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Backup and Media Servers
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Green Lantern
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June 4, 2010 - 7:02 am
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Greetings

Not sure if this is the right place for this hybrid subject. A bit hardware, a bit software, a bit of security.

There is a new area of home computing emerging. At least new for me and I know nearly nothing about it. But I am intrigued. The field of Media and Backup servers. I read an article from Microsoft about their Windows Home Server and it sounds just great! It sounds like a great way to back up all the family computers, share photo albums, music, video content.

I was wondering if anyone here at the forum would know where I could go to get a basic education on the subject so I can make an informed buying decision?

- which proudcts are the best?
- how does scalability figure in?
- I assume anything I buy will be obsolete within three years. How can I best protect myself or deal with this issue?
- how do I backup the backup server? If I take the time to copy my approximately 400 CDs to a media server I don't want to lose it all or have to repeat the process any time soon.
- how does one migrate something like that to new hardware?

I looked around the forum and did a search on "media server" but only found a few mentions. Perhaps others are interested in more information?

GL

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Chad Johnson
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June 4, 2010 - 3:37 pm
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Awesome. Green Lantern. One of my favorite superheroes that I wish they would turn into a movie but I'm afraid to see what they would do if it happened.

OK. First a few definitions, just for piece of mind. I'm using wikipedia cuz it's easier, but other sources should say something along the same lines.


A media server is a computer appliance, ranging from an enterprise class machine providing video on demand, to, more commonly, a small home computer, or NAS (Network Attached Storage), dedicated for storing various digital media (meaning digital videos/movies, audio/music, and picture files).
[/quote:39ykryrp]
[url:39ykryrp]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_server[/url:39ykryrp]

In information technology, a backup or the process of backing up refers to making copies of data so that these additional copies may be used to restore the original after a data loss event. The verb is back up in two words, whereas the noun is backup (often used like an adjective in compound nouns).
Backups are useful primarily for two purposes. The first is to restore a state following a disaster (called disaster recovery). The second is to restore small numbers of files after they have been accidentally deleted or corrupted. Data loss is also very common. 66% of internet users have suffered from serious data loss.
[/quote:39ykryrp]
[url:39ykryrp]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_backup[/url:39ykryrp]

Essentially, a media server is nothing more than a repository of media (music, photos, videos, etc). A backup is a duplicate of data. You probably knew all that, but at least now we're on the same page...

Now as to your questions...


- which proudcts are the best?
[/quote:39ykryrp]
This really depends on what you are planning to do and is really subject to opinion, experience, and how one feels about a certain company. For just a media repository, any kind of NAS system would suit your needs. Any computer in the house would be able to access and consume said media. If you're going more advanced with streaming, duplication, recording, televison, etc, etc. then the product requirements grow and you need more significant software / hardware.
- how does scalability figure in?[/quote:39ykryrp]
Again, this answer depends primarily on what you intend to do. For just media repository-ing, scaling is easy -- just keep adding hard drives.
- I assume anything I buy will be obsolete within three years. How can I best protect myself or deal with this issue?[/quote:39ykryrp]
Obsolete by what standard? I still have 10 year old computers that are perfectly happy performing basic functions (one is a recipe viewer in the kitchen...very simple task). Is it obsolete? Not really. It does what I intend it to do. It even streams pandora. Is it cutting edge, not hardly. And could it play Modern Warfare 2? Ha. For simple media repository-ing, it is very difficult to go obsolete.
- how do I backup the backup server? If I take the time to copy my approximately 400 CDs to a media server I don't want to lose it all or have to repeat the process any time soon.[/quote:39ykryrp]
I hear you. The amount of effort you put into backing up your server is determined by: resources (how much money you want to spend on it), value of data (how irrecoverable is your data) and annoyance factor (how annoying is it to recreate data you don't back up). Once you determine where you fall in the spectrum (I'm in the middle somewhere) you can begin to develop a solution. How volatile is your data? Does it change a lot, or is it pretty static? Maybe an external hard drive attached to your media server/repository and a duplication process will be sufficient. I pay Mozy 4.95 / month and back up all my data to the cloud. It's worth the $60/year for me, but for others it may not be. My data is safe, secure, and offsite.
- how does one migrate something like that to new hardware?[/quote:39ykryrp]
For a media repository, it's as simple as copying data and settings. For more complex setups, it becomes...more complex.

