Monthly Archives: August 2011

Building an all-in-one home server?

I’ve been thinking about building an all in one server lately. The goal would be to consolidate the two servers I currently have (Win2k3 outside server, Windows Home Server inside) into one physical box using virtualization.

The difficulty is trying to make up for Windows Home Server 2011′s missing features (that were in the original WHS). So I’ve been reading and have been thinking about building a computer built on ESXi 4.1 with OpenIndiana and a SATA controller card through VT-d hosting up to 8 HDDs which would be the host storage for the WHS 2011 drive. The HDDs would be setup using ZFS RAID Z-2 (2 parity drives), at with 3TB per drive, just 4 drives would yield 6TB usable storage. It would be exposed to WHS 2011 through iSCSI in ESXi.

From there the WHS 2011 VM would use that storage to store all my media for sharing. Because WHS 2011 doesn’t have any sort of data duplication (Drive Extender was removed in 2011), just putting the data on 1 HDD wont protect it from failure. And WHS 2011 doesn’t support drives larger than 3TB (the VHD file format used to backup one drive to another for redundancy doesn’t support images larger than 2TB).

Finally, I’d also have a VM of Windows 2k3 server as the outside server, hooked to a VT-d NIC (either the 2nd one on the motherboard or a separate add-in card compatible with VT-d). This would be the web server, server I remote to from work to browse the internet, etc.

The difficulty is that all this requires a fair amount of computer hardware. Just about $2,000 for a nice configuration (from the ground up, no recycled hardware). This includes case, PSU, motherboard, CPU, RAM, SAS/SATA controller card, HDDs, and a 160GB SSD for all the operating systems (maybe that I could replace with a cheapo 500GB drive, or two in RAID-1). Considering I just upgraded my desktop this year, I’m not in a hurry to run out and spend more money on computer parts.

Initial Thoughts on the HP Touchpad

got a great deal on the new HP Touchpad, and I had wanted to get it just to get it and try it out. I think that Palm’s (now HP) WebOS operating system was probably the best phone/tablet operating system other than Apple’s iOS.

And after an hour there are already some things I like better about WebOS than iOS, particularly how multitasking works. And there are a few things I definitely don’t like – media sync and the HP Play Beta software for the Mac.

UI

The user interface is good, especially when it comes to multitasking. The WebOS card system is the best way to handle multitasking on a mobile device. Period. Even after a few hours I like it way better than iOS’s implementation. Swiping up from the screen to kill apps (or app tabs/fragments), swiping up from the bottom to bring up the task switcher, they just seem more natural than the double-tap of the home button on iOS devices. And the card interface is (sadly) the smoothest experience of the entire OS.

But even after the update design to improve performance, the touch response is still lacking. I don’t know how Apple does it, but everything is always more responsive on an iOS vs Android and HP phones and tablets. All the Android phones I’ve ever played with and the TouchPad have that same, slightly lagged response. If iOS never existed we might never notice, we might not have this issue. But coming from iOS devices I certainly can tell, and sometimes I’ll get ahead of the screen, resulting in unwanted taps. If they cant fix it (because of the way the device or OS is designed) then we’ll just have to live with it, and thats disappointing.

Apps

The dearth of Touchpad-native apps is one of the bigger issues, mostly due to it being a relatively new platform. The nice part is that since I’ve got great web development skills, I should be able to make my own applications fairly easily (unlike the 10 times I tried to make an iOS app and gave up because I couldn’t wrap my brain around Objective-C — too much C# and web dev have rotted my core I guess).

That said, even some of the apps the Touchpad has look incredibly awful. The USA Today app (also available on the iPad, and an app that I use somewhat frequently) has this weird side-scrolling news article list for each “section” of the newspaper, and then an article pop-over on the right side. I’m really not sure what design decisions were made, but the app you get on the iPad is infinitely more readable and usable. Similarly with the Facebook app – you just wonder what the designers were thinking. There are at least two or three better layouts they could have used.

There is a free Angry Birds HD app. So, there is that.

Media

For me, the media experience didn’t go so well for me. I have a Mac and currently manage everything through iTunes. My goal was to load about 10GB of music from my library and some movies (540p H.264 medium profile aka iPad 2 compatible). Loading music is awkward because you have to put the device in USB disk mode, which keeps you from doing anything else while the transfer is going. The HP Play Beta software did a half decent job of importing my iTunes library, but it didn’t do very well with Smart Playlists or the Folder/Playlist hierarchy I have. That, and I tried to add “Recently Added” songs to the Touchpad, and it tried to import my entire music library (rather than songs I had recently added to the iTunes library it imported from). Video didn’t turn out so well either, I copied Iron Man 2 to the device, but wasn’t able to play it. Googling for help didn’t work since all the links end up being for pay-for software to convert it down for the device, not much about specifications or what Handbrake settings I can use. As someone who has a large and carefully manicured digital movie and TV show library, its something of a letdown to not have it work right out of the box.

Edit: I was able to get some movies from my media library working, but many didn’t work. Considering I used the same settings on all the rips, I really don’t know what the problem is.

Follow Up – August 20

HP announced they’re discontinuing the TouchPad. Which is incredibly heartbreaking, knowing they could have done something really good with it. I took mine back and got my $400 back – luckily it was the last day of the 14 day return period. Then, as the fire sales happened around the internet this weekend, I spent $99 on a new 16GB TouchPad. So I’ll still end up with one, but for a lot less.