Set-up a headless “file server”/”file burning station” with CentOS/RHEL 5 using VNC

I’m setting up a file server for my team that has to minimally comply with the following:

  • it has to cost NOTHING, parts have to be salvaged from old servers
  • it has to have a disk space of at least 1TB (must be RAID for good read/write performance)
  • it has to be headless (no monitor, keyboard and mouse), with GUI and accessible remotely
  • it has to have the ability to burn files using a USB DVD writer

setting up the disk space

I used (4) 500GB SATA drives and (2)  250 PATA drives (salvaged from our old servers) for this one. Deploying software RAID in CentOS is easy so I won’t elaborate on that.

Suffice to say my software RAID has this configuration:

going headless using VNC

I installed the GNOME desktop by default and accessed it remotely using VNC. Here’s a good guide [wiki.centos.org] on how to do it. Everything went well (at first…)

I hit a snag when I unplugged the monitor. After a reboot, the X server won’t load anymore. Last few lines of  /var/log/Xorg.0.log says “No screens found”. Apparently, installing the proprietary Nvidia driver has a side effect. The driver will try to “auto-detect” the monitor. But since no monitor is attached, the X server won’t load! (duh! so much for going headless…)

Reverting to the open-source driver fixed the problem. I opened /etc/X11/xorg.conf and changed “nvidia” to “nv“, then restarted X server.

burning files in CentOS?

Now, this one should be easy right. Well… apparently not… This got me baffled at first because I can’t access the DVD writer plugged in the system (got spoiled with Ubuntu). Eventually, I figured that it’s a file permission problem. The user must be added to the disk group. I added my username to the disk group by running this command as root:

$ usermod -aG disk pro

After a reboot I can now access the writer using k3b🙂

Here’s a screenshot of the headless file server. I’m accessing it using Vinagre from my laptop running Ubuntu 10.04

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