I have a couple computers sitting around in my home network. They all run the same version of Ubuntu, and I would like to unify their configuration to some extent.

At my university, you can log in to any computer with your university account and have all your data right there. I assume they use central authentication and have /home mounted over the network. That is what I would like to have to some extent.

The problem is that the computers I and my girlfriend use the most are laptops that are taken out of the house regularly. So logging in over the network only is not really an option. Having no files locally is not an option either.

I would like to use the computers that I have for a HTCondor cluster, but most jobs will end up on my laptop since it is the fastest machine. I assume that it is a problem if it is not connected to the network occasionally.

Is it possible to have

  • the same user accounts (and passwords, if that makes sense)
  • some common files (maybe /common/$USER)
  • common set of installed packages
  • giving computing power to the HTCondor pool

on all machines without coupling them so tightly that they do not function outside the network?

I have heard the buzzwords keberos, nfs, sshfs, btsync, chef, puppet, nagios, ldap, but I am not sure whether the core idea makes sense in the first place, i. e. whether it would actually save work instead of creating even more.


I don't have an answer to all your questions but I have some thoughts on some of them; perhaps this will allow you to narrow it down and get more specific.

the same user accounts (and passwords, if that makes sense)

In your context the easiest way to do that would be to just create user accounts with the same password. While there may be tools to sync these across systems, installing and learning to use one on your home network will be a waste of time compared to the zero effort required to just use the same username and password on all your computers.

some common files (maybe /common/$USER)

If you want this hosted internally, then you do need a system running 24/7 to serve the files up. It does not have to be a full blown general purpose PC, however. Some routers allow you to attach drives to them (albeit not necessarily in a very linux friendly way), you can buy dedicated NAS boxes, etc. There are also various cheap, low-power, linux oriented dev boards (such as the raspberry pi) that work very well for this.

See also my suggestions about dropbox in the last paragraph.

common set of installed packages

I don't think so. You could automate installation to synchronize the systems, but unless they are all generally online together most of the time this, like the password issue, would simply be more hassle than it's worth.

With regard to configuration management, if you have an external server, you could use some form of VCS (e.g. git) or rsync. If not, a free dropbox account can serve the same purpose. Just create a config directory or whatever and symlink files into it. Dropbox works great on linux, provides a transparent directory hierarchy, and systems on the same LAN will sync each other locally when available.

If you don't want to use a third party service, in other words, you don't have your own server but would like one, you can get linux-based, DIY virtual private server slices for $10-15 month that will be sufficient for things like git and rsync repos of configuration files and whatever else.

  • I was just out and gave in to Howard and bought a Raspberry Pi. Because of its lower power usage, I will run that 24/7. I realize that this changes my question a bit. Dropbox is what I want to replace, actually :-) – Martin Ueding Jul 1 '14 at 12:39
  • Interesting motivation -- I have a couple of pi's now, lol, they are pretty absorbing. Un-hackable consumerist gadgets generally leave me disappointed and sad (I want to do to, not just with). Anyway, get a powered USB hub and attach an external drive through that (the pi does not put out enough through its own ports), then you are free to choose your methodology. I just use sshfs for file shares but there are better things. It's been running 24/7 for more than a year without problems. – goldilocks Jul 1 '14 at 12:57
  • You might also want to think about a VPS in relation to some of this, I've added a final sentence about that. Note that I don't know anything about HTCondor but you've kind of buried that here with tangents -- you should perhaps ask a separate and more specific question about it. – goldilocks Jul 1 '14 at 13:06
  • I think I will get a USB drive eventually. I have considered a VPS years ago but I do not want to shell out this kind of money. Now I spend as much as I would spend for half a year of VPS and my annual costs are lower than one months of VPS. I think I'll ask some more specific questions about NFS, SSHFS, Samba, Keberos when I come to that. Yesterday I played around with HTCondor and it is not quite working. – Martin Ueding Jul 2 '14 at 16:04

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