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How-to guide to hosting your own website

Mon, 09/23/2013 - 1:54pm
Tom Gordon, Contributor

There’s nothing like setting up your own web server and staking out your own little piece of the internet.  When I decided it was time to stop paying for somebody else to host our neighborhood website, a friend suggested looking into the Pogoplug personal cloud server as a possible hardware platform.  It’s got all the necessary hardware, it’s cheap and it’s small.  I mean really small, as in fits-in-your-coat-pocket small.  It was just too good to pass up.

Besides the various connectors it comes with for its intended purpose as a network storage device, the Pogoplug Series 4 has one advantage over a Rasberry Pi or Arduino board in that it comes in a very sleek black plastic case, ready to tuck away in an inconspicuous place on a desktop, table, or, in my case, alongside a DSL router on a makeshift wooden shelf in the closet of our neighborhood clubhouse.  It’s also packed with connectors for attaching a number of storage devices, with one USB2 and one SATA connector accessible by removing the top cover, two USB3 connectors in the back and one SD slot in the side.  I found that I could tuck a tiny Sandisk Cruizer Fit 8G drive into the top USB connector and still have room to replace the cover.  Unfortunately, only the top USB 2 and SATA connectors allow for a bootable device, but that’s OK, since the internet connection tends to be the bottleneck anyway, so you really don’t need the speed of a USB 3 connection.

As for the software, the Series 4 comes preloaded with what they call a “personal cloud server”, ready to share pictures and data from all your PC’s and portable devices.  Pretty cool, but not very customizable.  Fortunately, some very smart and generous people have already done the work of porting Arch Linux over to the various versions of Pogoplug, including the Series 4.  Think of it as a kind of jailbreaking for the Pogoplug.  You’re running your very own Linux operating system, ready to load with anything you want, which in my case was an Apache web server and YaBB bulletin board software, allowing me to set up not only our neighborhood website, but a discussion board as well.  All this resides in that little 8G USB flash drive hidden under the cover (call me geeky, but being able to put 50,000 times the memory used on the first Apollo mission in something small enough to swallow is just cool).

In order for the Pogoplug to recognize your USB flash drive as a bootable flash drive, you first need to gain access to the preloaded software already running on the device.  To do this, follow the instructions that come with the device to log into an account online.  Once registered, you can turn on SSH access, which allows terminal access, which in turns lets you log in to your Pogoplug.  Once logged in, you can format your flash drive, download the necessary software to it, and turn off the default internal boot drive.  And once you’ve done that, you simply do a restart to run the new operating system off your flash drive.

All this sounds pretty straightforward, but for someone like me, who only dabbles in the Linux world, there was much trial and error, Google searches and questions on forums.  I’ll provide a link to more detailed instructions, should you decide to try this for yourself.

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