Tag Archive for ‘Server’

OWC ThunderBay 6

I’ve casually mentioned here and there that I’ve been looking to move away from streaming media in favor of primarily watching content that I actually own — hosting it on my home server using Plex. As a result of this, over the past few months, I’ve been acquiring content at a much more rapid pace than I was previously. And that additional content is filling up my hard drives fast.

Up until a few days ago, I had two OWC miniStacks connected to my Mac Mini. One with a 4TB drive, which contained all of my ripped DVDs, Blu-rays, music, recorded over-the-air content from Plex DVR, and iTunes content that I’ve removed the DRM from. And a second miniStack with an 8TB hard drive, which stores the Time Machine backups for the Mac Mini and my work-issued MacBook Air.

What has really put me over the edge in terms of outgrowing my storage setup has been the uptick in Blu-ray discs added to my collection, though. I only started purchasing Blu-rays last summer, after I bought a Blu-ray drive that I could use for ripping. With the settings I use in Handbrake, a DVD is usually in the neighborhood of 1GB, but Blu-ray discs are about six times that amount. Or quite a bit more, in some cases.

The size of DVDs aren’t too bad and the cost of iTunes movies kept me from acquiring too many by that method. And even when I bought movies or TV shows through iTunes, Apple only allows you to download files in 720p. That puts the average movie around 4GB. Those two factors did quite a bit to limit the amount of storage I needed and how quickly it was used.

But Blu-ray Discs are pretty cheap. I routinely find excellent films available in the format for around $5. Just a few days ago, Amazon was having a buy two get one free sale — I picked up six movies at an average of $10 each. That might seem like a lot, but three of the movies were Disney titles, which are notoriously expensive compared to the average.

Blu-ray discs are cheap, but as I mentioned above, they take up a lot more storage space — not to mention the amount of time required to rip Blu-rays. For a comparison, on my 2011 Mac Mini, I can rip and convert a DVD in about 1.5—2 hours, but a Blu-ray can take around 10 hours. It’s worth it, though. The quality is just so darn good. And I don’t have to pay a monthly fee in order to watch the film, like I would with Netflix or Hulu.

I’m still okay with 4TB of media storage at the moment, but it won’t be long before I need to upgrade. So I decided to lay the groundwork for that now. I had some options — I could have abandoned the idea of using a Mac Mini as my home server and purchased a network attached storage device, like a Synology. This would mean I’d end up with a single unit that stored all of my hard drives and was able to run most of the software I wanted to use.

That does sound appealing, but the key word there is “most”. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to rip DVDs or Blu-ray discs right on a Synology. I would need to move that task to another computer and then transfer the video files once they were converted. With Blu-rays taking so long to rip, I couldn’t tie up my work laptop with this process and I certainly didn’t want to maintain another computer to perform the task.

Beyond the inability to rip discs, a Synology would still be limited in what other software I could run on it. I still have occasional times where I need to run a specific piece of software on macOS. I use iOS as my primary platform, but I do have an always-on Mac Mini. So in instances where I need to use macOS, I can fire up Screens on my iPad and remotely access the machine to run whatever I need to. That isn’t really possible on a Synology.

And of course, when I retire the Synology as our home server — in about 10 years when it’s time to upgrade — I have an old Synology. Whereas if I stick with a Mac Mini, I’ll have a Mac that can be sold or repurposed for other tasks.

So because of all this, using a NAS was just out of the question. Instead, I started looking at drive enclosures that could serve my needs. After a bit of searching, I determined that OWC had the best selection. They offer enclosures with Thunderbolt 3 ports, which gives me some future proofing for when I eventually retire the 2011 Mac Mini and buy a new model. And they have a number of options for how many drives you want access to — including a six-drive enclosure, which is what I decided to order.

A few days ago, I received the ThunderBay 6 in the mail and I love it.

The enclosure is the exact same width as a Mac Mini, so just like I did with the miniStacks, I can set our home server on top of it — making a nice, clean setup. Drives are pretty easy to install. You turn the thumb screw on the drive tray, pull it out, use the included screws to attach a drive, slide it back in, and tighten the thumb screw.

I haven’t bought any additional drives to go with the ThunderBay 6 quite yet. Instead, I removed the 4TB and 8TB drives that I had in the miniStacks and installed them in the new enclosure. I plan on buying another set of those same two drives in the coming months to increase my storage capacity. At that point, I’ll likely setup two volumes — an 8TB RAID 0 array from the two 4TB drives for media and a 16TB RAID 0 array from the two 8TB drives for backups.

When I buy those new drives, I’ll only be using four of the available six drive bays, but that is by design. My thought is that I can, even further down the line, upgrade my storage again. When I do, I’ll buy two drives, setting them up in RAID 0 and inserting them into the two open slots. Once I migrate my data over, I can remove the two oldest drives and have those slots open for when I upgrade storage again.

