I spent the last week and a half on a bit of tear working on various things, especially OwnCloud, but I imagine my pace appeared to drop over the last couple of days. For me, though, it was as busy or more so, I just re-directed energy temporarily into a different project - overhauling the network infrastructure here at HappyAssassin Towers.

For a few years now I've been keeping most of the "big iron" (hah) in a little Ikea "PS" cabinet in the corner of the bedroom. This has several drawbacks I mentioned in this post (to which this one constitutes a 4.5 year later sequel!), to which has now been added the fact that a small metal cabinet containing three computers, a cable box, and bunch of networking hardware is not an ideal thermal situation. Especially in August. I think it was raising the ambient temperature in the bedroom by about three degrees; you could possibly have fried an egg on it last week, when I put the new PVR PC into it.

So this week I finally snapped and decided I'd had enough of melting heat and dragging the damn thing out of the corner every time I needed to tweak anything, and decided to ship the whole damn kit and caboodle over to the corner of the living room next to my desk, and replace the metal box with something else.

At first I was going to use this other Ikea thing, but I wasn't feeling great about it, partly because it's not that awesome a thing, partly because Ikea is kind of a trek, but mostly because the (rare) unionized staff at my local Ikea are on strike and I'm really not keen on crossing picket lines. So I was pretty happy when I nipped into the big random-junk-liquidation store next to the PC parts store and found a TV stand from Ameriwood (it's not any of the ones listed there, but pretty similar) for fifty bucks. Made in America flat pack furniture, who knew, right?

So without further ado, I present the new HappyAssassin Towers data centre:

Photo of the new setup

I really didn't plan for everything to be shiny black with blue blinkenlights, it just sort of turned out that way. Bonus! Attentive viewers may note the one piece of the TV stand I inevitably screwed in the wrong way up.

On top is a cheapo TV/monitor I also got from the liquidation store, to be plugged in whenever I need to access one of the systems directly (I don't do this often enough to really justify a KVM and all the cables it entails), and my printer. (Also my tablets - you can see the Fedlet in all its glory if you look close). In the top-right compartment, networking stuff - modem (at the back, it's some Cisco thing the cable company sent, operating in bridge mode), router (still for now the Linksys WRT-310N) and wireless AP (Netgear WNDR3700v2, under the router). Bottom-right compartment, the UPS (CyberPower 1500AVR) on the right, PVR setup on the left: the new PVR computer I built, a quick cheap mini-ITX job in an InWin case, and a Motorola DCX3200 cable box on top of it, hooked together with Firewire. Bottom left compartment, my Thecus N5550 NAS. Top left compartment, my server host machine (described in the same post as the NAS), and spare keyboard.

Oh, so yeah, after that other post I did go ahead and set up a dedicated MythTV box. Picked up the DCX3200 on Craigslist. Hit a couple of annoying issues setting it up, but it's mostly running pretty smoothly now. The playback on my HTPC had been slightly jerky with the test box, and it initially was with the dedicated box too, but I worked out it's because the ancient underpowered CPU in my HTPC box was struggling to keep up with deinterlacing the video; switching to a VDPAU-accelerated deinterlace method smoothed it right out. Now there's just an annoying problem where the backend seems to lose its ability to talk to the cable box after it's been inactive for a while, but I should be able to figure out / workaround that one somehow or other.

I'm happy with the new setup - it's cooler, takes the heat out of the bedroom, and is waaaaay more accessible for me. I also took the opportunity to improve the network infrastructure. There are now 8-port gigabit switches mounted on the walls behind the data centre and the TV stand that actually has my TV (and HTPC and game consoles etc) on it, and a 5-port switch I had lying around in the bedroom. The switches and the AP run into the router, and all the actual devices hang off the switches. Much more orderly, and much more room for expansion. However, it did lead to the large chunk of manual labour that kept me busy for the better part of the last two days: all the freaking cabling.

I have a massively heightened respect for those poor buggers who just run ethernet cable all day, now. I had to run and tidy 100ft of ethernet and 100ft of coax to run this setup; the ethernet cable that brings the bedroom online runs behind a dresser, a couch, two ceiling-height Billy bookcases, past the dining table, behind the corner where the cable drop is (both coax cables do the whole run to that point too), behind the media centre (where the other long ethernet cable stops), around the bedroom doorframe, behind another dresser and finally my husband's PC before it hits the switch. All that for a straight-line distance of about 12 feet (I used to do this run around the doorframe and across the ceiling, but it looked kinda ugly so I took this chance to redo it around the walls). And I did the coax cables last night without remembering that the ethernet cables would have to do the same run, so I got to do that part twice. Of course, there are about a zillion other cables in the way that I had to get the new cables under, and both bookcases are fully loaded and properly attached to the wall with a bracket just like the instructions say. Whew.

The next step is to replace the router - which seems to be starting to go senile, every so often lately it stops passing packets to the internet and has to be reset - and wireless AP combination with a new Zyxel NBG6716 I just bought, running OpenWRT. I was going to start configuring the new router today, but discovered OpenWRT had a bug preventing the NBG6716 images from building, so I had to file that and wait for the fix first. Hopefully there'll be images or a working ImageBuilder with the next nightly build.

Here ends the latest news from HappyAssassin Towers, still obstinately doing for itself what it could be paying Google to do better. Just like its soulmate over at Scrye Gardens...


sean wrote on 2014-08-02 12:14:
You ought to try an ARM based box. It reduces your data centre size and power consumption. Plus they are pretty cheap. :)
adamw wrote on 2014-08-02 16:09:
Meh. Still not really mature enough. The last new build I did was March 2013 for the vmhost box, when ARM virtualization still didn't really work great, and solid ARM server boxes were a rarity. It's a false economy to replace a one-year old perfectly functional box with a 'more efficient' one. I couldn't use ARM for the new MythTV box as so far as I can tell there are no ARM systems with Firewire.
Matěj Cepl wrote on 2014-08-03 19:46:
You are forgetting on your another soulmate in Prague. Actually your server farm looks really expensive to my heap of crap (literally, my main server has been thrown away by a friend as too flimsy to run his Windows XP + Office ;) ... with a little bit of memory (yeah, it is so old it cannot go over 512MB of physical RAM) I get enough server to run BOTH postgreSQL, mySQL, Zarafa, and my blog (and some other small stuff). The other computer turned to be (with additional DVB/S card) pretty decent video center. Who knew that mplayer and bunch of Python scripts make with cron(1) and at(1) pretty nice replacement for TiVO? The only problem of the main server is that its ventilator is really loud, so in the end whole computer ended in the built-in wardrobe. Works like a charm.