Media Server? Backup? What is your setup?

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by rlu929s, Dec 30, 2013.

  1. rlu929s macrumors regular

    May 17, 2011
    I'm not looking for anything too fancy or expensive. My current setup has been working fine for some time, but I'm starting to see where I may need a dedicated server for iTunes maybe? Looking for advice.

    My problem is that it seem more and more that when we go to watch a local movie we get the home sharing not enabled screen. Usually the fix is the reboot my Windows 7 machine. Not to hard, but the wife is not fond.

    I do notice that usually when I hop on my system that there is a iTunes has stopped working Windows message. Usually closing iTunes and restarting does not fix at this point. I have to reboot the system.

    My Setup
    Windows 7 64BIT w/ 2TB Internal Drive connected over ether to Airport Extreme Router
    iTunes (latest build)
    Backups to 3TB External drive using sync software nightly. I rotate them off-site every so often.
    ATV's connect over Wifi (N)

    Should I look at getting a mac mini? Other thoughts?
  2. profets macrumors 601

    Mar 18, 2009
    If you're invested in the Apple ecosystem or enjoy using the Apple TV for watching media, and you're sharing local content through iTunes, then maybe it's time for a Mac mini.

    I use a Mac mini as a dedicated computer to server media to 4 Apple TVs in the house with a large local library. It's always been quite stable. I'm sure the same should be possible with your Windows 7 PC & iTunes, just gotta dig into troubleshooting iTunes and what's causing it to crash.
  3. neilmacd macrumors 6502

    Apr 18, 2010
    Although a mini would probably be more reliable, I wouldn't switch just for that reason. I use a 2011 mini as an iTunes server and it's still not 100% reliable, and will need the occasional restart/tinkering.

    I wouldn't put all the blame on your current setup.
  4. Delmar macrumors 6502

    May 10, 2012
    If you want to make the move to a Mac Mini HTPC then do as I did, find a lightly used Mini. I paid $200 for my Early 2009 & it works great. I use it for an iTunes & file server. It's connected to my Denon AVR for our living room LED TV & serves an ATV in another room.
  5. Garsun macrumors regular


    Oct 20, 2009
    I use a Mac Mini connected to a RAID 6 disk array.
    I use it for several things:
    1: iTunes library
    2: iPhoto library
    3: Home automation server
    4: Time Machine backup server

    This disk gets copied once a week or so and the copies taken off-site.
    I have another copy that gets updated every six months or so that is kept over hundred miles away.
    This is mostly for the iPhoto library that I really do not want to lose.

    The only issue I've ever had with the system is when updating various IOS Devices(iPhones, iPads) over Wi-Fi I sometimes have to restart iTunes to get them to connect.

    The Apple TVs have never had an issue
  6. kelub macrumors regular

    Jun 15, 2010
    Yeah I just couldn't justify spending $$$ on a home server either. I really wanted a used mini for one, and that might still happen eventually, but a few months ago my work was allowing IT employees to go home with retired HP workstations that are very small form factor; I just tossed a 2TB drive into it and it functions great as the latest iteration of my home server. I've had an old laptop with a broken screen (with an external USB 2.0 drive) as a home server, a desktop tower as a home server, and now the little HP box. You really don't need just a whole lot of horsepower to run a media server.

    I'm running Windows 7 (and iTunes of course) on it and seldom have an issue. Only time there's ever a problem is if it gets rebooted: while I do have iTunes set to start automatically, the machine knows the speaker port is not plugged in and so it tosses a "there's a problem with your audio setup" warning that has to be acknowledged before iTunes actually launches. So it's a quick RDC session each time the box is bounced, which is seldom. (I had it auto updating once a week but even disabled that due to this annoyance, now I just update it manually every couple of weeks.) I could plug the PC into my receiver or even some old headphones into it to alleviate it, I just haven't cause... meh.

    Odd that you're having the iTunes crashing issue. Maybe a reformat is in order. I've had up to 5 different streams off the server at a time and never once had any sort of hiccup performance-wise, despite it being 1 drive (and a WD "green" one at that) over 802.11N (the server is wired, but the clients are all wireless... for now). And since the only thing the server is running is the OS, iTunes, and MS security essentials, there's not much to trip it up.

    If you could pick up a used Mac Mini, as suggested, then that's a very viable option. If Apple came out with a Linux iTunes client (or server) I'd run Linux on the home server box. :\

    As for a backup, I built an identical machine for my in-laws and put all the same content onto it. Whenever I add to mine, I take new stuff over there and update their box. If I ever lose my box, I know where to go to get it all back. It's my "offsite backup." :cool:
  7. jeff92k7 macrumors member

    Dec 14, 2012
    Well, I'll answer the questions in your title, but based on your first sentence about not wanting anything too fancy or expensive, my setup likely won't have much bearing on what you are looking for.

