Tim G. Purchases New Server for Website and Podcast

By tim, 30 April, 2023

JENKINTOWN, Pennsylvania (GBT) — Tim G. has purchased a new web server to host his website and podcast. Since it's inception in July of 2020, the Genealogy By Tim G. website has been self-hosted on a pair of 2005 Compaq nc6230 Business laptops. The new server, a HUNSN FMC-BM14 fanless Mini PC, will bring 64-bit functionality to the genealogy website.

"Twice last month I encountered server software that I couldn't install because the developers didn't support 32-bit processors," Tim said. "I knew then that it was time for an upgrade. All hobbies require a financial investment at some point. Self-hosting is no exception."

Tim first launched his website as an experiment in low-cost self-hosting, using the then fifteen-year-old laptop computers as web servers.

"The experiment as been an amazing success," the webmaster and family historian said. "There were a few hiccups in the beginning, but the Compaq servers have been running nearly flawlessly for the last two years."

Tim described the origins of these machines.

"I bought these laptops second-hand from eBay in around 2014. I was doing some freelance computer tutoring and consulting work at the time, and I thought these would make decent learner laptops for seniors who were new to computers. C-Net reports that the laptops carried a price tag of $2,108 each back when they were released in 2005, so they were real workhorses at the time. I bought them without hard drives, and paid $40 for a pair of them. The seller actually sent me another pair the next week by mistake. When I told the seller about the mix-up, he just told me that I could keep the other pair. So I ended up paying $40 for four of these machines, which only 8 years earlier would have run me over $8,400. I'd say I got my money's worth. You can get some pretty good machines used if you know what to look for. I used one of them as my primary computer from 2014 until about 2016, when I replaced it with a ZaReason desktop. The laptops kind of languished in closets after that, until I revived them as my web servers in 2020."

But the Compaq laptops showed their limitations as web servers from the start. Drupal, the software powering the GenealogyByTim.com landing page, consistently warned against running the server on a 32-bit version of PHP.

PHP Warning

"This is known in the industry as The Year 2038 Problem", Tim said. "Now, I never expected the server to last until 2038, but if you're trying to run a genealogy website, and you can't enter dates prior to December 14, 1901, that's a bit of an inconvenience. My workaround until now has been to enter those earlier dates as text strings, but that isn't ideal. I'd prefer for those dates to stored in the system as dates, so they can be properly formatted and displayed as dates."

Further limitations arose last month when Tim attempted to install a pair of newer software packages onto the server.

"I wanted to test a number of online forum options for potential use on the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania's website. One software package I wanted to test was Discourse, but they do not offer a 32-bit release. I mean, there are alternatives, like phpBB, but in general I don't want hardware limitations to dictate which software I can and can not try. That was one thing. Then, just a couple weeks later I wanted to play around with a NextCloud installation. I was able to install version 25 on the old server, but the administration pages threw all kinds of warnings about how 32-bit will not be supported on version 26. Sure, I can rock version 25 for another year or two, but these warnings about the deprecation on 32-bit software will only become more common in the future. If I'm going to keep this hobby going, it'll have to be on a modern machine."

Tim purchased the new machine earlier this month.

"My old servers actually ran over WiFi, and I hid them in a closet to avoid the fan noise, but I wanted the new server to connect directly to my router via Ethernet. I still live with my girlfriend in a 1-bedroom apartment, so to keep the new server within one reasonable cable length of the router, it would have run quietly if not silently. A fanless PC had to be the solution."

After a bit of online searching, Tim settled on a HUNSN fanless mini PC over the competitors, mainly because the branding was prominent, and customer service seemed accessible. The Linux hobbyist avoided purchasing the Windows 11 license by opting for the bare bones model, and purchasing storage and RAM separately.

"The machine has one slot for an NVMe solid state hard drive and another slot for an mSATA solid state hard drive. I was really a bit surprised by how affordable these things have become. I bought a terabyte of each, and paid a little over $50 for each of them. I understand that the NVMe driver will be faster, so that will be the machine's primary hard drive. When I want to back up my data, I'll just clone the NVMe over to the mSATA. It really couldn't be easier."

The new HUNSN FMC-BM14 went online last weekend and is currently hosting Minecraft and Minetest servers. The genealogy web sites and podcasts will be transferred to the new server over the next several weeks.