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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm new to this forum, so please excuse my ignorance and/or misunderstandings. I'm about to make a rather large purchase in the form of a RAID file server for DVD and CD rips and I was hoping to get some advice on which operating system to use; with the choices being Xp Pro (running a simple network volume share) -or- Windows Server 2003.


Lately, I have been trying to get a better handle on the future of client-server architecture in home theater, home security and home automation. I know that programs such as Media Center and MAINLobby have feature-sets are growing at an extraodinarily rapid pace and I'm interested in having a glimpse on how this architecture might evolve over time and whether or not a dedicated server, running server software, may be required in the future to support more advanced features.


For example, simultaneous playback by multiple clients seems to be a "holy grail" wish list item, and knowing that systems provide this functionality by employing Multicast, I was wondering if an applications might one day migrate to a more traditional server-based architecture (although I'm assuming the vast majority of users won't want to pay for, or administer, a server O/S) .


I've been involved with audio and video for many years but I am new to this IP-based infrastructure and have little experience in the world of server setup and administration. I'm beginning to recognize, however, that in the complex world of IP-based home theater, security and automation, it might soon be beneficial to have a traditional server O/S at the core of one's system.


To be honest, selecting Windows Server 2003 will incur an increased learning curve on my part and a substantial cost over and above an Xp Pro installation running a simple network volume share. In spite of that, I'm trying to make the right decision before pulling the trigger. I'd hate to choose Xp only to realize that it precluded me from incorporating an important feature down the road. That's my dilemma.


I welcome any thoughts you might have on this subject. Thanks.
 

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Use Linux and Samba on that file server. :D


XP Pro can serve file shares, etc. but I think it would be limited to about 16 clients. After that, Microsoft really makes you move up to a "server" OS. Otherwise XP Pro and Windows 2000 Server or Windows Server 2003 aren't all that different from each other. They are still NT based, with NTFS on disk. A lot of management is the same, but I've heard they've gone and changed some things in 2003 - my guess, just to get everyone to retrain and purchase new training classes and books from Microsoft Press. ;-)


If you are doing a large file server, your best bet is to build the filesystem on the RAID array and use a single, smaller drive for the OS. This drive would NOT be part of the RAID, allowing you to reformat the OS disk and install a new OS at will. You may have to make sure that the NTFS volume on the RAID array doesn't encrypt the data files stored on it, but this would let you change your operating system in just a few hours when you find you really do need Windows Server 2003 or Windows Server 2005, etc...
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
spearce,


Thanks for your point of view. I had spec'd a non-raid O/S drive for upgrade purposes and even though I hadn't planned on enabling encryption, I'm glad you reminded me of the potential pitfalls when migrating.


I'm interested in learning peoples opinions of the about future needs that might require a traditional server. In no particular order, they include support for multicast protocols, streaming media, hosting LAN-limited home web pages and supporting some of the features that I've read might one day be incorporated into the ever changing MAINLobby and its offspring.


I guess my concerns also includes the possibility of running devices like multiple Viewsonic Airpanels in multiple interations of Terminal Services, using more advanced home automation protocols that go beyond unidirectional X10 technology and home security applications which might push the limit of traditional residential security such as aggregating multiple home security cameras into a single web page with navigation. I just don't know if a robust server environment is a better choice than a simple file server.


Don't get me wrong; I'd rather not spend the money -or- go through the learning curve. I know that a simple file server is enough for today, but the box that I'm thinking about buying is pretty expensive and I'd feel foolish if I bought for today and not for tomorrow. My goal in posting this message was to try to learn what's coming down the road so that I could make an educated decision. Does that make any sense?
 

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Keep in mind that Windows Server 2003 would also give you Windows Media Services capabilities over what XP pro can offer should you have a need for it.
 

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I have used both XP and 2003 on my file server. XP worked fine and could stream data to 6 clients (combination of mp3s, dvds and HDTV) with no problems. I moved to 2003 with the plan of creating a domain controller so users could have roaming desktops, central email (exchange server) etc. but I haven't set that up because of the learning curve :). A simple install of 2003 is really no different then XP so just to get basic file sharing working you don't need to learn anything new.


Mike
 

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Win2k3 Server looks and is an aweful lot like XP.


My 2 cents: everybody needs a file server, today and tomorrow and always.


I went with linux / software RAID -- mostly for fun and for savings. I also use that machine as my Samba domain controller.
 

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I am pretty sure that the only difference is the licensing. You pay MORE money for Windows *Server* 2003. This means that you can, as spearce says, connect more clients. Under the hood its all the same except for the if server allow connection code.


How many PC's are you going to serve up to it?
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I'm not planning to serve that many clients, maybe 6 at the most, I just don't know if extended features like the ones I mentioned earlier in the thread including media service support, will be required for functionality that I might want down the road. I was hoping to learn about the chances of that happening from the pros on this site.
 

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I've heard that a difference between Server and XP Pro is that you can use Remote Desktop Connection to open several sessions on Server while only one session is possible on XP Pro.


I currently log in to my HTPC (XP Pro) from my home office PC to surf the web because the HTPC is so much faster. However, when I do this, no one else in the house can use the HTPC. If it was running Server, then, one session could be for the local users and another session could be for the remote user.


Of course, this distinction is unimportant if the file server is meant to be tucked in the corner of the basement and used only for file serving.
 

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Another vote for the Linux / Samba approach....


I'm setup for a true N-tiered approach...my fileserver raid system is on one machine (linux/samba/raid), while my application server resides on a win2k server machine, and my clients are all standalone winxp (home or pro) machines (htpc, music client, media-server for vid distribution). This way, when a new technology comes out (or I just want to play), I can change 1 piece of the puzzle without having to rebuild everything.


