Using Windows Home Server

All about Windows Home Server, the Digital Home and Security.

Posts Tagged ‘Windows Media Center

Adding eSATA hard drives to Windows Home Server on a Friday night

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Equipment required:

eSATA external hard drive(s)

eSATA cable – Not SATA

eSATA connection or Add-On PC card (the HP MSS has this connector already)

2 Beers (not shown)

Windows Media Center streaming your favorite 365 station

Friday Night Kit

Background

I have a Dell SC440 PowerEdge running WHS that I built last year. The server came with 6 USB ports to which I immediately connected three external drives (only one is part of the storage), one UPS, a mouse and keyboard. I have often wondered where I would plug in my next drive when the time comes. The release of Power Pack 2 now offers Windows Media Center support and I have decided I am going put the rest of my 120 DVDs on the server. I am going to need more space eventually and Seagate was having an outlet sale so here is the article. My wife wants to know what is in the boxes that keep showing up at our doorstep. I hope she does not look in the server closet any time soon.

I currently have 1.5 TB in the case and a 500GB Free Agent Triple connected via USB. I purchased a second 500GB Triple from the Seagate outlet store this week and for the new eSATA card, the drive and the two new cables, I spent $115. I know I could spend $150 on just one 1 TB eSATA drive but I like to buy drives in stages and replace the older ones. You probably have your own logic on how you like your drives. I am also wondering if I will get any increase in file transfer speeds since I am moving to a faster interface on the duplicated drives. I am going to run some times before and after to see if files transfer faster. It currently takes 1:17 to upload the Voyager 952 MB file.

I thought you might find some of the speed standards interesting shown in the table below:

Device Speed (bit/s) Speed (bytes/s)
USB 2.0 480 Mbit/s 60 MB/s
FireWire 400 393.216 Mbit/s 49.152 MB/s
eSATA (SATA 300) 2,400 Mbit/s 300 MB/s

All external Seagate drives that offer FireWire connectors use the FW400 standard. Over the years I was always led to believe that FireWire 400 was really fast. Who really checked? I guess if you want to be able to daisy chain then you can use FireWire. USB 2.0 is still preferred for most of my applications.

Enough of the specs. Lets touch some hardware. Let the good times roll.  Viva WHS.

Installation

The Dell Server was made for easy access and card installation. You can do pretty much everything you want inside the system without tools. I removed the cover and pushed two plastic pins to get the card bay open. As you can see I can also get to everything else in the same fashion.

Inside Dell Server

I bought the PCIx1 slot card since it had two eSATA connections and the 3.0 Gbps speed. Your hardware will be different of course. I added the card I bought from Newegg and it went in without any issues.

Adding the card to the Dell Server

Mental Note: I recently read about how much work is required to change the RAM on a HP MSS and I just about hit the floor. I hope my parents never decide to start streaming media with their MSS!

I put everything back together (without tools) and put the server back in closet. I connected all of the cables, including the two new eSATA cables on the card side and pressed the power button. Come on baby. Do your thing.

Ok, so my WHS booted back up and I am waiting for the CTL-ALT-DEL screen. For those of you with HP MSS you should have skipped all of these steps. You also skip the “normal” log in screen like those of us with the OEM version and a monitor. Personally I have a hard time trusting a system without a monitor. I need to see the boot process and log in. Yes, I know I am strange.

Great, my WHS actually found the new hardware without my help and is downloading the driver. Is this really going as smoothly as it seems? It is all done. Seriously?

I am now connecting the new drive. Sweet. WHS sees the new drive. Notice that it shows 76% free before I add the drive.

Windows Home Server Console

I select the new drive and click on Add. Here we go again…

Adding the new drive

I expect you and I appreciate the warning but just flippin add the drive already.

More adding the drive

Drive added. Thank you. 80% free? I totally expected more of a delta. We covered the math a few articles ago so I will now console myself with another beer.

Hey did you notice that my first Free Agent drive is now listed as Internal (SATA) also? Before the screen shot I just unplugged the USB and reconnected it with the new eSATA cable and the drive was recognized and the location was relabelled. How cool is that?

It is now time copy some files and check that everything is working on the client side. It is getting late and the wife will be asking questions soon so I better hurry.

I just copied my 952MB Voyager test file and there was no difference in the time from before I changed to eSATA. I am kind of bummed about not seeing any change but I guess the WHS balances the loads before it copies to external drives. I am ok with everything else. You can see my two eSATA drives below and my other USB Free Agent that I use for backup.