    My media server is a real server - a Dell Poweredge 1900 with 16GB RAM, two dual core XEONs, and about 4TB of usable disk space in a RAID 5 setup with an always available hotspare. It is running Windows Server 2008 R2. I have iTunes running home sharing inside it and it holds an entire copy of our media library. The iTunes library folder sits at 578GB right now. This home server does far more than just iTunes though. It also hosts our entire family photo library and documents folders for every client computer/user on the home network. It does DHCP and DNS for the entire house, and also hosts a few VMware virtual machines inside it for various segregated functions (FTP site for example). It's an old server, but replacement cost alone for something with similar specs would be upwards of $5000.

    As for backup, all document, photo, and media folders on it are backed up with Crashplan+. I have an external 4TB hard drive for a local backup, a spare server (old desktop with lots of disk space) in another part of the house for a secondary local backup, as well as online backup to Crashplan. The total amount of my backups is currently around 1.6TB.

    Additionally, I archive the family photos/home videos each month to Amazon's Glacier service for a secondary offsite backup solution.

    That's my setup and it works great for us, but then, I'm also a network engineer and have been managing datacenters for a while so setting up stuff like this is probably not the best option for most home users. The centralized iTunes library and home sharing is great since all the Apple TVs can access it, any other computer running iTunes can stream/share content, and all our iDevices can then sync with those client libraries.

    I fairly regularly test content restores with Crashplan to ensure backup integrity, and I know that the most important stuff is also in Amazon's glacier just in case the house burns down and the Crashplan stuff fails.

    One thing I do want to encourage everyone to do is take pictures of your setup (including pictures of serial numbers), and store it in a folder that gets backed up offsite regularly. If you ever need the info for insurance purposes, you will be forever grateful that you had it saved in the cloud somewhere.
  8. DUCKofD3ATH Suspended


    Jun 6, 2005
    Universe 0 Timeline
    My setup:
    Mac Pro running Mavericks and latest iTunes equipped with two 1-TB and two 2-TB internal hard drives
    Two external hard drive enclosures with two 1-TB and two 2-TB drives for backing up the Mac Pro
    One external enclosure with two 2-TB drives
    One hard drive docking station for doing regular backups and for updating drives that are kept offsite.
    Carbon Copy Cloner for making the backups
    Nullriver's MediaLink for streaming media to my PlayStation 3 via wifi
  9. Brian Y macrumors 68040

    Oct 21, 2012
    HP Microserver with 8GB RAM running Debian 7. This has:

    - 2TB Boot + VM HDD
    - 4 * 3TB Drives in software RAID 5

    Everything is served through the debian box and stored on the raid array, with the exception of iTunes (damn you home sharing!!!), which I run a small, stripped out XP install in virtual box (on the same debian box) which runs nothing but iTunes (and a crappy antivirus scanner with everything but a weekly scan disabled). Media is stored on the same raid array, with a virtual "shared" folder configured in XP.

    Performance is fine - it has 3 gigabit links - one dedicated to the XP virtual machine, two bonded for everything else - so iTunes streaming isn't interrupted by heavy network transfer from the box.

    Backups are all handled via Time Machine - using Netatalk for AFP. Again, backups go to the same raid array.

    The server also handles antivirus scanning of the network. It wakes each machine once per week when it's not in use via WOL, and runs a full scan of all local drives over the network.

    Important things are also backed up automatically every 48 hours to an offsite NAS in the office. Time machine backups for each machine are remotely backed up to the same NAS once per week.
  10. rlu929s thread starter macrumors regular

    May 17, 2011
    Thanks for the info! I'll play around with iTunes a bit more and see if I can fix the occasional crash. It might also be time for a reformat/re-install. It would be easier if it wasn't my main computer as well, but the extra server cost seems silly if I can get this to work.

    I've got about 650GB free on my 2TB drive, so I've got a little room before I have to start thinking of the next step. Hopefully by then, 3TB drives will be fairly cheap.
  11. Michael CM1 macrumors 603

    Feb 4, 2008
    Where is a good place to find out how to get started on RAID setups? I didn't know RAID 6 was used much until about a week ago. I have filled up my external disks and need to develop a plan going forward that can be easily expanded. I did have movies on one external drive, TV on another. But I filled the larger one up and had to delete some lesser-used purchases.

