The Tiny Internet Project, Part I

Other PCs for Your Tiny Internet:

If you're running this project out of your den, you won't need any more computers. If you're building this in a classroom, the student machines can be much like the administration PC, though they each need just one network interface. If you're hard-wiring everyone to your tiny Internet, obviously each PC will need an Ethernet port. If you're going wireless, built-in Wi-Fi or inexpensive USB Wi-Fi dongles work great. Ideally, all the PCs in your network will be running a flavor of Linux, such as Ubuntu, Xubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora, SUSE, CentOS, Kali—or another.

Network Gear:

Again, you can use any switch or router you already have to create your private tiny Internet network. A single network switch or router is all you'll need to connect everything. If you already have a home network router, that can double as your tiny Internet switch, but I recommend a second to create a truly standalone system.

If you're setting up in a classroom, I strongly recommend using a wireless router so you easily can add dozens and dozens of separate student computers to your tiny Internet without running a bunch of Ethernet cables all over the place. Sure, that'll look cool, but it's not very practical.

Your tiny Internet switch (or router) requires just two ports: one connected to your main Proxmox server and one connected to your administration PC.

For my first tiny Internet, I used an old Netgear MR314 Wireless Router, which features the following:

  • Four 10/100 LAN ports.

  • One 10/100 WAN port.

  • 802.11b wireless.

Granted, this old box supports only WEP encryption, but it worked fine. Remember, your tiny Internet is self-contained, with no direct connection to the outside world. Yes, you'll want some security in place, but your main security risk is from members of your own tiny Internet, not the world.

I also tested the following networking devices with success:

  • A TP-Link TL-SG108 eight-port 100/1000 switch (bought new for $25).

  • A Netgear N600 four-port 10/100 Wireless Dual-Band Router WNDR3400.

Figure 2. Netgear

The Netgear N600 became my final choice because it has WPA2 security, wireless n capability and a USB 3.0 port for adding a USB drive (for making a poor man's NAS).

Other Hardware:

In addition to the PCs and network gear, you'll need a few USB thumbdrives. You'll burn .iso images to these and set them up so you can boot from them. In particular, you'll create these three:

  • Proxmox 4.x boot disk.

  • Ubuntu 14.04 server boot disk.

  • Xubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr (or any other Linux-flavor desktop you want).

If you don't have access to USB thumbdrives, you always can use DVDs for the purpose, but that's not nearly as easy, flexible or cheap. Still, if that's all you have, make sure you have four or five blank disks available, a decent DVD burner and disk-burning software.

Wireless capability is fairly ubiquitous in modern PCs and laptops, but your older machines may not have it. Fortunately, there are dozens of very inexpensive USB Wi-Fi dongles available (many for $8 or so). If you're thinking of getting one (or a dozen), make sure the device works under Linux. Better still: buy devices that work with Linux, Windows or Mac.

Software

All the software you'll use for the Tiny Internet Project is free and open-source. Most of it's Linux software, of course, but I've also listed a few tools for Windows and Mac users, particularly the software you'll need to create bootable USB drives from an .iso file.

You'll notice too that I'm using Ubuntu 14.04 as the base for my virtual machines. If you would rather use, say, Fedora or SUSE, that's up to you. For brevity, I stick to Ubuntu when it comes time to talk about installation procedures.

Proxmox 4.x:

Proxmox is an open-source KVM, or kernel-based virtual machine host. You can use many different flavors of Linux to create a KVM, but Proxmox is a good option for your tiny Internet because it comes complete. It's based on Debian, which is similar to the Ubuntu 14.04 you'll be installing, and it features an excellent browser-based management tool. It's also nice that you can install a system in minutes using the Proxmox .iso, which you'll turn into a bootable USB disk.

It's important to note that Proxmox is free to use, but offers several paid levels of support. If you want to purchase those services, that's up to you. You won't need to purchase anything for this project though.

Ubuntu 14.04 LTS:

The long-term release of Ubuntu 14.04 (also known as Trusty Tahr) is solid, stable, flexible and makes a great foundation for all your virtual machines. Let's download and install the 64-bit version, which you'll use to build your virtual machines and VM templates. The operating system also is available in a 32-bit version, which means you can install the same operating system on all your tiny Internet computers and servers—even if some of your equipment is older. When I set up my Dell Mini 9 as a proxy server, for example, I used the 32-bit Ubuntu 14.04 for seamless integration.

Figure 3. Ubuntu Server

You'll make a bootable USB drive from the latest Ubuntu 14.04 .iso; if you're going the DVD route, you'll create a bootable disk.

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John S. Tonello is Director of IT for NYSERNet, Inc., in Syracuse, New York. He's been a Linux user and enthusiast since he installed his first Slackware system from diskette 20 years ago. You can follow him @johntonello.