Old Media Server with OpenVPN

I am in the process of building and configuring a media server for my parents. After my recent media server upgrade, I have extra gear lying around. By purchasing a power supply and a small case, I can cobble together another media server with my old processor and motherboard. I will call this my parent’s media server. The goal is to replace the current Raspberry PI unit that is currently running OSMC acting as their media server. Although the OSMC solution with Raspberry PI has been working really well, it is under powered to play any HEVC encoded video at full 1080p HD resolution.

I wanted to convert the majority of our video media to HEVC simply to save storage space. If I do this with my media library, I will not be able to share our media with them because of their under powered Raspberry PI.

To solve this issue, I installed Ubuntu 18.04 along with Kodi on my parent’s media server that I just created. I have been testing this solution for the past couple of weeks and both the hardware and media player works really well.

I also configured the box to auto mount USB disks, and installed SAMBA so that both videos and music files can be shared with other devices on the same network. The SAMBA is primarily used by my parents with their SONOS speakers.

With this media server at their location, I can also consider future upgrades such as replacing their WiFi network with a Ubiquiti solution, and even ponder on a site-to-site VPN solution with both of our networks.

Perhaps that is looking too far into the future. My immediate concern is how to remotely administer the box. With the Raspberry PI, I just had a simple SSH setup. However with the extra horse power, and a full blown Ubuntu distribution, I can now setup OpenVPN.

I followed these instructions on the DigitalOcean site, and it worked flawlessly. During the setup, I made a major error. I skipped the firewall (ufw) setup on the box, thinking that I don’t need a firewall because an external firewall already exists. However, OpenVPN will not route external traffic to the internal private network if IP masquerading (NAT) is not setup properly. Thanks to a coworker’s advice, I configured the firewall with IP forwarding NAT, but also change all default actions to ACCEPT so that the firewall only function as a NAT router. Lesson learned!

Since this VPN will only be used by me for remote management, I will not configure any HTTPS tunnelling or install and configure ObfsProxy. We will continue to use UDP and stick with the default 1194 port.

We will do some final testing before finally deploying it to my parent’s place.

NVMe SSD with LVM Cache

I have been a huge fan of Apple’s fusion drives. They are an excellent compromise for affordable mass storage while still able to give you SSD performance. The concept is simple pair a fast but small SSD drive with a large but slow and much affordable, mechanical HDD. You get good performance and have lots of storage without breaking the bank.

I have falsely assumed that this capability only existed with Apple’s macOS operating system. This week I was pleasantly surprised to have discovered that LVM Cache can do more or less the same thing on Linux. This new found knowledge along with an excellent deal on a 500GB NVMe Samsung 970 Evo Plus M.2 drive gave me the itch to experiment this weekend with my NAS media server.

The hardware was easy enough to install, but I had to move one of the existing SATA connection because the M.2 slot on the motherboard shared a PCIe bus with a pair of SATA connections. Luckily I bothered to check the motherboard manual, otherwise I would have been scratching my head while the server fail to boot.

The software configurations were a bit more involved. Before I purchased the NVMe card, I did some experimentation with two external USB drives, one SSD and one HDD. I found this article to be super helpful in configuring LVM Cache with my test drives. However, these configurations were not fully restored after a reboot. After many hours of research on the Internet, I found this article indicating that my Ubuntu Linux distribution was missing the thin-provisioning-tools package. I also had experimented between the two different cache modes that were available, writethrough and writeback. I found out that the write back mode was a bit buggy and did not sync the cache and the storage drive. Yet another article to the rescue.

lvchange --cachesettings migration_threshold=16384 vg/cacheLV

I preferred the write back mode due to its better write performance characteristics. Apparently to fix the issue, I have to increase the migration threshold to something larger than the default of 2048 because the chunk size was too large.

Here are the steps that I did to configure my existing logical volume (airvideovg2/airvideo) to be cached by the NVMe drive that I just purchased. I first have to partitioned the NVMe drive.