    I have one of the ore-Thunderbolt iMacs, so I can't use anything that is strictly Thunderbolt unless some sort of USB-Thunderbolt adapter exists. The speed of USB 2 external drives is fine for my ATV usage. I just need something to create a single logical volume that I can expand. I'd also like fault tolerance so I don't lose the rips of my DVDs if something were to fail.
  12. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    I admit I am having a little bit of trouble understanding what you are trying to accomplish here.

    Do you only get movies from the iTunes store? Is all your music from the iTunes store or AAC formatted by you?

    Btw, you don't need to go out and buy some big fat bulky over powered PC to serve up media. That has very little value unless you are making an HTPC and then again, that too doesn't require massive CPU just decent software and the right GPU to tap into. (See XBMC and Plex- both free or Jriver)

    I have a rather large library of music and movies that are stored on a NAS. My iTunes is pointed to the portion that can be played back via iTunes. My blu ray player, AVR and TV also can see the NAS and I usually have my blu ray player play my movies (non iTunes) and music. For the computer - I have a Mac Mini to handle my iTunes both NAS and local.
  13. jeff92k7 macrumors member

    Dec 14, 2012

    Then RAID isn't an option. RAID will provide a fair level of fault tolerance depending on the version, but it is not expandable. To expand a RAID array, you have to completely rebuild it from scratch. RAID is designed to provide a fair level of fault tolerance and increase data throughput by adding additional disks. Each disk can seek data independently so the total throughput is faster than what single disks can achieve.

    Note: RAID is also NOT a backup solution. I have seen entire RAID arrays fail due to controller card issues among other things. A separate backup is still a requirement.

    If you want a constantly expandable disk, look into windows server 2012. I believe it has a feature that can take multiple disks (regardless of size or type) and span a logical volume across all of them. It can be expanded by adding another disk to the set. It is NOT RAID though as it doesn't provide any fault tolerance. My understanding is that if a single disk fails, then you lose the entire volume, but I could be mistaken. I stopped reading about it after I found out that there isn't any fault tolerance.
  14. talmy macrumors 601


    Oct 26, 2009
    RAID is entirely unnecessary for a media server, both from performance and security points of view. The performance is not necessary and the security is illusionary.

    I've got the original "Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server" since upgraded to Mavericks and it's It's got 8 TB of external drives attached. The household has 7 Macs, 4 iOS devices, and a ROKU. Works just fine and consumes 40 watts at idle. Media is served via Plex.

    Backup of media files is done by cloning to bare drives in a drive "toaster". I've got two sets of backup drives, one is always off-site. The server software and more critical services (it also hosts the Calendar and Contacts servers, among others) are backed up automatically, nightly. Again, two sets of backup drives (one off site) but also CrashPlan cloud backup.
  15. jeff92k7 macrumors member

    Dec 14, 2012

    Well, it is no more or less secure than any other form of disk storage. RAID isn't encrypted so you are correct in that there isn't any greater security.

    However, if you are referring to fault tolerance/reliability, then you are incorrect. Anything other than RAID 0 is more fault tolerant. RAID 0 is a simple stripe that actually doubles your risk (if using only two disks). All other forms of RAID include redundancy. Since the most common point of computer failure is the hard disk, anything to provide redundancy is good and increases system reliability, even if the probability of disk failure increases with disk count. Though you are more likely to have a disk fail simply because you have more disks, the data itself is intact because it is duplicated to one or more other disks. The array can be rebuilt with the system still operational and you don't have any system downtime other than what is needed to replace a failed disk on a non-hot swap system.

    RAID is designed for faster disk access to large volumes of data as well as providing reasonable levels of fault tolerance. How extensive you want to get with the fault tolerance is up to each sysadmin. That's why there are different levels of RAID. For me, RAID 5 is plenty for my home server. It provides for a single disk failure without any system downtime, and also provides faster read access to the volume than a single disk would. Since I am running a lot more than just a media server, I find the added access times to be useful. (I also do some audio and video editing, so having fast access to multiple raw audio and video files for editing projects is a must). If I were just running iTunes, I agree that it would be overkill.

    For large storage arrays at work, I use RAID 6. It allows for two disk failures while providing large amounts of usable space. Lots of disks in the array also mean more clients can request data simultaneously without bottlenecks.

    However, I'll say it again, RAID is not a backup strategy. You still need a separate backup.

    For home users though, I don't really recommend RAID. It takes time to set up and manage, and isn't really worth the hassle. Home users would be far better served by using a single large disk and having a simple and effective backup software.
  16. cdavis11, Jan 2, 2014
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2014

    cdavis11 macrumors 6502

    Aug 31, 2009
    24" early 2009 iMac.

    2x HDHR3 Silicon Dust tuners feed EyeTV via a gigabit switch and Over-the-air antenna.

