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Portables as Servers? 99

vincecate asks: "Do portables make reliable Linux servers? The power on the island where I live is very unreliable. With the screen off the battery should last through a long power outage. I could even put on a UPS and have it last a day. My servers have little load (DNS and some web). Prices on portables are getting reasonable. Can anyone report on using portables as servers?"
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Portables as Servers?

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  • I run Apache on my laptop (locally). Seems OK
  • Offshore hosting? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Gyga ( 873992 ) on Monday May 22, 2006 @10:40PM (#15385101)
    If you use such little server space/bandwidth it could be more cost productive to get one of the multiple under $5 plans that some hosting companies have.

    Sadly I have no experiance with portables though.
    • An absolute control over even smallest server costs much more than that.
      • $15 for a vps, running debian and having root access. I used tektonic for a while, but there are others out there.

        Unless you have very exotic wishes, it's excellent for most servers. They won't take much load tho.
        • $15 sounds like a lot for a vps to me! For example, I use Westhost [], who offer a linux vps for $3.95 without MySQL or $6.95 with. I'm sure there's probably cheaper around but I've found them to be quite good.
          • The host you mentioned doesn't provide the user with root access to their VPS. Plus, at that price point they're clearly chroot solutions.

            Other hosts [] like these [] provide Xen VPS hosting which gives full root access and more hardware resources. They can reboot their virtual server and install their own kernels and kernel modules. With any decent provider, users get provisioned their own partitions on top of an LVM volume group.

            Pretty much anything claming to be a VPS under the $14.95-$19.95 price point wi
            • Strange, they must've changed something... I used to be able to ssh in with root access - being able to "init 6" etc... I just ssh'ed in and I can no longer do this! Grrrr! Will have to talk to customer support.
  • by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Monday May 22, 2006 @10:43PM (#15385116)
    with some caveats:

    I/O on a laptop likely to suck, due to compromises in HD size/speed/DTR
    limited memory upgradeability...but do you need 16GB in a laptop doing 'light duty' as a server?

    I've run L.A.M.P stuff and Samba on an old K6-400 laptop, and it ran fine.

    • I/O on a laptop likely to suck, due to compromises in HD size/speed/DTR


      Some people will tell you that fragmentation hardly matters on modern hard disks. I can tell you from experience that it makes a huge difference on laptop hard disks. I've also seen Windows laptops come formatted with small block sizes, which makes the problem worse. So, right off the bat I'd say use a file system that is more resistant to fragmentation than NTFS. If you use NTFS, make sure your block size is large enough (install
  • I have a server thats a laptop. It runs apache, mysql, php. It runs really well. Just gets a bit hot. But thats expected. No problems at all.
  • Another article (Score:5, Informative)

    by slashflood ( 697891 ) <flow&howflow,com> on Monday May 22, 2006 @10:46PM (#15385121) Homepage Journal
    Maybe you'll find some answers here [].
  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's actually a very good way to recycle lappies with a smashed screen. Over time, we made a beowulf cluter of those (imagine that, eh?) at my university. In that specific case, a problem is that some batteries are old and almost dead, so it still needs its own UPS... lots of space & power saving, though.
    • by Unski ( 821437 )
      Someone mentioned 'Beowulf Cluster', and not as a tired /. joke! Someone has actually made a Beowulf Cluster of these. Fantastic!!!!!
    • What I really want is VGA _in_ for laptops. I want to take any old laptop - with or without a functioning OS, and with or without it _running_ that OS - and plug IN the video from another PC or laptop. In short, I want to be able to retask a laptop with a functioning LCD as an LCD screen.

      Furthermore, I want to be able to do this on the fly. I want to lay two laptops on the desk and have one span both displays. Most laptops these days support spanning into an external monitor, but most don't accept input
  • Convertibles as freigther?
  • I used to run an SSH/SOCKS proxy/home monitoring server on an old Thinkpad laptop. Worked really well.

    I changed over to a Linksys router running the latest White Russian firmware, though, for the SSH/SOCKS part.

