IdeaCentre D400 Home Server

I am retiring yet another venerable workhorse this week.

wireless[1]

I first got my IBM High Rate Wireless LAN Gateway in late 2001 and have been using it non-stop ever since.  This was back in the heady days of wireless when 802.11b was the hottest thing going, with 802.11a on the horizon.  With my ThinkPad T23 (one of the best ThinkPads ever) and its built in Wi-Fi capabilities, I wanted to be able to connect wirelessly at home. If you ever owned this gateway, you know that it was built like a tank.  It was manufactured for IBM by Delta and contained a firewall with stateful packet inspection – high falutin’ language saying that it was darn secure against hackers of the day (and still pretty effective today too). It’s been a silent companion ever since.  Aside from an occasional pull on the power plug to recycle it, the thing just works.  And yet its time has come, for I’m trying out a new piece of Lenovo Hardware, our recently announced IdeaCentre D400 Home Server.

D400_3L[1]

Long time readers will know that I’ve played around with the idea of getting NAS (Network Attached Storage) box before.  I never actually got anything.  I never could find one that I liked that had all of the features I wanted.  Not to mention, the prices for NAS are outrageous for what you get. When our D400 became available, I jumped at the chance to try it out.  The specs are modest:  Atom N230 processor, two 1 TB drives, 1GB of memory, Gigabit Ethernet, all running Windows Home Server (based on Windows Server 2003 code).  It doesn’t sound like much, but a home server is not designed to be a computing machine.  No, a Home Server is designed to be a storage and media serving machine.  To accomplish this task, it has hot swap bays for four-2TB drives for a mind blowing total of 8TB of potential storage capacity.  (I don’t see why drives bigger than 2TB wouldn’t work too.)  Plus, unlike most NAS solutions, the drives don’t have to be matched, so I have a lot of flexibility for future expansion options. When properly configured, this IdeaCentre D400 Home Server should be capable of multiple things. 

  1. It will silently and automatically back up all of my home computers, allowing for a complete bare metal restore.  It will keep multiple incremental backups and age them automatically.
  2. It will aggregate, index, and distribute all kinds of media – pictures, music, videos, TV shows etc. and then stream them to any PC on my network that asks for them
  3. I can set it up as a bit torrent client, keeping all of that traffic off of my main PCs.
  4. I can access everything remotely using a password protected login, so I’ve got access to anything anywhere.  This should prove to be quite useful for long hotel nights in foreign hotel rooms where I can’t sleep and my only TV choices are between Al Jazeera and Italian soap operas with German sub titles.
  5. I’m not sure if I can set it up as a print server yet.  I hope so.

I say “should” because my promise of value has yet to be realized. It is not the D400’s fault. I place the blame on my router.  It was developed in a much simpler time before UPnP, WPA encryption (I’m running WEP) and Gigabit Ethernet. Setting the D400 up required a bit of homework.  Evidently my Motorola cable modem likes to act as a DHCP server in certain cases.  I wasn’t able to get my home server recognized until I unplugged my cable modem.  (I only had to do that for initial setup.  Every time since, my network configures properly.) Once setup, since my router is not UPnP capable, I would have had to configure it manually for remote access.  The directions give some help, but mostly assume that you have an UPnP router (most of them are), so they weren't quite as helpful as I would have liked.  Rather than mess with it, I just laid that idea aside for a while. I tried multiple times to get a base backup of my main PC.  The backup would launch, but it never would complete.  I realize that 600GB+ sounds like a lot to copy, but it really isn’t that much.  However, a 100Mb connection requires HOURS to move that much data. The backup would get about 60% complete and then die when something went into low power mode. After the third failed backup, I came to the conclusion that for this to be practical, I really needed Gigabit Ethernet.  Add to this my lack of UPnP support, and I decided that my best bet was to get a new router.  If you haven’t used it before, I highly recommend SmallNetBuilder.  It has the most comprehensive set of wireless router reviews that I’ve found.  I finally decided on a Netgear WNDR3700 series router for its high throughput and dual band capabilities.  This was important to me for several reasons:  One, I don’t want to upgrade again for a while.  Two, I want to try to stream media to a Lenovo IdeaCentre Q700 Home Theater PC.  I need good wireless streaming capability because the WAF (wife acceptance factor) precludes me from stringing Ethernet cable around the house.  I also picked up a refurbished 802.11n USB Linksys wireless adapter which seemed reasonable for $30.  (More on the Q700 in a future post.) The router should arrive late this week and I’ll try again to get everything working. In the meantime, I’ve been busying myself learning about power management for Home Servers.  I definitely will not leave this machine on 24/7.  Lenovo's D400 does ship with a highly regarded LightsOut plugin for Home Server which will power down the server on a schedule.  That said, I am concerned with how much power it draws in operation.  I’ll probably hook up a KillAWatt meter to see how much. More to come on this.