Austin Wise home
05 Jun 2018

The Container-Native Home Server


In my 2013 post I described my decision to use SmartOS on my home server. It continues to serve me well, so I thought I would write up home running the different roles of my home server in containers works.

Server configuration

I keep all my media files like music, ISO disk images, and videos in ZFS filesystems under /zones/shares/. I have home directories for various users under /zones/home/. By having different ZFS datasets for different types of data, I can improve performance. For example, I can use a larger blocksize on /zones/shares/videos to minimize metadata overhead while using smaller block sizes on /zones/shares/torrents to match Bittorent’s block size, eleminating read-modify-write cycles.

I used LoFS to map these directories into various zones I create. Different zones have different subsets of filesystems mapped into them. Some zones only have read only views. For example, the zone running Plex has a readonly view of /zones/shares/videos while the Transmission zone has a read-write view of /zones/shares/torrents. This least previledge approach to file system access limits the impact of a security intrustions or operator error.

Containers I’m running

I currently keep the vmadm scripts and setup shell scripts for each zones in a Git repo. Someday I plan to use a proper configuration managment system, but this works well enough for now.

  • dns: runs dnsmasq so containers can locate each other by name.
  • fs: runs smaba so windows clients can access files
  • torrent: runs Transmission to download and upload files over Bittorent.
  • dkp: runs my DKP website, using ASP.NET Core on LX
  • nginx: poxys traffic to DKP
  • postgresql: runs PostgreSQL, mostly for DKP
  • plex: Runs a Plex server
  • devl: Used for software development and testing.

What I like about SmartOS

Easy to upgrade

Upgrading the operating system is easy as writing a new image to the USB thumb drive and rebooting. To roll back I just write the old image on the USB thumb drive and reboot. For the applications running on the server, I run each app in a seperate zone. So I can update the zones one at a time without worrying about effecting the other applications on the system.

Run anything in containers

At the time I wrote my old post, the only types of containers supported were the pkgsrc-based SmartMachine containers and the hardware virtualiztion KVM containers. While pkgsrc covered a lot of use cases, some things like PS3 Media Server were difficult to setup.

Since then Joyent has added Linux-emulating LX container support. These containers are able to run almost any Linux program. I use these types of containers to run Plex and .NET Core. This addtion allowed me to finially delete the Windows Server virtual machine and run all applications in lightweight operating system provided containers.

Easy backup

zsnapper constanly creates ZFS snapshots on a hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly basis. My desktop computers are configured to frequent rsync their data files to /zones/shares/backup. This means my server has snapshots of all my large media files and my personal files. Usings the scripts in the usbdrive folder of my Config repoistory, once a month I use zfs send to copy the past month’s changes to a USB thumb drive. I then transport these snapshots physically to an offsite location where I zfs receive the snapshots into a backup server. Compared to backing up all of these files on something like S3, this has a lot lower monthly cost. Addtionally it would be difficult to do the inital multile-terrabyte upload, if only for lame 1TB Comcast-imposed datacap.


Recently I decided to try to migrate off Windows. There are a number of reasons, but they are outside the scope of this blog post.

Now that I’ve been using Ubuntu, I’ve been able to take advantage of the NFS server built into SmartOS. With a simple zfs set sharenfs=on zones/shares/ on SmartOS and setting my user and group IDs to match on Ubuntu, I can now seemlessly access all my server’s files from desktop. While there are no security controls currently, it’s my private network so for the moment I don’t care.