Media Server Rebuild – Part 1
I’m in the beginning stages of rebuilding my Windows Home Server box. Feel free to check out my original blog for the current setup. (Note that the blog hasn’t been entirely reformatted for the new site.) There, I stated that my intentions were for my first media server to last a minimum of 5 years. The fact that I’m writing this just around 2.5 years after the original server went live may seem like I failed in epic fashion. The truth of the matter, however, is that the server is still running fine and I firmly believe it would continue to meet my needs for at least another 2.5 years. To quote Mythbusters, I’m calling this one “confirmed” (so far).
The reason I say that is because this won’t be a complete rebuild of the server hardware itself. In fact, my actual, original words were, “Meet current and unknown future needs over the next 5 years (minimum)” and it would appear that the hardware is succeeding in that regard… thus far. But, it will still include some major changes. First of all, in a fairly significant change of heart, I’ve decided to upgrade to Windows Home Server 2011 (more on that in a bit). Second, I’ll be moving to a virtualized environment on the server, with multiple client OS’s running, consolidating at least one other computer into the server. This may be a fairly big undertaking in the amount of underlying changes, but the technology I’m using has been around for quite some time, so I’m extremely optimistic this will be a productive change.
Here are my plans…
Currently, I run SageTV under WHS v1. I have 2 HD-PVRs in use and have a Colossus waiting to be tested. I will continue running all of this, but SageTV will be moved to a regular install of Windows XP, so that I can freeze the OS and keep SageTV running as long as possible. I have already removed all of my recordings, videos, and music from the WHS drive pool. I simply mounted the drives as NTFS shares*.
I’ve been quite vocal in my disdain for WHS 2011, primarily due to the removal of the Drive Extender technology, but the simple fact is that it’s a damn good backup solution for a measly $50. I did look at alternatives, such as Macrium Reflect, but their free version is slightly gimped by the fact that it won’t do file and folder backups, differential and incremental backups, or even send email notifications about backup status. Their standard version does all of that, but costs $44 PER PC. (Note, they do have a “4 pack” for $90.) For $50, I can back up 10 PC’s with WHS 2011.
I will be consolidating my Linux-based IPCop hardware firewall into a VM to remove that computer from the house entirely. I already have the required NICs to facilitate this, since IPCop requires 3 NICs in the configuration I have. IPCop requires very little horsepower, so putting this into a VM is a no-brainer.
For virtualization needs, the only two I’m aware of are Microsoft’s Hyper-V and VMWare’s vSphere, both of which are free. My Xeon L5410 only supports VT-x, so I’m out of luck on some of the more recent advances in CPU VM technology, but I think it will suffice. I have also heard that USB support could be spotty on either Hyper-V or vSphere, which would be a major issue for the problematic HD-PVRs. In the end, I decided to go with vSphere for two reasons. First, the free version of Hyper-V has no GUI (command line only). Second, vSphere is supposed to have support for PCI passthrough, which the Colossus would need in order to be used in a VM.
I debated whether or not to use an SSD for the OS and VMs, but ultimately decided to go for it. I didn’t want to use RAID because it can cause issues with backups and restores, as well as making hardware swaps problematic. One downside to using an SSD under vSphere is that it doesn’t support TRIM. I’ll need to keep an eye on performance to see if long-term use causes any significant slowdowns. I don’t believe there’s any way to successfully and manually run a TRIM tool in this particular setup.
I am planning to return to FlexRAID (free) for some data protection, but will also need to back up the VMs. My research indicates that WHS 2011 can back up and restore VMs without very much difficulty, so I won’t need to purchase an expensive, enterprise-grade backup solution. While FlexRAID has been shown to work under WHS 2011, I will not be utilizing it there. Rather, I’ll most likely put FlexRAID into a Windows 7 VM*. Over the years, I’ve seen how using an OS for more than it was intended can lead to difficult problems and unsavory workarounds. This isn’t something to do in a “production environment”, even if it is at home. In reality, I do have other people in the house who depend on the reliability of the server. At the end of the day, I believe I’ll have a Windows XP VM for SageTV*, a Windows Home Server 2011 VM for backups*, an IPCop VM for the firewall*, and a Windows 7 VM for other “fun” stuff.
With all the VMs I’m already looking at running, I’m glad that I went with a dual socket motherboard. While adding a second CPU doesn’t seem necessary yet, I already know that I’m going to need more than the 4GB of memory I currently have. The question is: How much? It would also appear that my choice of hardware throughout the original build included some serious forward thinking. At the time, I kept saying that it was overkill, but that I was planning for future needs. Oddly enough, that almost seems prophetic now…
Stay tuned for further updates, hopefully with pictures along the way.
*If I can manage to document enough of what I’m doing, I’ll attempt to turn parts of this journey into guides.