Model: Samsung SSD 970 EVO Plus 500GB (nvme)
 Disk /dev/nvme0n1: 500GB
 Sector size (logical/physical): 512B/512B
 Partition Table: gpt
 Disk Flags: 

 Number  Start   End    Size   File system  Name     Flags
  1      1049kB  500GB  500GB               primary

Create an LVM physical volume with the NVMe partition that was created previously /dev/nvme0n1p1 and add it to the existing airvideovg2 volume group.

sudo pvcreate /dev/nvme0n1p1
sudo vgextend airvideovg2 /dev/nvme0n1p1

Create a cache pool logical volume and set its cache mode to write back and establish the migration threshold setting.

sudo lvcreate --type cache-pool -l 100%FREE -n lv_cache airvideovg2 /dev/nvme0n1p1

sudo lvchange --cachesettings migration_threshold=16384 airvideovg2/lv_cache

sudo lvchange --cachemode writeback airvideovg2/lv_cache

Finally link the cache pool logical volume to our original logical volume.

sudo lvconvert --type cache --cachepool airvideovg2/lv_cache airvideovg2/airvideo

Now my original logical volume is cached and I have gained SSD performance economically on my 20TB RAID setup for less than $200. Below is my final volume listing.

$ sudo lvs -a
   LV               VG          Attr       LSize   Pool       Origin           Data%  Meta%  Move Log Cpy%Sync Convert
   airvideo         airvideovg2 Cwi-aoC---  20.01t [lv_cache] [airvideo_corig] 0.01   11.78           0.00            
   [airvideo_corig] airvideovg2 owi-aoC---  20.01t                                                                    
   [lv_cache]       airvideovg2 Cwi---C--- 465.62g                             0.01   11.78           0.00            
   [lv_cache_cdata] airvideovg2 Cwi-ao---- 465.62g                                                                    
   [lv_cache_cmeta] airvideovg2 ewi-ao----  64.00m                                                                    
   [lvol0_pmspare]  airvideovg2 ewi-------  64.00m      

We can also use the command below to get a more detail listing.

sudo lvs -a -o+name,cache_mode,cache_policy,cache_settings,chunk_size,cache_used_blocks,cache_dirty_blocks

Upgrade completed. We’ll see how stable it is in the future.

Media Server Upgrade

Two and half years ago, I performed a CPU and motherboard upgrade to my media server. You can read the account here.

Although the AMD Athlon 5350 APU was energy efficient, it proved to be under power for on demand video encoding when Plex wanted to transcode video for a player on a device that is not compatible with the playing video. For example, when an Apple TV (not 4K) wants to play 4K material from Plex on my media server, the server will have to transcode the 4K material to a compatible 1080p format. Unfortunately, this is very CPU intensive and if more than one person in the house hold is trying to do the same thing, which is not unheard of, this causes stuttered playback issues.

Given the choice between saving a few dollars a year versus usability, I choose usability. Therefore I started to research what I need for the upgrade. My goal is upgrade the system so that transcoding will not be an issue and I can also use the system for future video encoding of security camera footages. We can also use the system for background video encoding of family videos as well.

I continue to prefer the AMD brand, and decided on the following combo:

  • AMD Ryzen 5 2400G Processor with Radeon RX Vega 11 Graphics (YD2400C5FBBOX)
  • GIGABYTE B450 AORUS M Motherboard
  • Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 DRAM 2666MHz (CMK16GX4M2A2666C16)

The above were all purchased through Amazon and cost me a grand total of $473.24. The AMD CPU was the most expensive part costing almost $190.

Taking out the old motherboard and CPU combo and replacing them with the new parts went smoothly. The side SATA connectors bucked against one of my HDD chassis so I opted not to use them, and decided to connect all of my RAID SATA connectors to the SATA accessory card that I purchased and discussed in this post.

Last time I did an upgrade like this, the Ubuntu operating system had no problems and booted without any issues. Unfortunately, this time is very different. After the machine posted, Ubuntu booted into a blank, black screen. After some research, I learned to reboot the Ubuntu kernel with the nomodeset option. I learned to press and hold the shift key so that I can select the desired kernel that I wanted via the GRUB menu, and I learned to press the ‘e’ key in the GRUB menu to modify the boot options. Finally pressing F10 to boot with the custom changes (effective for only one time).

The above trick got me a login prompt. After I gained access to the command prompt, I noticed that the kernel did not recognize any ethernet devices. I now have a machine that is not connected to the network. After some more Internet research I found out that the current 4.15 Linux Kernel that I have is insufficient to run on the Raven Ridge architecture, the AMD code name for the Zen CPU and Vega GPU combination on a single chip. I have to upgrade to the 4.18 Linux Kernel.