Tim's Hard Drives

You could also see in the Console shots earlier above that I also have a second backup drive that I keep in a small USB safe. I rotate this smaller drive off site by backing up the database and all folders BUT the videos folder due to space limitations. You can never back up too much. Seriously.

I have the extra space I need so it is time to start backing up my DVDs.

See you next Friday night.

Timothy Daleo

A good website that has all of the speed standards is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_device_bandwidths

If you go to the link above you can see that the new USB 3.0 is going to kick ass in the next few years. Seriously.

Written by Timothy Daleo

April 5, 2009 at 4:35 pm

The Home Server Show 38 – PP2 Extravaganza!

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HomeServerShow graphic Dave over at the HomeServerShow.com has released the latest edition of his podcast, The Home Server Show, number 38.

This weeks show is all about Windows Home Server Power Pack 2 and includes an interview with yours truly. Yes, I’m really getting around this week on podcasts!

Dave and I really had a blast recording the show – thanks Dave 🙂

You can get more information here, and download it from iTunes or your other favourite place.

Written by Andrew Edney

March 27, 2009 at 7:25 am

The Media Center Show #199 – Round Table and Windows Home Server PP2

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Digital Lifestyle

Ian Dixon over at the Digital Lifestyle.com has just published this weeks Media Center Show Podcast. This week has a great round table discussion and also I am on the show talking about Windows Home Server Power Pack 2 🙂

I had a great time talking to Ian again and will be doing a round table with him very soon, not to mention I will be presenting on Windows Home Server at the UK Windows Media Center and Home Server User Group Meeting in Birmingham on the 21st April.

To download and listen to the show, click here.

Written by Andrew Edney

March 26, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Windows Home Server Power Pack 2 – Now Available

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Today finally sees the announcement that Windows Home Server Power Pack 2, formally known as Snoqualmie, will be released tomorrow via Windows Update. Power Pack 2 is a minor release for Windows Home Server but it is also a "must have" update to Windows Home Server!

If you have your WHS set to download and install updates automatically then you have nothing else to do but sit back, relax, wait for the download and installation to happen, and enjoy PP2! However if you don’t want to wait you can always force the download 🙂

If you don’t have automatic updates switched on, in which case why not, now would be a good time to switch it on to make sure that you don’t miss out on any updates in the future.

This is the release of the English version, with Chinese, French, German, Japanese and Spanish currently scheduled to be available before the end of April.

If you want to read the documentation for Power Pack 2 click here.

You can check that Power Pack 2 has installed correctly by opening the Windows Home Server Console, clicking on Settings and the Resources, and confirming that the version you have installed is 6.0.2030.0 as shown below. The image on the left is the pre PP2 version numbers and the one of the right is the PP2 version.

PP1 resources     resources new

All of your computers that are currently running the Windows Home Server Connector will have the connector automatically upgraded to the new version.

NEW FEATURES AND ENHANCEMENTS

There are a number of new features and enhancements that are delivered with Power Pack 2.

Remote Access Enhancements

The Remote Access settings experience has been greatly enhancement to make it even easier to setup and configure remote access to your Windows Home Server. There are some new wizards as well to help you with the initial configuration of remote access, and also to repair your existing configuration as well.

remote access remote config remote config2 remote config3 remote config5 remote repaired

The troubleshooting help has also been improved.

Home Computer Backup Enhancements

Have you ever tried to restore files and folders from a backup only to have the process stop somewhere between 79 and 81%? Well if you have then there are some fixes included in PP2 which should help eliminate this!

An Updated SDK

The Windows Home Server SDK has been updated and includes facilities to enable add-in developers to display a EULA during installation, amongst other things.

Server Storage and Shared Folder Enhancements

Improvements have been made to the amount of notification messages that WHS produces about the files that are stored in your Shared Folders. Previously the amount of messages produced could cause high CPU utilisation for any applications that might be accessing these files, such as a Zune. This update rectifies this issue.

Have you ever tried to copy large files from your Windows Vista computer to a share on your Windows Home Server and had it fail because you didn’t have enough free space on your WHS Primary Drive? For example, you only had 3Gb of free space on your primary drive but you wanted to copy a 5Gb file to your Videos folder? Well, this update changes this from needing the free disk space on your primary drive to needing the free disk space in the storage pool, which after all is what you were expecting, right?

Bug Fixes 

Obviously there are some bug fixes included in Power Pack 2.

