Tag Archives: windows home server

MediaPortal

MediaPortal on Windows Home Server

MediaPortal is a PVR/media application that handled TV recording as well as media management like Windows Media Center. It is a free open source program that can be found here.

I initially thought it would be very simple to install the TV Server portion of the applicaiton on my WHS in order to handle the recording and streaming, but unfortunately WHS is not supported by MediaPortal and there are a few hoops to jump through in order to get this to work.

I downloaded the latest version of MediaPlayer and when trying to install it said that WHS (recognized as Windows Server 2003 SP2) was not supported, but lets you continue with the installation anyway. I selected ‘advanced installation’ so that I can just install the ‘Dedicated TV-Server (master)’ component and not the MediaPortal client application. During the installation it says you need to install Windows Media Player 11, since WMP 11 is not supported by WHS you will need to follow the directions below in order to successfully install it.

To install Media Player 11:

  1. Download wmp11-windowsxp-x86-enu.exe
  2. Open this file in an extraction program such as WinZip or 7-Zip (I used 7-Zip)
  3. Extract the wmfdist11.exe and wmp11.exe and place them in separate folders on the C: drive of your WHS (not on a share). (this step was adapted from instructions I was following elsewhere – I’m not certain of the separate folders requirement, but I did it anyway)
  4. From the WHS admin desktop, right-click the wmfdist11.exe file and click properties.
  5. Go to the Compatibility tab and ticket the “Run this program in compatibility mode for:” box, and select Windows XP from the drop down.
  6. Click OK, and run the wmfdisk11.exe. Choose not to restart at the end.
  7. Repeat 4-7 for the wmp11.exe

Source: Jay Schlackman

After this is complete, run through the MediaPortal installer, if you have any issues check the ones that I ran into (below) for my solutions.  Once installation is complete, launch the “TV-Server Configuration” and now you can follow the official guide for setting up a MediaPortal TV-Server or various other guide that you can find online.

I will post back with my thoughts on MediaPortal after I have some time to play around with it.

Issues along the way

Failed to startup tvserviceSystem.Net.Sockets.SocketException

At the end of the installation or when I try to launch the TV-Server configuration, I got the following lengthy error message (my PC’s IP address is blacked out). I tried a number of suggestions that I found online but to no avail. After a number of hours troubleshooting this issue, I decided to revert to version 1.0.1 which can be found on their SourceForge page and everything worked fine.

Failed to startup tvserviceSystem.Net.Sockets.SocketException

Your platform is not supported by MediaPortal

Whenever you try to launch the application you will get an error message saying that the platform is not supported, but you can ignore this message.

mySQL – set password error: 1

Since I ran into some issues getting Media Portal installed on WHS I ended up going through the install/uninstall process a number of times. While doing this I ran into an error message when installing MySQL that said “mySQL – set password error: 1” and quit the installation. In order to fix this you must uninstall MySQL from the Control Panel>Add/Remove Programs and the navigate to the C:\Program Files\MySQL directory and delete it. After this, reboot your PC and try the installation again and it should work just fine. If you are still having issues, in the advanced installation you can choose too install Microsoft SQL Express 2005 as your database instead of MySQL to circumvent this message.

WHS v2 Vail

From what I have read MediaPortal should install without much hassle on the newer version of WHS codename Vail. The beta is out for WHSv2, but I do not have the extra hardware to run those tests at this time.

WHS Redirect My Documents with Offline Sync

In this guide I will explain how to redirect the the My Documents folder to the User share on a Windows Home Server. Also, I will set up Offline File Syncing so the computer can be disconnected from the network and still maintain access to the files. Upon reconnecting to the network the changes will by automatically synchronized.

The individual User folders are automatically created when adding a user to the Windows Home Server and it is set so only the specific user has read/write access. This is a great way to manage your files if you are working on multiple computers and/or are using a laptop that is occasionally removed from the local network and you still need access to all of your files.

Part I: Redirect My Documents Folder

In Windows XP or Vista, you can can right click on the “My Documents” or “Documents” folder in Windows Explorer and click on Properties.

In Windows 7 you need to navigate to the actual My Documents folder which is located by default in C:\Users\UserName\My Documents. Right click on that folder and click on Properties.

Navigate to the Location tab where you will see the current My Documents path.

In this section change the path to the Windows Home Server share that you will be using as the new My Documents folder. In my case I changed the path to \\whs\Users\ben.

You will be asked if you want to move over the contents My Documents to the new path (do this if the files do not already exist in the destination). In my case, I copied over the files before I started this process. Make sure your files are in the new location and then you can delete your old My Documents folder.