  • by Fry-kun ( 619632 ) on Monday May 22, 2006 @10:57PM (#15385156)
    The best advice I can give is - try to make it not use any moving parts in normal operations.
    Boot is okay from either HD or CD, but it should have enough ram to not poll the HD. 512m is usually a good bet, 1g will definitely be enough for pretty much anything (aside from running a mysql server with a large db or something), if you calculate everything you may find that 256 is enough... Then make it turn off HD after 1 minute of operations. Disconnecting either the CD or the HD might be a good idea too. If you boot from a CompactFlash or similar card, you don't need HD/CD at all - even less electricity consumption.
    Fewer moving parts translates directly into longer battery life and better performance (standard HD speed is still 5400 RPM on laptops). It'll probably live longer, to boot (pun intended)

    Heat dissipation is another issue you may want to look into (if the CPU is not one of those new low-power ones.. if you have a 15W core duo, you're golden). Since it'll be a server, you can easily pop off the keyboard and bare the cooling pipes (better cooling performance).

    • >The best advice I can give is - try to make it not use any moving parts in normal operations. I think this is very good advice. USB Flash does seem like the way to go. Do you need to do something so that logging does not wear out your flash though? (ramdrive?) I guess I can even software RAID a couple USB flash sticks too. I like the idea of having a backup USB for each system and a spare system that can be turned into whichever machine I need in an instant. Looking and thinking some more, going
      • Yes, whatever logs you have go better onto a ram drive (you can make a script that syncs the ramdrive with the flash or the HD if you want - just make sure it doesn't happen very often)
        RAID for USB devices is overkill, IMHO - you can buy a pretty cheap stick in the order of 1-2 GB (under $50). Also, depending on which type of RAID you set up, all nodes may get written to every time (striping RAID) which makes the MTFB fall incredibly fast (and you want to keep MTBF as high as possible, especially for a serv
    • RAM also burns a lot of heat - if you're using compact flash, you should be able to get away with less RAM in return for accesses to the flash. Older USB equipment can't boot from USB, but check your BIOS to see if you can. If you can't, you can still set things up to use a flash stick for much of your disk.
    • I wouldn't recommend having the hard drive time out, unless you can keep it from spinning up less than once every few days. Spinning up puts a lot more stress on a HD (especially low powered laptop drives) than simply maintaining velocity. Yes, it will use power and create heat, but it will have a failure rate. Be careful using solid state memory (Compact Flash, etc) for any file actions that are going to have a lot of writes/deletes because the failure rate for writing to these devices much much higher
  • Until you sit on them.

  • If you get just a little traffic, you should have no problems. I used to have a site run off of a dsl connection (using dynamic dns) on a laptop. I took it down later, but it worked flawlessly, just read through the apache guides. One thing though, whatever you do, don't post it on slashdot.
  • the hard drive - many laptops aren't built to run continuously and the HDD is likely to be the first thing to give out (I've gone through two drives in six months on an IBM laptop I ran 24x7).

    See if you can boot off a USB flash drive, and increase RAM enough that you don't need swap - then you can remove the HDD and run without moving parts (unless it's a notebook with an internal fan, which I would not recommend).
    • Most of the time the reason a laptop is burning through hard drives has nothing to do with it being a laptop (or using 2.5" drives) and everything to do with being moved around with the hard drive spinning - in particular yawing (changing the direction the spindle is pointing, also known as tilting it.) This puts tremendous stress on the bearings in particular (and load bearing structures ie, where the heads and arms come together, but much less so) and quickly destroys the drive. Gyroscopic effects and a
    • Check Hitachi's TravelStar E7K60 and E7K100. Those are the server versions of their 7200 RPM laptop drives. ;)

      (Then again, I prefer Seagate... dunno if they've got a server-oriented Momentus...)
  • You can buy / build a low power system with -48V DC PSU and drive it on normal car batteries for extended time... you could even charge them by a simple, cheap generator.
    The weak point of your idea are the disk system... you could of course try with an external disk, PCMCIA/CardBUS SCSI or FireWire 800 adapters are available, but then you've got problems with power to the disk system.
    I think the real question is how much diskspace is required and how intensive is the usage (of the disk), if you don't have h
  • Laptops generally aren't built to be on 24x7. The fans and harddrives would be my biggest concern. With clean air and frequent drive replacements it could work.