If one or more of your home computers has been running the Windows 7 beta, then you would have noticed already that prior to PP2, the Computers and Backup tab showed any Windows 7 computer you had as a Windows Vista computer. Now with PP2 installed WHS correctly identifies Windows 7 – as you can see below.

OS

Improved User Experience 

Improvements have been made to the “Day 1 Experience” which basically means if you were to be installing Windows Home Server with Power Pack 2 for the first time there are now less screens that you have to go through before being able to use it.

There have also been some improvements in the Windows Home Server Connector installation experience.

New Language Support

Italian language support has been added in addition to existing Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish versions.

Media Sharing Enhancements

With the release of PP2 comes support for MP4 audio and video. Also, any content that is stored on your WHS and shared via WMC, including those MP4 files, will now show up in the music or video library with title, artist, composer, album and genre metadata.

music

Windows Media Center Connector

For some of you, this might be the one thing you were waiting for! This enhancement enables your Windows Media Center to connect to your WHS and access content that has been stored in your Shared Folders.

You can also use your Windows Media Center Extender to view content stored on your WHS.

How cool is that? In the past, you could hack your WHS and WMC to enable some of this functionality, but thankfully it is now fully supported and provided to you without the need to do anything extra. So, do you think that the future might see even more WMC integration with WHS?

If you click on the Windows Media Center icon that appears in the Settings area of the Windows Home Server Console before you have installed and configured the Windows Media Center Connector, you will see a reminder to install it first.

WHS WMC Console Settings

INSTALLING AND CONFIGURING THE WINDOWS MEDIA CENTER CONNECTOR

The required files for the Windows Media Center Connector are automatically copied to all of your Windows Media Center computers ready for you to install. To do this just follow these simple instructions:

On the Start menu, find Windows Media Center Connector and click it.

mce start menu

The UAC box will appear (assuming have haven’t switched UAC off) – click Continue.

The next screen to appear is the Windows Media Center Connector installer. Just click Next to carry on.

wmcc1

You will then be asked for your Windows Home Server password (remember this is the administrator password). Type it in and then click Next to continue.

wmcc2

The installation will only take a few seconds, then when it is complete you will need to click the Done button to restart your computer. If you don’t want to restart at this point you can check the “Do not restart now” box – just make sure you restart before you want to use the new functionality.

wmcc3

Now when you go into the Windows Home Server Console, click on Settings and then Windows Media Center you will see it is populated with information specific to your Windows Home Server.

WHS WMC Console Settings - after

You can specific access to different folders for Windows Media Center and also Windows Media Center Extenders just by clicking the relevant radio buttons – just as you are used to already with Windows Home Server. You can even stop all access with a single click of a button. Don’t worry, you can re-enable access with a single click as well!

Recorded TV folder

When you go into the Windows Home Server Console and click on the Shared Folders tab you will notice a new tab called Recorded TV.

shared folders

If you double click on the Recorded TV folder you will notice that Folder Duplication is switched off by default, so if you really want to protect your Recorded TV, now might be a good time to enable it.

recorded TV properties

Another nice feature is that every user by default gets Full access to the Recorded TV folder. So if you don’t want every user to have this, make sure you go and change it.

recorded TV properties - user access 

It is important to know that Windows Media Center does not automatically copy your Recorded TV from your Media Center to the Recorded TV folder on your Windows Home Server. This is something that you still have to do manually. Why then you may ask is it there? Well, it’s for consolidating your recorded TV content, and also ensuring that it gets backed up. All very useful!

Anything copied to or stored in the Recorded TV folder appears on your Media Center under Recorded TV, just as though it was stored on the Media Center itself.

recorded tv

Conclusion

Ok, so that’s it – what are you waiting for – go get Power Pack 2 and start experiencing even more with your Windows Home Server.

Media Center Health Monitor for Windows Home Server

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My friend and fellow MVP Ian Dixon (he of the DigitalLifestyle.com), has written an add-in for Windows Home Server called Media Center Health Monitor, which as it sounds, monitors the health of the Media Center or Centers (if you have more than one), and the Media Center’s do not even have to be associated with your Windows Home Server.

The add-in is currently in beta, but you can sign up for it here. Ensure you give Ian lots of feedback.

If you are not already running the Media Center Health Monitor on your Media Center, make sure you download and install it in order for your Windows Home Server to have something to monitor!

You can install it directly from the downloads section once you have signed in to Ian’s site. Just follow all the on screen prompts!

