- Test new operating systems or beta test system tools?
- Format more than once a month?
- Have more than more computers than users in your home?
- Download movies, music, or programs?
- Love having all your files in one place without sifting through piles of recovery medium?
- Write web-based scripts or design websites?
- Have one printer and need 24/7 access to it?
- Want to share an internet connection securely and professionally, complete with port forwarding and more?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you need a home server. The good news is, its not hard to set up, expensive to get, or difficult to configure, but before we get there, let's see just how a server in your home can make you a more productive person, save you time and money, and leave you wondering why you didn't do this before.
Your server can play an incredible role in making your files easier to get, and safer to keep. By setting up a PC and configuring it as a file server you can create shares accessible via the network from any PC. With it you can access the media files you use most without wasting space duplicating the files on all your PCs or lugging DVDs around the house. With a file server you can store those programs you install most often, use one directory to download all your files to, synchronize your torrent and/or eMule files from any/all PCs on the network and more.
With a file server, you can rest assured knowing that if something happens to your computer or hard drive, all is not lost. If you accidentally formatted the wrong partition, it's no longer the end of the world. You can be at peace, knowing that no matter what you do your files are on anther PC, safe and sound. Even if the file server itself loses a hard drive (or two) for some reason, you can relax, it's not called a server for nothing, your files are safe on the other hard drive!
If you are like me, your printer is on a computer that boots 5 or 6 different OSes, but all it takes is more than one to make sharing a printer hell. You have to rush from computer to computer, checking permissions, configuring network shares, installing drivers, and praying for things to get done. But with a printer server (aka Print Sever) things don't have to be that way. One server, one printer, and 20 different drivers on that PC means your ready to face challenges faster than they can come flying, you are, in a word, untouchable!
Though strictly for Windows Servers, Active Directory can be your new best friend. With it you can share *one* user account across multiple partitions, operating systems, or PCs. By configuring roaming profiles you can give your USB card a break: if you put a file on your desktop on one PC, it will be there when you log on to the other. You can set your background here, and it will automatically change there. Perfectly in sync, perfectly easy, and perfectly convenient.
You said you write PHP? ASP? RoR? JSP? or just HTML? Either way, it doesn't matter. Once you have a web server ready and willing to go, you don't have to install those frameworks every time you set up a new PC… You can access, modify, and see the latest in real time from any PC in your home network, and you can view it across as many different OSes to your hearts content. When you have a web server running, you can be sure that you are seeing things as they are, and as your clients will see them too. No more uploading to a directory on the internet, no more long subdomains or slow bottlenecks, its get-things-done-as-fast-as-you-can-type time, and with your new web server, you have no excuse to not get things done.
If you always wanted complete control over your home network, to decide what comes in and what goes out, who talks to who, and who sees what, this is definitely the way to go. No need to sit there for hours trying to configure advanced routing tables on your router, cursing the developers who thought purple was a soothing color, and wishing they made it just a little more powerful; now you have complete control over what happens next. Whether you choose Windows + ISA server or Linux with M0n0wall or a combo of the two with virtualization software like Zen or VMware, you cannot go wrong.
Convinced? We knew you would be.. But that's not all, there is much, much more that can be done..
Read some more: On building the best cheap home server | Making the best of your cheap home server (Windows) | Making the best of your cheap home server (Linux/BSD)