Elsewhere I have documented my efforts to install Fedora Core 3 on a Dell Inspiron 5160.

Deprecated

I no longer run freebsd on this soekris. Refer to this brand new document on installing Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty) on the Soekris if you want to find out more.

Introduction

Recently the need arose to replace my existing webserver with new one. The old one makes a lot of noise and is located in our study so a less noisy replacement would be nice. Noise was not the only consideration though. If we had to change the server, it would be nice if the power consumption was less as well. Our webserver receives quite on number of unique visitors (thousends/month) but that's just a tiny load for modern processors. So instead of replacing it with a regular pentium or AMD powered minitower, we opted for a soekris net4801.

A net4801 has 128 Megabyte of ram and a geode processor running at 266Mhz and is therefore powerfull enough to provide for our modest needs. I tested this assumption beforehand on a machine of a friend: apache/freebsd on a net4801 was able to service more than 1 request/second for a random set of 70 Kbyte files and that is plenty, at least for us.

With a net4801 I could have opted for a small size harddisk and simply copying my old but functioning server setup (based on RedHat 7.1) but I really wanted to have a system without moving parts so I went for a CFcard instead. A also took the opportunity to ditch the old operating system and configuring all from scratch, thereby ridding the system of all accumulated cruft it gained in the last years.

No moving parts you might think, but what about fast write degradation of the CF cards? Well, that bothered me as well at first, however, compact flash technology has matured and the number of write cycles has extended, see e.g slashdot or the manufacturer's page.

Combined with minor tweaks like mounting suitable partitions read-only, mounting other partitions with soft update filesystems and the noatime option, and providing ramdisks for /tmp e.g, CFcards should be pretty durable. And there will be no swapping. However, 128 MB might sound small, but with my meager demands I'm pretty sure I won't need swap.

applications

an operating system

general purpose Linux distributions tend to be too bulky, whereas the mini and microdistributions seem too cumbersome for easy maintenance and extending additional packages.

FreeBSD on the other hand has a minimal install that already has a lot of functionality, is easy to maintain and administer and has a specific cookbook available for the soekris that already covers the basics.

My choice is therefore conservative: FreeBSD 5.4 (Stable)

smtp + local maildrop

Sendmail will never fit the bill when easy maintenance is an explicit goal. And although Exim has been functioning satisfactorily on the previous mailserver, security and extensibillity seems even beter for < a href="www.postfix.org"> Postfix, which is nowadays a far more mainstream choice anyway.

pop

Because i did not want to change anything for the internal clients, I had to offer pop as a mail retrieval protocol. Since I do not want to install two mail retrieval packages there is no Imap to offer, because I'm not too familiar with the packages that provide both. Having only pop severely limits the choice of good webmail packages, but I did find a rather nice one.

webserver + statistics software

Not a real choice since I had to have the same functionality as on the previous webserver, so Apache it is. Still going for conservative instead of bleeding edge, I opt for the 1.3 version. The same goes for awstats.

blog software

A new addition to the list of applications the server has to provide. I looked around and found mysql and so do some miniapps of mine.

webmail

Because any webmail application has to support pop, the choice is limited. However, IlohaMail wil do fine. Openwebmail is too bloated and depends on too many perl modules to my taste and Squirrelmail doesn't play nice with php5.

perl

For a number of scripts and private miniapps, as well as for awstats I needed perl. Php already bloats the system, but I just cannot do without perl.

The Cookbook

To be continued ...