Help Choosing a Home Server OS

I’ve looked through several threads and I’m having trouble coming to a conclusion on what the best file serving OS would be for me. Right now I have a pretty powerful machine running FreeNAS, but I’m not using ZFS to it’s full capacity and have no real need to use all it’s enterprise features; nor do I like how FreeNAS VMs work.

What I want my server to do:

  • OS Virtualization/Containerization
  • Host/Share files for family (2 real computer users)
  • Backup target for Windows machines
  • Management over serial console, ssh, and/or web interface
  • Ability to burn/rip CDs/DVDs/(Blu-Rays are a plus)
  • Host game servers (Minecraft, The Forest)
  • Backup specific folders to Google’s Coldline Storage
  • Some form of data parity, doesn’t need to be RAID 1-like

My plan is to install ESXi as the base and visualize everything else. Because I’m a student I have Windows Server 2016 available to me for free, but I prefer Unix-type systems.


Ryzen 7 1700
32 GB non-ECC RAM
2 4TB HDDs
4 2TB HDDs
2 60GB SSDs
1 Blu-Ray RW Drive
1 Quadro NVS 295

Any feedback is appreciated.

have you looked into something like or Fedora? as it looks like you want a hybrid server workstation based off some of the things you want to do.

I’m not sure what I’m wanting that seems like a workstation. I mainly want some lightweight file server OS running virtualized on top of ESXi at the moment and doing the various other things in separate OS installs on top of ESXi or containers within that file server OS.

Ideally this would headless.

so you want Fedora done via the Kickstart method and an ssh setup. Read this.

Could you explain what makes Fedora a good choice for this?

Proxmox? Just debian with a web interface for QEMU pretty much.

I’ve also heard about kimchi, should work headless.


If it were me I would set up Ubuntu server based on the things you listed, but @Leon_the_Loner mentioned proxmox and thats not a bad way to go at all.

I’d simply put CentOS and use virtsh over ssh for VM control.

You could configure any Linux distribution to do all those things.

For an easy out-of-the-box solution, Proxmox is your best option. A single ESXi node will not give you data redundancy without a supported RAID card.

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I’ve tried running hypervisors at home. They are good for experience, but they end up getting in the way for me. A solid server OS will let me run VMs/containers without adding an extra layer of complexity for the stuff I need to keep working all the time. FWIW, I run hypervisors at work, and they are very useful when used for their intended purpose.

I run a headless home server doing all the things you mentioned and more, and I use Ubuntu. I know that doesn’t turn any heads, but the flexibility and documentation is hard to beat.

You will likely find things you want to do with your server over the next few years that you aren’t thinking of right now. Odds are better that it will be documented and supported on Ubuntu. Do you need a recent kernel to support a new card you bought? You should know how to compile your own kernel … but then I don’t want to have to do that anymore. Just install a newer one from the repos or download the newest ones.

If you want, you can still run Xen or KVM or Virtualbox VMs. Or you can play with docker or LXC containers. But you can play with this while your server is still running Samba, backup software, web apps, or whatever else you rely on.

ZFS support is great. If a vendor releases drivers/firmware for Linux they probably test it with Ubuntu. I find it better to play with other distributions on the desktop or in a VM. I want my server to be well supported and to just do its job.

If you don’t want to do Ubuntu your second best choice would be CentOS. I feel much more comfortable on the Debian side of things myself, and the release cycle for CentOS is way too slow. Their current release is using kernel 3.10 which is missing a bunch of stuff that I actively use.

Those are my reasons. Good luck with whichever you pick. I tried several before I landed on my current setup, and there is no better teacher than experience.


Yeah, proxmox made it easy as pie to setup a raid 10.

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so while Fedora VS Ubuntu VS Debi ect ect is personal preference, When I was building my personal home media server all the raid storage with VM specific support, such as FreeNas and Unraid did not work well for my needs and felt restrictive in how i could implement them where a Linux build would let me set up what services and capabilities I wanted how I wanted.

