Austin Wise
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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, eliminating 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 read-only view of /zones/shares/videos while the Transmission zone has a read-write view of /zones/shares/torrents. This least privilege approach to file system access limits the impact of security intrusions or operator errors.

Containers I'm running

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

  • dns: runs dnsmasq so containers can locate each other by name
  • fs: runs Samba 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: proxies 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 as 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. I run each application on the server in a separate 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 virtualization KVM containers. While pkgsrc covered a lot of use cases, some things like PS3 Media Server were difficult to set up.

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 addition allowed me to finally delete the Windows Server virtual machine and run all applications in lightweight operating-system-provided containers.

Easy backup

zsnapper constantly creates ZFS snapshots on a hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly basis. My desktop computers are configured to frequently rsync their data files to /zones/shares/backup. This means my server has snapshots of all my large media files and my personal files. Using the scripts in the usbdrive folder of my Config repository, 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 much lower monthly cost. Additionally, it would be difficult to do the initial multiple-terabyte 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 seamlessly access all my server's files from desktop. While there are currently no security controls, it's my private network so for the moment I don't care.