MediaServer8 : One Box to Rule Them All

meep

Active Member
I've spent the last 12 years in pursuit of whole house a/v perfection, the last two working towards a particular vision. I think I'm there. MediaServer8 is my unified, whole-house storage, video, TV, rolling in a couple of client HTPCs as well - a single machine that does it all.

I have a blog about building it but here's the current state of play;



Over two years ago, I wrote a blog entry that outlined my objectives in embarking on the MediaServer8 project;

- Centralised storage for media files
- Time Machine Backup Server
- Work File Storage
- Snatching
- Media Playback
- Whole House Audio
- Live TV Distribution / PVR

At the time, I had an unRAID NAS system for file storage and Plex serving and was contemplating a move to Windows Server 8. Now, I've got pretty much all of the above set up in a single machine, and more.

I've been interested in whole-house a/v since we started planning our renovation over 12 years ago and I've been through system after system, technology after technology. Some worked well, some not at all. However, all were defined by a lack of unity. I could have a great HTPC system but it wouldn't integrate well with whole house audio or lighting control or mass storage or whatever.

Now, at last, I'm happy.

The system now comprises a base unRAID storage system running on some beefy hardware. I have a system providing 11TB of parity-protected storage with the potential to expand to 36TBas I gradually replace 1TB drives with 4TB models. However, since unRAID made the move to a 64 bit architecture and added the Xen hypervisor system in version 6, it's unlocked a whole new world of potential.

Now, the base unRAID system is not only a closed NAS system with the ability to run some community plug-ins, it allows the for the creation of multiple virtual systems each with their own discrete tasks. It even allows specific hardware and devices to be passed through to these virtual machines. Here's what I'm running at the moment (all on a single system);




TVServer

A Windows 7 VM that runs MediaPortal Server and Argus TV Server. This system has access to a set of Digital Devices DuoFlex tuners which provide DVB-S2 and Digital Terrestrial services (up to 8x tuners in a single PCIe slot). I've also passed through a pair of Hard Drives as block level devices, one for timeshifting and one for recordings.

There's also an M-Audio Delta 410 sound card installed here and multiple instances of squeezeslaav which can drive up to 5 discrete zones of whole-house audio.

Access to this VM is via VNC.

TV 1 / TV 2
Two more or less identical Windows 8.1 VMs, each of which runs MediaPortal client software, with audio and video played out via HD5450 GPUs. These are the only feeds to my lounge and living room TVs and the single MediaPortal interface provides access to all live TV and Radio content as well as Tv Shows and Movies up to 1080p. Control is via Windows Media Center Remotes, with wired or wireless mouse and keyboard as a backup.

ArchLMS
An Arch Linux VM whose sole duty at present is to run the Logitech Media Server, the foundation of whole house audio, serving all my music to virtual zones and physical Squeezebox Radio devices. Also serves up Spotify to the Radios. Access is via Telnet. I can add additional functionality to this VM as needed.


The greatest attraction here is that all of this is running in a single box that's using pretty much the same amount of power as my previous standalone unRAID only server. 5 systems for the price of 1!

In terms of my original objectives;

Centralised storage for media files
In place via unRAID running natively on my hardware with up to 36GB potential by just upgrading hard drives.

Time Machine Backup Server
Not implemented as I don't use Macs as much any more. But unRAID has support for this and it would just be a case of switching it on if necessary.

Work File Storage
Rolled in to general storage on unRAID.

Snatching
Not implemented. I have pretty much enough media between live TV / recordings, Netflix which runs on both TV VMs and whatever physical media I purchase. However, there's no reason why Sickberard, Couchpotato and the rest could not be set up in the Arch Linux VM or a dedicated VM.

Media Playback
Acheived through the provision of MediaPortal Server and Clients. I had originally thought this would be Plex and while that's a great system, it has no support for live TV / PVR which is important to me. MediaPortal has this as well as very flexible configuration capabilities and a good plug-in ecosystem.

The only thing I really miss about Plexis the client / server model whereby watched media is managed centrally. MediaPortal 2, which is in development, promises this so I'm happy to wait.

I would note that I've tried pretty much every piece of media software from Plex to XBMC as well as JRiver and others. MediaPortal does everything I need, looks great, is stable and I've had no complaints from any family member about ease of use.

Whole House Audio
Achieved through Logitech Media Server, squeezeslave software, a multi-channel sound card and some physical devices. I can control the music in any zone from any device or via iOS / Android apps. Works great and is very cost effective.

Live TV Distribution / PVR
Looking back, this was my biggest challenge but the move to MediaPortal has solved this. Ican now have up to 8x satellite & terrestrial tuners feeding TVs in any room via either the TV VMs in MediaServer8 or physical PCs. By choice I'm restricted to Freesat and SaorView but with that and Netflix, I have all I need, and it was a great pleasure to get rid of Sky and save about €500 p/a.


What's next? Well, I'd love to add just one more TV client to the system but I'm out of PCIe slots so can't fit another GPU. I could upgrade my MB so maybe that. Got to get saving though. Apart from that, I think I'll just sit back and enjoy it for a while!

It's been a blast building this. Stay tuned for future chapters!
 
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muppetman74

Active Member
That's fantastic! I'm in the process of doing exactly the same thing at the moment, but in a slightly different way...

I'm running a VMware ESXi host with an Ubuntu server guest with passthrough'ed SATA for the NAS part, a Windows 8 guest running MediaPortal TV Server (DVBS2 and T2 tuners) and then the plan is to add a couple of MediaPortal clients with HDMI over cat6.

However, having performance issues at the moment - I haven't really had the time to troubleshoot as this is a bit of a backburner project but although have dabbled with unraid, I had no idea Xen Unraid existed.

I'm going to have to look into that....
 
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meep

Active Member
That's fantastic! I'm in the process of doing exactly the same thing at the moment, but in a slightly different way...

I'm running a VMware ESXi host with an Ubuntu server guest with passthrough'ed SATA for the NAS part, a Windows 8 host running MediaPortal TV Server (DVBS2 and T2 tuners) and then the plan is to add a couple of MediaPortal clients with HDMI over cat6.

However, having performance issues at the moment - I haven't really had the time to troubleshoot as this is a bit of a backburner project but although have dabbled with unraid, I had no idea Xen Unraid existed.

I'm going to have to look into that....
One of the nice things about running unRAID as DOM0 is that you don't need to pass through your storage controllers - they are accessed natively by the storage OS. Then, you can use Xen to build your VMs and they can access the storage via virtual networks.

While it's possible to run NAS OS in VMs, I was never very comfortable with the idea of passing through SATA controllers on which my entire storage array would depend.

Peter
 

muppetman74

Active Member
I've never really worried about the SATA passthrough, as I don't really have an array as such - it just a collection of NTFS drives and one off-line parity via SnapRaid, but you are right - it's would be a bit flaky to use passthrough for a complex array.

You've convinced me - gonna give Unraid a try when I get the chance.
 

meep

Active Member
I've never really worried about the SATA passthrough, as I don't really have an array as such - it just a collection of NTFS drives and one off-line parity via SnapRaid, but you are right - it's would be a bit flaky to use passthrough for a complex array.

You've convinced me - gonna give Unraid a try when I get the chance.
Ha!

Just like that, LimeTech have just yesterday announced that they're moving away from Xen and towards a solution centred on KVM / Docker. You might be be best wait a few months for all of that to shake out.
 

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