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Recently I've become very interested in setting up a fileserver, mostly for home usage but also because of the fact that I live in 2 places, I need to be able to access my files from both homes. I have already done some research into this but I am unclear about some things.

My requirements are the following;

  • Needs to work on both Mac and PC(only using Windows atm on PC but could be good if it supports more OS's to make it futureproof in case I need Linux or something else)
  • Need to be able to set up a folder/drive/network space to act as a link to a certain folder on the fileserver
  • All files should only be stored on the fileserver, e.g. no "shared" folders like in Dropbox where files are stored on the client computer
  • Would prefer it if folders are password protected or that I can somehow specify what users can access the fileserver's shares
  • Fileserver's OS most likely have to be Windows due to other factors outside of being just a fileserver

I've already kinda figured out that I will need to set up a VPN so that I can access my fileserver from outside the local network. Probably going to use OpenVPN.

Question 1: How would I go about to set up a VPN server so that I can connect to my local network at the fileserver's location?

I know that since I'm on a dynamic IP I will have to get some sort of dynamic DNS server - I've already checked into this and I'm fairly sure I know how to fix that. I also know that I will have to forward the port OpenVPN uses in my router.

Question 2: How would I actually share the folders on the fileserver so that I can access them on my other computers? I've researched into Samba but I'm uncertain if it needs to be run on a Linux OS. I know that the clients connecting to it can be Windows for example but can the Samba "server" be run on Windows? Also it appears that Samba shares a folder, meaning it works like Dropbox - I don't want that. So how would I share a folder in that case to make it work like I want it to?

Sorry for the incredibly long question, I tried to structure it the best I could for easier read. Thanks in advance!

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migrated from Nov 25 '11 at 9:47

This question came from our site for system and network administrators.

This should probably be on SuperUser. Please see the FAQ. – kce Nov 25 '11 at 0:00
Ooo, you're probably right :o How do I get it moved? – Tanax Nov 25 '11 at 0:36

I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for but we use Draytek Vigor routers which have VPN features for remote workers and tunnels.

They also (most models, I think) have a USB port which allows you to plug an external hard drive. This way you can get one router and attach a decent size external drive, store your files on that and the. VPN into that router when you need the files.

You could create a tunnel between two locations so you can access the drive without having to first dial the VPN connection.

As far as I know most Draytek routers also support dynamic DNS services. Allowing you to have the complete package in one router. I.e. VPN server, file server and dynamic DNS updated.

With regards to sharing folders etc. if you went with a setup similar to my suggestion you could then simply map the drive in Windows or Mac. Im pretty sure most operating systems would work with it.

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Thank you for your reply! Unfortunately I can not change the current router since it's 1) not me who own it and 2) the router is integrated with the modem so they are the same. So unfortunately I am stuck with the router I got. It's a Thomson, it doesn't support VPN but it does support dynamic DNS services. I'm not sure exactly what you mean with "create a tunnel between two locations without having to dial the VPN"?? Also, do you know any other way of solving it without using that router? Thank you for the reply and sorry for my newbieness! :) – Tanax Nov 25 '11 at 0:32

^ dannymcc's answer is great. If you are looking to do this on the cheap, or simply want to use some old hardware you have lying around rather than getting a new router, I suggest setting up a *nix firewall/router for your VPN connection. Some good ones:

Although running a whole computer just for the VPN and then another for the fileserver consumes a lot more power than a single router for both functions, so keep that in mind ;)

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Yeah, I will not be able to dedicate an entire computer just to function as a VPN.. is there no way of running it ON the fileserver in Windows? Or perhaps if you know a way of installing it as a plugin or something in my current router? Because like I said in my reply to danny, I am not able to switch routers, nor am I able to dedicate an entire computer for the VPN. Any other suggestions? :) Thanks! – Tanax Nov 25 '11 at 0:34
Depending on which version of Windows you're running, you might be able to setup a VPN service for example. Once this is setup on the server end, you just need to forward the required ports to the server, and then connect from your client. Hope that helps :) – rdjurovich Nov 25 '11 at 4:41
Your router will have to be able to forward non-TCP/UDP protocols, e.g. the GRE protocol used in PPTP. Some consumer grade router can do this through DMZ, some supports forwarding by IP protocol numbers, but many don't support this at all. In which case you'll have to use openVPN or some http-based tunnels. – Nov 25 '11 at 12:07
Yes, I have looked into OpenVPN and it will most likely be the one I will use. Is this not as good as other VPN-servers because of the http-based tunnels? Thanks everyone :) – Tanax Nov 25 '11 at 14:47

VPNs are good but limited. Consider that when you access files over the VPN, you are limited in transfer speed to the UPLOAD of the remote system. If you have consumer level internet service your performance will almost certainly be abysmal UNLESS you are just using small files.

If a client came to me with your scenario, I would propose the following options given the information I have so far:

  1. Remote Desktop Services/Remote Desktop. Designate one machine as your primary and set it up as a VPN server and then RDP into with Remote Desktop. This should work quite well and frankly, it's what I frequently do myself. This is by far the cheapest option.

  2. Setup a point-to-point VPN using hardware devices. I have setup several that use small Netgear FVS 114 devices. Then you use two servers with DFS configured. DFS replicates the data on both systems, allowing you to access it at FULL speed at both sites because the data is LOCAL at both sites. Since you said you'd be using a Windows solution, this would probably be best but it will also be costly - the Windows OS licenses and routers combined will probably cost you $2000 in software and vpn hardware before you even touch the server hardware you'll need.

  3. Another option is to use a cloud solution where your server is in the cloud and you just connec remotely to it from either place. A VPS would be what you use and it would be a monthly fee of probably $50-100 depending on configuration.

  4. Given that you (probably, I assume) will never need the data to be updated at the same time at the same place, DFS MAY be excessive. IT's good because it's automatic and works quite well... but you may get away with some kind of scripted tool to connect and sync the data between sites once per night.

If this is important to you, you may have to consider getting rid of your consumer grade internet connection(s) and get at least one business grade connection.

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Oh really? Did not know that! Speed isn't that much of a deal though since it will only be me using it. The upload speed is around 1-2 Gb/s. I don't know if that will be alright? 1. I've looked into RDS and.. it seems alright. But I'd rather do filesharing on the local network and then connect to the network using a VPN. It'd just be much better - to me. 2&3. Yeah these solutions are too expensive for a home fileserver :/ 4. I don't want to sync the data because that means that the data will be located on the client computers. I only want access to data stored on server computer Thank you :) – Tanax Nov 25 '11 at 10:20
How do you get 1-2Gb/s upload speed? Are you on 10gigabit fiber optic connection? It that is really the case then, it will be a shame if you don't setup a file server :P BTW, Samba is the *nix clone of Widows' file sharing functionality, so you don't need to install it on Windows. You already have it. – Nov 25 '11 at 11:58
LOL! Sorry, that was a typo. I meant 1-2 Mb/s obviously XD Is that still alright for VPN or will it be really low transfer speed? – Tanax Nov 25 '11 at 14:45

Because your concern is not being able to change the router, I recommend keeping the current router/modem.

Get the router in the first reply, set it up as a add-on with the ports forwarded correctly from the first router and you should be all set. All in one while maintaining the original hardware.

It worked for me.

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