Saturday, 29 September 2012

MediaServer8 v2

So it's been a little while since I've had a chance to update here on progress due to work & family commitments. And there has been progress.

Last time, I was contemplating Windows8 as a media server instead of what has now become Server 2012. The rationale was mostly around cost and better software/driver support in the desktop OS.

The first problem I had was that all my data was stored on Storage Spaces in Server 8 beta. Some changes were made to Storage Spaces rendering RC and RTM versions incompatible with beta versions. So, I had to copy all my media data across to my trusty unRAID setup, install Windows 8 RTM, set up storage spaces and copy it all back again.

This was a lengthy process given that both unRAID and Storage Spaces are configured with parity protection so copies were slow. Following on from my detailed analysis of write speeds to storage spaces on Server 8 Beta, I was carefully monitoring network write speeds to Storage Spaces on Windows 8.

With terabytes of data copying from unRAID across the network, reported write speeds in Windows 8 UI were around 27 MB/s. This is an improvement from the average 15MB/s I acheived in the earlier tests and while still painfully slow for daily file operations, it's acceptable in that the media server won't be used in this way - essentially it will suffer occasional writes as media files are added (mostly automatically in any case). I'm happy to trade off the occasional frustration for the added protection of parity.

I'll also be setting up my unRAID as a further backup system with weekly duplication of important data from the media server (the subject of a future post, I'm sure).

So why the speed increase, especially given that previous results were also probably benefitting from caching given the small size of the original test data? Well, I'd like to think that MS have improved performance of Storage Spaces. Perhaps they have. However, I've changed the hardware in the server and I expect that's got a lot to do with it.

Gigabyte H55M-UD2H
The previous server was ruunning on an Asus p5e-vm motherboard with an Intel Core2 Quad CPU Q6600 @ 2.40GHz and 6GB RAM. Storage Spaces had been configured with 6x 1TB WD Green SATA drives connected to the motherboard.

The new server uses the same drive configuration in a single thinly provisioned 20GB space on a Gigabyte H55M-UD2H motherboard with Intel Core i3 530 CPU @ 3.00GHz and 4GB of RAM. (I need to upgrade the RAM at some point - get clicking on those ads!).

So, a combination of MB/CPU upgrade and installation of Windows 8 RTM appears to have improved network write speeds to storage spaces.

The server is configured with the latest version of Plex Media Server and the existing nzbapp appliance copied seamlessly across to Hyper-V. The inclusion of Hyper-V on Windows 8 is a great facility and really removes the necessity for using a server OS in this kind of set-up. In addition, all device and graphics drivers installed without a hitch so all in all I'm happy with the setup.

Plex Media Center is also installed and the machine doubles up as a playback device for our main living space. This is used mostly by the kids and they've reported occasional glitches in Plex whereby content will pause for no reason or even kick back out to the menu. I'm still investigating this issue.

Another problem is that occasionally, storage spaces will report a failed drive. A system restart fixes this but I'm keeping a careful eye to see if it's the same one each time in which case, it might indeed be failing and need to be replaced. One big problem in this regard is that it's difficult to match physical drives with the units reported in the OS so finding which disk I need to pull is going to be trial & error. I'll need to label them.

One final point, I orignially embarked on this build to unify media serving & playback. That's not quite worked out. In the previous MediaServer8 incarnation, I was attempting to drive two seperate media rooms from the same box (living room and home theatre). That was resulting in too much hassle as we could not run both at the same time and needed to switch users in each room due to different video and audio configuration requirements.

So now, I'm running the server which also serves as playback for the living room and have added a dedicated HTPC to the theatre. Even this may need to change as I plan adding some DVB tuners to the server to provide networked TV and it might then be asking too much of the box to serve media and TV to the entire network as well as perfrom as a front end. Time will tell. In any case, I see many people use Zotac boxes with combined Plex & TV servers so that might be a good route to follow.

Thanks for reading. Hopefully I'll get more frequent updates in the coming weeks.


Werner & Heleen Muller said...

Thanks for the article. However, something that does to seem to be covered anywhere is... how to recover if the OS drive fail's? Would a new installation of Windows 8 detect the Storage Pool/ Spaces previous in place?


I believe it will, but it would be worth a try, wouldn't it? Maybe a project for next weekend!