There are many potential use cases for a home server. This article covers a selection of the best use cases and shows how these can be addressed by running your own home server.
This article is still work in progress and will be updated with additional use cases step by step.
What is a Home Server?
The term server in the IT context is ambiguous as it can mean both computer hardware or computer software that provides functionality, often called services, for other programs or devices, typically called clients.
When talking about a home server we mean a computer located in a private residence, such as your home, that runs server software to provide services to other devices inside or outside the household through a home network or the Internet. Typical services are file server, printer server, home automation server, and other services. This article covers a selection of the best use cases and can be the starting point for you to install a server at your home.
As explained in the section What is a Home Server? the server hardware, the computer, can be anything and the term rather refers to what a server does than to any technical specifics.
Very popular hardware for a home server is the Raspberry Pi 4. A Raspberry Pi 4 (What is a Raspberry Pi?) is a small single board computer that comes with an Ethernet network connector, 4 USB connectors and 2 HDMI mini connectors and it has enough power for to cover many use cases in small networks. A very important parameter is its relatively low power consumption which is very important as you probably want to run your home all year long and around the clock (24/7).
Power consumption is also the main reason why not to use an old laptop or desktop PC you may still have. Some smart guys have calculated an average power consumption for a Raspberry Pi 4 running 24/7 of around 41 kWh per year compared to a smaller desktop PC with a consumption around 543 kWh per year.
A typical home server on a Raspberry Pi 4 runs with a Linux operating system such as Raspberry OS or Ubuntu and in a headless configuration, that means without any keyboard, mouse, or monitor (any device connected would increase the power consumption).
Use Case Overview for Home Servers
Central data storage with a Home File Server / NAS
Central data storage for your home with a file server or a so-called NAS (Network Attached Storage) is a real classic and currently the number one use case for most. The data can be centrally stored on the server and everyone with access can easily access the files. Not only does having a file server make access and sharing much easier, but it also makes it much easier to perform backups, avoid redundancies, and to protect important files.
There are numerous options how to run a home file server or a simple NAS on a Raspberry Pi 4, from simply making directories available in the network by using Samba (SMB) service, to install a dedicated NAS software.
Run your own Fileserver / NAS on a Raspberry Pi --> More information will be provided soon
Run your own VPN Server at Home
To connect into your home network when on the road or to use a secure internet connection from an potentially non-secure connection, such as an open Wifi, you can run your own VPN on a home server. The abbreviation VPN stands for Virtual Private Network which means an encrypted connection over the internet from a device to a network.
With running your own VPN server you you are not dependent on a commercial VPN provider (why we don't trust commercial VPN providers is covered in our article The Myth about Commercial VPN) and you get a trusted connection to your home network and infrastructure.
This is the only recommended way to make services running in your home available to you when you are outside from your home network. Do not use port forwarding in your router to make any other services than a properly installed and secure VPN server available through the internet.
How to install and run a VPN server with Wireguard VPN is covered in our article "Run your own VPN Server at Home on a Raspberry Pi".
Running an E-Mail Server from Home
We have included this use case here because it seems to be one of most mentioned use cases as to our a web search on this topic. But frankly speaking, normally it is not a good idea to run a productive e-mail server from home. So don't run your e-mail server from home for any other than testing.
More details about why you should not run an e-mail server on home is available in our article: Run Your Own E-Mail Server from Home?
Our warning, not to run your own e-mail server from home does not mean that you cannot run your own e-mail server. You can just subscribe to a virtual private server in the cloud (What is a Virtual Private Server (VPS)?) in a professional data center and set up your own e-mail server.
We will cover more details about running an e-mail server on your own virtual private server soon.