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Getting started: NAS, VM, HTPC, NVR - can I have it all?


eljay
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Hello!

This will no doubt be the first of many posts as I get on the journey of learning about servers as I am a complete newbie in this area, but willing to learn.

I am currently contemplating my whole home "architecture" and want to start it right. Let me layout what I have and where I want to end up and get your input how to best use my sever.

I currently have only one desktop PC (SFF tower with Athlon II X4 640 3.0GHz/4GB/1TB) connected to my 42" HDTV in the living room.  I was about to buy a small barebone to replace the one in the living and mount it to the back of my HDTV and move the Athlon tower to the home office/den for light photo editing etc.

Now, in the meantime, I was going to get a simple NAS, but instead I bought myself an HP Proliant ML310e G8 server with Xeon E3-1220 v3 and 4GB RAM. :) I have 2x2TB WD Red drives to put in it.
My original plan was to install Amahi OS on it from scratch and serve my files to the other two PCs in the home. However, as I was about buy that small PC for the living room it occurred to me that I could probably just run a Windows 7 VM on the HP server instead of buying another PC.

I wonder whether this is possible:
1. install VMWare EXSi on the server (in which case, do I have enough RAM?)
2. install Amahi OS as a VM
3. install Windows 7 as a VM (I have a spare Win7Pro license)
4. get a graphics card with HDMI out and connect the HP server to the HDTV via HDMI-to-Cat6-to-HDMI connection. I want to use the Cat6 cable since I want to put my server in a closet behind the living room and connect it to my home's structured wiring panel.
5. Connect my USB wireless keyboard/mouse to the server and use the Windows 7 from the living room HDTV as if I had another living room PC.

Can the above work? Can I get a GPU for the HP server and pass video and surround sound to my HDTV through Win 7 VM? Or should I stick to my original plan and shell out $500 for that new mini PC for the living room? :(

 

My other plans down the road was to get another HDD for home surveillance using ZoneMinder within Amahi and PoE cameras.

So, that is why I'm asking if all of this is worthwile. The thought of having one less box in the house is very appealing, but if I have to buy a good graphics card, upgrade the server RAM, buy HDMI/Cat6 adapters, then perhaps that $500 for the living room PC is not that bad of an idea and makes the management pretty straight forward. Unless, I can also get rid of the "home office" PC and just run another VM for that purpose from the server. That would be great.

Thank you for any guidance.

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Hi and welcome :)

 

 

YES - 1. install VMWare EXSi on the server (in which case, do I have enough RAM?)  
YES - 2. install Amahi OS as a VM
YES - 3. install Windows 7 as a VM (I have a spare Win7Pro license)
Do you plan on passing through the GPU? If yes, you'll need a processor that supports vt-d - 4. get a graphics card with HDMI out and connect the HP server to the HDTV via HDMI-to-Cat6-to-HDMI connection. I want to use the Cat6 cable since I want to put my server in a closet behind the living room and connect it to my home's structured wiring panel.

Passthrough? see above - 5. Connect my USB wireless keyboard/mouse to the server and use the Windows 7 from the living room HDTV as if I had another living room PC.

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1. install VMWare EXSi on the server (in which case, do I have enough RAM?)

The best configuration for you is to install ESXi onto a USB stick you plug in inside or a SD card into the internal slot. This means your HDs are only used for storing VMs. If you ever have trouble with hardware then swapping out things and doing clean installs is much easier.

 

You need more RAM. 4GB is the minimum for recent version of ESXi and ESXi itself will take up around 1GB of that.

 

This forum is actually for the Microserver Gen8 but the hardware in that is the nearly same as your ML310e so I expect most of the answers will be very similar.

 

2. install Amahi OS as a VM

3. install Windows 7 as a VM (I have a spare Win7Pro license)

Both of these are fine. As noted above, you'll most likely want more RAM.

 

4. get a graphics card with HDMI out and connect the HP server to the HDTV via HDMI-to-Cat6-to-HDMI connection. I want to use the Cat6 cable since I want to put my server in a closet behind the living room and connect it to my home's structured wiring panel.

As mentioned by ToyCeli22 above, you're fine with this as you have a Xeon CPU which supports VT-d that allows DirectPath I/O in ESXi to passthrough the entire GPU device to the VM.

