black, blank screen. Uh oh, maybe the hardware is bad?
Or maybe the RAM is bad?
I really racked my brain thinking of ways to check on
this system. I plugged in the Baseboard Management
Console (BMC) port into my router. Based on its
DHCP client table, I guessed a certain device on my
network was coming from the BMC port. My hunch was
confirmed when I port-scanned and discovered port
81 open and running an Apache server. After going to
the server in my browser I was presented with a login
prompt. I was getting desperate and worried. I thought
that even if the VGA port was bad for some reason, we’d
at least be able to get into the remote console. But how
to get past this login screen?
I tried several username/password combinations, and
luckily root/root worked. I found out later online that is
the default username/password combination [ 5]. Thank
you to whomever left this at the default, or reset it! If you
sell a server with such a management console, please
reset it if you customized it at all. It turned out the VGA
port wasn’t bad, we just didn’t have the monitor plugged
in before the BIOS flashed its screen. The system went to a
blank screen after failing to boot an OS.
Okay, phew, things seemed to be working. I downloaded
Ubuntu 14.04 LTS Server and copied it onto a USB stick.
Our CS24-SC had no trouble booting into the Ubuntu
installer off of USB. We installed Ubuntu, named our
server “phoenix,” after the ever-reincarnating mythical
bird, and started customizing our CS24-SC. The two hard
drives, 24 GB RAM, and whole system were recognized
perfectly by the BIOS and Ubuntu. The only lingering
issue I have is that Ubuntu doesn’t seem to properly
display through the VGA interface after it boots. Grub
displays fine, and so do the early-stage kernel messages.
Perhaps this is just a driver issue I need to track down.
Also, the fans on the PSU don’t spin, but it doesn’t appear
to be going bad yet.
Hardware virtualization seems to work, and we are
setting up our own work environments within Vagrant-managed VMs. I’m using this opportunity to experiment
with some advanced Linux functionality I’ve never tried
before. Our two hard drives are not a traditional RAID1.
I’m using the new btrfs file system to mirror our root
partitions. There would be some work involved in setting
up the second hard drive to boot, but we won’t lose our
data. I setup the dual gigabit ports into a single bonded
virtual device using the Linux kernel’s balance-alb
algorithm to try and balance inbound and outbound TCP
flows across both ports.
What were the total costs?
COMPONENT QUANTITY COST SUBTOTAL
Dell CS24-SC Rackmount Server 1 $120.00 $120.00
24 GB PC2-5300P RAM 1 $64.98 $64.98
Seagate 1 TB HDD 2 $54.99 $109.98
CAT6 Ethernet 2 $1.99 $3.98
B Y TECC Power Cable 1 $4.99 $4.99
Shipping 1 $2.99 $2.99
Taxes 1 $3.90 $3.90
There you have it, a[n] [old] data-center-worthy
home cloud server for only $310.28. Just for fun I tried
customizing a hypothetical order on Dell’s website for
new hardware configured the same way our CS24-CS is:
It came out to more than $3,300—with discounts it only
drops to $2,400. Simply adding a second CPU on the Dell
website costs more than $500, more than our entire setup!
The more modern hardware is faster, but our little CS24-
CS is almost 90 percent cheaper. Thanks for reading my
story of how I built a $300 home cloud server. And now
maybe you can too with a little elbow grease and eBay.
tl;dr Quick Server Specifications:
T YPE COMPONENT
CPU Two Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5410 2. 33 GHz
Memory 24 GB ECC RAM
Disk Two 1 TB HDDs (RAID1)
Network Two Gigabit Ethernet Ports
[ 1] Dell CS24-SC Server. http://www.tedunangst.com/flak/post/Dell-CS24-SC-server.
[ 2] The Definitive Guide to the Dell CS24-SC Server: Drivers, Config & Tips. Hurtig
Technologies. June 5, 2014. https://hurtigtechnologies.com/2014/06/the-
[ 3] On the Dell CS24-SC Server. Rambling Geek. Nov. 13, 2012. http://www.
[ 4] Dell CS24-SC Drivers. Dell.com Cloud Services Forum. 2012. http://en.community.
[ 5] Willis, R. Dell CS24-SC BIOS & BMC v2.5 Firmware Download. May 5, 2014. http://
Wolfgang Richter is a fifth year Ph. D. student in Carnegie Mellon University’s Computer
Science Department. His research focus is in distributed systems and he works under
Mahadev Satyanarayanan. His current research thread is in developing technologies
leading to introspecting clouds. tl;dr: Cloud Computing Researcher.
The approximate number of people worldwide who have received
Cochlear implants, a device that bypasses damaged inner-ear
organs and directly stimulates the auditory nerve. 400,000