DIY IT: Building my own FreeBSD server

It's nice to be able to do things yourself instead of asking somebody else to do them for you, at least that's how I feel regarding IT, so when first heard about cheap embedded computers that would run FreeBSD couldn't resist to buy one to experiment with it.

In fact, in that time (2015) I did have a good excuse for it because I lived in a sailing boat and needed a small and silent computer that could be working 24x7 without draining the boat's batteries.

After some research I decided on the Olimex A20 micro because it was also Open Hardware, was made in Bulgary (EU) with a chinese CPU (AllWinner) and had plenty of connectors to plug everything you possibly would need.

Once installed in the boat it looked like this, the black box is a 1TB hard disk, and the blue pack an external battery:

Olimex A20 micro installed as a boat on board computer

The truth is that it took me much more time than expected to make it work in a reliable and stable way, the official Linux images (Debian 7) were fine but a little bit obsolete and didn't feel like upgrading to Debian 8 or Ubuntu, then precompiled FreeBSD images would hang after a few hours, so I had to make my own images using crochet, what at the end proved to be a good thing because I learned many valuable things along the way... but it did take time.

This is the "plan" of what I expected to do with the computer:

Design of an on-board computer made with an Olimex A20 micro

I did implement most of it but the satellite connection (crazy expensive), the GPIO sensors (didn't really need them) and the on board buttons (I had a real keyboard).

So on the whole was a very positive experience, it was working 24x7 aboard for 2 years and a half, with uptimes of several months without problems, and once I removed it from my boat installed it at home and now use it as a nice backup server, if I found a proper ADSL modem with FreeBSD drivers I would buy another board and build a FreeBSD router with it.

One of the biggest advantages of this is to be able to use the very same OS in all of your devices, in my case: 2 laptops, 2 servers and this little backup server, that way you can have the very same software packages and procedures everywhere without any extra effort, what works in one device work in all of them.


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