 

5. Connect my USB wireless keyboard/mouse to the server and use the Windows 7 from the living room HDTV as if I had another living room PC.

Yes. Slight complication is that the USB system in ESXi is very weird. It is only actually designed/tested by VMware for usage with security dongles. Attaching other devices can prove to be complicated. You also need to do a mapping in the VMware client to assign that specific device to a VM.

 

There is a solution but it has a drawback. The fix is to use DirectPath I/O to passthrough the USB controllers to your Windows 7 VM. The drawback is that the USB ports are then dedicated to that VM. You can't connect USB devices to other VMs via the ports on the server.

 

Note: Make sure you don't enable DirectPath I/O on the USB controller that runs the internal SD slot or the internal USB port. If you do then ESXi will still boot since it loads everything into a ramdisk first but you'll lose the ability to make changes or do upgrades since the underlying storage vanishes.

 

Can the above work? Can I get a GPU for the HP server and pass video and surround sound to my HDTV through Win 7 VM?

Yes.
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I tried to intstall ESXI 6.0.0 with 4 gigs of ram and it failed. IT said ther's only 3.88 ram available. Seems like videocard takes a little.

There's a hack how to fix it and install it, and it worked for me.

Personally 4 gig is quite limiting factor. 16Gigs cost like $120-140 and I would grab it. You will be able to run pretty much everything you want: NAS, router, NVR, HTPC and more all together. As previously mentioned you will need vt-d capable cpu to run all this.

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Hi and welcome :)

 

 

YES - 1. install VMWare EXSi on the server (in which case, do I have enough RAM?)  

YES - 2. install Amahi OS as a VM

YES - 3. install Windows 7 as a VM (I have a spare Win7Pro license)

Do you plan on passing through the GPU? If yes, you'll need a processor that supports vt-d - 4. get a graphics card with HDMI out and connect the HP server to the HDTV via HDMI-to-Cat6-to-HDMI connection. I want to use the Cat6 cable since I want to put my server in a closet behind the living room and connect it to my home's structured wiring panel.

Passthrough? see above - 5. Connect my USB wireless keyboard/mouse to the server and use the Windows 7 from the living room HDTV as if I had another living room PC.

 

Thank you! That sounds encouraging. Yes, the Xeon supports VT-d (another new thing I just learned!), so I should be good there.

 

The best configuration for you is to install ESXi onto a USB stick you plug in inside or a SD card into the internal slot. This means your HDs are only used for storing VMs. If you ever have trouble with hardware then swapping out things and doing clean installs is much easier.

 

You need more RAM. 4GB is the minimum for recent version of ESXi and ESXi itself will take up around 1GB of that.

 

This forum is actually for the Microserver Gen8 but the hardware in that is the nearly same as your ML310e so I expect most of the answers will be very similar.

 

Both of these are fine. As noted above, you'll most likely want more RAM.

 

As mentioned by ToyCeli22 above, you're fine with this as you have a Xeon CPU which supports VT-d that allows DirectPath I/O in ESXi to passthrough the entire GPU device to the VM.

 

Yes. Slight complication is that the USB system in ESXi is very weird. It is only actually designed/tested by VMware for usage with security dongles. Attaching other devices can prove to be complicated. You also need to do a mapping in the VMware client to assign that specific device to a VM.

 

There is a solution but it has a drawback. The fix is to use DirectPath I/O to passthrough the USB controllers to your Windows 7 VM. The drawback is that the USB ports are then dedicated to that VM. You can't connect USB devices to other VMs via the ports on the server.

 

Note: Make sure you don't enable DirectPath I/O on the USB controller that runs the internal SD slot or the internal USB port. If you do then ESXi will still boot since it loads everything into a ramdisk first but you'll lose the ability to make changes or do upgrades since the underlying storage vanishes.

 

Yes.

 

Thanks. Yes, I was actually hoping to install ESXi on an SD card, then get a 256GB SSD for the VMs and leave the two 2TB Reds for storage (not looking to mirror).

Thank you for the heads-up on USB device management. That does sound like a snag for me as I would want to connect a USB drive to use for periodic backup using Crashplan in Amahi. Since Win 7 would take over all USB hardware, and Amahi would be in its own VM, Amahi with Crashplan would not have access to the USB-connected external drive, correct? If that's true, I may just have to stick with 2 small client PCs in the house. :(

 

As I thought more about this, I even contemplated creating another VM for the "office PC" and perhaps add a second graphics card (maybe even more powerful to handle some gaming?) to output to the office monitor. But I don't know how I can make the physical KVM connections work for that one.