Part II: Configure Offline File

Navigate to the new My Documents folder in the WHS share, right click on it, and select Properties. Go to the Offline Files tab and check off ‘Always available offline.’ Press sync now to begin the sync which should take a few minutes.

You can test to make sure everything is working by creating a test file and saving it to your My Documents folder, disconnecting your network connection, open the test file, make a modification, save it, reconnect network connection and navigate to the share (ex. \\whs\users\ben) and open the test file from that location. If it shows the modification that you made when you were offline you are all set.

Note: I found that Battlefield Bad Company 2 and possibly other games or applications that access game files in the My Documents folder do not run properly when it is redirected to a network share (ex. extreme lag in BFBC2).

Windows Home Server not Virtualized Benchmark

I tried bypassing the virtualization solution and wanted to see what kind of performance I could get running straight off the hardware kind of like a benchmark so I have something to compare WHS VM performance to. I installed WHS directly on my secondary PC and have seen pretty good results so far. File transfers have been generally ranging from 40-50MB/s and I was able to stream a 10Gb 1080p .MKV file with no stuttering and basically immediate response to FF/RW requests.

I did once see transfer speeds below 1MB/s but it worked fine before and after that. I am assuming the slow speeds in that instance were do to the storage balancer since it was shortly after I had turned on some folder duplication and it was likely moving large amounts of data. Although I have no proof, if it happens again I will try to track it down.

I think I will try tweaking this WHS installation a bit and then perhaps try running a virtual machine on top of WHS to see how that works (many people have reported success).

Note: I did notice that another computer on my gigabit network was able to get transfer speeds in the range of 80-90Mb/s so this has left me wondering why I cannot achieve these speeds with my primary pc. It can perhaps be due to a low quality NIC or mismatched settings. In the future I will work on optimizing the connection on my main pc to achieve these speeds.

Install VMWare ESXi on a USB stick

Next I wanted to try to set up VMWare ESXi. I also read about how you can run ESXi off of a flash drive and I thought I would give this a try so I could dedicate the entire physical hard drive to running WHS.

I read that I could run through the installation normally and just tell it the installation destination is the USB stick, however this did not work for me as it said it was unable to find a location to install to. And after loading the installation files I was forced to restart and try again.

I did find these great instructions that guided me through the process in a lot less time then it would have taken to run through the standard installation. I used Method #2 with WinImage and the whole thing took under 10 minutes.

I stuck the USB stick into the PC and it booted right into ESXi, obtained an IP address, and I was able to download/install the VI Client to manage the server very easily. The VI Client is very overwhelming at first but once you understand its layout it becomes manageable.

Hyper-V, Physical hard disk access & CPU virtualization support

A way to avoid using the virtual hard disk files would be by using Hyper-V which has the ability to attach physical hard disks directly to virtual machines. That means I can set the physical hard drive as offline to the host operating system and dedicate it to the virtual machine os, giving the vm os direct and dedicated read/write access to the drive. Using the physical disk access you can avoid using the virtual hard drive “coffins” to store your files, and instead, the files are stored normally, directly on the physical hard drive that can be plugged in and read by any computer. This allows you to reap the full benefits from Windows Home Server’s Drive Extender technology that I have discussed in a previous post.

Hyper-V sounds like a great solution with the exception that I would have to give up using my TV tuner on this computer since only the host os has direct access to the tuner cards. Hyper-V does not support USB passthrough devices like VMWare ESXi does which eliminates the possibility of using a USB tuner. So in order to get TV tuner functionality I would need to get something like the Silicondust HDHomerun network tuner, but it is still possible and something that I would be willing to settle on for the time being.

BUT when I tried to install Hyper-V it said that my CPU does not support virtualization, which for AMD is the AMD-V technology. I was under the impression that I would be able to run Hyper-V without AMD-V but I would not be able to run 64-bit guest operating systems, but that was obviously not the case. I was completely unable to install the Hyper-V role in Windows Server 2008 without cpu virtualization support.

On to ESXi…

Windows Home Server Drive Extender data storage technology

One of the greatest features of Windows Home Server is its dead simple data management and replication, or what they call Drive Extender. Aside from simplicity, Drive Extender has a few storage features that you cannot find with other solutions. In fact, many enthusiasts choose to run WHS instead of Linux or full blown Windows server upwards of 20Tb for this reason.

No drive letters

In WHS you can forget about worrying about filling up individual drives and having to move files to other drives because they are too big to fit. As far as Windows Home Server is concerned your disks are combined to form a single storage pool. This is like a JBOD “just a bunch of disks” array where you have a single namespace to access the data and the disks are spanned together and appear to the end user as one giant disk. This also greatly simplifies your file access as you will not have to navigate to different drive letters to find your files, they can all be accessed via a single shared folder.

