Home Media Server

· by Steve · Read in about 4 min · (740 Words)

I had an ‘incident’ over the weekend (which I won’t go into, suffice to say that it was somewhat down to my own carelessness) which resulted in me needing to restore a bunch of files from backup for my local Linux server - luckily I back up my server every day on a typical full/incremental backup cycle so all I lost was a few hours worth of spam (I’m 99% sure I haven’t lost any genuine correspondence, but if you think I’ve missed you, let me know). I don’t have a tape drive on the server, because they’re stupidly expensive and generally slow anyway; right now I back up across the network to a spare drive on my main PC. This requires of course that the PC is on, so there are odd days when the backup is missed - in this case I was lucky that it wasn’t so potential loss was minimal.

However, it got me thinking that I really should sort out something more reliable. The server’s drives are already mirrored so disk failure is fairly well covered, but the backups need to be 100% guaranteed really to cope with other issues such as this. One option is an external hard drive (eSATA, USB or Firewire), but my Linux server is built from parts retired from my desktop some time ago - one of the advantages of Linux after all is that it will run very well on very modest hardware, unlike certain server OS’s we could mention -  so it only actually has USB 1.1 connectors. I could upgrade the machine of course, but I’m loathe to do that right now when I have other options.

In particular I’ve been interested in setting up a home media server - somewhere to store all of our shared MP3’s, downloaded video and such, but which could also be an extra backup location separate from my home office server. I tinkered in the whole Mini-ITX scene a while back (I recently ebay’ed my original EPIA board that ran a copy of Gentoo for a couple of years, custom-built for its C3 processor), but now people are producing good small form factor embedded devices which consume less power and are smaller and more compact (and cheaper) than most you can build yourself. I recently installed uShare on my current Linux server for serving content to my 360, but I haven’t so far managed to get the DLNA functionality working properly (because my home server is running Debian Sarge, which is getting a bit old and crusty now for this kind of modern stuff, but is rock-solid for office use so I’m reluctant to spend time changing it) so it’s not quite ideal, although I can get to my photos and mp3’s ok through raw file access at least.

I’m particularly interested in the QNAP TS-209, a 2-bay NAS enclosure that runs Linux itself and comes preconfigured with all the kinds of things you’d want - TwonkyVision for UPnP/DLNA, iTunes hosting, file server, web server, database, gigabit LAN, RAID support, BitTorrent client - but which only consumes 30W when it’s active, and 15W when in sleep mode (compared to the several hundred watts of a regular PC). There are slightly cheaper single-bay enclosures but I figure you can never go wrong with a little more resilience. I might be able to build a Pico-ITX based machine instead, but I doubt I could match the cost, size (especially with 2 disks) and power consumption, and it would take me lots more time anyway so the QNAP is quite attractive.

Windows Media Center Windows Home Server is another option of course, but that really has to run on essentially a full PC, since trying to make Windows run on a small, low-power device is like asking a hippo to ride a unicycle - I can really do without yet another energy-guzzling PC in my house. I’m not convinced at all of the longevity of the current devices anyway. I’d really prefer to have a low-power storage device which is efficient and multi-purpose, and does what I need now - later on I may need other boxes (possibly a Blu-Ray/HDMI/DTS device, and perhaps a smaller sound system for other places like the Duet) for the lounge, but that will be able to use media from this device anyway, and I can just get those if/when I need them.

Anyone got any thoughts / experience?