    The real question this spurs is why don't servers have internal UPS's like laptops do and why aren't there ones designed for low power and long batery life. A laptop motherboard with several big UPS style batteries, a mirrored set of drives and some reasonable low power cooling fans could probalby live for up to a day on battery and still be quite
    • The real question this spurs is why don't servers have internal UPS's like laptops do and why aren't there ones designed for low power and long batery life

      Data center applications, where you'll find the majority of servers at, are already stuck with having big UPSes for all their equipment (not all of which is the servers). Why pay extra for an internal UPS for each piece when you can use the economies of scale to get a gigantic one that covers multiple pieces instead?

      Also, the batteries in a UPS are a con
      • Why pay extra for an internal UPS for each piece when you can use the economies of scale to get a gigantic one that covers multiple pieces instead?

        Because the solution offers superior reliability and no single point of failure. Its hard to protect from someone from unplugging the server from the UPS. With batteries in the box you are protected. Also.. it's hardly fair to call putting it in the server a UPS. With batteries in the computer there is no DC->AC->DC conversion. It's DC->DC which is
        • Why pay extra for an internal UPS for each piece when you can use the economies of scale to get a gigantic one that covers multiple pieces instead?
          Because the solution offers superior reliability and no single point of failure.
          Except that the switch you're using is likely running off the same UPS.
          • switches are just single purpose computers there is no reason they can't have thier own battery as well.

            I think it would be nice if every power supply had a battery or capacitor large enough to power the computer through a shutdown, modern programs and filesystems seem to handle random improper shutdowns better but it is nice to know everything was shut down properly.

            as far as laptops as servers go the only difference in software between a server and a desktop are the programs that are installed. I have a p
        • In real data centers the UPS is just used to run everything until the back-up generator kicks in.
          It is also a lot easier to manage a few big expensive UPS's than to keep track say 30 or 40 batteries. Then you have the cost. Laptop batteries are expensive Li-Poly batteries. USPs use nice cheap lead acid batteries usually gel-cells. They probably cost less than half what the Li-Poly cells would cost.
          What you suggest might be good for a small office or home server but not for a data center. Even at home or a s
    • Like another poster said: Boot from Compact Flash/USB thumb drive/CD. It's do-able.
    • Some servers have had battery backup units in them - a more common solution are rackmount UPSs. This removes all of the power coversion heat from the server chassis itself, allowing more 1U/2U/4U style items (as well as things like a BladesCenter) while keeping the UPS localized to a rack (where the power cables should be secured and not easily knocked out) as well as easing battery replacement while the servers are still up.

      Once you get into the higher end servers, you start to see the PSUs separate from
    • I use a Dell Latitude D800 (P-M 1GHz) with a broken screen and 128MB of RAM to record some live Internet streams and act as my podcatcher. With an 18GB 4200 RPM drive spinning and the screen closed, it draws a mere 14 watts at idle and lasts at least 3 hours on a 2 year old battery. (I also have a UPS hooked up for when the battery dies.) The 1GHz processor means it can get up and go when it needs to, without burning 48 watts just sitting there like a desktop.

      Running FC4 in runlevel 3, I can run sox, l

    • I have multiple laptops that I run 24x7 without disk failures so far. They've run nearly continuously for a couple of years. Granted, they're being used as light duty terminals, not servers, but I'd imagine that with a light load you're probably OK. If you can configure it to spin down the disk and power down the LCD when not needed, you're golden.

      I'll definitely second the idea of going with a flash device. In fact, it's cheap and easy to get a CompactFlash to 2.5" laptop IDE adapter, and use a CF card as
  • (off topic - why is it that there's ALWAYS someone who answers a question like this with "do something that has nothing to do with your question, such as getting a $5 hosting provider"?)