MCHealth

Once you have signed up, been approved and have downloaded the add-in, copy it to your Windows Home Server Add-ins folder in the Software share.

ready to install

Once you have copied it to the share you will probably see the usual message about an add-in being ready to install. So, do as it says and open the Windows Home Server Console, click on Settings, then choose Add-Ins and click the Available tab. Click the Install button to start the installation.

available add-ins

Like with any other Add-in, once the installation has completed you will need to restart the Windows Home Server Console.

When you have opened the Windows Home Server Console again, you will see a new tab – called strangely enough Media Center Health Monitor.

media center health monitor icon

If you click on the Media Center Health Monitor tab, you will see a message warning you that you need to enter your Online Account details in the Settings tab – so lets go do that now, shall we?

monitor not configured

Click on Setting, and the click on Media Center Health Monitor to bring up the required screen.

media center health monitor settings

Enter the User Name and Password you used to create your account and click Save. You can also check the box for Auto Update Status and change the Update Interval if you want something other than 5 minutes.

When you go back to the Media Center Health Monitor tab now and click on My Events, you can view anything that has happened. You may need to click Refresh to get something to appear.

My events

If a health warning is received, it will also appear in Task Tray.

health warning

Overall I like this Add-in, and you can certainly do a lot more than just have Windows Home Server monitor it, you can have the application send you an email, or even have updates on Twitter (Ian does love his Twitter!).

So, why not give this Add-in a try and make sure to give Ian some feedback.

Written by Andrew Edney

March 22, 2009 at 3:52 pm

UK Windows Media Center and Windows Home Server Usergroup Event

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April 21st 2009 will see the first UK Windows Media Center and Windows Home Server Usergroup Event taking place at the Aston Science Park in Birmingham.

Ian Dixon of the Digital Lifestyle.com has organised this event and it should be a great day.

I am presenting a session on Windows Home Server, so why not come along and support me / heckle me (delete as appropriate). I’m still not sure how Ian roped me into doing it, but I think it may have been something to do with the Digital Lifestyle.com t-shirt he gave me at CES 🙂

More details on the event will be available in the next few days, but for now go and register for the user group by clicking here.

Upgrading Windows Home Server to a gigabit network on a Friday night

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Equipment required:

Gigabit capable Windows Home Server and at least one other gigabit capable computer

Gigabit router and switches

Cat 6 Cables of various lengths

4 Beers (2 of which are optional)

Windows Media Center playing your favorite party mix

7,246 zip ties

Background

In my home office for the last six years I have been growing a 100 Mbps network. I water half an inch twice a week in partial shade for best results . The current network is comprised of a cable modem connected to a WRT54G Linksys wireless router with two Netgear 100 Mbps switches. I have four Dell laptops on docking stations, two Dell desktops, a fax, multiple NAS devices, a HP3600 printer, one beer (as shown in the picture) and WHS running on a Dell SC440 PowerEdge. One office, two people, seven computers and nine LCD screens. The ratio sounds about right.

DSC_0023_stitch

I would like to say thank you to my wife for always letting me go free range and another thank you to Microsoft and the Image Composite Editor for creating the above panoramic.

http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/groups/ivm/ICE/

Mental Note: That little girl on the MS commercial totally smoked me on the quality of the panoramic picture of her fort. Loser.

Why am I upgrading to Gigabit?

In the last few months I have expanded my network out of the office to the living room with a HP Media Connect and Netflix Roku. In addition, five of the seven Dells have underutilized gigabit controllers and my Roku and HP are just screaming to get off of wireless G. Now, while I only get 10 Mbps from Charter out of the modem, I am constantly battling slow speeds inside the house during file transfer, streaming and backup. I like HD content through Miro downloads and WMC and have been waiting for 1000 Mbps to come down in price. Apparently, this week was the price point for which I have been waiting. Sorry wife, this might hurt a little. Remember prom?

My shopping list was the following:

  • D-link DGS-2205 5-Port Switch for $24.99 after rebate
  • D-link DGS-2208 8-Port Switch for $34.99 after rebate
  • D-link DIR-655 Wireless-N Router for $92.99
  • 15 Cat 6 patch cables ranging from 1-50 feet for $58.00
  • 12 pack of Taurino from Fresh and Easy for $6.99

Total for this upgrade is $217.96 plus tax.