You might be curious as to why I’m looking to use RAID 0, since it doesn’t offer any redundancy in case of a drive failure. There’s a few reasons:

  • Speed: I’m using spinning hard disks because they’re affordable and offer larger capacities than solid state drives. But that means read and write speeds are significantly slower. RAID 0 will ensure I have enough throughput to handle several simultaneous streams of high definition video while still being able to transfer files or perform backups without a hitch.
  • Affordability: There’s typically a sweet spot for hard drive pricing, where you get the best bang-for-your-buck. Go above or below that capacity and you end up spending more per gigabyte. Using a RAID 0, I can get larger volumes without paying the larger drive prices.
  • A single volume: For the backup drive specifically, Time Machine stores everything on a single volume. You can’t split it amongst multiple drives without the use of RAID. Since I’d like to use Time Machine for local backups and I need it to store quite a bit of data, RAID 0 is the best way to go.

Shifting focus back to the ThunderBay 6, I currently have it connected to my Mac Mini through a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter — although it’s connected to the Mini’s Thunderbolt 1 port. This is my first experience with earlier versions of Thunderbolt and it’s a great interface. I knew it was faster than USB 2, which is how the drives were previously connected. But I didn’t expect to get speed improvements on my existing drives just by changing what interface they were connected to.

Over USB 2, the drives gave me about 30MB/s of read and write speeds, but over Thunderbolt I’m seeing about 120MB/s.

Speaking of Thunderbolt, the ThunderBay 6 includes two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the back, which allows you to daisy chain multiple Thunderbolt 3 devices. So if my storage needs really grew out of control, I could purchase another ThunderBay or some other Thunderbolt 3 storage solution and connect it to my existing one — no need to take up an additional port on my computer.

A nifty little inclusion, hidden in the back of the ThunderBay 6, is an NVMe slot. It’s pitched by OWC as a way to add a super fast scratch disk to your machine — storing project data there while you’re working on it. I’m not sure if I’ll ever end up using the feature, but if I ever needed access to super fast storage, I’m certainly happy to have the option.

Overall, I’m very happy with the ThunderBay 6 and it’s the best solution on the market for my needs. But it’s not without flaws.

The fan on the back is a bit louder than I would prefer. I’m off of work on parental leave, so I’m not spending too much time in our home office. But whenever I walk into the room, the fan noise sticks out like a sore thumb. I’m hoping it will fade into the background when I’m in there working, but I’m worried it won’t.

So I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands. The ThunderBay 6’s fan is user replaceable, so I’ve gone ahead and ordered a 92mm Noctua fan, which is arriving tomorrow. This specific fan should be quieter than the built-in fan, but it also comes with a couple cables that let you run the fan at lower speeds — further reducing its noise output. I think I’ll be able to reduce the unit’s noise without sacrificing too much of its cooling capabilities.

Another downside with the ThunderBay 6 is that you need to use screws in order to install drives in the trays. I’m a little concerned that I might lose track of the included screws before I end up needing them. It’s not that big of a deal, I’m sure I could find replacement screws if necessary. But I know other companies offer drive trays that are entirely tool-less — they typically use a plastic rail that snaps in place to hold the drives. I’d love to see OWC integrate a similar system into their offering.

And lastly, the ThunderBay 6 is expensive. Without any drives, the enclosure is priced at $579.99. I mean, it’s definitely a premium piece of hardware. The entire enclosure is made out of metal — I was shocked at how heavy the box was when it arrived — and it includes exactly the features I want. As I mentioned above, I did quite a bit of looking before I decided on this unit. There are plenty of other options on the market, but none of them are as nice as the ThunderBay 6.

But I mean, the enclosure alone is almost the same price as an entry-level Mac Mini. I can’t say what the ThunderBay 6 should be priced at, I don’t know enough about the costs behind manufacturing, supporting, and developing it, but I can say that it’s current pricing is a tough pill to swallow.

But again, there isn’t anything on the market that offers what the ThunderBay 6 does — delightful materials, Thunderbolt 3 interface, six drive bays, and an NVMe slot. Because of that, even with its high price point, I think the ThunderBay 6 is an excellent product.

Update 1/25/20: I spent a little time last night installing the Noctua fan — it was an easy install. Just a couple of screws to take off the back plate and then eight screws to remove the fan and fan grills. The ThunderBay 6 uses a standard 3-pin connector to power the fan, so I didn’t run into issues connecting the new fan.

The Noctua came with a couple of adapters to run the fan at different speeds. I tried all of them and found the ultra low-noise one to be the best for my setup.

