Author Topic: Is LinuxMCE for me?  (Read 5703 times)

Troberg

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Is LinuxMCE for me?
« on: January 03, 2010, 06:02:48 pm »
Having a mainly Linux based environment, I would very much prefer to stick with Linux for the media as well. LinuxMCE sure seems like a strong contender, but I'm a little bit worried about if it will fit in my home.

Let's start with my situation. I have a somewhat largish home network, with two separate 24 Mbit ADSL connections, going through two separate firewalls (Smoothwall). This is to eliminate any single point of failure. Behind these firewalls are four web servers, a few download slaves and my mail server, VPN, a dial up (in case I'm out of reach of the internet but have a phone, I can be my own ISP) and some other minor servers for my private use. I also have a bunch of file servers (some 20-25 TB total), serving all my media and other data. On top of this, of course, is a bunch of workstations, which are more or less the only machines I actually sit in front of.

I currently run XBMC on XBoxes for my media, but I've outgrown it. My plan is to get six machines for media, one in each room I want to play media in, one server. Of course, these machines will be dedicated for the purpose.

I've also recently installeda new security system, so I thought I'd do something fun with the sensors for the old system, and LinuxMCE seems to give me a lot of possibilities there. Home automation may be in the plan for the next few years.

Now, I see two possible problems:

* My data is on file servers using Samba (historical reasons, I don't mess with a working server, even if it runs Windows). Will that be a problem?

* I understand that LinuxMCE prefers to be the router and DHCP server. Now, I've spent a lot of time setting up my system to be fault tolerant with no single point of failure. As it works now, if a connection goes down, all I have to do is switch a network cable from one patch panel port to another, and everything keeps working. The same goes if I want to rebalance the load between the lines. This is made possible through a whole lot of tweaking and fine tuning of routers/DHCP servers and network setup. Of course, I could setup a separate physical network for LinuxMCE, but that would be a lot of work and money. I recently upgraded all cables to cat6, and that was in the vicinity of $2000 (which is more than I plan to pay for the computers), and it would be as much to build a second network, as the media players are pretty much in the far corners of the house. I'm also unsure if a separate network would reach the files on my file servers without hassle, as I don't have space for a third network card in the servers (basically, they are full of disk controllers).

So, given these issues, is LinuxMCE for me, or should I look to some other solution, such as XBMC and lots of script hacking? As this is going to cost me some money and work, I'd at least like to know if I'm following the right path.

sambuca

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Re: Is LinuxMCE for me?
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2010, 06:53:03 pm »
Ok, a short answer to a long question...  ;)

* LMCE can mount samba file shares. Do some wiki searches for this for more information.
* You should really have LMCE do your DHCP. This will allow you to boot the Media Directors with PXE(disked MDs are not supported), and it will detect other LMCE PNP devices (like squeezeboxes) and configure them automatically. If not, you're in for a lot of work/non-automatic configuring.
You should read up on what LMCE actually uses DHCP for and make up your mind, it seems you know this stuff so maybe you have some clever solution..  :)

best regards,
sambcua

Troberg

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Re: Is LinuxMCE for me?
« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2010, 07:41:34 pm »
It will be a lot of work to reconfigure my network to use LinuxMCE as DHCP server as well. If I was a simple "using my ADSL modem as DHCP server" user, it would be a non issue, but there's literally been weeks of work in getting it to work as good as it does now, and I really don't want to mess that up.

Wouldn't it be possible to just set up my current DHCP to just carry the settings LinuxMCE needs as well, if these are properly documented?

sambuca

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Re: Is LinuxMCE for me?
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2010, 08:33:49 pm »
I understand your situation, and I guess you could change the setup of LMCE. Just be sure you know what the impact is:

* LMCE uses the MAC address of some devices (like the squeezebox, and many more) to automatically configure them. To do this it needs to run the DHCP server. If you can hack your dhcp servers to somehow send the mac address of the dhcp clients to the LMCE core, you could work around this limitation.
* PXE boot. It might be possible to have the existing dhcp servers point to the PXE data on the LMCE core, but this would take some manual configuring.

I think you should find some more details around what and how this work both in the wiki and in the forum. As this is an unsupported configuration, the amount of help we will be able to provide may vary.

best regards,
sambuca 

Troberg

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Re: Is LinuxMCE for me?
« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2010, 11:24:47 pm »
When using the MAC address, is that only for special devices? I'm only going to use ordinary computer hardware for playback (I can buy used, but still modern, hardware from a company which takes care of machines from companies for next to nothing, a 3 GHz P3, 1 GB memory goes for around $100, with warranty, so I see no reason to not have computers everywhere), no special devices. Will this apply to me?

As for PXE boot, that sounds like a pretty normal setup anyway. Most people don't want to have their DNS and their PXE images on the same machine anyway, for performance reasons, so that should be simple enough.

I'm aware that it's a nonstandard configuration, and also that it's a somewhat hot subject. It's just that for me, the standard configuration simply does not work. I've outgrown the "single central computer" concept a long time ago, on my network there are always more than 20 computers running 24/7, most of them servers. I don't want to throw petrol on the flames of a hot subject, I just realize that I'm not a typical user, and my needs are a bit special.

wierdbeard65

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Re: Is LinuxMCE for me?
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2010, 11:51:12 pm »
Assuming your cabling is structured, adding an additional network for MCE would only be the cost of a switch. In fact, if you already have a decent switch, then you could do it with VLans, with no cost (apart from you time). That's how I have my network set up at the moment.

