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Build an Internet Server on a Shoestring

If you're thinking about setting up an Internet server but don't have much money, this article is for you. It describes how to build and deploy a Web server for under $250.00, using a broadband connection, Red Hat Linux and other free software—and a very small budget.

he wide availability of free or low-cost operating system, Web server and firewall software, and the penetration of relatively low-cost broadband service have reached the point where you can set up a complete Web server—from scratch—for very little money. For the first time in history, an average Internet user has the resources and tools to build a Web site without paying rent for space or a hosted server beyond the cost of the Internet connection itself. Even better, you probably already have at least some of the software and hardware you'll need.

Obtaining Broadband Service
Since you are reading this article, you probably already have broadband service, but if you don't, that's the first thing you'll need.

You should be able to sign up with any broadband service provider, but make sure that they support Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet (PPPoE) connections. Pricing and features for broadband connections vary, depending on which type of connection you purchase, where you live and what promotions are being offered at the time you sign up. For example, I obtained DSL service from Earthlink in Atlanta, GA at a cost of $49.95/month. Earthlink waived the activation fee and modem charge because I signed up during a promotion. So, my initial cost for service was $49.95.

Author's Note: This is an approximate cost for the first month of service, based on current pricing of home DSL service from big providers, such as EarthLink and BellSouth.net. The estimate does not include taxes, activation fees, or any other fees that your service provider may charge.

Activation of your new broadband service can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks, so if you don't already have a connection, order it first. You can assemble the rest of the required hardware and software while you're waiting.

Obtaining the Required Hardware
Building an Internet server isn't hardware-intensive, but you do need a few things. To minimize costs, look for used hardware, which you can sometimes even get for free. For example, I assembled my server from old spare parts I had lying around: an 80386 motherboard, 16 MB RAM, 1.5 GB hard drive, a 4x CD-ROM drive, and a 14" VGA monitor. Yes, you read that right. My server is a 386. Unless you're anticipating very large traffic volumes you don't need a high-powered modern chipset for your server—and if you're anticipating very large traffic volumes, a DSL or cable connection probably won't be fast enough.

Here's a list of the hardware you need:

  • Broadband Modem. (0-40$). Your service provider supplies the appropriate broadband modem. Because of the many special offers available in many areas, your service provider may waive the cost of the modem.
  • Computer. (~ $75). You don't need much horsepower and should be able to find something used for $75 or less. If you are already running Linux on your personal computer, you could use that, but you should be aware that by placing your Internet server on your personal computer, you also potentially make your private files and data vulnerable to security breaches.
  • Network Interface Cards (NICs). ($5 - $10). You will need one NIC for the incoming Internet connection and (unless you are going to use your personal computer as the server) a second NIC for the server's local area network (LAN) connection. Shop around, but make sure that the cards you get are compatible with Linux. One good resource to check is the Red Hat hardware compatibility list. Linksys and 3COM work well. I had an old Linksys LNE100TX lying around and bought a used 3COM 3c509 for about $5.
  • Ethernet Switch. ($25 - $45). You will need a switch only if you are going to put your Internet server on a LAN and share the Internet connection. I bought a Linksys EZXS55W, but there are several other brands that should work just as well. (I based the cost estimate on the results of searches for comparable hardware at PriceGrabber.com).

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