However I cannot upgrade through the Internet, because the machine is not on the Internet. I have to download the Debian packages on a USB stick with another machine and manually install them. At this point, I learned that you cannot simply download a single package for this. I had to decide whether to go with the Linux Mainline Kernel packages or go with the Ubuntu HWE (Hardware Enablement) packages. After reading through Ubuntu’s LTS Enablement Stack article, I decided to HWE packages. I found the linux-generic-hwe packages and their prerequisites on pkgs.org. This took several iterations as I did not get all the dependent packages on the first try.

Once all the packages were installed, the machine booted without the need for the nomodeset option. However, the internet interface device was still not there. I had to run the command netpath, to find out that new motherboard’s ethernet device’s logical name was em1. To register the new logical name, I had to edit /etc/network/interfaces file.

Finally, the machine booted with an active ethernet connection. As a sanity check, I executed:

sudo apt-get install --install-recommends linux-generic-hwe-18.04 

Ensuring that my new media server has all the required kernel packages. We are still not done. The IP address of the server has changed, because we now have a different MAC address, so the DHCP server provisioned a different IP. I tried to change the Unifi Controller to provision a static IP address to this new server but I was unsuccessful. I suspect that the new server is also running the Unifi Controller may have something to do with it. Since the IP address has changed, I needed to update the following configurations:

  • Firewall rules
  • Unifi Controller name space configurations
  • Samba configurations because we only allow for local machines to share

All of this took from 4:30pm to 11:00pm last night, 6.5 hours worth of hardware assembly, research with Google, trial and error, and finally success. I cannot imagine if Google and the super helpful community forums did not existed. Fingers crossed that the new media server will run smoothly.

More Home IT Upgrades

This past weekend I continued to upgrade our NAS server. Last weekend, I upgraded my raid array with an additional 8TB of mirrored storage. This yielded two old 4TB WD Blue HDD. I noticed that my case has a total of 9 internal storage bays. One was used by my 500GB SSD Boot Drive, and 6 were populated by HDD drives making up the current raid array. This means I have 2 more storage bays left. However these remaining bays were meant for 5.25″ storage devices like Optical Disc Players. For me to place my old 4TB WD Blue HDD into these bays, I will need a 5.25″ to 3.5″ bay converter. I had one, and purchased the other one on Amazon. I ended up buying the ORICO Aluminum 5.25 inch to 2.5 or 3.5 Inch Internal Hard Disk Drive Mounting Kit.

I also did not have enough SATA slots and purchased the IOCrest SI-PEX40071 SATA III 8 Port Controller Card. This card along with the 4 builtin SATA slots on the motherboard gave me enough SATA connections for my 9 drives.

Once I installed the old 4TB drives, I proceeded to create another md raid level 1 device and created a matching physical volume which I used to extend the current logical volume group. When the setup is completed, I ended up with a 20TB+ fully mirrored NAS server. I love LVM in combination of mdadm.

I figured while everything is fresh on my mind, I minus well proceed with the dreaded 16.04 to 18.04 Linux Ubuntu upgrade.

The upgrade was surprisingly very smooth. However the new version of OpenVPN caused some troubles. The new OpenVPN no longer works with my old PureVPN configuration files, because the certificate files that came from PureVPN used an outdated and deprecated hash algorithm. After getting the new configuration files from PureVPN, everything worked like a charm.

I also have to reinstall the Unifi Controller along with Let’s Encrypt certbot utility.

Super happy with the outcome and the upgrades should last another 2 to 3 years.

Two New 8TB Drive for Our NAS

Our NAS has run out of space again. I saw a deal that the Seagate IronWolf 8TB NAS Hard Drive was on sale at newegg for $309 CAD. I jumped at the chance and purchased two.

I am now following the same step as I outlined in this post. Replacing two old 4TB drives with these two new 8TB drives.

So far so good. Hopefully when all is said and done, my NAS will have a total of 18TB in a RAID 1 configuration of 6 hard drives in total. Two 4TB, two 6TB, and the two new 8TB.

I noticed that I could fit two more drives in my chassis and may decide to re-add the two old 4 TB back in, but first I’ll have to check if my power supply can handle the demand.

I really like this mdadm and LVM setup.