    I've used laptops in many places where a larger computer would not do. For instance, before you could buy wireless access points which would do real IP routing, I used to use recycled laptops to provide access via routed subnets. They can be placed in the ceiling, in closets, et cetera. One even spent a good bit of time in a
  • As long as you are aware of the limitations, you'll be fine. For small scale use, the only one item that I would consider is whether or not you want RAID for hard disk storage -- you'll need to use external drives if you do. Otherwise the laptops are pretty much regular computers, albeit slightly slower, as far as these things go. Oh, and you won't have fancy remote management tools that medium and higher end servers have.
  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @03:36AM (#15385375) Journal
    No, their hardware sucks donkeyballs and they have very poor cooling. Ordinary PC hardware is not designed for server operation but can be pushed to do so if you accept some limitations.

    A regular laptop will have even worse hardware. The HD especially is a weakpoint. However for non-heavy use where either the number of reads is limited or even avoided by loading everything in memory a laptop is just a lowend pc.

    It can be very usefull as long as you don't expect it to perform the same as a real server.

    The build in UPS is however very handy. I worked at an ISP where for some reason the power wasn't that stable for a year or so. Didn't matter for the important stuff because they were on a UPS like system but it did mean regular power failures in the offices (I think it was because workmen kept digging up the powerlines or something).

    Anyway I put the ISP job to good use in the form of running my own FTP server. Hey, when you got a fat pipe you need to share it right? It is what I tell my gf anyway :P

    It ran of an old laptop hidden in my cupboard (note, do not store chocolate in drawer above a laptop running 24/7) and it just ran regardless of power interruptions. Our workfloor test server was not so lucky and because it was badly adminned it never automatically recovered after a powerfailure.

    So I developer on a laptop against my server laptop with power down all around me. Kinda cool although I now realize I was the only one working while everyone else was goofing around.

    So yes, laptops can be used to overcome power outages. HOWEVER for what reason? In my case the network was on its own UPS. Will your laptop be as lucky?

    No point in running a server when there is no network to serve right?

    On the other hand if you can get a cheap UPS to power your network then the batteries of a laptop can last a long time especially if you add all the batteries you can by replacing the cd. Mine lasted through a 8 hour power outage once. The screen being off makes a huge difference.

    Just remember heat and HD performance. Then again, I did have the old HD from that computer in my normal server (with adapter) running for years afterwards. I think HD reliability is severly underestimated.

    Go for it. Just don't post your server on slashdot.

    • Laptop HD problems are easily solved by eSATA and PCMCIA [] or ExpressCard [] adapters (or Firewire/USB2). Of course, you'll need an additional UPS for the drives.

      If you had heat problems, you could get a cheap external cooling solution, but as long as you're able to keep CPU usage down most of the time (so the CPU can clock down), you should be fine.

      I wouldn't consider my laptop a "low-end" PC: at 1.66GHz dual-core and 2GB 667MHz DDR2, this system is much faster than the Athlon 64 system it replaced. It has gi
  • Some people still use Mac Pluses and such as web servers []. So if a Mac Plus can do it, a recent laptop computer can do it, even if it's not the most powerful solution.
  • The older (PPC, pre-Intel) Mac Mini's draw about 20W at full tilt. Have been using them with Debian-PPC in mobile robotics. Haven't tried the newer Intel versions yet - they probably suck more, and in more ways than one.
  • Have you considered building a mini-itx based system running on DC/battery supply? You can get them to run off of a 12v car battery, and keeping one of those charged isn't too difficult, never mind that you could run of smaller 12v batteries.

    Google for robots / mini-itx / dc power or any of the case modding freak sites. They are making a couple of motherboard systems just for DC operations, and not the kind that run for a few hours as a laptop... the kind that run like servers, just on DC power.

    If your serv
  • Three used IBM ThinkPads:

    Pentium MMX 166 with 48MB RAM: Running Tinydns.

    Pentium II 300 with 288MB RAM: Running Tinydns and Postfix.

    Pentium III 500 with 128MB RAM: Running Hylafax.