 

I tried to intstall ESXI 6.0.0 with 4 gigs of ram and it failed. IT said ther's only 3.88 ram available. Seems like videocard takes a little.

There's a hack how to fix it and install it, and it worked for me.

Personally 4 gig is quite limiting factor. 16Gigs cost like $120-140 and I would grab it. You will be able to run pretty much everything you want: NAS, router, NVR, HTPC and more all together. As previously mentioned you will need vt-d capable cpu to run all this.

 

Thanks. Yes, I think I would need much more RAM to do all of the above. Crucial has a 2x8GB kit for CAD$168.

 

When I'm thinking about what's the most cost-effective method that fully utilizes my hardware, I think I have 3 options depending on what's possible with the USB passthrough for VMs:

OPTION #1 (my original plan)

- Standalone HP server with Amahi OS installed performing, NAS, NVR, backup functions. - no upgrades to the current spec required

- Living room mini PC (Barebone with i3, 4GB/120GB SSD/onboard Intel HD 5500 graphics) ~$500

- Office PC (keeping my SFF Athlon tower or replace with a mini PC similar to the living room one down the road)

 

OPTION #2

- HP server with ESXi  (CAD$168 extra for 2x8GB RAM kit)

   > VM 1: Amahi OS installed performing, NAS, NVR, backup functions

   > VM 2: Win7Pro connected to the living room HDTV - needs additional graphics card ($100+?) plus adapters for HDMI-to-Ethernet (~$30 from Monoprice)

- Office PC (keeping my SFF Athlon tower or replace with a mini PC similar to the living room one down the road)

 

OPTION #3

- HP server with ESXi  (CAD$168 extra for 2x8GB RAM kit)

   > VM 1: Amahi OS installed performing, NAS, NVR, backup functions

   > VM 2: Win7Pro connected to the living room HDTV - needs additional graphics card ($100+?) plus adapters for HDMI-to-Ethernet (~$30 from Monoprice)

   > VM 3: Win7Pro connected to the office monitor/keyboard/mouse - second graphics card on the server ($100?) plus adapters for HDMI-to-Ethernet (~$30 from Monoprice), plus an additional Win license.

If this is possible, in this case, I could sell the Athlon tower and put money towards the 16GB RAM kit.

 

Option #1 is the least complicated when it comes to troubleshooting and management of everything and keeps the learning curve easy. But I feel like it would underutilize the possibilities of that powerful Xeon server and I would question why I need to keep it running 24/7.

#2 / #3 are appealing because it would put the server to its full use and save some aesthetic real estate in the living room and office.

 

Any thoughts on the above?

Edited by eljay
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Personally I'd go with Option3: One fast server with everything virtualized. If you config this to you will get a flexible system for future upgrades.

 

Just to throw into some more ideas:

Grab HP Ml10/ML110 G8/G9 there are plenty of models to choose from. Ive seen some on ebay for $179 recently. I own two microservers and sometimes I think about swapping for this. Unless you aleady own a microserver and really love that cute cube design this might be a cool option.

What would youg get:

-32 Gigs of ram. For those who love experiments :) You can have 8 or 16 if you don't need that much.

-4 PCI-x slots. Not all slots are full size, but doesn't make much sense.

 

Then you put two videocards(50-70$ for videocard will work) and add to different OS: this gets you nice HTPC and office PC. Put a server into your office, and you don't need second HDMI extender.

 

Another idea that will work with microserver as well is to buy some thin clients. I think under $100 (say $50) for each on ebay and eliminate office PC. Personally never tried this one, but at first sight looks interesting.

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There is something we've overlooked. For a desktop, you'll want sound. The Proliant doesn't have any sound hardware so you'd need to add a USB sound card whilst passing through the USB controller. You could do PCIe as well and just do the same DirectPath I/O passthrough into the VM but you'll run out of slots quickly.

Be aware that you do still need a Windows PC that isn't a VM so you can manage and troubleshoot the ESXi host. It won't need to be on all the time but you'll definitely need it. It has to run Windows due to the requirement of running the old C# vSphere client. There is a new web based vSphere client but you can't run that with the free version of ESXi and it also requires a full vCenter server installation.
 

