[lug] The slow-lowmemory-headless-server-with-plenty-of-disk distro?

Nate Duehr nate at natetech.com
Tue Nov 14 19:06:16 MST 2006

Chris Riddoch wrote:
> Hi, everyone.
> As some of you know, I got a Soekris 4801 [1] to replace an aging
> system that died a couple months ago.  It's a cute little box, which I
> intend to use to run my OpenVPN server, household wiki, and perhaps
> mail.  Not very powerful (or high-power, which is part of the point)
> but powerful enough for the little things that should always be up.

Cool little boxes.  Have a friend who used to use those for some stuff. 
  He recently switched to mini-ITX for more horsepower.

> I have a 2 gig compact flash card for the main drive of the Soekris
> box, and there's 128 megs of memory soldered on the motherboard.  I
> might get an external housing for the 300 gig drive that was in the
> aging system to be a simple file server or something.  So it's not
> like I'm limited to running busybox and dietlibc or the like.

Are you planning on running the filesystem directly from the CF card?

Swap partitions can really beat up the physical portion of the card that 
swap is located on.  Remember, CF does have a limited number of 
read/write cycles before a bit will "die".

  > I'm inclined to use Debian on it, and I've looked at Gentoo, and
> Ubuntu, but I'm waffling.  Does anyone know of a more specialized
> distro that might be more suitable?  What are your experiences with
> such systems?

You may want to find a distro that has jffs2 filesystem support, since 
it's kinda designed to "even out" the reads/writes on flash filesystems.

I'm not sure that helps much for swap, though.

My friend's project, he put in a ton of RAM, and he loads the entire 
contents of the filesytem in from the flash drive at boot and never 
touches it again during run-time.  The box runs from RAM disk.  Nice for 
speed, but have to be real careful about file sizes! :-)

He has custom scripts to sync the filesystem from RAM back into the 
flashdrive via mounting it back up and rsync'ing it (at least I think 
that's the technique he's using) after updates.

But he's not using these boxes for constantly changing data that needs 
to be put on some type of long-term storage device... like mail.  You 
can bounce these boxes and they'll go out to the Net and update the 
filesystem's important bits -- (the application minus local logs, 
etc...) from a central server.

If you thought you could get away with it, perhaps jffs2 filesystems on 
the flash drive, with no swap and a lot of RAM to avoid running the 
machine out of memory would be in order.

If you're doing mail on it, though -- you're probably going to have 
Spamassassin on it, and SA can REALLY chew through resources, both CPU 
and RAM, in my experience.  It might be one of your "challenges" in 
using the small hardware.

Having a wiki and OpenVPN don't look like they'd be a serious design 
problem -- but having mail on it probably will be???

That external hard drive certainly sounds like a good idea, if it's 
handling mail.  You can always unplug the drive if it dies and stuff it 
onto another box and your mail is back... of course, if the external 
drive fails... gonna need backups anyway, somewhere...

(GRIN)... Fun stuff.


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