Into the Vault: Hina and the Right Push

I don’t like New York City.
The tall buildings feel like they’re closing in around me.

I don’t like public transit.
The lines and the schedules confuse me.

I don’t go there if I can avoid it.

About a year ago now, a long distance friend of mine said she’d be in the city, uptown, for an event, and asked me if I’d come hear her sing.

I didn’t hesitate. I told her, “Of course. Just tell me when and where.”


Welcome back to the Vault.

Nick Fury ruined Phil Coulson’s Captain America trading cards.

Nick Fury holds Coulson's trading cards
Little bit of boxing around the edges… Oh, and blood. Little bit of blood. Near mint.

(We’re past spoilers. Avengers came out eight years ago.)
He knew that the team could come together, they just needed the right push.

I’ve been studying server grade hardware through a community of enthusiasts for the better part of a year now. I read almost every post, and absorb all of the information I can: idiosyncrasies of advanced software configurations, minutiae concerning particular hardware configurations, specifications of dozens of different components, all in the name of trying to make the right decision on exactly what to buy to satisfy my exact needs and all for the most reasonable amount of money.

Last week I threw almost all of that out the window.
Like, forty-eight percent of that out the window.

Basically half of that

Founder, host of the TWEPcast, and podcast producer of (What’s Your Geek?) Evan built a server. He was ahead of me in venturing into this arena and is chiefly the reason I started researching in the first place. Errors in planning led him to end up with a server that did half of what he expected it to do—it can handle files, but it can’t handle video serving. And the kind of processing he needs to do can’t be added in for anything resembling a reasonable amount of money, that we are aware of.

nvidia quadro P2000
They’re starting to get mad if you even mention the thing…

From my research, I knew the preferred way to implement this kind of video processing—the most cost-efficient way was to add to the local network a small, affordable computer to handle the task. It would join with the storage server and process video and feed it out to wherever it was intended to go. The primary benefit is that this small computer does this for a shockingly low price and does it well.

But the truth of things is that when we want, we want, and when we want a single machine to handle our needs instead of the clutter of two machines, no matter how diminutive the second machine, we will still just want a single machine.

Rosewill L4500 server chassis
One machine. One large, heavy machine. But just one.

Especially when that was the initial expectation.

It is possible. I knew it was theoretically possible. The server software needed a little bit of a tweak, a small work around which I did not understand but knew existed. The consumer grade CPUs, somewhat ironically, are the parts to get the video work done, but the consumer grade mainboards are not the top, ideal candidates for server duty, primarily for their typical expansion slot configurations. The latter issue was no concern of mine because I forgot when I said: “All right. It’s time.”

I had to know if it was possible to roll the server as a single unit, even though no one in the community does it that way. Because, and it isn’t unfair to say, if I can figure it out, then Evan can figure it out.

With my help.

I knew the basic requirements because I knew inside and out the configuration of the HP290, the slimline desktop the guys on the channel are buying by the half dozen to repurpose as encoders, decoders, servers, and anything else that needs just a little oomph and a couple dedicated cores to do it with.

HP 290-p0043w
I myself have two, which I’ve also basically thrown out the window

I’m fortunate, or unfortunate depending on whether you’re an onlooker or my bank account, to live somewhat near a Micro Center store so I just set out, chose my parts, checked the sales racks, chose different parts, remembered what I was doing, checked the clearance shelves, picked new parts, completely disregarded the requirements of the server add-in cards I’d be utilizing, and hit the check out line.

LSI 9211-8i
“He never thinks of MY Needs!”

Being that this particular article itself is not a guide, there isn’t actually much to remark on regarding the assembly of the beast. I put it together using recommended practices: outside of the case first, to make sure everything is working, and then installing it and double checking. As a point of pride, it booted first try.

I installed the Unraid operating system which was surprisingly simple. I didn’t know—I’d never done it before. And then I looked up a guide on how to implement the “hack”, really just an unusual settings configuration, to make the system process video the way we want it to. The guide seemed daunting, but it was written well enough that I could follow it (which is highly atypical for guidance on Linux-based anythings).

And that worked too. I was stunned.

Granted, I could ground myself in the finding that my storage controller technically only has half of the bandwidth it’s expecting to have, but the odds that it would ever hit those theoretical limits are slim. The hamstrung connection will likely never be noticed.

The guides were good.
The single box solution is not a myth.
I told Evan immediately. He was interested, but even the relatively low cost of the system as built, it is not in his immediate future.

Still. Now we know.
That’s confirmation that it’s possible.

Sometimes, you just have to see for yourself.

The hardware setup I had was good enough. I was in a definite inertia point. I didn’t need anything else. But when I found a hint at implementing the system as Evan wanted it, well.
There was no stopping me.
To be fair, there was stopping me. The first mainboard I bought, also on clearance, was defective.

Asus H370M-Plus
At least ask the reason for the return… I mean come on.

That was a big stomp on the brakes.
But I returned it and got something even better and that worked.
In pursuit of knowledge and confirmation of that knowledge, I finally built my server.
And I used absurdly little of what I’d been studying.

As an aside, I’ve also been configuring new servers for work, finally. And true to my Papercuts origins, we are completely off the rails.

I completely forgot to factor the cost of rails into the budget.

Got an old computer or a new computer you like or hate or are indifferent to and want to talk about it? What would you name your server if you were weeb trash?
I’m @geekadematt on Twitter and this has been
Into the Vault – Hina and the Right Push

Hina is named for my obsession: the heart-rending movie Weathering With You by Makoto Shinkai. If it weren’t so unduly personal and of no actual substance, I would absolutely annex the Anime Annex to discuss it with all of you. And by discuss I mean pour out excessive, fixated, impassioned praise.

Anime Annex banner
Got my eye on you, Stingray

Hina runs the Unraid operating system on a Gigabyte Z390 UD because it was on clearance. The CPU is a Pentium Gold G5400 anything more is just excessive for my needs. Active tasks are handled by 8 GB of DDR4-2400 Crucial Ballistix brand memory which is more than sufficient for a file archive. An LSI 9211-8i host-bus adapter (HBA) flashed to IT mode serves 8 SATA 6.0 Gbps hard drives over convenient breakout cables without an inconvenient rats nest of ordinary SATA cables. The HBA is hypothetically bandwidth limited by being a PCIe 2.0 x8 card shoved into a PCIe 3.0 x4 slot (x16 physical – no hacksaws or dremels used on this server) but should be fine in my usage case. Four 8 terabyte Western Digital Red-class drives hum quietly at 5400 rpm to provide 32 terabytes of pooled storage and are protected by two 12 terabyte Western Digital Red-class drives serving as ‘parity’ under Unraid to guard against up to two simultaneous drive failures. I have no clue how those calculations work, but they do. A 240 GB SATA 6.0 Gbps solid state drive acts as a read/write cache for improved performance. It is all housed in a Rosewill L4500 4U server chassis which has been tragically discontinued. The server is whisper quiet thanks to five 120 mm intake fans (one was defective) and two 80 mm exhaust fans coupled with the fact that my basement is uninsulated and hovers around 60 degrees in winter and spring. We’ll see what happens in the summertime. Hina-server stores files and can serve video efficiently to me wherever I am, provided I have my phone and a solid internet connection.

Hina Amano smiles in Weathering With You

Hina roughly translates to Sunshine.

Matt Mutch

Image Acquisition Specialist and Computer Enthusiast. I like Sad Anime.

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