So I've started the process of upgrading my now 5 year old computer. I've decided that it might be a great idea to set up a home server with the old parts.
-It's going to hold all my photos, music, videos, etc. on it.
-I'm connecting it to my home desktop, a PS3, maybe my Galaxy S4, and possibly a laptop in the future.
Points of concern:
-I really don't want 300+ GB of Steam game files on my every day desktop. Steam doesn't really recommend using a separate drive for games. I'm not exactly sure how to set up a server yet, and I don't think it's possible to host my steam files on an Ubuntu server...then play them on Windows 7.
-I don't exactly know what software to use, but I like Ubuntu. Convince me of another OS if you like though. My desktop will run Windows 7 because I need my Photoshop CS 6 and Steam programs.
-How accessible is using my home server? Can I just drag and drop, utilizing it as a separate drive but on all my devices?
Thanks for any and all advice.
Amahi home server is pretty cool for a lot of the stuff you mention, like DLNA and music streaming. It's interface is all web-based once it's set up, and is really easy to use.
Amahi Home Server - Making Home Networking Simple
That being said, I've been using FreeNAS for quite awhile, and it's pretty rock solid. The whole deal installs on a USB thumb drive, and then all your disks are dedicated to storage, which uses ZFS. You can then set it to snapshot data on whatever schedule you want. You can also easily run Bit Torrent Sync on it, and sync whatever you'd like to it, from wherever. There are Android and iOS apps for that as well. There are also DLNA, iTunes server, and Plex as well. I love it, and while it's not the most user friendly, it's definitely a very stable home server OS. Plus, it's pretty straight forward to add additional drives to the pools, as you need more space.
Also bear in mind that there are some pretty solid little dedicated NAS's too, such as the QNAP and Synology series. I've used both, and they're pretty nice, and very easy to work with. They also have a ton of available plugins for the streaming stuff.
I forgot to mention; you're not going to be able to keep your Steam library on the server, and then play from your PC. At least, I can't see how that'd work. SteamOS is out in beta though, and it allows for you to install your Steam games on a powerful PC, and then play on a lesser PC somewhere else in your house by streaming your games. I've not tried it yet, but it's certainly a cool principle.
To answer your question, both Amahi and FreeNAS will show up as a shared CIFS/SMB server on your network. You can then right-click on a share and select map network drive, and it'll just get a different drive letter. You can then drag and drop as you would any other drive. Keep in mind that it'll obviously be slower, depending on what speed your network is. I'd recommend looking at your wireless and wired network to see if it's Gb for wired, 802.11n for wireless. For the small stuff and streaming it doesn't matter much, but if you're doing large file copies (like movies), it'll make a difference.
Another thing definitely worth mentioning is your backup. If your data only exists in one spot, it doesn't really exist. Amahi, FreeNAS, and the little NAS's all back up to a Crashplan account. I highly recommend doing that to get your music, photos, etc. off site.
What I do (because I'm a cheapskate) is I keep an old P4 box at my in-laws 45 minutes away, running Ubuntu. My FreeNAS backs up to that via BTSync, and since it only copies what's changed, it's a pretty minimal transmission. It's a little more DIY, but it's effectively free, besides the hardware. Crashplan works differently, but also does the whole incremental thing. Crashplan does allow for you to backup to a friend's computer remotely for free, but they also offer cheap server-side storage on their cloud.