If you’re anything like me then you probably have at least one (possibly even more!) servers just sat around idling to their hearts desire, with the host loving every minute of it. Now although I’m sure hosts love customers leaving their servers idle you may as well get some use out of the resources you’ve bought, for those who are thinking “why don’t you just cancel the server?” it’s worth mentioning that most of us have idle servers either due to seeing a great deal and purchasing out of impulse or because a server has been pre-paid for a set time and the original use has finished or outgrown the server and thus leaving it with no purpose.
Now personally I’m quite bad for purchasing servers I know I have no use for whatsoever, one of the main reasons I had for starting this website was that I could give them all some use by creating reviews on them, for the servers I’m left over with (if I didn’t have anything ready for them to do) lay idle. Currently I have 2 idle servers, although it isn’t a lot it’s down from 6 last month. Enough talking anyway let’s get into some of the uses you can put your server to!
I have a server for each thing below (some performing multiple, similar tasks).
Every Day Tasks
- Cloud Storage
- Email Hosting
There is lots of free software that you can install onto your servers that can help in every day tasks.
My First recommendation is NextCloud, for those who don’t know what this is imagine a version of Google Drive, but where you host the data yourself. Not only can you pull your data out of Google but you can put a spare server to use, it supports file sharing, multiple accounts and encryption which is perfect for me.
Now this is something which should really have more thought in it (considering that if it goes wrong you will have no email) but you can also host your own mail server for your domain. There are lots of ready to go mail server installer scripts such as iRedMail, MailCow and Mail-in-a-box that can be used. All these work by installing the required software such as Dovecot and an SMTP server and apply a web based front end that you can use to create accounts, view, send and manage configurations with. If your serious about getting email hosting for your domain, I would recommend going with MXroute instead of hosting yourself.
- Hopping Server
That spare server can also be used to increase the security of your other servers and yourself, either by using a VPN or a “hopping server” (a server that you connect to which is then used to connect to your other servers).
A VPN will encrypt and route your internet connection to the server that you setup, this is great for multiple reasons. Without going into it in lots of detail it can help you secure yourself while using public WiFi hotspots and also help evade geo-restrictions (content only being available in certain countries), another use would be allowing you to stop certain services locking you out of your account when they detect a foreign IP address to that you normally use if you’re abroad since the location of the IP would be in your normal country.
Setting up a VPN nowadays is incredibly easy, we even wrote a guide for it using Nyr’s auto installer script.
Using a hopping server to connect to your other servers will greatly increase security or can even be used to access your servers SSH interface while behind restrictive firewalls. Some SSH clients such as MobaXterm support this nativly meaning no configuration has to be done on your idle server, the only change being to configure the SSH server to only accept connections from a defined IP address (I’d recommend setting more than one in case your provider has an issue). This means that random bots will have no chance of logging into your server since they will not have the correct IP address.
You can also install something such as ShellInABox which will allow you to access your servers terminal via a standard port (443 HTTPS) and with a web browser, this means that you can access your servers even while you’re at work or behind a firewall.
These are pretty basic, use the server to test different software stacks or control panels. I always keep a server laying around so that I can test new control panel releases and updates before they reach anything important of mine.
You can also use it to learn a new programming language such as PHP or Python.
- Game Servers
This one is self explanatory, setup a game server for you and your friends. Make sure it’s okay with your host first since many TOS agreements forbid game servers although games such as Minecraft and Starbound are relatively easy to setup and run, even on low end machines. It gives you, your friends and the server something to do, remember that if you are using a VPS you are sharing resources so don’t be selfish with the CPU usage!
- Torrent Distribution
Depending on how reliable the network is for your idle VPS is, you may want to use it to monitor your other servers. Two examples of software that you can use to do this are Observium and LibreNMS. They both work the same way, LibreNMS even being a fork of Observium, they use SNMP to collect information from other machines, they support “applications” meaning that they can keep a log over the amount of work web servers and database servers are doing and even keep a log of installed packages.
I personally use Observium to monitor all of my servers and also make use of the application support that it has, it can be quite a pain getting all of your servers added to your monitoring and also configuring each app but the outcome is well worth it. I’m now able to get an overview over how my 15+ machines are running without having to do any work.
If the server has plenty of bandwidth (and the host allows it!) you can turn the server into a seedbox. A seedbox is a dedicated BitTorrent machine. Since many new FOSS projects struggle to find ways to distribute their software, such as operating systems and programs, you can use your server to seed the software to other users who wish to download it. If the server is located in countries that have more limited bandwidth available, such as India or Africa then using your server in this way is a great benefit for many people who are trying to get a copy of the data.
Lastly, you can just give the server away to somebody else who has a use for it. Ask on a forum such as LowEndTalk if anybody has a legitimate use for it, and with the hosts permission, transfer the server to them so they can put it to use. One of your friends could even make use of it if they need something to host their websites on, you’d be surprised would love a free VPS!
You should also take a look through this list which has LOADS of various software that you can host yourself.