22 Apr Secret Find of the Family Network Administrator: HP MediaSmart Server

My name is Patrick Moorhead and I am vice president of advanced marketing at AMD. Most of what I focus on is the non-traditional marketing like developing the new strategies to change the ways we would like people to relate to AMD’s technologies, new ways to leverage our platforms into the marketplace and new ways to communicate them. I think a lot about why people think and behave the way they do and develop how AMD can meet the needs in the consumer and commercial space. On the consumer side, there is no better way to learn about consumer pain points than to “just do it,” and maybe even have a little fun along the way. I guess if that approach is good enough for Steve Jobs and Michael Dell, it has to be good enough for me. :>

I am a gadget guy, particularly on the home side, so I wanted to keep my first blog informative and light.  In future blogs, I will be highlighting some of the industry’s misnomers or hype that need some light shed on them.

If you are also the Family Network Administrator (FNA), I want to let you in on a secret find I made over the the last few months: the HP MediaSmart Server. Normally I prefer to build my own rigs, so when I first heard about the MediaSmart server and its capabilities, I did a little bit of head-scratching. How wrong I was…….

I suppose “tech junkie” fully describes a household having 9 PCs, 3 DMAs (digital media adapter), 5 PMPs (portable media player), 4 DVRs (digital video recorder), 5TB storage, 3 switches, 1 router, an Xbox 360, 4 Nintendo DSs, aSlingBox and a 12Mbit internet connection. It is always a challenge to manage all of that technology and content, particularly keeping up with demands of the Moorhead User Group (MUG), already 4 members strong. MUG members include my wife and my three kids. The needs of MUG are far and wide, from crystal clear music to 15 years of pictures to the latest videos to 4 jitter-free game platform experiences to perfect internet connections …… all available 365 days a year, 24×7 in any room. Many of you can relate, I know, painfully, because you also need to manage all of that beautiful mess.

The HP MediaSmart Server simplifies and removes many of the mundane and often never implemented tasks like backups, network monitoring, and password and profile management. All of this stuff is automated and intuitive, unlike most consumer electronics and computer gear. The server also has some cool features like content sharing inside and outside of the house to your friends and family, and remote access to manage the network and PCs when the FNA is on a business trip. The HP MediaSmart server is powered by an AMD processor and is also part the AMD LIVE!™ family of products so you can really experience some AMD goodness, too!

Setup is easy. Attach the server to your wired network, load a CD on any PC you want connected, setup your passwords and you are on easy street. Now every PC and device in your house can share any of the same music, videos, movies, pictures and documents. Sounds easy and it is. It actually “works.”

It is kept safe and secure by password access control and with data replication. In other words, if you don’t want your 5 year old child to have rights to “delete” or “change” mom’s music files, you can restrict it. Complete or selective systems backups are done automagically without any effort but a mouse click. If data corruption is detected on the server, it will alert the FNA and because the data is replicated (written twice), it is safe and sound. The server will also alert the FNA if the backup was interrupted, anti-virus is out of date, malware detection is off, or if the firewall has been disabled.

The biggest benefit we experienced so far is the ability to have all of our music, video, and pictures in one place to “pull” from. Whether it’s one of the 5 iPods, Apple TV, Xbox 360, D-Link DSM-520, desktops, or laptops, they are all getting data from the same place, which means you are never hunting for that “one song that we downloaded on PC #5 that I can’t find anymore.” I am certain that when the first PC blows up and I can restore all of the data immediately, that will then be the next big feature I love. The other benefit is that the server can be left on all the time, and because it is very cool and quiet, it’s non-intrusive. Doing that on your main home PC is possible, but not optimal. The HP server hasn’t crashed once or turned off unexpectedly. It was built on Windows Server 2003 SP2, so you get years of real-world use before they sprung it on the consumer, as well as putting a happy face on it.  And, no, I havent encountered any of the data integrity challenges written about.

Remote access was a surprise hit. When I was in Las Vegas recently and the “PC broke and couldn’t play music,” I logged into the PC at home in Austin, reloaded a piece of software, and got MUG happy again. I hope that boosts my customer sat score this month. I doubt it.

In my opinion, you don’t need to worry about losing the investment you may have made in USB or eSATA external storage. They plug right into the server and it automagically becomes part of the server’s storage capacity. Also, don’t worry about running out of storage capacity any time soon. The HP MediaSmart server comes in two configurations,500GB ($599) and 1TB ($749). It comes with 2 extra SATA hard drive bays so you can add two of the highest capacity SATA drives you can find when you need it. As it comes to storage, I recommend only buying it when you need it because the price per MB decreases so rapidly. When I checked today, I could buy 1TB SATA drive on Newegg for$199, so it seems to me that, when you need more next year, it could be half that price or at least much cheaper.

The next feature I want to test is the ability to invite friends and family to view and even post their pictures to the MUG server. Sort of my own protected Flickr. I am not sure exactly the incremental benefit that provides versus the photo posting services, but we will see. For the daring FNAs out there who want to build their own server, Microsoft sellsWindows Home Server, the OS that HP has built their own server upon. Some of my compadres have built a beast of a server on this platform and it takes what HP has developed and extended the functionality to things like encoding video and audio content. HP has kept it simple, focused and didn’t overextend themselves in the spirit of maximizing the feature list. What it does, it does well.