Storage Pool

Unlike a RAID array which has a variety of restrictions, with WHS you can add any size/type of disk into this array without losing/wasting data if all of the drives are not of equal capacity. If you have a 250Gb IDE , 750Gb SATA, and a 1Tb firewire drive, you can attach all of these devices to your WHS and have 2Tb of seamless storage.

Simple to add/remove storage

If you are filling your your WHS and need to add in another disk, you can just order any new hard drive and pop it into the system. The computer will recognize it and you just have to add the drive to the storage pool. WHS will take care of distributing your files onto this drive in order to balance out the other disks.

Data duplication

Windows Home Server allows you to select certain files that you want to duplicate (in case of a drive failure). Enabling this option automatically creates a copy of the selected files and ensures that at any point in time they are stored on 2 separate hard drives. That way if one of your drives was to fail, you would be sure to not lose this data. If you wanted this sort of protection you would have to use RAID and live with its restrictions/limitations or try and manage the storage and file locations manually which would be a big hastle.

Note: This is however not instead of backing up your data.

WHS on VMWare Server 2.0 with a Windows 7 host

After trying Virtual Server 2005R2 I decided to try VMWare Server 2.0, another free solution.  After a quick Windows 7 reformat (to completely wipe the Virtual Server modifications/workarounds), the installation of VMWare Server went without a hitch. I had a 100Gb partition for Windows 7 and then the rest of the 1Tb drive was broken into another partiotn where I stored the WHS virtual hard drive (not pre-allocated, equal to the remaining space). Later on a second 1Tb hard drive was put in the machine and I created a second virtual hard drive equal to the size of the drive.

With WHS it is important to make the virtual hard drives equal to the entire size of the disk so that you do not have 2 virtual hard drives running on the same spindle. That is because when you enable duplication in WHS, it makes sure that the files are not stored on the same spindle and takes away the task of manually managing storage. However, if you have 2 virtual hard drives on the same spindle and that drive fails, you can potentially lose data that you thought was successfully duplicated on another physical hard drive.

I have been running Windows Home Server (WHS) in VMWare Server for close to a month with fairly good results. I am able to record live TV with Windows Media Center and have it transfered and archived onto the WHS. WHS has been successfully performing nightly backups of my primary desktop, laptop, and host machine. However, the one major issue I am having is with the transfer speeds.

I initially was on a 100 megabit network but my transfer speeds between the WHS and other PCs was usually under a measly 1MB/s. After some troubleshooting and suggestions I looked into disabling TCP Offload which has seemed to work for others, but did not make much of a difference for me. I found a good deal on a gigabit switch and figured I might as well try increasing the availiable bandwidth (although 1MB/s is not being restricted by a 100 megabit network).

I do not know why, but after installing the gigabit switch I saw a speed increase to a range of 8-15MB/s. But this was still much slower than expected. Perhaps these transfer speeds are severely limited since I am running a full blown host os and WHS on the same hard drive (not a raid array).

One realization that came up while using VMWare server was that all my precious data is stored in these large (~1Tb) virtual hard drive files (vmdk). If anything happens to the host machine and I needed to retrieve the files I would first have to set up a new host, virtual machine, installation of WHS, etc. Meanwhile one of the features that WHS offers is that all of the files are stored in standard format and the hard drives can be plugged into another computer to retrieve the files. So to me, locking all of my files in these virtual disk “coffins” and manually trying to manage the placement of these virtual disk files seemed to go against some of the main advantages of WHS. Additionally, the scary thought that my data has 2x the chance of being lost since the VMDK file could  get corrupted OR a spindle could die.

Both the slow transfer speeds and the disadvantages of virtual hard disks in WHS pushed me towards looking for another solution.

Virtualization, Windows Home Server, and HTPCs

Right now I’m focusing on virtualization, windows home server, and HTPCs. I will be exploring different configurations to find the optimal setup able to achieve my goals.

Goals:

  1. Computer backup
  2. Virtualization – testing/experimenting
  3. Media streaming server
  4. PVR
  5. HTPC front end – for playback of DVD rips and recorded TV
  6. BitTorrent machine
  7. Automate the process of media downloading, organizing, metadata/fanart

My primary desktop is used for gaming so I want to accomplish as much as possible on my secondary pc (complete specs). For virtualization I plan to experiment with VMWare ESXi, Hyper-V Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V, VMWare Server 2.0, and Virtual Server 2005.

I hope this blog can serve as a reference for others who are interested in a similar setup, because I know how difficult it was to find information on these topics.