    EyeTV transcodes and feeds iTunes programs we set up to record - usually first run network stuff and a few kids shows on PBS.

    Homebrew scripts along with Hazel and iFlicks (version 1) tag the transcoded shows, add square artwork and send me an email letting me know they're in iTunes and ready to watch.

    I also run ETVcomskip, which marks but does not remove commercials - it sets them as chapter heads which allows easy skipping on my Harmony remote, but doesn't run the risk of deleting portions of my recorded shows. Setup was a pain, but it's worth it.

    That media server stores my home videos, some of my movie collection backup from DVD and my music - it is fed to my a/v system and televisions through 3 :apple:TVs (2 gen 2 and 1 gen 3). Other content I just leave in the cloud - iTunes movies, and a rare purchased tv show season pass...i don't see any reason to download and keep those.

    Scripts also run overnight to delete TV shows (but not movies) with a view count of 1 or greater.

    For live TV, we do a combination of internet streams to :apple:TV via airplay (did that for the rose parade yesterday, worked just great!) and InstaTV Pro running on our iPads to stream from the HDHR tuners.

    I leave the old girl running all the time, and it handles the media server duties and some quicken use very well.

    Backup is done very simply - Time Machine across 3 different external drives.
  17. talmy macrumors 601


    Oct 26, 2009
    Well, that's it. People think they are buying some sort of protection when they buy a RAID array (typically thinking of it as "backup", which we know it isn't!). Using it in a business environment like you do is a completely different situation. A drive failure creates downtime which costs money, far more than the cost of the drive, and if the system is used for transaction recording the loss can be very serious indeed! These are not factors for home use.

    But the need for a separate, tested backup strategy cannot be overemphasized. At one place I worked a controller failure in a RAID array and a faulty backup scheme (one that they hadn't tested) caused a week and a half of downtime and the firing of the head of IT.
  18. jeff92k7 macrumors member

    Dec 14, 2012
    Been there. I won't go into details for company privacy reasons, but I lost an entire SAN one time due to faulty Dell SAN firmware that failed to mark a disk as failed. It ended up degrading the entire array and we lost everything on it....about 12TB of stuff. Thankfully we had backups, but it took weeks to restore that much data and get everything fully operational again.

    That SAN ran an entire branch office so we had an entire office worth of staff sitting with nothing to due for about three days before we could rebuild stuff enough to start getting services back online. The lost productivity over the total period cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars. All thanks to a faulty bit of Dell firmware. A bunch of us were worried about our jobs that week.

    So yes, I totally agree. RAID devices can certainly fail.
  19. Michael CM1 macrumors 603

    Feb 4, 2008
    I'm using another external drive for Time Machine, so I'm not really needing it for backing up. I guessing backing up these files is less of a concern since I do have the physical copies of the rips and the iTunes purchases are available in iCloud. It's just my strategy for where to store stuff got shot once one of my 2TB disks filled up.

    Would it be possible to buy a 4TB disk and to combine it with the 2TB disk in a single external volume? I have 1.5TB of internal storage after upgrading my iMac's HDD, so between that and some other drives I have lying around I could transfer the 2TB drive's content elsewhere and format it. I know in my research I saw that RAID 5 will only use the lesser storage among an array, so I don't know whether the Mac single logical volume setup would be any different.
  20. snarfquest macrumors regular

    Jun 7, 2013
    I have a older MacPro (2008) that is now my home server. It handles:

    -iTunes media server
    -Caching server
    -update server
    -Time Machine backups for all the Macs in the house 5 of them. (2 of mine, my wife's, and 2 sons)
    -Model train control for my O gauge trains.

    It has 16x 3TB red drives configured in 2 Raid 5 arrays. Yes... I'm over kill king.
  21. LuxoDave macrumors newbie


    Jan 26, 2013
    I have a Synology 1512+ NAS with 7TB of drive space running Plex.
  22. SharkGirl macrumors newbie

    Jan 14, 2014
    Los Angeles, CA
    Media Server + Backup= build an NAS?

    I'm looking to build an NAS and found an ancient thread in the forum about using an old Power Mac G4 or G5 to do it. I have an early 2008 MacBook Pro running 10.8.5 and an early 2011 MacBook Pro running 10.9.1, plus iPad and iPhone. This is what I want the NAS to do:

    1. Wireless, scheduled backups (I forget to to do them manually)
    2. Create bootable backups (so I need to use something like Carbon Copy Cloner rather than Time Machine)
    3. Store media I don't keep on my internal drives (TV, movies, music, photos)
    4. Act as a media server (so I can watch media on my HDTV via my PS3)

    Redundancy would be great, but I really don't want/need a RAID. I can make additional backups of the really important files. I'd also like the ability to expand in the future, by adding drives and/or swapping in larger ones.