There is definitely not a “right” answer to what you should use but my personal preference is more choice rather than less so I default to strait linux server installs as my first option.

I’ll look further into it, but I think I’ll go with Ubuntu Server.

Would you recommend ZFS over any other RAID-like solution? On FreeNAS I have everything as one big volume, I’m assuming because the different size of my drives it would be recommended to do a RAID 10 for the 4 2TB drives and a RAID 1 for the 2 4TB drives with the SSDs perhaps in a RAID 1 as a boot device? I feel like fully duplicating is overkill for my scenario as I’m backing up all important stuff to Google’s Coldline storage and planning on also exporting the same data to Blu-ray discs. I’d prefer more storage over having everything 100% duplicated like a RAID 5, but I’m working with 3 SATA controllers (each with 4 SATA ports) and 4 2TB HDDs, 2 4TB HDDs, and 2 60GB SSDs (I was using for cache) and I don’t know of a solution that could do something like RAID 5 over the different size HDDs.

Edit: Would I be insane to put each pair of 2TB HDDs in a RAID 0 then put the 2 4TB HDDs and the 2 4TB RAID 0 Arrays into something like a RAID 5 or 6? Would it even be possible to do something like that?


There isn’t a single answer for how your arrange your storage. You’ve got to consider what your a putting on it, how performant it needs to be, and how bad it will be if a drive fails. I’m a fan of RAID 10 because it can absorb a drive failure without needing to rebuild with parity data and you get a nice speed increase … but you loose a lot of space. Each choice comes with its own downsides and you have to consider each and what you can afford. But as long as you have good backups you can try multiple setups and decide which one you like best. Pull and wipe a drive to simulate failure and see how long it takes to get everything running again. Think about what your plan will be if you need more storage and try to avoid getting painted into a corner.

I ended up buying a used raid card on ebay and an external rack-mounted enclosure that can hold 16 drives. It cost a couple hundred but I’ve loved the flexibility that gives me. I use ZFS for most of the stuff because of the data integrity it provides, but I use RAID 0 for a few partitions that contain less important data. I’ll say it a second time just because it is so important. Have good backups. Between human error and hardware failure you will loose a file system eventually. If you have good backups, you’ll just have to wait a few hours (or days in my case) to restore, and you are good to go. You probably already know to have backups, but I see too many horror stories not to say it frequently.

TLDR: There are so many options because everyone’s needs are so different. Try a few of them as you have time.


I know there are already a lot of suggestions out there, but I’ll throw my hat in the ring: OpenMediaVault (version 4) is very good. It’s currently in “beta”, but it’s been rock solid for me for a good few months now.

It’s basically a web front-end for Debian, so you get the option to explore a rock-solid distro in the background if you’d like. It supports basically every software raid and filesystem you can think of (ZFS, BTRFS, LVM, MDADM, EXT4, XFS, etc…) either natively or through plugins.

It also has support for running VMs and Docker containers. I highly recommend giving it a try if you’re trying a bunch of tools.

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No idea what about about my hardware OMV hates, but I can’t get it to successfully boot, downloaded it several times, verified MD5, put it on several different flash drives, tried installing to several different locations; I’m always kicked to a busybox shell/console

Ubuntu Server 18.04 installed without a hitch after reading some guides on how to install it to a software RAID 1, but I’d really like a web interface for managing the file sharing and RAID aspects as that’s all new to me and I’m finding it very difficult to manage.

Does v4 include a directory service? When I looked at v3 a while back, it was missing domain controller functionality (not that that’s necessary for OP, but just wondering).

Webmin installation guide

I use Webmin as my web ui for my ubuntu home server.

Btrfs for the 3TB (two 3TB disks in RAID1). Btrfs is very easy to administer from the shell.

KVM for the virtual machines.

Samba for file shares, Webmin makes it easy to administer.

Being ubuntu there is a lot of documentation available. I have tried several specialized home server packages, installations. In the end a standard linux server setup turned out the best.

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