Thank you for the heads-up on USB device management. That does sound like a snag for me as I would want to connect a USB drive to use for periodic backup using Crashplan in Amahi. Since Win 7 would take over all USB hardware, and Amahi would be in its own VM, Amahi with Crashplan would not have access to the USB-connected external drive, correct?

You can install a USB 3 controller card and passthrough to the Amahi VM. Just put some labels on it to say what VM handles what set of ports.
 

As I thought more about this, I even contemplated creating another VM for the "office PC" and perhaps add a second graphics card (maybe even more powerful to handle some gaming?) to output to the office monitor. But I don't know how I can make the physical KVM connections work for that one.

You'd need to fit a USB controller + GPU + USB sound card to handle another PC. Getting the wires to your office is another matter entirely.

 

As for your options, it is really up to you what you want. All 3 of them are workable configurations and just depends on what you want to spend + do.

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Personally I'd go with Option3: One fast server with everything virtualized. If you config this to you will get a flexible system for future upgrades.

 

Just to throw into some more ideas:

Grab HP Ml10/ML110 G8/G9 there are plenty of models to choose from. Ive seen some on ebay for $179 recently. I own two microservers and sometimes I think about swapping for this. Unless you aleady own a microserver and really love that cute cube design this might be a cool option.

What would youg get:

-32 Gigs of ram. For those who love experiments :) You can have 8 or 16 if you don't need that much.

-4 PCI-x slots. Not all slots are full size, but doesn't make much sense.

 

Then you put two videocards(50-70$ for videocard will work) and add to different OS: this gets you nice HTPC and office PC. Put a server into your office, and you don't need second HDMI extender.

 

Another idea that will work with microserver as well is to buy some thin clients. I think under $100 (say $50) for each on ebay and eliminate office PC. Personally never tried this one, but at first sight looks interesting.

 

I already bought the server a couple of months ago. It has 4x PCIe slots and comes with 4GB expandable to 32GB RAM. Here are the specs of mine: http://www.newegg.ca/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16859108046CVF

And the full details from HP: http://www8.hp.com/h20195/v2/GetPDF.aspx/c04128133.pdf

 

I don't really want a tower in the room and the server will need to stay where it is, so it's close to the structured wiring panel.

A thin client sounds appealing though since it would eliminate the hassle of figuring out the physical monitor/keyboard/mouse connections, correct? I don't have any experience with thin clients. I understand what they do, but never implemented one, so I'm not too clear on what functions would it perform vs the server. For office use, I imagine that it would connect to my network plug in the office and connect via a switch to the server's VM, correct? But does it provide it's own graphics/sound chipset?

Also, would this mean that if I wanted to add gaming capability in the future, I would just add a second gaming-capable GPU to the server and dedicate it to the office VM?

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so what I am not clear on from the above is how close does the vm OS get to the video card? can it be 'attached' as a dedicated device? If so, does it depend on which VM product you use?

 

inquiring minds want to know :)

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There is something we've overlooked. For a desktop, you'll want sound. The Proliant doesn't have any sound hardware so you'd need to add a USB sound card whilst passing through the USB controller. You could do PCIe as well and just do the same DirectPath I/O passthrough into the VM but you'll run out of slots quickly.

 

Be aware that you do still need a Windows PC that isn't a VM so you can manage and troubleshoot the ESXi host. It won't need to be on all the time but you'll definitely need it. It has to run Windows due to the requirement of running the old C# vSphere client. There is a new web based vSphere client but you can't run that with the free version of ESXi and it also requires a full vCenter server installation.

 

You can install a USB 3 controller card and passthrough to the Amahi VM. Just put some labels on it to say what VM handles what set of ports.

 

You'd need to fit a USB controller + GPU + USB sound card to handle another PC. Getting the wires to your office is another matter entirely.

 

As for your options, it is really up to you what you want. All 3 of them are workable configurations and just depends on what you want to spend + do.

Ah, thank you! That's very useful info. Good point about having a full PC that can be used to troubleshoot the server if needed. Sounds like I should go with option #2. It still gets rid of the living PC entirely. But I would need to add a sound card for the audio passthrough.

Edited by eljay
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