If you have an old computer with some life left in it, or you’re building a do-it-all home server that can store your backups, music, movies, and everything else you need backed up and secure, Amahi is the perfect utility for the job. Amahi can turn any PC into an at-home VPN, a NAS for all of your files, and more. Here’s how.
What Is Amahi?
Amahi is free, open-source home server software that’s based on Fedora Linux. It’s flexible and customizable, easy to install, and has tons of plug-ins, extensions, and other add-on software that can extend its features to suit your needs. If you need media streaming to your mobile devices, Amahi can do that. If you’re just looking for a simple file server or want to pool a bunch of hard drives into a NAS, Amahi can do that too. If you want a VPN you can use to securely connect to your home network while you’re away, Amahi has you covered there too. You can read more about its features here, or take a quick product tour here.
We mentioned Amahi a long time ago, but it’s grown a lot since then, and is even easier to install than it used to be. It takes moments to get up and running, and while some of the configuration can be tricky, once it’s working, it pretty much takes care of itself, and you’ll never really need to log in to the server itself—everything can be managed from its dashboard, which you can log in to from any other computer on your network.
We’ve shown you some other great uses for an old PC, like using FreeNAS 8 to build a home NAS or using Ubuntu to build a fully-featured home server, and Amahi takes a similar approach. If you’re an advanced user looking to set up the perfect NAS, and you need tons of drive configuration and access options, FreeNAS is the way to go. If you want your home server to do lots of things, like serve as a VPN, a media server, a web server, and so on, Amahi is a better option—not just because it’s easier to install, but because it supports plug-ins that do all of those things (and we’ll highlight some of them later.)
What You’ll Need to Get Started
Before we begin, you’ll need a few basics:
- A computer that meets the minimum system requirements. Any system with relatively modern components should work.
- The Amahi installation media, which you can download here.
- An Amahi install code, which you get by signing up for an account at Amahi.org. The install code is the key that will link your Amahi sever (called an HDA) to Amahi’s own centralized web services. It’s also the key to generating your dynamic hostname (so you can connect to your server even if your ISP changes your home IP address) and the feature that makes Amahi’s one-click plug-in installs (more on that later) work.
When you sign up for an Amahi account, the control panel will ask you for the IP address of your Amahi server on your home network (usually 192.168.x.x). It’s a little odd, since you haven’t even installed it yet, but don’t worry about it. Choose something high on your home network that’s not used by another device, and write it down. If you already know the IP address of the computer you want to install Amahi on, use that. Just keep in mind that it’s associated with your install code, and you can’t change your install code. If there’s an error here and you have to change IP addresses or install codes, you may have to reinstall Amahi.
In this guide, I’m using the Amahi Express installer, which is designed for clean installs—it’ll wipe your drives before installing itself. If you want to keep your data intact or install on a partition, you can use the advanced install options below, or disconnect the drives with data that you want to preserve and add them back to the system later once Amahi is up and running.
How to Install Amahi
Installing Amahi is pretty easy. Here’s how to do it:
- Download the ISO from the link above, then burn it to a DVD or drop it onto a USB flash drive.
- Boot from the CD or the flash drive to start the install.
- You’ll be asked to select your time zone, language, and check off a few other system requirements (this is where you can select some of the advanced setup options if you need to, but we left everything at its defaults.
- Click to install, and you’re off and away. While Amahi is installing, you can set a root password for the system, and create a user with permissions to log in to the system when the installation is complete. Go ahead and set these up while the install is running in the background.
- When the installation is finished, you’ll be prompted for your Amahi Install Code, which will bind your installation to your Amahi account on the web. The software will connect to the internet in the background to do this, and once it’s verified, you’ll be prompted to reboot.
- Once you’ve rebooted, you’ll be presented with a console login screen. Don’t do anything here. Amahi will continue to configuring itself in the background and reboot itself. When it comes back up, you’re all finished.
You can log directly into the console using the username and password you set up earlier, but you’ll be dropped at a command line. Instead, access your Amahi server from any other computer on your network by opening a web browser and going to http://hda/. That should take you to a welcome screen where you can set up your user account. Once it’s created, you’ll land at the Amahi Dashboard. Going forward, this is how you’ll access your Amahi server—you should only have to log in to the console for troubleshooting and any system tweaking you need to do.
Once you’re logged in, you’ll be dropped at the Users tab on the Dashboard. Here, you can add any additional users who’ll need to log in to the server, or access any of the shared files or applications on your HDA. Here’s a video guide from the Amahi team on how to set up and manage user accounts:
Before we move on, head over to your Amahi control panel to make sure your server shows up there. You should also get an email congratulating you on a successful install, if everything went well and you typed in your install code correctly. The control panel is where you can get your install code if you ever need it again, and where you’ll find your Amahi server’s dynamic hostname—which you’ll need for remote access.
Set Up Your Shared Folders and Drives
From here, you can log in to the dashboard and start customizing your Amahi install. If you installed on a single drive, you don’t have to do anything else. If you have multiple drives, you’ll have to add shared folders to them, or move your existing shares to those drives. We’ll get to that in a moment. First, here’s a video from the Amahi team on setting up shared folders:
By default, Amahi creates a bunch of shared folders (books, movies, music, pictures, and so on) that are accessible to all users. Here’s how to get to them:
- Click the Shares tab at the top of the dashboard. You should see a list of all of the available shared folders, including the ones Amahi created for you.
