Saturday, August 17, 2013

Rise of the Personal Server

When Microsoft formulated the vision "A Computer in Every Home", they were acknowledging that the personal computing for the masses started by the likes of Apple was indeed an underpowered platform that will eventually work with and depend on far and away more powerful mainframes and supercomputers.

The late Steve Jobs and NeXT developed the platform called the personal workstation, arguably one of the most revolutionary and little known shift in computing history.

Here are EDGEKIT, we observed the rise of the personal server.

What's a Personal Server?

More than making us look smart producing an original marketing term (which unfortunately won't be true, somebody's already beat us to it and created a site appropriately called www.personalserver.com), the personal server is a powerful computer that provides services suitable to the needs of its client computers and users.

We have to be clear that the definition of computing power of a personal server is arbitrary. Your personal server's power isn't necessarily equal to the power of another group or individual's personal server (think Einstein's Theory of Relativity), because the main objective for the choice of a personal server is the pragmatic results it produces for its users and consumers.

Why a Personal Server?

With the advent and hype over cloud computing nowadays, why choose a personal server when you can have cloud computing? The cloud platform provides elastic computing, down- and up-scalable to as much computing power as needed, and you don't need to maintain personally so you cut administration cost.

The tipping point in favour of personal server over any cloud platform is CONTROL.

It all starts with the service level agreement (SLA) of each cloud platforms. Haven't we all noticed that we're back to square one of the computing industry? The cloud computing platforms are the new walled gardens we once called proprietary computers, the only difference is that we have a common (standardized?) way of looking at everything through the lens we call the 'web browser' which unfortunately are still wrestling among themselves for sole supremacy.

The SLA of every cloud computing platform I encountered have one thing in common: non liability for any data loss on the consumer's part and every terms and conditions on the SLA is always and forever will be in favour of the service provider. Aside from this, there are many other concerns.

To rephrase the skit Blind Kung-fu Master: the consumer thinks he controls the cloud computer, but the cloud computer controls him.

The personal server link I provided earlier gives a (controversial?) naughty take at the issue:

Personal Servers are kind of like clothes. Everyone could walk around naked all the time, but in practice people don't. Some things, like your private parts, are best left covered. Using centralized network services like Gmail and Facebook is kind of like walking around naked in front of perverts. Worse, it's like taking photos of your friends naked and giving them away to perverts. This is not desirable. Get a personal server and put some clothes on!

A personal server provides private email and encrypted web-based facilities. Crucially, personal servers are about more than just privacy, they are a platform for being organized. Your personal server comes with facilities for managing your private information, such as a personal database, that you can use to record information about your friends and the services you use. In addition to private and personal facilities a personal server comes with facilities for publishing public information at your discretion.

Summarily, the personal server movement will move forward because our society is more efficient with computing resources on hand, and when cloud computing curtails our freedom, we can always resort to have our own personal computing platform.

How to Build a Personal Server?

Now this is the part where the aforementioned link on personal server leaves much to be desired and it asks for donation too. Frankly, I'm not sure how donation would help guide everyone build their personal server. Nonetheless, we at EDGEKIT would beat them to it on this part and call it even.

I once challenged my students to define which among three computer setup is the most powerful computer:
  1. Quad core CPU, 1 GB memory, 1 TB hard storage, 64-bit operating system
  2. Dual core CPU, 2 GB memory, 1 TB storage, 32-bit or 64-bit operating system
  3. Single core CPU, 4 GB memory, 1 TB storage, 32-bit operating system

Would you argue that setup 1 is superior with the quad core CPU? That 1 GB memory limits it while running on a 64-bit OS. Setup 2 looks better with a 2 GB memory, but with only dual core, would it fare better than setup 1? Not to mention the confusion and agony over choice between 32-bit and 64-bit OS; theoretically, running 32-bit OS on setup 2 may be sufficient while 64-bit would be an overkill. Setup 3 looks inferior to setup 1 and 2, but having the most memory capacity despite the single core CPU, this could hulk its way through any computing task, except that the 32-bit OS may not maximize the investment on that much memory.

Given the situation above, the proper answer would be: it depends. Furthermore, we have not factored in the motherboard chipset, more often than not, having the highest CPU and memory capacity specification along with high storage capacity and top of the line 64-bit operating systems won't even matter if the computing chipset of the motherboard it all rests on is not at par in performance.

On the software side, there are 64-bit operating systems and there are 64-bit operating systems, no different OSes are created equal, that minor algorithmic optimization or change within operating systems here and there may have major impact on the performance of the system.

It's the Need, Not Just Speed

Beyond getting the personal server that will need an automotive coolant to keep working, all that high end computing power and high cost means nothing if you can't achieve your computing goals.

When you experience the inconvenience of seeing a fly on the wall and you want that pest off, do you get the fly swatter or do you go for the macho option of blowing the wall off with a bazooka?

That's when we formulated the EDGEKIT mantra: simple, secure and functional. It's simpler and functional to get the fly off the wall with a swatter while securing the wall won't crumble like a cookie. The bazooka option is expensive and impractical to say the least.

Budget is the King

When you buy your personal server, you should leave the shop with your clothes still on, have food to eat and a home, not just a shelter to sleep in. Buying the best personal server specification is usually expensive, the total investment cost may be enough to buy a car.

When buying your personal server, assembling from choice components may be the best option, and always remember: budget is the king. We at EDGEKIT can provide assistance in buying choice components for your personal server, and to help not bust your bank account, contact us for your free consultation.

1 comment:

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