Improving My Media Server

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As most of my family and friends know, I have a computer that acts as my file store and media server. The media server computer started as a project when I first started college back in 2007, as I needed an always on computer to put homework on that I could access outside the network to turn in or what not. Keep in mind this was during an age where my college professors did not use blackboard, so using that as a homework tracker was out. I ended up using my then laptop, the Sony PCG-TR3A, as the computer for this purpose. I didnt really start bringing a laptop to class until I started the sophomore level computer science classes, which I eventually brought my first tablet / laptop convertible, The HP Touchsmart.

However, it didnt take long for me to discover that I could stream movies / music / whatever I wanted to other devices on my network, which at the time only the PS3 could do. I soon loaded up that incredibly small 40gb hard drive with movies and music. I think the most I ever put on that small hard drive was ten movies, and my entire music collection (to which I have no stats for). It sat in a corner of my dorm room, doing my bidding until I outgrew it (which was quickly).

After about a year of doing that, I decided it was time to get a dedicated computer for this purpose, as well as bigger hard drive space since I was starting to do computer backups on my machines. At the time, my college job could only afford a premade solution, so I ended up getting the HP MediaSmart which had four hard drive slots, one of which would be partitioned into an OS drive, and the rest of that disk plus the three others would be a drive pool. Windows Home Server (WHS for those in the know) was a fantastic OS based on Server 2003 that had something called Drive Extender. WHS could also do computer backups, and allows internet access through a free domain name that Microsoft packaged with WHS. This solution worked great! I eventually filled up all four slots with 1tb hard drives, which the pool had about 3.5tb worth of. I think it took me about a year and a half to fill that up with movies, tv shows, and anime before it finally started to fill up. And, since the unit was so small, I could also turn it off and take it with me if I left the dorm for a long time for vacation or visiting friends. I remember one spring break me and a friend stayed at his house while it was 10 below (in southwest Louisiana, that was a cold year) watching movies off my media server while we played LAN games like the first Borderlands game. Good times.

But eventually, the four hard drive limit was starting to become too much to deal with, as well as the 2tb partition limit that WHS had. So it was time to actually build my own server. I still had that college job, but I had actually had some money saved up to actually by some hardware. I ended up selling the MediaSmart and got a rackmount case that could hold ten drives, and three 5.25″ dvd drives / whatever. This is the computer I ended up using for the past six years. It currently has an i5 3570k CPU, 8gb DDR3 RAM, 2x2tb – 1×1.5tb – 4x1tb – 2x500gb hard drives (rounded up to 10.5tb),  and 1x120gb SSD for the OS drive. As you can probably tell, these drives were not all brought at once. Each of them were either left over from the MediaSmart, or brought one at a time over the course of those six years.

While having 10.5tb has been great, Im running out of space constantly. For the past two years, I have been deleting old stuff (which I still wanted to keep) or burning them to dvds to free up space on the pool. And with bluray movies actually coming with digital downloads, this problem has only gotten worse. 4K will be an even bigger issue, but at the time of this writing, the x265 codec is still not in widespread use. I only have one device that can even handle x265, and that is the 4K tv my father brought me last Black Friday. And even then, I havent been able to stream 4K content (that I can find) to the tv yet, simply because the file size to stream has been too much to handle so far. Not to mention that the media server still acts as a computer backup, media store, media server, and now media converter on top of all that. All my photography pictures are there, all my tv shows, movies, anime, youtube videos, music, pictures, programs, coding projects, and what have you is on there. Just about the only thing not on the media server is my VMs and databases, which is on a different server that I will not cover in this post. So I need more space.

Which brings me to the present. About a month or two ago I brought a new rackmount case that can hold fifteen hard drives, but no 5.25″ drives. I have moved all the hardware from the old case to the new, and have put some older hardware into the old case to make that computer my cold storage computer backup and media backup. That way I can cut down on some of my storage problems while I wait to save up money for the new hard drives I want for the media server. When I do get those new drives, the old drives will be added to the cold storage server once everything I want is taken off of them.

So, what will I put into the (semi) new media server in terms of hard drives? I have been testing drive pooling software on my gaming machine with two old 120gb SSDs and two old 1tb hard drives. The two SSDs act as a landing drive for when files get written to the pool, and the drive pooling software moves the files off the SSDs once the computer is idle. I did a test move of media from the media server to the gaming computer, and I managed to get 500mBps to 1gBps transfers because of the speed of the SSDs. I dont even notice the re-balancing that happens when files move off the SSDs. It is great software, called Stablebit Drivepool.

So what configuration am I thinking of doing? I am thinking of doing the following:

OS Drive:                       1x120gb          =    120gb (SSD)
Drivepool landing:    3x240gb          =    720gb (SSD)
Drivepool archive:    13×4,000gb    =    52,000gb (HDD)

Why yes, that is more than the fifteen drive limit the case has! Since the four SSDs are 2.5″ form factor, I can put two 2.5″ SSDs into one 3.5″ hard drive slot. Which means two slots out of the fifteen will be four SSDs, while the other thirteen slots will be 4tb WD Red hard drives. Which will give me 52tb worth of space, plus the 720gb landing SSD drives. Now this isnt exactly true due to the way the space is counted. So lets try to come up with some more real world numbers (quick google search, rounded down).

OS Drive:                       1x111gb          = 111gb (SSD)
Drivepool landing:   3x223gb          = 669gb (SSD)
Drivepool archive:   13×3,726gb   = 48,438gb (HDD)

So over all space of this pool Im planning is just a little over 49tb of drive space (plus the SSD landing drives). This should last me for a few years until they start coming out with the 10+ tb drives I have been reading about. Heck, Seagate is selling a 8tb drive right now!

However, I still refuse to buy all these drives at once, SSDs have become really cheap lately, but the 4tb WD Reds have only gone up since I have started keeping an eye on them for price. When I first started watching the Red drives, the 4tb drive was about $150. Now, it is up to $180, which makes no sense because of WD and Seagate selling bigger drives for more than a year now. So I will have to keep limping along, buying one drive at a time. It will be better than nothing though.

Really excited to start expanding my array so my media server can take off again. Which is funny to me because my parents and my sister have built their own media servers as well, and have gone crazy trying to cut down on their VHS and DVD collections. So they are about where I was late 2008 – early 2009. However, they are lucky because they have access to my files, and can request something from me if I have it. Hence why it is funny to me. 😛

So thats all I got for now, will update later on when things actually get updated! 😀