January 14, 2014

Home Data Server, A Sketch

It’s complete! Our data backup to the cloud has finished, and ahead of schedule too. I no longer need to live in fear of data loss.

We’ve been talking about setting up a home data center since before we were married. The idea was to have one computer to act as the central repository for our data files: pictures, movies, music, etc. We’re a mixed operating system household, and having one data store makes it easier to integrate our digital stuff. Until lately, however, we never really had the impetuous forcing us to do it. After nearly four years of marriage, our data is still segregated. Our computers still don’t talk to each other, let alone to the other devices in our home like the TV.

goalsetup
The Ideal Setup: A central home server with data. Domingo and I can share data with each other, by saving it to one central server, and that server also ensures data is backed to the cloud

Recently the need for a data server is becoming more apparent. Taking a page from the day care, we use music for Nicki’s nap time. Her nap time CD has been burned to my phone. The actual CD is still in a box, somewhere. Hopefully. It wasn’t really a problem that my phone was only device capable of playing her nap time music until recently. My parents were visiting over new years while Nicki’s day care was on holiday, but I didn’t have the time off from work. Trying to get the data moved to another device so Nicki could have her music and I could have my phone was beyond ridiculously complicated for this day and age.

currentsetup
The Current Setup: my 9 and a half year old server is still limping along. It’s short on CPU power, low on disk space, and slugish. Domingo backs up by sending critical files to me, and I back them up directly to the cloud. In our current setup, Domingo needs to tell me when there’s a new file to be backed up. This puts him at risk for data loss.

Our first thought was to cobble something together using existing hardware. Alas, my current server is a 9 and a half year old beast I bought when I first started thinking about grad school. It was top of the line back then, but obsolete for the past four years or so. In fact, the computer is so old they stopped patching the operating system years ago. It’s now sitting unplugged, not because it’s dead (it will boot!), but because it’s a security nightmare. All other computers are in various stages of rigor mortis: 1 desktop that suffered a total hard drive crash and no longer boots, a laptop without a working battery or very stable AC adapter, and a laptop that just beeps an error code when booted before turning itself back off.

I run my hardware into the ground.

The next step is to figure out what we need from the data server. The goal is for a computer that’s

  • Multicore I think we can get away with dual core. Maybe if we’re feeling fancy we’ll do quad core. Domingo and I both use virtual machines (VM). I like Paint Shop Pro (PSP) V8 for my graphical editing because I’m familiar with the software. It will be 11 years old this April. Of course with software that old there’s no guarantee that it will continue to work with newer operating systems. A VM with an old opperating system ensures I can continue to use paint shop.
  • At least 16 Gigabytes of Memory. VMs can take up to 4 GBs of ram to run effectively. Graphics programs are notoriously memory hogs, so that VM may even need more. Since we want to be able to run two VMs potentially concurrently, 16 GB seems like the lowest bar we can get away with.
  • At least 3 Terrabytes worth of Disk. Currently Domingo and I share about 2 TBs of data (mostly photos.) The plan is to use crash plan to keep a local backup copy (likely to external drives) in addition to the cloud backup. Like I mentioned before, recovering from cloud will be expensive and painful – the cloud serves as protection against the worst case scenario.

We’re planning on using the server headless, meaning we aren’t expecting to use it directly, so graphics and audio capabilities are irrelevant. Eventually we’d want to broadcast to the TV and a stereo system, but that’s a secondary use case. Especially since we don’t currently have a home stereo. A fast wireless connection would be nice, but that’s fairly ubiquitous.

I’d also like it to be able to function as a media server and stream movies to the TV. We don’t currently have a sound system, but I think it would be nice if the server could stream sound to different sound systems. For example, playing white noise in Nicki’s room and holiday music in the living room. This should be fairly easy to achieve.

So that’s the current game plan. Am I missing anything?

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  1. […] I last blogged about our desire for a home data center, Domingo and I were thinking we needed a rather hefty server. We now realize that’s over kill. We […]


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