I've set up a media center in my home, running Windows Vista Media Center. This computer stores video, music, pictures, etc, records TV, has my DVD collection, CD Collection and downloaded content. Oh, and it streams Netflix, Youtube, Hulu, etc. My other 4 computers all backup vital files to this one computer. Then Mozy puts the whole thing on their servers and I don't have to think about it.

I hope this was helpful.

--Zig

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David Hartsock
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June 4, 2010 - 11:11 pm
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- which proudcts are the best?[/quote:1b0g6vnh]
I can't say enough about Windows Home Server. Rock solid software!
- how does scalability figure in?[/quote:1b0g6vnh]
Scalability comes down to the hardware WHS is running on. The HP line is limited to 4 drives, so you're looking at a max of 8TB of storage.
- I assume anything I buy will be obsolete within three years. How can I best protect myself or deal with this issue?[/quote:1b0g6vnh]
The next version of WHS will be 64bit. Build your own server use a medium high 64bit CPU and at least 4GB of RAM. The next version will include some additional media features, and I imagine there will be more media centric apps targeted for it, so you want to have the horsepower to handle those if you plan to use it as a media center for your home.
- how do I backup the backup server? If I take the time to copy my approximately 400 CDs to a media server I don't want to lose it all or have to repeat the process any time soon.[/quote:1b0g6vnh]
http://www.davescomputertips.c.....es_whs.php
In reality WHS currently has the ability to automatically store two copies of every file. The great part is it stores each copy on a separate drive, so drive failure isn't really an issue. Run a good UPS to control power fluctuations and turn the server off safely during an extended outage and you are, to a great degree, protected.
- how does one migrate something like that to new hardware?[/quote:1b0g6vnh]
Network. Hopefully wired gigabit!

I've been running WHS since it was released. I have not regretted it once! Backups are robust and happen like clockwork. Set it and forget it.
For media I use an Xbox360 to play media on my computer. I have a wired gigabit network and it is flawless. If I had the extra money I would run a dedicated Windows 7 computer (for media center) at the TV, but that isn't going to happen any time soon. An interesting piece of software that I would run if I had a dedicated PC at the TV is [url=http://www.mymovies.dk/:1b0g6vnh]MyMovies[/url:1b0g6vnh] - truly beautiful!

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OldElmerFudd
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June 16, 2010 - 12:48 am
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Ziggie and Dave have pretty much covered it all. I built my first server on an old Pentium 2 box running Linux 1.25GB of storage (eventually). Built a WHS box about 2 years ago and currently have 4 1TB dives in it. Additionally, each machine here (5) has a 1TB external drive attached.
Like Dave, I can't say enough good things about WHS. When it first appeared, HP was the only supplier using the software for a home server. I built my own because of a personal dislike of the way HP puts its machines together. Too much work to service, but maybe that's changed, dunno. I'm a builder (except for the laptop, though I've tinkered with it!), so I can't comment about off-the-shelf servers.

Good luck

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Green Lantern
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June 23, 2010 - 7:43 am
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First of all I want to apologize to all who posted replies. I'm new around here and thought that I would receive automatic notification. I didn't. So after some time I came back and discovered "replies". So thanks to OldElmerFudd, Ziggie and Dave for your thoughtful responses. And by the way, if there IS a way to receive automatic notification of replies, I'd like to know how to set that. Couldn't find it on my own.

I know my way around computers well enough, but the area of media/backup servers is new to me. I understand that they are "just" computers with files stored on them. That's the part I DO understand. The part that I am looking to get more data on lies elsewhere. Some of the answers given helped me a great deal in that regard.

