I was in need of a server that gives me remote access to my files, can run Plex, torrent and is quiet and efficient enough that it can run 24/7.

The Raspberry Pi 2 board.

The answer? A Raspberry Pi of course! I brought a Raspberry Pi 2 for about $60 NZD (soon to replaced by a Pine 64!).

What is Docker?

The Docker logo.

I used Docker to manage the services on the Raspberry Pi. Docker containerises services allowing them to be shared and scaled easily. For me, the main benefit was that setting up a service is as easy as downloading a Docker image rather than manually installing packages and making configuration changes.

Core Concepts

An image is the starting point to setup a service. These typically come from Docker’s repository for images called Docker Hub, but failing that you can always setup an image of your own. An image includes the operating system and all other software and configuration needed to run the service.

A container is an instance of an image. Each runs independently with individual file systems and environment variables. You can run multipule containers for the same service without them clashing.

While this sounds like a performance nightmare, Docker doesn’t actually run containers as virtual machines but they instead share the same kernel. This means that even on a little device like the Raspberry Pi you can still run plenty of containers at once, even hundreds.

Running Docker on the Raspberry Pi

A Docker + Pi combination. Image by Hypriot.

The Docker community for systems with ARM processors is growing. A big name in this space is Hypriot with HypriotOS. This is a lightweight operating system for your Raspberry Pi with Docker built in.

Only Docker images built specifically for ARM processor’s will work on the Pi. Usually adding rpi as a search term in Docker Hub helps find compatible images.

Setting up an external hard drive

I chose the EXT4 file system as this doesn’t require additional software to be installed on the Pi and compatibility with other systems isn’t a major requirement for me. I setup the system to auto mount the drive using it’s UUID and setup the drive to automatically go to sleep using hd-idle.

Managing service configuration

The Docker Compose logo.

I used Docker Compose to manage services on the Pi. Docker Compose works as a layer on top of the Docker command line meaning you can start and manage the entire stack with a single command.

The Docker Compose file containing the services stack can be stored in Git so you always have access to your working configuration. Re-installing is easy, just clone the repository and run docker-compose up -d, then wait as the images download.

Services

Pydio

Pydio running on my Raspberry Pi.

Pydio is like Google Drive for your personal content. You can get access to it from anywhere in the world, give people accounts to access your content, or share a folder to anyone with a public link.

To get Pydio running I created an image of my own at jordancrawford/rpi-pydio-docker based off kdelfour/pydio-docker.

Plex

Plex running on my Raspberry Pi.

Plex is a server for your personal media collection. It collects brilliant metadata about your content and allows it to be played pretty much anywhere with the web, desktop, TV and mobile apps. To get Plex running I used greensheep/plex-server-docker-rpi.

Plex runs well, and will transcode most files for use in the Plex web-app or Rasplex, but some formats have issues like H.265 files. Everything works well on a more capable client like a computer or phone.

Deluge

Deluge running on my Raspberry Pi.

Deluge is a torrent download server. The best thing about Deluge is how client-server oriented it is. You can connect to a Deluge server through the desktop app or the web interface. Torrent is great from the Raspberry Pi because it’s always wired into the network and is on 24/7.

To get Deluge running I created my own image at jordancrawford/rpi-deluge.

Samba

A Samba volume mounted on my computer.

Samba allows you to connect directly to the drive from other computers using SMB. I only use Samba on my local network, with Pydio taking over for remote situations.

To get Samba going I used dastrasmue/rpi-samba.

A Blackmagic Speed Test of the drive connected with Samba (and my computer via gigabit ethernet)

The drive access speeds aren’t amazing through Samba, but I’m hoping this will improve with the Pine 64’s gigabit ethernet and faster CPU.

Getting remote access?

Services can be accessed over the local network at a particular port or port forwarded to the internet, but a domain like plex.example.com beats 123.456.789.123:2016 anyday!

My next post covers how I got remote access to my Pi without any port forwarding or a static IP.

Take Away

I’ve learnt a few things from this experience:

  • Docker is simple to use once an image has been made, but making an image of your own can take much longer than you might expect.
  • Directly connected storage is significantly better. Initially, the Raspberry Pi was connected to my old Time Capsule unit using Docker Volume Netshare. This worked well but in the end is a much more complicated solution than required.
  • Have a good look through Docker Hub before creating a Docker image. There are plenty of images out there you just need to look hard, and of course if you do implement your own service, please release it for everyone to use!