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New Media Server…

Front View of My HP Microserver

Time for Some Geeking…

For some time I have been using Xbmc, then OpenElec to provide my media front end for all my backed up media.

This first started with an old XPC Shuttle box doing all the work, which was fine but didn’t have the storage capacity I needed having been an initial “lets see if this works” test box. Luckily there was a soon to be replaced NAS box that would be going spare at work, and at 4TB (3TB in a Raid 5) would keep me going for a while… This was later supplemented with an identical NAS box giving me a total of 6TB of Data, albeit in two very noisy 3yr old devices.

During this time the media units used for the front end changed too, first there was the Shuttle XPC running Xbmc on Windows, quickly replaced with the smaller and quieter Acer Revo R3700; the Revo worked well for a year but then that was replaced with the more living room friendly Lenovo Q180, both of which running various versions of OpenElec.

Problems with Upgrades…

One of the problems with running everything with one box is that the running beta versions there’s always that chance that things are going to go wrong, and more often than not this is the case; this leads to having to rebuild the media database, re-adding the source locations and scraping all the media, downloading the info content time and time again… And with between 3-5TB (at the time) of data this tends to take a while to complete! –to be fair the need to do this wasn’t helped with me experimenting with various setting and skins in the live environment, and constantly changing to various beta releases.

Multi-Room Media…

Another disadvantage with running this from a single box was that the all media is maintained on this device, and plans for further media units in different rooms would currently mean that although the same content would exist, all the units would report different watched states.

What I needed was a universal location, accessible from all devices to store the central database and media content… Yes I know I had two NAS boxes, and that they provide a central location for media. But whilst these where great for Music, linked up with my Sonos Play: 5, they were very basic NAS boxes without a MySql feature that could be used with Xbmc to keep a central database, and I didn’t really want to use one of the media units constantly running as this is not what they were designed for…

A Need to Upgrade…

Although I probably still have 1TB or so space left, I don’t really trust the life that’s left in the current NAS boxes, they make a lot of noise, suck loads of electricity and I’m sure they’re not long for this world; not to mention the thought of having to back up everything again not making for a pleasant night’s sleep. Also as mentioned I don’t really have an ideal multi-room setup which would be nice. More of a wish list than a need but then I’m also getting a bit bored of when I have to rebuild Openelec on the Lenovo, as scraping all that media takes a really long time, so having a server based client that can stay on a stable release, would leave the (dumb) client to be used as a bit of a dev box too…

Some of the need to upgrade is more of a need for a little project and a play than anything else… but at the same time providing a quicker, more stable and efficient media infrastructure.

Choices…

From doing a bit of Geeking (from reading previous posts, you’ll know that I like this…) Xbmc does have a beta feature that allows use of a central MySql database, this replaces the local Xbmc database on the media client, and like the local database keeps a record of all media. (watched/un-watched); there is even an option to redirect the thumbs directory enabling a much smaller footprint on the client device; but views on the use of this are mixed, with most saying that performance is slow, especially over wireless whilst browsing the movie directory.

With this in mind, taking into consideration the pro and cons of the central database, other wishes and wants it gives me at least two potential choices for upgrade paths…

a)     Buy a newer NAS box, something like the Synology DS1513+ as this has 5 3.5 inch drive bays, with the native ability to support MySQL databases. Making this a one stop solution requiring less maintenance but less flexible.

b)    Dedicated Small Server, with multiple drive bays, running either Windows or Linux, installation of MySQL, and XBMC to run as a central server. Requires more config and setup then also more flexible…

The Choice…

I’d heard a lot of good things from various reviews and what other people had done with the HP Proliant Microservers, I liked the package and what was achievable with them; with some people managing to get them to accept 16 GB Ram over the standard max supported 8 GB with the right type of Ram… Whilst this 16 GB is beyond the scope of what I needed for a media server, it was still worth bearing this in mind for a home VM lab running the free version of VMware ESXI. And with the max supported 8 GB of Ram it would be more than enough to run a version of Windows Server or Linux.

I’d also read good things about the Synology boxes too, I especially like the idea of the small form factor, the style of the devices and the native features such as MySQL which is exactly what drew me to them in the first place. The issues I have comes down to price and the amount of storage I could achieve, as at the time of making my decision 2 TB 2.5” Hard Drives were still quite pricey; with needing to purchase 5 to fill the drive bays and achieve the intended goal of 8 TB total storage with redundancy… (5×2 TB = 10 TB –minus a Raid 5 config leaves about 8 TB) The cost of this would be on top of a quite a high price for the base Synology Unit too..

So… as you may have picked up on, I went with the HP Proliant Microserver N54L, this was partialy helped with www.ebuyer.co.uk running a deal that gave you £100 Cash Back! Making the base unit £180 at the time. At the same time I also purchased the following from Ebuyer to make up the spec for my Home Media Server Build …

  • 1 x HP ProLiant G7 N54L 2.2GHz MicroServer,
  • 4 x Seagate 3 TB Barracuda 3.5” SATA-III – 7200RPM 64 MB Cache Hard Drives,
  • 1 x Kingston 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 1333MHz i5 Memory Kit Non-ECC CL9 1.5V,
  • 1 x HP G6 P410/512 Bbwc Smart Array Controller,
  • Windows Server 2012 Standard,

What Went In

I re-used the following from a previous build.

  • 1 x OCZ 120GB Vertex 2E SSD 2.5″ SATA-II Hard Drive,

Out of the box the MicroServer only supports Raid 0+1 from the built-in Raid Controller, and wanting a bit more redundancy and flexibility I chose to order the HP P410 controller, yes there are other controllers out there for a lot less money, but I work with Controllers on a daily basis, on the MicroServers bigger brothers… so configuring them is not an issue and their performance is very good.

The choice of Hard Drive was purchased based on reviews and being one of the cheaper 3 TB Drives available; combining these with the Raid card in a Raid 5 config would give me a little over 8 TB of media storage space, I plan to use the SSD Drive for the install of Windows Server which should make it pretty speedy. Add the 8 GB Ram giving me ample oomph to run Windows, MySQL, and whatever apps I decide to throw at it…

What Next…?

In another post I’ll go through the steps I took to get the server up and running and how I configured XBMC with MySQL and then configured the clients to speak to this new Server.

 

 

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