I like the idea of WHS very much and was pleased to hear from Dave that he supports it as well.

Is is possible to back up WHS by directly plugging an external HD into it? Or would a backup be superfluous because the server can make dual copies of each file onto seperate HDs? The latter, would of course, require that one have a minimum of two HDs.

The salespeople at my local electronics outlet are very bullish on NAS, particularly those with RAID. I have heard that these are not easy to migrate later on. I don't know how they compare to WHS which is a complete solution with backup software and streaming built in. I assume you would have to purchase such software elsewhere for a NAS server?

I'm wondering if this is the right time to go for the WHS. It isn't out yet as 64 bit software and from what I've heard the user interface is a bit primitive. I read somewhere that it looks like Windows 2000! I assume this will get better. If the timeframe is longer that a year I would probably go with what's out there now, but if it's just around the corner I could wait...

The other crucial thing I am trying to figure out is how best to configure my wireless network to work with it. If I want to backup large amounts of data it would probably pay to have the fastest wireless I can get my hands on. I assume this means upgrading my existing router to a gigabit router.

It seems the more I learn about this subject the more questions keep coming up. I'm happy there's somewhere to go with them. And I also wanted to mention that this is by far the friendliest tech board I've run into so far. That's why I joined. I bumped into a post on the search engine, something that Dave answered, and I read it and liked the friendly, helpful tone. Then I looked at other posts and realized this was a nice place to be. I guess nice people attract nice people.

GL

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Chad Johnson
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June 23, 2010 - 9:23 am
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Hi GL --

I don't have time to do a full reply to your post right now, but the subscription thing I can answer straight away --

When you reply to a message, you can check the box underneath it (in options) for 'Notify me when a reply is posted.'

Also, at the bottom of every post is a message that states: 'Subscribe Topic'. You can click on this to be subscribed without replying.

And--in your User Control Panel, under the Board Preferences tab, the Edit Posting Defaults area, you can select to automatically check the subscribe on reply.

I'll get to the rest of your post later today, but wanted to pass that on to you now.

--Zig

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Green Lantern
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June 23, 2010 - 5:16 pm
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Thanks Ziggie

I suppose I should be ashamed of myself. I've seen that function a million times, but this forum is using software that is a bit different than most I've run into. Anyway, I managed to miss it. Thanks. I subscribed "permanently" now, so I won't be left out of the loop again.

GL

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Green Lantern
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June 23, 2010 - 6:11 pm
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By the way, Dave suggested building a media server. It sounds like that would imply that the WHS software can be purchased separately from the hardware, which is definitely new data for me. I thought it was only sold to OEMs. I went to the Microsoft Store at microsoft.com but I couldn't find it there as a product for sale. Where did you guys get it?

GL

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Chad Johnson
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June 24, 2010 - 8:45 am
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Amazon sells WHS here: [url:3jspoa9t]http://www.amazon.com/Microsoft-Windows-Home-Server-URP1/dp/B001E5Q8CO/ref=dp_ob_title_sw?ie=UTF8&qid=1277382881&sr=8-4[/url:3jspoa9t]. So far as I know, there is nothing to stop anyone from purchasing OEM software and installing it on a computer they've built themselves. I believe that even matches the definition of OEM (IANAL).

I've never used WHS myself. When it came out it looked nice, but for me the appeal wasn't strong enough to either: a) replace my media server with WHS or b) build a second server for WHS. I can tell you about my setup however.

I have a big, beefy 2TB+ media server that sits behind my TV and is running Windows Vista Ultimate 64 bit. Primarily it sits and runs Windows Media Center all day, recording television, playing media to our main TV, and being the repository for all of our pictures, documents, videos, etc. WMC has a Netflix plug in for handy Netflix viewing (which works about 90% of the time). I have a wireless keyboard/mouse combo (similar to this: [url:3jspoa9t]http://www.amazon.com/Microsoft-Remote-Keyboard-Windows-ZV1-00004/dp/B000AOAAN8[/url:3jspoa9t]) for when Netflix doesn't work, when I want to watch Youtube, and for using the Hulu desktop app. My media server works as a NAS (and maybe by the true technical sense it is) and can stream audio and video to all the other computers in the house. It is currently connected via 100Mbps copper, but I plan to upgrade to Gigabit soon.