    Every one of them is doing a great job for me.
  • What do you mean by "Server"? What's it serving? The web site that you use to make money? Your personal mail server? The thing that streams mp3s to the rest of the house? You mention DNS. Does that mean internal DNS for your house, or external DNS for your domain?

    What do you mean by "Reliable"? Laptops almost certainly don't have the reliability you want for any of the above purposes (Heat build up, unreliable fans), but it's still a relative term.

    What's the purpose of keeping a server running if your
  • I have a old P2 266 Toshiba running my FTP server works fine. Its been up for over a year with out a reboot.
  • For a time, I ran a laptop as a dial-up/dial-in router for my local network (the clients were UPS-protected for up to 30mins). It worked fine but there are obviously considerations:

    1) Heat
    2) Movement
    3) Upgradeability/Physical Space

    Laptops get hot. Make sure yours runs sufficiently cool if you're going to leave it unattended for any length of time. Also, as other posters have mentioned, check the fans regularly or make it run fanless. Mini-ITX is a good idea if you can afford the extra power as it will e
  • I lost my hosting ISP some time ago and I had to put a backup server quickly. All I had was ADSL line and old laptop. It is running OpenBSD, so there is no serious patching required, therefore I can afford uptime of 636 day. It is time to upgrade to new hardware, and I am considering another laptop for that. Advantages are: build-in keyboard and screen, APM and battery power, PCMCIA expansion, portable if needed, and the biggest for me - it is damn quiet!

  • ...a LAMPtop?
  • > Do portables make reliable Linux servers?

    I can't tell you the number of laptops I have deployed as
    firewalls and catch-all linux servers in small offices.
    Lots of people have laptops with damaged or broken LCDs
    and will just about give them away. Maybe it is the hinge that
    is cracked or maybe the screen has been squished and is
    bleeding in some places. In any case, the owner is upgrading
    or replacing and the laptop is next to free.
  • I have a p3 600Mhz laptop that I broke the hinges for the lcd panel on, so now it runs my domain at home. It isnt the fastest Windows 2003 Server box I have ever used, but even with only 256MB RAM it is fine for DNS and all of my authentications.

    With its oldish battery, I get 3-4 hours with the lcd off, plus plugging it into a UPS would probably get me even more.

    I would definately go with something in the more "portable" end of the spectrum, the desktop replacements still eat the battery; but a laptop serv
  • If you're primarily serving DNS and mostly serving up static web content (and not doing a lot of writes to "disk"), and your primary concern is power consumption, you might be better off with an embedded linux SBC... ( 2 .html)

    Now, that said, why are you trying to keep your server up and running for a long time? Presumably, the client machiens are also down during these outages?

    If the main reason is to have a basic PC with a built-in UPS, then, yes, laptops
    • [...]you might be better off with an embedded linux SBC [...]

      I would be happy with any fanless/diskless computer without vents. I have had about a dozen computers for about a dozen years and my failures have been due to disks breaking, fans breaking, and bugs getting into the computer and pooping (I live on a tropical island). The PIC [] would be great if I could boot Linux from a USB port.

      Now, that said, why are you trying to keep your server up and running for a long time? Presumably, the client mach

  • There's no reason that a laptop shouldn't be used for a light duty server, with one major caveat. The drives on them are generally extremely slow and less reliable than their desktop counterparts.

    The fix for this is rather simple provided you use an OS with a small footprint; like my file server's CLI-only Slackware Linux install (less than 1G). Replace the drive with a flash based 2.5" drive. They come in sizes of up to 8GBs for around $300 that I've found using Froogle []. An important addition to this
  • If your server is geared towards internet services, you're probably hosed. Even if your server remains up, what happens to the internet uplink?

    • My Internet link keeps working when the power goes out. It is just like the phones keep working when the power goes out, because it is also the phone company. My router is a linux box. Yes, I need a UPS for the hub and the DSL link, but they don't take much.
  • Sorry, a bit OT, but when I saw your question it immediately reminded me of a question I heard from this REALLY clueless sessional at my university. She taught a basic computer class distance ed and basically got the job because she's married to a prof in the department. One of those lecturers that would show up at your office and ask questions about how to do the assignments SHE set. And we're not talking rocket science here folks, we're talking how to use word and excel.

