information. Moreover, as your file server will be running all the time, you won't have to waste time booting up other PCs to look for a particular file or folder. File servers can also be reliable data storage devices, despite them running continuously. This is because a file server’s hard disks aren't frequently powered up and down, which is something most workstations experience every day. (Hard disk manufacturers such as Maxtor and Western Digital reckon that this is the most stressful time for hard drives and the most likely period when disk failure can occur.) Depending on how old your PC and its components are, you might need to invest in some new hardware. For instance, if your PC is equipped with a 5400rpm hard drive, we suggest buying a newer 7200rpm model for better performance. Manufacturers such as Maxtor, Western Digital and Seagate offer plenty of choices, with speeds ranging from 7200rpm to 15,000rpm. If speed is a must, opt for a drive with a SCSI interface. Note that this kind of drive requires a separate controller card. Also, before buying a hard drive, first think about how much capacity you think you'll need. If you plan to store tons of video files for instance, we suggest buying a drive with a minimum of 120Gbytes of capacity. However, if you wish to store just text data, an 80Gbyte IDE or SATA model will fit the bill. Another important component to consider is memory. If your family, colleagues or roommates are likely to use your server at the same time as you are accessing it, more memory will help boosts its performance. Server set-up As this workshop is aimed at home users rather than business folk, any standard version of Windows will suffice. In this workshop, however we will be using Windows XP. Before you begin file serving, you have to set up your old PC to act as a file server. First, create a separate hard disk partition for your data and one for your operating system and applications (for more info, refer to our September 2005 'Split Smart' workshop - at This will let you perform a clean operating system installation without affecting other data. This is the most basic form of partitioning and depending on your needs, you can tailor your set up accordingly. Once this is done, install some anti-virus software to keep your data safe from infection. Vendors such as Symantec and McAfee offer relatively inexpensive home anti-virus packages that you canupdate via the internet. Once you're happy with your set-up, connect your old PC to your home network using a CAT5 cable (for a 10/100Mbits/s LAN) and assign the appropriate IP address. (For more details on assigning IP addresses, check out our 'Handle the Heat' workshop in last month's issue, also online at Next, it's time to set-up file sharing. Navigate to My Computer on your old PC, right-click the drive or partition you wish to share and click Sharing and Security. Click 'If you understand the risk but still want to share the root of this drive…' Now under Network Sharing and Security, check the 'Share this folder on the network' option. If you wish to let other network users modify your files also check the 'Allow network users to change my files' and hit Apply/OK. If you wish to share only a directory on a drive, simply right-click the folder and click Sharing and Security. The same steps we just mentioned apply from there onwards. ||**||

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