All of this is backed up to the cloud via Mozy ($60 / year). Should the worst happen, I simply redownload everything from Mozy and keep on chugging.

As far as upgrading/scaling goes -- for me it's as simple as moving my 2TB of storage to the new solution, resharing, and go. Or I can upgrade / add to the drives in my media center. The one thing I don't have that I wish I did was some kind of RAID setup within the media center, to provide just that much more reliability.

Um....yeah. I'm not saying I have the best or easiest solution, but I don't want to fluff up WHS without ever having used it.

--Zig

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Green Lantern
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June 24, 2010 - 9:12 am
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Hi Ziggy,

Sounds like you have a working installation going there. I don't quite get a few things and that's probably because I have some big holes in my knowledge base. You said that your Media Server runs Windows Media Center all day and streams video, etc. to all the other computers in your house. See, I know nothing about what "streaming media" entails. I know what it is and just assume that special software is required for it to work. I have Windows Media Center as part of my Windows 7 64 bit OS, but I had no clue that if it were on a box all by itself that it could stream video or music to all the other pcs in the house. How exactly do you set it up to do that?

Thanks.

GL

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Chad Johnson
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June 24, 2010 - 7:34 pm
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Well....there's a difference between streaming media (I.E. Youtube) and storing media remotely and playing it (I.E. um.. my handy dandy set up). When I say streaming media, I mean that I have a laptop using Windows Media Player that is accessing the files on the computer behind my TV and playing them from there. Music does this easy, video...it's hit or miss (depends on the size, encoding, format, etc of the video).

Windows Media Center itself doesn't do the streaming (though with a Media Extender you can do something along those lines), it's just the interface I use on my TV.

The setup itself was relatively simple, actually. I use good ol Windows networking (Which seems to get harder the simpler they try to make it). I set up a user/password on the media center and shared out the 'Media' directory. Then I set up a shortcut on the desktop of the remote computer pointing to the shared directory. A few clicks and I can do what I like.

And Windows Media Player is more than happy to 'manage' a remote library, even from multiple computers.

Again, WHS may be great, I don't know. I've never used it.

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Green Lantern
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June 25, 2010 - 3:24 am
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Hi Ziggy

I get it now. As I understood it WHS actually streams to other computers.

GL

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Green Lantern
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June 28, 2010 - 4:49 pm
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Greetings

From what I have gleaned from the Internet Microsoft currently has released a beta version of their next Home Server version which supports 64 bit software. Does anyone know when this will be released? Considering that we have 64 bit Windows on two pcs would it be advisable to wait for this. I heard mutterings of problems with support of 64 bit OS on the 32 bit WHS.

GL

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Chad Johnson
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June 28, 2010 - 6:15 pm
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I haven't heard anything about a release date. Whether you should wait or not depends on how much RAM you plan to have in the system (if more than 4GB, then you need a 64bit OS) and how patient you are with newly released software. My inclination for any product is to wait 6 months to 1 year from release to let other people find all the bugs (there is a reason it's called bleeding/cutting edge technology). Based on that mantra, that puts you anywhere from 7 months to years out (depending on release).

It all comes down to how long are you willing to wait and how much risk are you willing to take with a newly released product.

Deciding between Windows Home Server 32 bit or 64 bit really has nothing to do with your other PCs. Each PCs processor is independent of one another in most normal setups (you would have to purposely change this).

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Green Lantern
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June 28, 2010 - 6:27 pm
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Thanks Ziggy. I thought there were some issues there. Could be wrong. The new release is "code named" Vail. Probably everyone thinks it's a ski resort. Heh, heh. Seems to have some great features. They mention a media streaming mechanism using Silverlight.

We'll see.

GL

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