Note: this thread concerns media stored on a computer in a broader sense than just music, but I mainly use the concepts described herein for playing my music, so I figured this would be the proper place for this topic.
For the past few years I've been using one of my old computers to serve media on my home network. It's made my life so much easier. Soon after I set up my server, I discovered that there are ready-made devices called NAS--Network Attached Storage--that basically accomplish the same thing as what I did, only in a more set-it-and-forget-it manner.
Recently in another thread I mentioned my setup and there was some interest in the concept. I'm really surprised more Head-Fi'ers don't use some sort of home server or NAS, and I thought I would start a thread to evangelize for these setups, guide users how to get one up and running, and bring other Head-Fi'ers who have a setup like one of these into the conversation.
Here's some more info about this topic (hidden in order to not clutter up the post):
So what's all this then? (Click to show)
Basically, it's a massive repository for all your media that you hook up to your home network using an ethernet cable or wireless connection. You can then map this network location to a drive location/letter in your OS and use it like any local hard drive (similar to your C:\ drive in Windows). The difference is that the same drive can be used by as many devices as you have connected to your network.
- A central location for all your media - If you have multiple computers on your network and don't want to have to synchronize your media collection across each one, having a central server with a massive hard drive lets you keep everything in one place and simply stream content over your network to any connected device. This is particularly useful if you frequently add music to your library, since you only have to add it once.
For instance, if you have Foobar2000 installed on two computers, you can point each of them to your music folder stored on your server or NAS (on my Windows 7 laptop I have the drive mapped to Z:\, so the path is Z:\Music\Tony's Music), and both will share the same library. Any changes made to the contents of this folder will be reflected in all connected libraries--in Foobar2000, for instance, selecting Library -> Album List will make the new entries instantly appear.
Plus, if you completely change/upgrade your server/NAS, as long as you keep it mapped to the same drive letter and keep the folder structure the same, you essentially have a drop-in replacement, rather than having to reinstall your entire OS or point all your media software to a different library location if you upgrade to/add a larger hard drive. I did this recently and it worked perfectly, saving me hours of work redoing all my Foobar2000 playlists.
- Data security - Many NAS boxes have slots for multiple hard drives (most commonly two). You can set up a NAS box with two identical drives and have everything mirrored across both of them (using RAID 1, a standard level of RAID), creating an instant, continuous backup. If one of the drives fails, the other drive has all your data intact. Though more involved technically, you can set up your own server to do the same thing. In addition, leveraging your home network to have yet another computer back up everything from your server or NAS gives you added security just in case something physical happens to the entire enclosure (e.g. the case gets knocked off a desk). Or, you can back up your NAS or server using online backup utilities (e.g. Mozy, Carbonite, etc.).
- Disaster-proof - If you somehow hose your entire OS, it's a pain getting everything set up again, but it's even worse if you lose something you can't get back. Keeping all your media in a separate place protects it from software-based disaster. You might have to spend a day reinstalling everything, but at least you don't have to re-rip/repurchase/redownload all your media again or slowly reload everything from a backup.
You have two basic options:
- Use a NAS box - Many companies make ready-made NAS boxes that come complete with drives and instructions and everything you need to get going with a minimum of fuss. Others have bare enclosures which you can populate with your own drives. This can save you some money, especially if you can find the drive capacity you want in a good sale. Also, it gives you the choice of which kind of drives you want to use. Enterprise-class drives are more reliable but are much more expensive. Drives like Western Digital's Red series are custom-made for NAS enclosures and are priced in between standard drives and enterprise models. I would not recommend using regular desktop drives (e.g. WD Blue, Green, or Black; Seagate Barracuda, etc.) in a RAID array because they aren't optimized for the task and can cause trouble. If you have a NAS box with multiple slots and want to use some form of RAID array, you must have drives of the same capacity and it's highly recommended that you use two identical drives.
- Set up your own server using existing hardware - This option requires more effort but will also be cheaper, since you don't have to buy a NAS box and, depending on your storage needs, you might not even need to buy another hard drive. Note that a full-sized computer will use more power than a NAS box, so if you're energy conscious you might not want to go this route. You can use any OS you like (Windows will work fine), but it's more efficient to use a server OS such as Ubuntu Server or another Linux variant. This involves a much steeper learning curve, so if you're not a geek don't worry about this last point. There are numerous tutorials online for using a computer as a file server. In time I'll sift through the offerings and post some links to good ones, but for now Google is your friend. If you know of a good tutorial to link, please let me know about it. This would be highly appreciated!
I eventually would like to migrate to a NAS box myself, since using a full computer is a bit overkill for my purposes. But lots of folks have old desktops or laptops laying around which would be perfect candidates to be repurposed as media servers.
Let me point out here right upfront that I don't know everything. This is just something I've found to be incredibly useful, and there's lots yet for me to learn. I eventually want to turn this first post into an extensive primer on getting started with a home server or NAS, hopefully with the help of other knowledgeable Head-Fi'ers, but for now I just want to gauge interest in the concept and create one central place where Head-Fi'ers can discuss this topic.
(See what I did there? )