Enter the Server – Part Three

HP Microserver Gen 8

Still on the Gen 8 topic, here’s the lowdown on some questions I was asked:

  • File Sharing – I’m using regular Windows FS in a workgroup environment.
  • Backup – I was using a multitude of solutions for backup here at home: my PC had Backblaze backing up to the cloud, my wife’s PC had Veeam Endpoint Backup backing up for a network share. The QNAP was backing up to a USB HDD. Now I’m changing everything to Crashplan. The Gen8 will backup to the cloud via Crashplan and my PC as well as my wife’s will backup to the Gen 8 via Crashplan client.
  • Plex – Plex Server on the G8. I’m using Chromecast in my living room as a Plex client when I need to watch something served by Plex. Sometimes I use Rasplex as well on my Raspberry PI 2.
  • Private Cloud – BitTorrent Sync – they have clients for every major supported OS and mobile OS. Great to sync everything without having your files stored in a service like Dropbox or MEGA.
  • Download Management – uTorrent
  • SFTP Server – Bitvise SSH Server Personal Edition – Free for personal use. Very very good SSH server with lots of options and customization.
  • VPN Server – Windows Server VPN service.

Enter the Server – Part Two

HP Proliant MicroServers Gen 8
Yes, there is a kit with 3 exchangeable faceplates for the Gen8.

After I got the Gen 8, it was testing time. I knew the roles I wanted for my new server:

  • File Sharing
  • Backup
  • Plex
  • Private Cloud
  • Download Management
  • SFTP Server
  • VPN Server

When the hardware arrived I had to improvise a bit, since the budget I had, was not enough for the “perfect configuration”, so I had to settle with what I bought and with what I already had.

The “perfect configuration” I mentioned before would be IMHO, to upgrade the CPU for a Intel Xeon E3-1265LV2, 16GB of RAM, 4x 4TB WD RED, a 250GB SSD for the OS or a 64GB Micro SD to boot VMWare ESXi, running an entire virtualized solution.

The bundled CPU is a Celeron G1610T, and it’s not very powerful (2 cores @ 2.3 GHz) to run VMs, but enough to run the roles I had in mind. I just needed a few more gigs of RAM and my father got me an 8GB DIMM he had laying arround that luckily was compatible with the Gen8.

So from 2GB I was now sporting 10GB of RAM which, BTW, helps a lot with the HP B120i Controller. It’s not a great controller, but for the price I don’t think it could get better. Still, if you want, there’s a PCI-E expansion slot inside the server that you can use to add another controller (or anything else).

As for the storage, I got 2x 3TB WD Red drives, I managed to scavenge some WD Green drives I had lying around. So, my current storage configuration is:

  • 1 TB drive for the OS
  • 2 TB drive for laptop backups, guest file sharing, private cloud and downloads
  • 2 x 3TB drives in RAID 1 for the main storage (photos, documents, movies, tv series, music, etc…)

As for the OS, I tried a few. FreeNAS was the first. It resembled a lot of the NAS OSs you can find in regular NAS, but a bit behind QNAP and Synology OSs. It’s very powerful and robust, it’s based on FreeBSD, but the configuration is not very user-friendly. The Plex server configuration didn’t go as smooth as it should. Still, it’s on my top 10.

Second was CentOS 7. It all ran smoothly, with an exception (very big exception that also happened with FreeNAS): the Gen8 has only on big fan for the entire system. With CentOS, the fan would not lower from 16% and the temperature sensors on the server ILO reported temperature a bit higher than expected. This is probably related with how CentOS handles the Gen8 ACPI or some drivers… either way, I didn’t have time or the patience to look for a solution.

For Synology fans, there’s also a hack of the Synology OS for X86 machines – XPEnology – but maybe because I was trying to install and boot it from the MicroSD, I didn’t have success installing it 🙁 Also, it seemed a bit too much of a hack and by then I was trying to use the Gen 8 as a full server and not just as a NAS.

I then realized that I had my Technet copy of Windows Server 2012 R2 unused 🙂 and like I work with W2k12 on a daily basis… why the hell not?

Every piece of software I need is available on Windows. As an added layer of data protection, online backup plans like Crashplan and Backblaze also run on Windows (still Backblaze doesn’t run on Windows Server or Linux). HP drivers usually are very well optimized for Windows Server, so I went ahead.

The setup was very smooth. After I installed the OS, I ran the Service Pack DVD with the latest drivers and firmware from HP and some Windows Updates later, I noticed that the temperature readings dropped a lot compared with CentOS 7. When idle, the fan doesn’t go beyond 7% even when my office is at the peak of the heat and I don’t have Air Conditioning over here, just a window. The server is very silent, and notice, that my QNAP NAS was fanless!

So, now I have my Gen8 running all the services and roles I need. Is it perfect? No, not yet, there’s still room for improvement. Perhaps when I have the time and money I might try to carry out more and transform this into a VMWare server. Right now the most important for me is that I got full fledge server that suits my needs, cheaper than a NAS, and you can’t beat a good deal like that 😀

Tips for the Gen 8
  • The best site you can go to for info on the Gen8, is this forum on the HomeServerShow site. The info they have there is precious and it was a deal breaker for me when I was considering to buy the Gen8.
  • The Gen8 has a micro sd slot on the board that you can use to boot OSs like VMWare ESXi and FreeNAS. If you don’t want to use it to boot the OS, you can still use it to keep files normally. Get a 64GB or more MicroSD and you got another storage place on your Gen 8.
  • The entry-level Gen8 I got does not come with an optical drive. Although you can get one, with all the USB ports on the server, you can boot anything from a USB pen or HDD. Besides that, you still have the virtual drives on the ILO.  Skip the optical drive and get an SSD to put there instead and boot the OS.