    Anyway, at the time I was a
  • Even if the laptop server stays up, isn't whatever network it's connected to going to go down if the power goes out? Routers, hubs, terminal servers, whatever, they all tend to like electricity, too.
  • There's nothing magical about a 'server' or a 'laptop' machine, they are all just computers. I've used laptops as servers for a long time (starting with a web server on a 486-33 with 8MB RAM and Windows 3.1) and I've had no problems with them.

    In fact, laptops in my experience are more reliable than desktops. One reason is the limited number of configurations due to lack of expandability. The other is that laptops are somewhat 'premium' products and therefore made with higher quality. The main drawback is

  • Be merciful [] Apache/PHP Works great for the 20-30 visitors a day I get. .000001% of slashdotters will take it and my dsl line down faster than I can say UNCLE, now get off me already. :)
  • I've been using an old laptop for an Internet DNS and web server (static pages only) for about three years now. It runs under Debian and I haven't had a single problem with it since it went in. The battery has kept it up when the power went out without a hitch (everything else is on an UPS). I used the laptop as an emergency replacement when the power supplies went out of both of my DNS servers at the same time.

    I keep meaning to replace it, but it keeps working just fine. (I did get another box up as second
  • i run a p3 1.33ghz thinkpad with centos.

    i have power management turned down so the machine runs in the speedstep state of 1ghz max and 500 min. i did this because the p3 was getting a bit hot and i didn't need the extra performance that .33ghz offered. now the machine never runs the fan at max setting, even under heavy loads.

    this machine does the following jobs:

    samba server w/ 4 firewire drives(200gb each) in raid5 for 600gb.
    groupware/web server/mail server

    this machine gets a fairly heavy loa
  • In the name of all things Secure - NO!

    If that laptop server has *any* security information on it, you're asking for trouble. Read up on the Microsoft's recommendations if you have a domain controller stolen. Yep- rebuild the entire domain.

    It's even worse if you have Certificate Services installed. Feel like re-issuing certificates on every PC in the company?

    Physical security is the lowest level of security, upon which all other security is based. Give a hacker (or the spooks) your server's hard drive, a li
  • I volunteer for a non profit with four paid staff (and around 10,000 "members"). Every other weekend, they pack up their office staff and network and move to a show venue where members must be able to renew annual membership. I would not run anything other then a laptop in that situation.

    Our laptop server is a win2k server with domain controller and ms sql server for 2-8 data entry personnel. It was setup this way before I volunteered, it works great for their situation. I would like to change the clunky ni
  • Portables make horrible servers. No RAID, slower disks, single processor only(although you could get dual core). Also laptops are more likely to break. I notice some people saying they run Apache on thiers, well big deal that doesn't make it a business quality server that means it can run some low memory footprint software.
  • For your needs, probably not... If the power goes out, your internet will probably go out as well. At best, using a laptop as a server will just mean that it lasts longer during a power outage.
  • According to the information in your /. question, you're concerned about power, not portability or space. Since you're considering purchasing a machine, why not consider purchasing/building a machine with low power components, and spend the difference very good UPS?

    I mean, you're still paying a premium for the miniturization on a laptop, and the result is a 2-3 hour built-in UPS. A good UPS, some of which will take additional external batteries, would run a low power machine for quite a while. The side adva
  • I am now liking the Hurricane LX800 []. This has a fanless Geode LX [], which I think has the nx-bit. It has 2 ethernet and 4 USB-2 ports, onboard video, and much more. It uses only 5.3 watts. Works up to 85 C (that is really hot!). Rated with a 100,000 hours MTBF. With no disk, and 2 USB flash sticks in a RAID/mirror, I should not have hardware failures very often. And it seems the price is under $400.
  • Soekris box ( running off a Compact Flash card and a small UPS.

    You're done.

1 Mole = 007 Secret Agents