Getting Started With Linux, Part 2 — Six Free and Easy Ways to Have Your Own Linux Server

Linux CoursesWhen I teach Learning Tree’s Linux server administration course, I frequently find attendees who have taken the introductory Linux for users course and who are in the server course because they are about to be put in charge of running some critical servers, but they don’t have the needed skills. They’re just not ready to be in the server training course, let alone to take charge of running critical servers. Why?

As I wrote last week, using an operating system involves knowledge but also skill, and skill only comes from practice. They say that they took the introductory course a few weeks or months ago, but since then they have had no opportunity to try to apply what they learned.

Let’s fix that!

First of all, Learning Tree now has their Computing Sandbox program. For 90 days after the class you can access a virtual machine with the same software used in your course. It’s a free benefit to everyone who completes the course.

The thing is, the Computing Sandbox has you access your system through a web interface, which means that the entire desktop is shrunk down into a web browser viewport. It uses virtualization technology that discards any changes when the system reboots, so while it would be OK for a strictly user experience, it prevents doing system administration work.

The Computing Sandbox is good for supporting little experiments for a limited time after the course, but you need a system of your own. Remember that Linux is a free operating system. There are five more free to cheap ways to have your own Linux system!

Before getting started, pick a distribution. If you know you will be using Red Hat Enterprise Linux at work, its free clone CentOS is the obvious choice.

Otherwise, I recommend Linux Mint as it’s very easy to get started using it and nice user guides are available. You can easily get it installed somewhere, get a command line, and start building your skills.

Now, how to use that free ISO image you downloaded?

Choice #1: Create live media, a bootable DVD or USB thumbdrive. This will be the fastest, cheapest, and easiest way to get started. Download the ISO image, burn it to a DVD or thumbdrive, and reboot. The computer will boot off that media and give you an entirely RAM-based platform. The disks are accessible, but it won’t touch the data on the disks unless you intentionally take action to do so.

Choice #2: Install Linux on spare hardware. Once you get the hardware assembled — and for most people this is no more than deciding to use an old computer you haven’t gotten rid of yet — this will likely be the most rewarding in the long run. Unlike the live system, everything you do persists until the next time you’re ready to work with it.

Choice #3: Get a Raspberry Pi. An organization in the UK designed a 86×54 mm single-board computer that runs Linux, for teaching basic computer science and programming in Python and other languages in elementary through high schools. Now we can buy them for just about $35! You will also need a blank MicroSD memory chip and a smart-phone charger. Many of us already have those and they’re cheap if we don’t.

Raspberry Pi, $35 single-board Linux computer.

You can connect a USB keyboard and mouse to your Raspberry Pi, plus an HDMI cable to your TV or other display. Or you can simply connect it to a network and access it via SSH.

Choice #4: Use VMware Player to create a virtualized Linux machine on your Windows desktop. You can download VMware Player for free for personal use. It’s Type 2 virtualization — a host operating system runs directly on the hardware, and Player runs as an application. A guest operating system runs within that.

Choice #5: Rent a cheap cloud server. Amazon, Google, and Microsoft (yes, Microsoft) rent Linux servers as their IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) cloud offerings. You can run one of these, connect in via SSH, and shut it down when you’re done using it. You only pay for the time it runs, and Googles’ lowest-cost IaaS system costs only $0.009 per hour. That’s not a typo, it’s less than a penny per hour.

I have a web page with much more detail. See my Getting Started With Linux page for the steps involved for these different options, and have fun running your own personal Linux server!

PS – Have a look at Learning Tree’s brand new 1-day courses – Introduction to the Linux Command Line & Linux for Power Users.

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