I used my Apple Watch to measure the amount noise coming from the ThunderBay 6 from the front of the unit. With the stock fan and no activity on the drives, it clocked in at about 49 dB. The Noctua in its default state was about the same, but the low-noise adapter (the middle option) dropped it to 42 dB and the ultra low-noise put it at 39 dB.

According to the specifications of each of the fans there isn’t too much of a difference in airflow. The Noctua at its ultra low-noise setting moves about 25.3 CFM. I had to search for the part number of the stock fan and found one that is similar enough that I believe it’s the same part. The specifications listed 28.4 CFM as the amount of air it moves.

So I gave up 3.1 CFM and reduced the noise by about 10 dB. In practice, I can still hear the fan from my desk, but it’s a very low hum. When I’m typing away and focused on tasks, I don’t think I’ll notice it at all.

Mac Media Server: Fit Headless

This is the third part in a series in which I give the blueprint for my Mac Media Server. These pages will be updated with new software and settings changes so they will always be up to date with my current configuration. This is the third part of the series which describes the process of installing and setting up the Fit Headless HDMI display emulator.

Fit Headless

I quickly realized after setting up my Mac Mini that there were some pretty critical problems that I knew I’d have to overcome if I was going to interact with it using Screen Sharing. For one, the number of screen resolutions that were offered to me in OS X’s system preferences were less than optimal. And, there was also some performance issues that I couldn’t initially find the source of.

After doing some research I found that OS X actually shuts off the graphics card when there’s no display connected to the computer. In the past I had heard of people building dongles that would emulate a display over VGA — at the time I didn’t understand why anyone would need one. But, using one would trick OS X into turning on the graphics card which would improve performance and give me far better options for display resolutions — without it all of my options were in a 5:4 aspect ratio.

Building one seemed easy enough — a DVI to VGA adapter and some cheap resistors was all I’d need to put one together. But, while I was searching around trying to find the easiest way to build one I came across an article on Macminicolo Blog where they point to a small HDMI dongle called the Fit Headless. It’s an inexpensive display emulator that’s designed to be used with headless computers — exactly what I needed.

Installing and setting up the Fit Headless was easy enough. Here’s the four step process:

  • Shut the Mac Mini down
  • Plug the Fit Headless into the HDMI port
  • Power on the Mac Mini
  • Choose your preferred resolution in System Preferences > Displays

It really is that easy. The whole process only took about 10 minutes.

I’ve been using the Fit Headless for the past four months and I couldn’t be happier with it. The Mac Mini in my closet is much more responsive when I’m interacting with it over Screen Sharing or VNC and the display resolution options are more to my liking — 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 1600×900, and 1344×756. I’ve been using the 720p resolution as it is as close to ideal as I could ask for when I’m using my MacBook Air’s smallish 11-inch display to view the Mac Mini’s desktop.

The Fit Headless is currently available for $15 on Amazon. I’d consider it to be an essential piece of hardware for any Mac home server. It’s inexpensive, easy to setup, and does exactly what it needs to.

Mac Media Server: Transferring iTunes

This is the second in a series in which I give the blueprint for my Mac Media Server. These pages will be updated with new software and settings changes so they will always be up to date with my current configuration. This is the second part of the series which describes the process of transferring the media from my old iTunes Library to that of the new Mac Mini’s.

Home Sharing

My next step of transferring my iTunes Library was relatively easy. Thanks to the help of Home Sharing, moving your iTunes Library to a new computer is a breeze. I just turned on Home Sharing on the Mac Mini — clicking on Home Sharing in the sources list and then logging in with my iTunes credentials.

Now every computer running iTunes, every Apple TV, iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch on my network can stream media from the Mac Mini’s library. And, the Mac Mini can transfer files from other shared iTunes Libraries to the Mini’s iTunes Library.

Transfer Media

To move all of my media files from my old computer to the Mac Mini I selected my old iMac from the sources list in iTunes, selected all (with command+a), and drag and dropped the files into the new iTunes Library.

After a few hours all of my media files were in one place. If there’s any media files that are found to be missing (probably Books, Apps, or Ringtones) they can easily be moved with an external hard drive, file sharing over the network, or a thumb drive. All of iTunes’ media files can be found in your Home folder’s Music folder and then drag and dropped into the Mac Mini’s iTunes Library.

With Home Sharing turned on and all of my media in one place, this was enough for me to get most of my media server up and running. Any other device on the network that had Home Sharing turned on — Apple TV, iPad, iPhone, etc. — is now able to stream media from the Mac Mini.

The Value of Server-Side Fetch ➝

Marco talks about the differences between using background fetch and server-side feed polling in regards to his upcoming podcast client, Overcast. I think Marco has it right, checking tens of thousands of feeds from one server is far better than having each user’s iPhone regularly check the 10-20 podcast feeds that the user listens to.

