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Old 11-17-2010, 03:29 PM   #1
Registered: Jan 2003
Location: Dover, Kent
Distribution: Debian 6.0.1 (Squeeze)
Posts: 133

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Administering a very basic home network

Hello there. If anyone could point me in the direction of the correct manuals I'll be happy.

I'm currently running my Home Laptop happily on my home network. I'm used to the basic admin of a home PC. Currently running Debian Stable (Lenny).

My neighbour who's in his late 60's has been labouring with very old hardware on a dialup connection. He's an old boy who, after a stroke, is not as independant as he was.

He's also running Windows 98(!) and not having a very good time of it as his PC, software-wise is simply falling apart.

Hardware-wise it's not a bad PC (was given to him by his son) however...

I wanted to do him a favour & connect him to my wireless broadband (as the amount of dial-up accounts he's tried & broken is incredible). I have a PCI wireless card that's linux compatible, so hardware-wise we're set.

I also said I could get him set up with a simple Debian system so that his software needs can be catered for by me. I know allowing him to connect to my network is questionable, but I have known the guy for years.

My issue is that I need to be able to administer his system without having to go round his house just to perform an update. The idea would be that he would like a certain app installed (OpenOffice, say) - He would email me with his request, I log into his machine, apt-get away & leave him a message to say the job is done.

I'd also like to be able to run apt-get updates to ensure he's running a secure system. I was going to install Debian stabel due to my familiarity with it, long upgrade cycles etc.

I was thinking of setting up a cron job for updates, which could then just email me the result of the update, in case anything broke.

He'll be on my network, but on DHCP like my laptop. He'll have his own user account & I'll have my own login as well as root access on his machine.

What software would I need to gat aquainted with to rig this system up?

Any advice on this would be appreciated. I know I can just go round his house & do this, but it would be easier for me to administer remotely.
Old 11-17-2010, 03:44 PM   #2
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Well done, and a good thing to do for a neighbor. Set up TightVNC, and when you're installing the system, allow remote administration (it should ask you as part of the system install). You will then be able to get a 'console' on your box, which will look and act just like you're sitting in front of his. Be sure to enable SSH, and allow that through the firewall, too.
Old 11-17-2010, 03:57 PM   #3
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Hello Swampy,

this is the same network as if you had two PCs running in your house. You may ssh onto your neighbours PC and do the necessary installation.
It seems to be important that the PC of your neighbour connects automatically to the Wireless network and that DHCP works properly. I don't have any experience with Debian and therefore don't know which tools they are using to manage wireless connections. With Archlinux I use netcfg (combined with wpa_supplicant for the authentication) which for me is the most usefull setup at least for a Laptop.(I'm running three PCs - Linux and Windows - in a homenetwork).

Old 11-17-2010, 07:38 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Swampy
Hello there. If anyone could point me in the direction of the correct manuals I'll be happy.


What software would I need to gat aquainted with to rig this system up?
For your first question, there are lots of books on system administration--it's a big subject. In fact, you're not likely to find many definitive reference because it's difficult to cover everything. That said, I would recommend you get a copy of Unix and Linux System Administration Handbook (ISBN-13: 978-0-13-148005-6). It covers a good bit.

Also, once you decide on the software to run (on his and your machine) there should be lots of documentation for each: tutorials, how-tos, full-blown manuals and/or technical reference materials.

Now, to the specific software question. I would suggest you install an OpenSSH server (openssh-server) on his computer and/or TightVNC (tightvncserver) like TB0ne suggested. TightVNC will be useful if you're more comfotable with a GUI than CLI. The SSH server will be useful if you automate some tasks or just want to quickly get in and get out.

You also mentioned that the two of you would communicate via email. You didn't give any specifics, but I assume the email addresses in question would be web-based (like Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo mail, etc.). You might consider installing a mail server and setting up local email addresses for him and you--just to make sure you can communicate if your internet connection goes down. There are lots of mail servers: Postfix (postfix), Sendmail (sendmail), Qmail (source-only), Exim (exim4), etc.

I don't know if you were even thinking of providing backups. You may want to for your own benefit--seeing as how you're providing tech support. You might be interested in Bacula. It's a network-capable backup system. It's daunting to set up. Though, once it's done, it should be unobtrusive. You'll need to read docs to know which packages to install on which machine (bacula-common and bacula-fd on his machine--I think). Though, you may prefer the simplicity of an rsync cron job to Bacula.

Lastly, you might consider Virtualbox to test any proposed software and configuration before you change his and your computer.

Hopefully some of that helped.

EDIT: Sorry--forgot to mention, the text in monospace are the names of the packages for that software on my Ubuntu system.

Last edited by Dark_Helmet; 11-17-2010 at 07:46 PM.
Old 11-18-2010, 03:01 PM   #5
Registered: Jan 2003
Location: Dover, Kent
Distribution: Debian 6.0.1 (Squeeze)
Posts: 133

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Fantastic, thanks guys!

My priority would primarily to remove any admin tasks old Glyn would ordinarily be troubled with.

Security updates, software installation, glitches with any configuration, that sort of thing.

As such, ssh sounds like the way I should go, as I want to familiarise myself more with the CLI - start scripting to automate things. TightVNC sounds like a good back-up for me while I do learn more about the CLI.

In Glyn's case, he's using Yahoo mail & he's comfortable with that. I wouldn't want to introduce additional complications for him. He's got enough email accounts that he's set up & forgotten about - I'll not add to those troubles!

Backup is something I'd forgotten about. That could well be extremely important. I'm going to have to read up on an acceptable solution for that.

Thanks for the advice. Plenty of reading to do now & I now have a focus!
Old 11-18-2010, 11:38 PM   #6
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