Turn an old laptop into a home server with remote access over VPN

This weekend I have set up an old laptop with a broken screen as an Amahi server in my house, such that I can access the files stored on the server with my other computers from anywhere.1 I use OpenVPN to establish a connection to the server and its files. As an additional benefit, connecting over a VPN when on a public network secures the traffic to and from you.

I have no previous experience with server setup, and it turned out to take longer than I expected. It was quite a frustrating experience, I must admit :unamused:. Therefore I decided to document the final setup for future-me or anybody else interested in doing something similar. I’m by no means an expert on any of that (just to make it clear), but everything works to my satisfaction now :satisfied:.

Here are the steps to reproduce my setup

  1. Install Amahi. Well, first install the correct version of Fedora (not the latest release). I am using Amahi 9 on Fedora 23, which is currently the officially supported setup.

  2. Put the IP of your server into the address bar of a web browser in another machine on the local network (the IP can be determined with hostname -I in the server’s console). This will bring you to a login screen of the web interface of your server. Here I experienced some buggy behavior: The web interface would not accept my credentials, until I reset my Amahi password over an SSH session.

  3. Use the web interface to create additional file shares and users, and to install apps by point-and-click onto the Amahi server.

  4. Now, the Amahi wiki suggests to turn off your router’s DHCP, in order to use the home server for DNS. However, in my final setup I skipped that step, since I don’t use any Amahi apps other than the OpenVPN (which does not require this step). But if you decide to do this, then take a look at the wiki page on network troubleshooting first.

  5. Pay 5$ for the OpenVPN app (most Amahi server apps are offered free of cost, but some require a “convenience fee for one-click installation”).

  6. Install OpenVPN.

  7. Get VPN clients for your computers/devices. I use my laptop and my work computer (both Linux machines) to log into the server remotely.

  8. You can access your file shares with an ordinary file browser / finder / file manager (obviously you need to start OpenVPN first, if outside the home network).


  1. Initially I got the idea for a home server after an email from Dropbox informed me that my promotional 48 GB of storage space expire in a month. Instead of paying one of the numerous cloud storage providers, I decided to host an ownCloud at home (after some guides online made it sound easier than it actually is…). Unfortunately, ownCloud on an Amahi server turned out to be quite disappointing. I found ownCloud to lack some functionality and to be very inconvenient in certain ways, and it possibly poses a security risk when accessible from outside the local network. So, I eventually got rid of ownCloud, and retreated to storing my files directly on the server in file shares

Written on November 7, 2016