Update: After 2 mdadm syncs, each of which was around 8 hours, and a pvresize that also took another 5 hours. I had to convert the filesystem from 32 bits to 64 bits using these very helpful instructions. Only after I converted to 64 bits can I then expand the existing filesystem to more than 16TB. It was a learning and yet rewarding experience. Next step is to reuse the 2 old 4TB drives in the same chassis and add them to the logical volume.

Home IT Improvements

Ubuntu AirVideo Server with NAS

Some people use their weekend for home renovation projects, I however used this particular weekend to perform some home information technology (IT) upgrades. My replacement iMac 27" Late 2012 model arrived this week, so after setting up this monstrosity of a machine, I am left with an extra box. An old Windows PC running Windows 7 with a very old AMD Athlon™ II X2 245 Processor along with 3GB of memory. Unfortunately the PC’s motherboard, a Gigabyte M61PME-S2P, is a three and half years old motherboard. It doesn’t even have gigabit ethernet on the board. Instead of having it sit around, I figured that it would be a good idea to try my hands on building a Linux file and media server.

I could do FreeNAS, but I wanted flexibility to run some additional software on the box in addition to just perform as a file server. We have many iOS mobile devices in the house, so I also decided to install Air Video Server on the machine. If you are not familiar with AirVideo, you are missing out. Check them out at http://www.inmethod.com. I ended up running Ubuntu Desktop 12.10 release as an experiment.

Here is a quick to do list that I set for myself:

  • Installed Ubuntu;
  • Consolidate old hard drives into a single volume for media storage;
  • Install samba to share the volume, so I can copy media to it from other computers in the house;
  • Install AirVideo server and configure it to serve media from the above volume;
  • Ensure all of the above works when we reboot the box

Installing the operating system from a USB key was a piece of cake. This weekend project also gave me the opportunity to hunt for old hard drives that have been sitting around dormant in my home office. I wanted to place all my old hard drives into this box, reborn as my new Air Video Server (I named it AVS for short). To my disappointment the old motherboard only allowed for two SATA drives, and one was already taken. Therefore, I could only repurpose one of three old drives that I have found.

Adding drives to the AVS box, forced me to dust off the webs from my Linux knowledge base. I had to re-familiarize with myself on the topic of how to use lshw to find out the hardware that is being installed on the system, and using fdisk to partition the drives properly. I had two old drives. The first a 300GB SATA drive, and the other a 320GB drive. I created a single primary partition on each drive.

Once I’m happy with the partitioning, I’m ready to create a software RAID array or volume using the mdadm utility ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mdadm ). I used mdadm to combined the two drives into a single volume of RAID-0 of 600GB. I didn’t care about redundancy or backup, so I chose RAID-0 instead of RAID-1. I am thoroughly impressed by mdadm in its ability to handle drives of different models to accomplish this.

Now that I have an array device created, I have to create a file system using mkfs.ext4. The last time I created a Linux file system, we only had ext2. I then have to brush up on my mounting procedures and configure the mount points with /etc/fstab. The mounting configuration was an optional step, but I wanted to rename the default mount point that mdadm gave me. After some more permission related configurations, and the installation and configuration of samba on Ubuntu to share the mount point, I have a Network Attached Storage (NAS) that I can copy videos to.

The installation of AirVideo Server was super easy. Kudos to Sergio Rubio. I literally downloaded the Debian install package from https://launchpad.net/~rubiojr/+archive/airvideo and I was done. After quickly configuring the server by editing the AirVideoServerLinux.properties in /opt/airvideo-server, I manually run the AirVideo Server on the command line to see if it works with my iPad. This was a good moment, but I am not finished.

I needed to ensure that all the services related to this new AirVideo Server comes up when the machine is rebooted. This launched another journey down memory lane in terms of /etc/init.d. Again to my amazement, I simply searched init.d and airvideo on Google, which lead me to a post ( http://www.inmethod.com/forum/posts/list/3485.page ) with a ready made /etc/init.d shell script. After some minor adjustments, I was off to the races with a completed AirVideo Server using my old computer and hard drives.

Although Ubuntu has made great strides in making Linux easier to use, I had to do most of the above on the command line as I find the user interface of Ubuntu is still thwarted with many bugs. Creating something like this is still not for the faint of heart.