100_2561

I have always been a Linksys man but the latest performance statistics for a new gigabit network led me down a different path. You should choose your own equipment based on need, price point and coolness factor. All of my network is hidden under the desk so I do not care what it looks like. For performance I referenced the site below to get speed ratings for all of the equipment I purchased.

http://www.smallnetbuilder.com/

This website tests almost every piece of network hardware you can imagine. The menu bar at the top of their website directs you to all of their tests. This website also did a review of the HP MSS a few weeks ago that was very comprehensive. There are other sites out there so find at least one to research before you shop.

So back to my Friday night…

Installation

Every installation will be different and I will suggest one thing: Replace your router/wireless (gateway) first, and then the rest of the cables and switches. I changed my router first and once everything was working again I started on the remaining network changeover. The last thing you want to do is gut your network, have a problem and then try and troubleshoot the whole system. Do not do it. Seriously.

I upgraded from the WRT54G to the new DIR-655 and it is working well. I will have to adjust the settings and reconnect all of the wireless devices after the install.

I am going to skip the narration of the equipment change out and cabling runs. I will say that all of my existing 100 Mbps Cat 5 cable is blue and I went out of my way to order yellow Cat 6. The color change will always keep me from mixing up cables in the future. I have also finished running the cables and everything looks good.

100_2564

This is the underside of my IKEA desk. The one white cable is the one that I used to connect to the other switch in the server closet. The router LEDs change color based on 100 or 1000 Mbps speed.

100_2562

I have my printer and server on the switch shown above.

While I was down on the floor I cleaned up the APC for each of my five power groups and moved the NAS boxes (will hook up again someday) to the closet. NAS? Oh really? I mentioned that earlier. I, probably like you, started out with an external hard drive, then moved up to a NAS (or two or three) and then realized that I could have spent the same amount I paid for multiple NAS boxes on a home-built WHS. Lets join together and stop others from making our mistakes. Seriously. Viva WHS. Viva WHS. Viva WHS.

Testing

Now that everything is connected, and the network is up and running again, let’s see if it was worth the $217.96 plus tax. I will need a significant increase in speed if I am going to continue to justify future expenses to the wife.

For testing the new network speed I am going to do two tests. I am going to copy the first episode of Star Trek Voyager which is 952MB to the server and one folder with 973 MB (240 SLR pictures) from our hiking trip last weekend. My purely scientific timing method goes like this:

  1. Right eye looking at the sidebar clock through the bottom of my full Taurino bottle. Left eye on the progress bar.
  2. Start file upload and start drinking.
  3. If I complete the file transfer before I finish the beer then we have a successful test.
  4. Document the results in Windows Live Writer (to qualify these results as “scientific”).

Let’s set this pig on fire…

 

Download Before

Download After

Upload Before

Upload After

952 MB Video File

1:37

:55

1:31

:44

973 MB Picture Folder

2:12

1:16

2:52

1:04

What the heck? What happened to my pig? Where are my superfast increased speeds?  If I did the math right, I think I went from 78 Mbps to 138 Mbps on the download of Voyager? How can this be? Double the speed is good but I was expecting more. Crap². My upload is 173 Mbps? I was expecting like 600 Mbps. Crap³.

Well, after an hour of searching around to see if I had made some massive mistake, I found an article that I wish I had read before I started this endeavor.

http://on10.net/Blogs/EnglishBloke/how-can-i-speed-up-my-windows-home-server-file-copies/

After reading this article I realize that my speeds were not too bad considering I am using folder duplication, full sharing and have a Seagate Desktop Pro USB drive as part of my WHS storage. Should I be thankful for my transfer speeds? I would not mind a few comments from the readers about their file transfer times. Please make me feel better about this people. Seriously.

Your Mileage Will Vary

I have left out some topics that you might want to address for your specific installation.

  • I am not going to use Jumbo frames (4K or 9K) since I still have some older computers on my network.
  • Flow control should also be researched to see if it can help your network speed (My WHS Flow Control was already disabled and I adjusted each gigabit card accordingly)
  • I did not talk about managed switches and segmenting your network or VLAN. Maybe I can talk about that later in the Friday night series.

You can find detailed information on these topics at:

http://www.smallnetbuilder.com/content/blogcategory/22/54/

In addition, if you have VoIP, integrated home security or home automation you may have additional concerns. Our alarm backup plugged back in without any issues.

Conclusion

If you have an existing 100 Mbps network you may want to do you own research and time trials before moving up to gigabit. Upgrading the router was worth it since my extenders use Wireless N. For the switches and cabling, although I did see increases in speed, it was somewhat costly compared to the net change.

See you next Friday.

Written by Timothy Daleo

March 14, 2009 at 5:11 pm