    Cash is an issue, of course. I haven't found any pre-built NAS boxes that are highly-recommended in my price range, or much in any price range for that matter. Ideally, I'd like to start with 4TB of storage but not sure if I'll be able to swing it.

    I know there are a number of free OS options out there, like FreeNas, which seems like it may Mac-friendly-ish. My Windows using friend uses unRAID and loves it. Or can I just use a version of OS X?

    Any suggestions? Is what I want to build possible? If so, what's the best way to do it? I'm not a computer idiot and I have a baby home network, but I've never set up an NAS or RAID. Am I getting in over my head?
  23. jdechko macrumors 68040

    Jul 1, 2004
    There's always the option of scheduling a restart of the system daily/ weekly, using the built-in task scheduler.

    Other than that, I just have my old dell desktop stuck in the corner. It runs iTunes continually and serves as my backup destination. I also RDC into it to rip new movies.

    The only complaint is that the fan is always running. I'd love to replace it with a quiet Mac Mini, but it works for now.

    I had that same issue. In the end, I just clipped the plug end off of an old pair of headphones and leave it plugged in permanently.
  24. westrock2000 macrumors 6502a

    Oct 18, 2013
    Lots of disdain for RAID in here. RAID is very useful in a media center.

    The major appeal is that it gives you a single consolidated volume in which to put your collection of very large files. Humans, like most animals, like to just throw stuff in a pile :D

    Yes a RAID card can fail, every part of your computer can fail, and each part has a failure mode that CAN RESULT IN DATA LOSS. Your power supply and memory can very easily corrupt your data, the power supply will probably be noticeable, the memory not so much.

    However, going back decades, the highest likelihood of failure is always the hard drive. And it is also the one that has the highest chance to cause data loss upon failure. A lot of this has to do with the fact that it has moving parts and they are moving a lot of the time.

    This is what RAID is for (aside from RAID 0). It is to protect you against the most likely failure you will encounter.

    If you want a very affordable solution for Windows I would suggest a Dell PERC5i. I bought one off eBay for $30, including the battery backup. When I was done with them I sold it for $35, which also included two 4xSATA breakout cables. So realistically you could spend $45-$50 and have a fully hardware RAID card that can support up to 8 SATA drives. The one downside to the PERC5i is that you are limited to each drive being 2TB. The array can be larger, but the physical drive can only be 2TB max.

    This is dependent on the RAID solution. The ones built-in to Intel and AMD motherboards are not ideal by any means and they do not support this.

    However dedicated RAID cards and the filesystem ZFS (MacZFS on OSX) both very much support this. My own personal experience is that the Dell PERC5i could have an additional drive added to the array and the array would rebuild on the fly. The volume was still COMPLETELY ACCESSABLE while it did so. I started off with a 3x2TB RAID5, expanded to 4x2TB and then again expanded to 5x2TB. I never lost use of the volume nor did I loose any data. 5 drives on RAID5 is the highest I was comfortable with.

    I don't know if the PERC5i supported it, but some hardware cards you can also replace all the drives in the array with larger drives and then once they are all replaced the volume can "grow". So you can start out with 3x2TB drives and replace each one (and rebuilding after each replacement) with a 3TB drive. Then once the last 2TB drive is replaced and you have 3x3TB, you can automagically get more storage.

    ZFS does not allow you to expand the individual arrays, but the arrays are subsystems of a "pool". If you make a 3x2TB array, you can not ever change the 3 drive part. You can replace them with larger drives so you get something like 3x4TB drives. However because of the "pool" hierarchy, you can add additional arrays to the pool. Thus a single pool (which appears as a volume) could be made up of 3x2TB RAID5 and 3x3TB RAID5 for 4 discs of data and 2 discs of redundancy. What makes ZFS very different from normal hardware RAID is that all the data is processed with checksums, so that you also protect yourself from random bits of data getting flip flopped as it gets handled by the system.

    ZFS is really cool, but it has no support in Windows and even OSX support has some stipulations. It features really are the future of file systems though.
  25. MultiFinder17 macrumors 68000


    Jan 8, 2008
    Tampa, Florida
    I have my old first-generation Apple TV set up as my central media and file server. You don't need terribly intensive hardware for a small home server, and Apple TVs are going for around $100 on eBay. I put a 320GB SSD in mine, which is plenty of room for all of my media; your needs may differ from mine, but remember that it has a USB port out the back for hooking up as much storage as you can possibly afford :)

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