Home updates

Over the course of the past year, I’ve made quite a few updates to my home. Most of them aren’t really visible – by design. I don’t want my updated speaker wiring or networking to be visible – it’s supposed to be hidden, so I’ve put it behind walls and in the crawl space. Some of this I’ve gone over before, like the networking, so we’ll ignore that. Some I haven’t really gone over in an organized fashion, like the new entertainment center infrastructure.

As part of a multi-year effort (due to budget restrictions), I put in in-wall wiring for HDMI, coax, and networking to above the fireplace, and put in a 7.1 speaker distribution panel on the side living room wall. My 7.2 surround sound system is now up and running, all the speaker wires are traveling through the walls, so the receiver plugs in to the wall directly behind it, with speaker wires no more than a foot long. I’ve not yet gotten a new wall-mount TV, but that’s going to happen within the next 6 to 12 months.

I also upgraded the receiver and DVD player to a newer model receiver and a 4K Blu-Ray player. Since the TV is still only 1080p, there’s no image difference, but everything is now HDMI instead of component. That’s a mixed bag, since it’s easier to plug in one cable than five, but it also means my old consoles (PS/2 and Wii) no longer work – the new receiver doesn’t upconvert video from component to HDMI, so I would need to buy an upconverter if I wanted to continue using those consoles.

Well, having upgrade those bits, I decided to turn back to my compute environment. I had been limping along trying to figure out how to replace my “frankendisk” server for about a year and a half. Well, about two months ago I learned of a new home-priced NAS system from Synology, and started researching it. It looked to all intents and purposes like exactly what I needed, and the more I looked in to it, the more it seemed like a perfect fit. I mentioned my thoughts to some coworkers, and was strongly urged to get one by several people who are former or current owners. I bit the bullet, bought a used DS1815+ from eBay, and started considering how to put it into use. I ended up gutting my existing virtualization environment to cannibalize the disks, which since it’s a lab type environment was easy enough to rebuild, and I started out with 6 2TB disks. With the Synology Hybrid RAID, that gave me about 9TB usable with a one-disk fault tolerance. While the NAS itself takes a long time to perform administrative tasks, the user experience overall is just about the best I’ve ever had. It took me under 15 minutes to set it up and make it available on my network, and all 9 TB were available while the parity check and RAID synchronizations were ongoing.

Next I integrated it with my IdM environment for autmounting home directories, and it worked like a charm. No issues, just mounted up with acceptable permissions and let me do what I needed to do. When the time came to stand my virtualization host back up, adding the NAS for a VM store was trivial – everything just worked with no fuss or bother.

Next it was time to figure out backups. With my previous server, I had been using rsnapshot to maintain backups at various intervals – daily for 8 days, weekly for 5 weeks, monthly for 12 months, annual for 2 years. As I start setting up the server that used to house my frankenstorage, I came across an interesting Synology application called “Active Backup for Business”. Installation onto the NAS was a snap, and when I opened it up I realized my life had just gotten even easier. I was able to set up the exact same backup schedules I had been using with rsnapshot directly on the NAS, and have it do the backups via rsync. The only two grips I have are that I can’t configure one server to have different users for backing up different directories, and the labeling of some of the configuration items is decidedly sub-optimal. The “Physical Server” item refers specifically (and only) to Windows servers, and the “Virtual Machine” items only works with VMware instances. Since I’m using RHV and RHEL everywhere, I’m forced to configure all of my targets as “File Servers”. I suppose this makes sense for the average home user, since the vast majority of them will be using Windows machines, but it still irks me.

Then I started exploring the different applications available for the Synology, and I came across one called “Media Server”. This had intrigued me, since my new receiver has something called “HEOS” available – which is, in the simplest terms I can come up with, a way to use a smartphone to remote control the receiver and what music it’s playing. The receiver has to be on the wireless network along with the smartphone for this to work, which annoyed me since I’d hooked it up on the wired network initially. Denon, please fix that – the firmware updates are large enough that I would really rather use my wired network. Well, I poked at Google for a bit and discovered that the Synology can serve music to HEOS devices – wait a second… okay, let’s move the iTunes library over to the NAS…

Well, after a little bit of horsing around, I figured it all out. I’m going to re-rip all my CDs to FLAC (they’re MP3 now) so get the lossless encoding, but… I can be sitting in my office, open the HEOS app on my phone, and tell my stereo to play whatever I feel like listening to from my personal collection! Without even having to go into the living room to pick up the stereo remote! Holy crap, this is spoiling me… well, I kept looking around the HEOS app in amazement that such magic actually worked for me pretty much out of the box. That’s when I found the “Sound Mode” screen. I had been playing a Lindsey Stirling album (don’t hate – I happen to like her music, and if you don’t, you can go suck eggs) in the default “Stereo” mode. Most of the settings aren’t applicable, because they’re aimed at playing movies/DVDs/Blu-Rays (e.g. DTS), but there was an option for “Multi-Channel Stereo”. I clicked that button… and holy crap, it was as if my stereo had just gone from monaural AM to full surround-sound 7.2 stereo sound, and I was still in the office / spare bedroom! The difference was as great as the difference between listening to “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” on a cheap one-speaker cassette player and listening to the same arrangement played by the Boston Pops live.

I am a very happy IT geek. 🙂

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