My adventure with personal cloud started few years ago, when a customer came into a computer shop I was working in that time asked to recycle his old electronic junk. One of his items happened to be a HP MediaSmart home server – a very capable device.
Setting it up is bit challenging and it’s not recommended for an inpatient person, but struggle eventually pays back as the features are remarkable. There is a very good forum with loads of useful tips and tutorials at www.mediasmartserver.net.
A personal data center
MediaSmart is equipped with four 3.5” HD bays (SATA), one external SATA port, to quickly dump data from an external drive, and 5 USB ports (2.0). As I am writing it there is a 3TB WD Purple available on Ebay at less than £80, so that means you can have up to 12TB of storage at around £320 on top of the server’s cost. It is not cheap but I think you cannot get that much space on any commercial cloud drive available.
And you don’t need, really. I am currently using a little over 1TB for all my archives, portfolio, photos, music, a collection of over a 100 movies etc. (including folder duplication) but I guess if you’re a photographer or a film maker, or even frequently shoot home videos your storage might run out quite fast.
Data storage reliability
Mediasmart was originally shipped with Windows Home Server 2003 (I think one most stable Windows OS by the way) and though I am considering a swich-over to Linux, features of WHS are quite magical. Drive extender for instance, can automatically create copies of any folders across two physical drives – just in case one of them dies or gets damaged. You can also hot-add or remove any of the hard drives as long as your data fits on remaining storage. On top of that hard drives don’t have to be same size (as it is with RAID5, I think).
Your files and media can be available online as soon as MediSmart is powered-on and connected to internet. With some additional software you can make your personal cloud really shine.
A personal cloud drive
I am usually working on a laptop in some random places such as cafes, parks, public transport etc. often riding a bike with laptop in my backpack so data backup is essential for me.
GoodSync securely syncs or backs-up selected content from your laptop, tablet, mobile – it is similar to Dropbox with some extra perks: you can choose as many folders (or devices) to sync: eg. Desktop, Documents, htdocs, photos, videos etc. as you want.
Sync over local network – this cannot be underestimated especially if you need to download/upload a large amount of data. MediaSmart comes equipped with a gigabit ethernet port that allows quick access – imagine working on a 1GB psd that is being frequently overwritten.
GoodSync also allows you to keep the history of changes up to 99 days back, just in case you’ve overwritten a wrong file, this can be sometimes more useful than Time Machine as it keeps ALL the versions, while the TM takes snapshots every hour.
One-off cost around £35 (you need at least 2 licenses for server and a computer you’d like to backup, mobile app is free)
A media server
When MediaSmart was introduced it meant to work with Windows Media Center which is rather outdated now (never really worked properly for me). Luckily there is something even better out now. PLEX is a free, web based app that can broadcast all your selected content such as Movies, Music, Photos, TV Shows via local network and internet; it means that you are able to access your media library from anywhere in the world where there is internet.
I especially like the music player for iPhone as I am able to listen to my whole music library over 3G/LTS network without taking up the phone memory. Combine it with GoodSync and you can easily dump all your holiday photos and videos anytime your Phone memory runs out.
You can set your home server to manage long-running Torrent, HTTP or FTP downloads. uTorrent has an optional web interface that so you don’t even need to remotely connect to your server but manage downloads from eg. your mobile. I don’t need to mention that PLEX will update your library as soon as it finished downloading. :-)
Although it is not an officially supported feature, I was able to set it up and running using documentation found on the web. Backups over WIFI and accessing Time Machine on a daily basis was quite smooth, though I am not sure if it is possible to restore your Mac completely from a backup.
Other potentially useful stuff:
You can also set up an FTP server and a web server (including MySQL and PHP), to host your website to the public or just for tests (if you happened to be a web developer as myself); it is not terribly fast but can be used for small traffic websites I suppose (I think you’d have to have some kind of static IP service).
MediaSmart can make automated backups of all your home/office PCs (something like a Time Machine for a PC).
Webcams: you can connect USB or ethernet camcorders to monitor your home or office; there is a very good program called Active WebCam that you can use for free to manage your webcams.
As the Windows Home Server 2003 OS is getting old and might soon meet the XP’s fate I am considering swapping it to Linux. This topic is also covered at MediaSmartServer.net forum.
It isn’t as straight forward to share your files with other parties as it is with eg. Dropbox, at least I haven’t figured out how to do it, yet.
Accessing the data and remote connection can be slow sometimes, at least it is on my old EX470 model, even after RAM and CPU upgrade. Its HD video encoding and photo sharing with PLEX chokes a lot, music library works quite well, though.
There are newer and more powerful MediaSmart servers out there but from what I read they’ve dropped the drive extender function which is essential to me.
In general HP MediaSmart is a good, reliable, long term, big capacity storage, backup and cloud-drive. For frequent access and quick sharing of smaller files there is Dropbox and Google Drive.
I haven’t have any experience with other brands that produce this kind of devices, if you’ve had I would be happy to hear from you, feel free to share your experience in the comments below.
Four hard drives and three fans of MediaSmart box can produce a good deal of noise, so I came up with an idea of building an external housing, just like a case for a mobile but on a larger scale, housing that is sound-proof, provides good air flow, and most importantly looks great. ;-)