- Click any of them reset their permissions, delete them entirely, or change who has access. By default, all shares are available to all users. To specify users, uncheck "All Users." A user list will appear, and you can select which Amahi users have read and write access to each folder.
- To create a new share, scroll down to "Create a New Share." Give it a name, set it to visible, and wait for it to be created. When it’s finished, repeat the process above to specify which users have access to it, or leave it set to "All Users" to make it available to everyone.
- For more granular controls, click the Settings tab at the top of the Dashboard page and enable "advanced settings." Afterward, go back to the Shares tab. You’ll see new options to specify which drive a shared folder is located on and tags for each share.
If you run into trouble, there are some useful video tutorials on the Amahi website to help you through the process of adding users and managing shares.
If you’re a bit more advanced and have multiple hard drives in your server, you might want to set up disk "pooling" so they look like one large volume. There are detailed instructions on how to do this on the Amahi wiki, and How-To Geek has a great writeup on the process here, too. It’s definitely for advanced users though, so we won’t get into it in this guide.
Three Cool Things You Can Do With Your New Amahi Server
Once you have your file and folder shares set up, the world is your oyster. We’re going to show you how to turn your Amahi server into a media streamer, a VPN server you can connect to when you’re away from home for secure browsing, or access your files on your phone or tablet. It all starts with the dozens of Amahi apps that you can download and install right from the dashboard.
Set Up a Personal VPN
One of the nice things about running your own Amahi server is that you can set it up to be your own personal VPN. Unlike some VPNs, which route your traffic through another country to hide your location or give you access to location-restricted content, this VPN will route your traffic back to your home network when you’re away. It won’t get you around location blocks, but it will keep you safe on public Wi-Fi and give you access to your files at home no matter where you are. You’ll be able to work from coffee shop or hotel Wi-Fi without worrying someone may be eavesdropping on your connection or stealing your data. Plus, you’ll always be connected to your home network, which means all of the data on your Amahi server or other home computers are available to you.
Amahi supports three VPN options out of the box: OpenVPN, Cisco’s IPSec VPN, and OpenVPN ALS. Since the apps are paid ($5, $5, and $4 respectively), you’ll have to load up your account with Amahi Credit before you can buy them. Once you have some credits on your account, just click the green button to install directly to your Amahi server. We should note that you don’t have to use the paid installers, they just make it super easy. You can always download the packages and install them yourself on your Amahi server, but the one-click installers are much less of a hassle.
In this case, we suggest OpenVPN. You won’t be restricted to a single VPN client to connect to your Amahi server, since you can use any OpenVPN-supported app for iOS, Android, Windows, OS X, or Linux to connect. All you’ll need is your server’s hostname (available in your Amahi control panel), and it’ll keep working even if your home IP address changes. If you choose to use the official OpenVPN client to connect, you can use their documentation to set everything up.
Stream Your Media Anywhere
There are several apps in the Amahi catalog to help you share music, movies, and photos with the world, or with your own devices. For example, Amahi fully supports Gallery2, one of our favorite ways to host and share your own photos online. There’s no one-click installer for it, so you’ll have to do the dirty work yourself, but it’s not that difficult to set up (there’s documentation to help). Once you do, you can use the Gallery mobile apps to view your photo galleries on your smartphone or tablet, or just visit them on the web.
If music and movies are more your style, $4 will get you a one-click install of Subsonic, one of our favorite media servers. Once it’s installed, you can access it from the Dashboard, add media and set up users, choose to stream your media over the internet or just locally on your home network, and make the whole thing web accessible so you don’t have to log in to the Dashboard.
Finally, $5 gets you a one-click install of Amahi DLNA Server, which turns your Amahi HDA into a home streaming powerhouse that any internet connected TV, Blu-ray player, Xbox, PlayStation, or A/V receiver on your network can talk to.
Roll Your Own Cloud Storage
If Amahi’s interface isn’t to your liking, or you just want an easier way to share, sync, and manage all of those files we set up earlier, you’ll be happy to hear that Amahi supports OwnCloud. The setup process is much like our own OwnCloud setup guide. There’s no one-click install this time, but once you have OwnCloud up and running, you can install the clients on your desktops and mobile devices, configure them to sync with your Amahi server, and never pay for or worry about space constraints on someone else’s cloud service again.
Plus, once it’s installed, you can leverage OwnCloud’s own dashboard and interface to share files with other people, sync your calendars and contacts, use it as a streaming music server, or extend it with OwnCloud’s own database of plug-ins and extensions.
Bonus: Access Everything On Your Amahi Server from Anywhere
If all you want is access to your Amahi HDA and all of its files and folders on the go, the Amahi iPhone and iPad apps will give you just that, for free. There’s no Android app just yet, although according to a tweet from the Amahi team in December, they’re beta testing it right now. Still, since most of Amahi’s features are available via the Dashboard, you may not even need a specific mobile app to get access to your files and folders. You can always log in as long as you have your dynamic hostname bookmarked. Once you’re logged in, click the "HDA" button at the top of the screen, or use the search bar to find what you’re looking for. You’ll see all of your shared files, folders, and media, and you can download or stream it to your mobile device.
We’ve really only scratched the surface here. Amahi also supports iCal or Outlook calendar sharing, browser-based file search, and more. The beauty of Amahi is that it’s so easy to get installed and running, and you can tweak it just the way you want it without installing a ton of cruft you don’t need. While it has its drawbacks, it’s worth a look if you’re thinking about building a do-it-all home server. This is about as fire-and-forget as building a home server gets.
Title image made using OZaiachin (Shutterstock).