In the end a lot less resources will be spent if the feeds are checked server-side when you consider that many of the application’s users all listen to the same podcast. Why should they all check the feed when one server could do it for thousands of users?

Mac Media Server: Going Headless

This is the beginning of a series in which I give the blueprint for my Mac Media Server. These pages will be updated with new software and settings changes so they will always be up to date with my current configuration. This is the first part of the series which describes the process of setting up a Mac for remote use.

Initial Setup

The main goal in this setup is to have as little hardware as possible carry as much of the load as possible. One machine and a couple of USB dongles is the heart of the entire setup. There’s no need for a display, keyboard, and mouse to be connected to the Mac mini because (aside from the initial setup )all of the interaction with the machine will take place over Screen Sharing or VNC.

I used the old wired keyboard and mouse that came with my iMac and connected the Mac mini to my HDTV in the living room using an HDMI cable. The setup process is painless — it asks you for your Apple ID, registration information, whether or not you want to use Migration Assistant to move your data, and it also asks you to create a new user account. I skipped migration assistant because I wanted the Mac mini to be a clean slate that I can customize and add data to in my own way.

System Preferences – Sharing

The first thing I did once I got Mountain Lion up and running was turn on Screen Sharing. Open System Preferences and click on Sharing. Just check the box next Screen Sharing on the left hand side of the preference pane and you’re finished.

With Screen Sharing turned on I can now control the Mac mini remotely using another Mac. At this point I shutdown the computer, disconnected the HDMI cable, keyboard, and mouse and moved the Mac mini into the office where I keep my cable modem, router, and printer. I connected the Mac mini to my Time Capsule with an ethernet cable, plugged in the power cable and it was ready to continue software installation and configuration remotely.

Screen Sharing

Now that Screen Sharing is turned on, it’s time to use it. From my iMac or MacBook Air I open a Finder window click on the Mac mini in Finder’s sidebar and choose Share Screen along the top. The first time I connected, I was prompted for my login credentials, but checking “Remember this password on my keychain” will bypass the login on all subsequent connections. Now, I can perform any action on the Mac mini that I need to from any other Mac in the house. This is essential because a large portion of my media consumption will require me to manually move files around, convert videos, and delete watched content. I hope that I will be able to automate more of this in the future, but for now Screen Sharing will have to do.

If you’d like to connect to your Mac Media Server remotely using another Mac make sure you have Back to My Mac turned on in the iCloud settings (located in System Preferences) on both Macs.

My other means of controlling the Mac mini is with a wonderful iOS application called Screens ($9.99 but worth it). The app allows me to do everything that I can with Mac OS X’s built-in Screen Sharing, but from my iPhone or iPad.

Screens – Nearby Computers

When you first launch Screens you’ll have to add a new computer to connect to. If you’re just planning to connect to the Mac while you are on the same network perform the following steps:

  • Tap Nearby Computers
  • Choose the computer you’d like to connect to
  • Input your login credentials in the authentication section
  • Tap save

If you’d like to connect to the Mac while you are on a different network you’ll need to do some tinkering. Luckily, I use a Time Capsule in my network setup, so the extra tinkering won’t be too painful.

  • From within AirPort Utility select Time Capsule and click on Edit
  • Selected the Network tab
  • Clicked the “+” button under Port Settings
  • Click on the drop down for Description and select “Apple Remote Desktop,” if this was done using the Mac mini (over Screen Sharing) AirPort Utility will fill in the proper settings for you
  • Make sure it filled in the proper Private IP Address which can be found in Network Utility
  • Click Save and update your router’s settings

Once the settings are updated you’ll be able to setup Screens on the iPhone or iPad to connect to your Mac remotely.

The next piece of information you’ll need is your public IP address. You’ll be able to find it on a site like IP Chicken. Keep your public IP address handy because you’ll need it to setup the remote connection with Screens. In Screens tap the New Screen button in the top-right corner to add a new connection. Input a name for your connection, type the public IP address in the Address field, input the username and password of the Mac OS user account you’ll use to connect to your Mac and tap Save. The connection should now be ready.

Steve Jobs on Mac OS X Server’s Future ➝

In short, a purported Steve Jobs email from December claims that Mac OS X Server won’t be discontinued. At least in the near term.

Lion Server May be Final Version of OS X Server ➝

HardMac:

based on what we know, the final decision hasn’t been made yet, so we believe that there is still a little chance of seeing Apple’s course of action changing. […] To go even further, but we are not there yet, it would be Mac OS X Server that could be discontinued. There will be a server version of Mac OS X Lion, but it might be the last Mac OS X server update.

They also report that Apple may discontinue Xsan and Final Cut Server too.