In my experience, linux/samba is a much faster, more robust file server OS than any winnt based solution.


cheers,


Rich
 

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I don't get what you'd use multicast for. If you were a cable provider and had multiple people wanting to see the same exact show, that's one thing but it won't do you much good for sending out disparate streams at the same time say vs udp. The economies of sending raw video data over IP aren't there so everything you'll be sending will likely be compressed in some form, be it as a transport stream or divx or whatnot. Even at high bitrates, several compressed video streams will be happy on gigabit ethernet or even just 100mbit.

-Trouble
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
>Troubleshooter, I don't know if multicast is necessarily the correct protocol - but the fuctionality of allowing multiple clients to playout the same file simultaneously, be it .wav or .vob, seems to be a critical component in deploying a fully integrated and flexible home theater environment. In plain language, the goal would be to give people the ability to move freely through a house, and through multiple zones fed by different htpcs, and allow them to experience the same media playing in synchronicity (otherwise known as party mode).


Historically, this has been accomplished with a host of distribution amplifiers, switchers and a rat's nest of audio and video cables. As I am very new to the "IP" version of this game, there may already be a solution to this puzzle - or a more appropriate and well documented protocol which speaks to this need...but that's why I'm here, to ask the pros.


I only brought up multicast because it seems as though the Videolan group might view it as a solution. See item 3.3:
videolan.org/doc/videolan-quickstart/en/vlc-streamoutput.html


(sorry, the link is missing [www] because the avsforum won't let me post a link until I've satisfied a 5 post minimum)
 

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Addressing the original post and the future of Windows:


XP = the newest 'shell' look is here to stay, and we probably shouldn't expect a shell look/feel upgrade until Blackcombe (which by last check was slated for late 2004/early 2005).


So, we really are stuck on the XP desktop for now. I personally haven't really come to the love affair with it that I thought I would. Personally, looking at a fully spruced up XP desktop gives me the willies thinking about how many CPU cycles are being wasted making various eye candy work properly.


With that being said, I personally use PRO when I need bare bones Windows 32-bit features with a solid OS experience.


I use XP on the desktop (there is no XP server -- it's really 2003 Server technically) to provide a higher multimedia experience for newbies on the PC scene (my daughters, wife, etC).


I use neither 98/95/ME or NT for anything anymore - they're expiredware at present.


That leaves 2003/2000 and XP.


Put it simply: Use XP on the desktop (and turn that damned eye candy off for a speed boost), use 2003 on the server.


Now, I will address the last issue of the post previous to this: re multicasting of a presentation to multiple stations in the house (ala IP multicasting) or party mode.


I believe we could do this with Win2K3 server and windows media server installed. It would probably require UDP multicasting in order to work properly -- and may I assume we're not going to string CAT5/6 cable all of the house so it would probably be doable over 802.11G.


The media would be queued into the MS Media Server directory, streamed upon demand, and could possibly be streamed via multicast. Anyone else with more experience on this wanna take a stab?
 

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I just installed 2003 server at home for some light server duties and to learn about it more for my job, anyway one thing to keep in mind is XP will only let 10 devices connect to it simultaneously, period, ever. 2003 server comes with 5 client liscenses out of the box (ok, so 5 less), but then you can buy more as needed, more than you'd ever need in your setup.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
>jcarlsony2k, Thanks for your response. My original post was all about Xp Pro vs. Server 2003 as it relates to an expensive server I'm having built shortly.


Your comment on using UDP multicasting for "party mode" is precisely why I posted this subject in the first place. As I said, I have a lot to learn about "IP" enabled HT and I'm trying not to make a Server O/S mistake that I'll regret later. I'm not so much interested in devising a solution as I am hoping that some developers might comment on drawing board schemes that address this functionality - and the operating systems that will be required to run those applications.


And, while the videolan project that I referenced earlier seems very interesting and well developed, I really need a front-end that is more friendly and bulletproof.


I agree with you, let's here from some experienced pros or developers about how this will be done and whether or not 2003 Media Server will be required to do it.




>MrItaly, Thanks, I knew about the license situation and I figured I'd be able to get by with the 5 that come in the box. I just wish 2003 wasn't so much more expensive than Xp otherwise there'd be no decision to make in the first place.
 

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I'm kinda spoiled in that I've got an MSDN license that gives me any of the MS systems that I want to use, so I never consider OS costs. What's the price difference between XP Pro and 2003 Server?
 

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You can get a WinXp Pro License OEM for $150 and Windows 2003 Standar Edition is around $1000 with 5 CAL (Client Access Licence). I'm also a MSDN Universal Subscriber, so I have my own test lab, with windows 2003 and Exchange 2003. WOrks very nice for me and my family. I bought my lastname domain and each family member has its own email address with the format [email protected]
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
That....is the essence of the problem. That difference of $850 buys around a TB of storage (300GB drives). Spending $1000 on an O/S is a lot to ask of your customers, not to mention expecting them to overcome the learning curve of advanced server features. If developers don't take advantage of server capabilities - then there is no point in buying server software, unless of course you've got more than 10 clients, and then it's a no brainer.


I seem to be answering my own question.
 

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That is why you don't buy a microsoft OS! Put on any linux distro, or even FreeBSD (yay ports!) and save yourself ALL the money. Plus, it's more stable, doesn't need to be updated as much (security patches), and doesn't waste all the cpu cycles on eye candy! I've got a crappy little Celery 366 with 128mb ram that serves 8 other PC's using a gigabit eth card and switch. We stream multiple vobs at the same time with no issues.
 
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