Feel free to ask me anything about the Gen 8, here in the comments on Twitter. I’ll be glad to share more info on this with you.

Update: Here’s part three.

Enter the Server – Part One

Qnap-TS 119

I had a QNAP TS-119 unit as my home NAS for as long as six years. It worked very well until recently it began to corrupt the OS data in the HDD as well as the USB HDD connected to the unit for backup.

Even with a new HDD fitted in the unit and several clean firmware updates, after a few months, the NAS would show a lot of errors in the logs, regarding the HDD. SMART checks and other tests a like didn’t show any problems with the HDD…

This and the fact that the NAS was a one bay model really got me worried about loosing data and so, I began searching for a replacement.

My requisites were simple:

  • two or four bays
  • RAID capable
  • gigabit networking
  • at least one USB 3.0 port
  • a decent CPU
  • 2GB of RAM to run some processes
  • a decent price 😛

I first looked at QNAP and Synology, since they make the best NAS models in my opinion. Both OSs are Linux-based with a lot of functionalities, applications and stuff geeks like me love to play with.

At the end of the day, a NAS is nothing more than a server, a little dumbed down on the hardware. QNAP and Synology have good hardware and their OSs make most of it giving the user the ability to run applications and services like you would on a normal server… it’s a bit limited but it’s useful and cool.

Nowadays, having a NAS at home provides you with a personal cloud, since most brands have their own personal cloud service embedded in the NAS OS. Still you can always install your own options, like a VPN, SFTP server, HTTP/HTTP server, BT Sync, etc…

But I digress… looking at the NAS models from QNAP and Synology that would fit my needs, I suddenly found a pattern… they were all too expensive for my budget. I still needed to buy two WD Red 3GB drives for the new NAS, and this would bring the total up to more than I wanted to spend.

I looked at another brands like Western Digital and Netgear, but I found that their OSs were rather limited comparing to QNAP and Synology. All that apps, bells and whistles I mentioned before were not available entirely in these brands OS.

HP Proliant Microserver Gen 8

That’s when a friend of mine sent me a link for an HP Proliant Microserver Gen 8. The HP Microserver Gen8 is the follow-up model to HP’s Gen 7, which was talked a lot because of the form factor and the HP MediaSmart Server that it replaced.

The Gen8 (for now on) was released in 2014 and it had a lot of advantages compared to a NAS: the entry-level model, with a Intel Celeron G1610T, 2GB RAM, 2 Gigabit ports, one ILO port, several USB ports (some of them 3.0) and four HDD bays (!) would cost me about 250 Eur. With that price I could only get a two bay entry-level NAS from QNAP or Synology and this was a full fledge server, I could run anything I wanted there with almost no limitations.

So you guess right, this was a no brainer, I got the Gen8 and I’ll tell you more about this awesome micro server in part 2.

Still on Squid integration with Active Directory

I wrote a post a few months ago explaining briefly how to integrate a Squid proxy with a Microsoft Windows Active Directory.

While with Windows XP and Vista the single sign on works flawlessly, with Windows 7 it needs a little tweak.

You’ll need to change your a GPO on your AD:

Computer configuration > Policies > Windows Settings > Security Settings > Local Policies > Security Options

Find “Network Security: LAN MANAGER Authentication Level”
Set it to “Send LM * NTLM – use NTLMv2 session security if negotiated”

This happens because Squid uses NTLMv2 after version 2.6 but it is Negotiated NTLMv2, rather than
straight NTLMv2 (dunno why). Windows 7 refuses to negotiate by default and accepts only NTLMv2.

You might come across with other issues in some apps like having to authenticate manually, Dropbox is one example but there may be others.

As usual, do this at your own risk!

Google Chrome: Google OS cornerstone?

Google Chrome

Today, Google announced it’s new web browser. In merely 48 hours, the Internet was drenched in all the hype caused by leaked comic book scans and screenshots an plenty of rumors, that in the end became true.

An hour and a few minutes have passed since the beta version of Google Chrome and it’s probably one of the most downloaded browsers in launch day, I dare say, like or close to Mozilla Firefox 3. This only proves that people love everything that’s Google related and that they trust Google.

Google Chrome is like Google.com homepage page: simple and effective. The Chrome team mishmashed a few ideas from existing browsers, like Firefox and Opera, used Webkit (from Safari) and applied some ideas of their own for security and stability. I won’t go in details here, you can read a lot about that in the Google Chrome Comic. The result, from what I’ve tested, is a piece of software that will change the way that we’ll use the web. It’s easy to use for the common user, powerful, stable, very user friendly and fast.

But Google Chrome is not just a browser. It’s the cornerstone of a possible Google OS. I can imagine now a small linux distribution with a small footprint, loaded with Google apps like Google Earth, Picasa and a fully integrated Google Chrome, transforming all those webapps (Gmail, Google Tal, Calendar, etc…) we use into applications (through the Google Gears module in Chrome). Boot that from a USB pen drive and you have a portable OS, a thin client ready for the web, using the cloud for storage, etc… the applications are endless. You can already have this, with Firefox and few quirks, but I believe Google itself will create and optimize it’s own web OS.

After all, the web is Google’s business and, the more it can keep us online, the better.