In your shoes, I'd put all my MDs on a separate "MCE" network with the core dowin what it's designed to do. You could then have your existing network as your "external" without impacting on it.

I'm sure I read somewhere that you can get MCE to scan servers on the external network for media. I'm sure this would be the least work compared to trying to re-engineer DHCP etc etc.

Juts my 10 Eurocents..
Paul
If you have the time to help, please see where I have got to at: http://wiki.linuxmce.org/index.php/User:Wierdbeard65

skeptic

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Re: Is LinuxMCE for me?
« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2010, 04:25:46 am »
Is it possible to just put LinuxMCE between your external devices (routers, firewalls, webservers) and the internal network?  Clearly I don't know how you have it physically connected, but there is nothing wrong with adding a second firewall/DHCP/etc. server between your internal LAN and your internet accessible devices.  Since LinuxMCE is only going to answer DHCP requests on it's internal nic, this would leave your DMZ (for lack of a better term) devices as is.

edit:  Just read weirdbeards reply, sounds like he might be recommending the same thing.  

When using the MAC address, is that only for special devices? I'm only going to use ordinary computer hardware for playback (I can buy used, but still modern, hardware from a company which takes care of machines from companies for next to nothing, a 3 GHz P3, 1 GB memory goes for around $100, with warranty, so I see no reason to not have computers everywhere), no special devices. Will this apply to me?
Yes, this applies to all devices, including media directors, windows computers, everything you want LMCE to use.
Quote

I'm aware that it's a nonstandard configuration, and also that it's a somewhat hot subject. It's just that for me, the standard configuration simply does not work. I've outgrown the "single central computer" concept a long time ago, on my network there are always more than 20 computers running 24/7, most of them servers. I don't want to throw petrol on the flames of a hot subject, I just realize that I'm not a typical user, and my needs are a bit special.
You're LAN is larger than most, but it still sounds like a pretty typical setup.  Conceptually, whether you have 1 DMZ type server or 100, it's the same.  The only downside is by putting a LMCE core between your internal LAN and your Internet you do have a SPOF. 
« Last Edit: January 04, 2010, 04:35:41 am by skeptic »

Troberg

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Re: Is LinuxMCE for me?
« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2010, 06:03:02 am »
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Assuming your cabling is structured, adding an additional network for MCE would only be the cost of a switch.

Nope, I would need more cabling, as I have other computers as well out there.

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Is it possible to just put LinuxMCE between your external devices (routers, firewalls, webservers) and the internal network?

Possible, yes, but not desirable. I've spent a lot of time designing my network to remove single point of failures, and I don't want to put another big one in in the middle of everything.

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The only downside is by putting a LinuxMCE core between your internal LAN and your Internet you do have a SPOF.

Which is exactly what I do not want.

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Clearly I don't know how you have it physically connected, but there is nothing wrong with adding a second firewall/DHCP/etc. server between your internal LAN and your internet accessible devices.  Since LinuxMCE is only going to answer DHCP requests on it's internal nic, this would leave your DMZ (for lack of a better term) devices as is.

SPOF, and it would mess up my load balancing.

trentend

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Re: Is LinuxMCE for me?
« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2010, 12:37:58 pm »
I have a similar, if not so extreme setup (I work from home, and the work network and servers need to continue to operate the way they do).  I'm going to install and run Linuxmce as a dedicated subnet, keeping work and home/media functionally separate.  I don't understand why you can't use a different switch, or vlans on a managed switch.  Your cabling setup must be highly inflexible for such a complex network.

Lesson to all: Think carefully where you need your cables to go when cabling up your home/business.

Troberg

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Re: Is LinuxMCE for me?
« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2010, 02:01:15 pm »
Highly inflexible is maybe a bit too strong, but I've cheated a bit to keep costs down. My house is fairly largeish, roughly 30x20 m, shaped roughly like a fat plus sign, in two floors, with the server room roughly in the center on the long axis and the end of the short axis. Since cables needs to follow walls and stuff neatly, there's lots of 50 m and 25 m cables. Even though I use canalization for the cables, it's still a lot of cables, and the canal going out from the server room is full. To avoid costly and messy cables, I've done the cheap thing, and only have a couple of ports in each room, then using small switches (8 or 16 port, depending on what I had in my "things I might eventually use"-box) to get more ports where I needed them.

In other words, each room just have one or two cables going to it, the rest are branched out from there. Simple and neat if you have one network, awkward as hell if you have two.

Add to this that it's an older house. Just about every wall I've drilled through has been 20 cm or more of solid wood. I've scrapped quite a few drills going through nails on brute force with a flat wood drill (a saw drill is not long enough to cut through the wall)...

I've done some checking on my DHCP server, though, and it might not be as hard as I thought to migrate that to LinuxMCE. It's not like my DHCP server is heavily loaded anyway, I only restart my machines if there's something wrong with them, and even then, I give leases that don't expire, so I don't think it should be any performance problem.

However, moving my router/firewall/NAT would be a much more complex problem, as that's where most of my magic is done, and also as it's a component which I prefer to keep separate, for performance reasons (I really work that poor machine hard) and for security reasons.

So, this got me thinking. Is this a workable solution:

* Keeping my existing Smoothwall firewall/NAT/router, but disabling DHCP on it.
* Using LinuxMCE as DHCP server, but configure it to use my Smoothwall as default gateway.

I will get a single point of failure, but if it fails, the quick fix will simply be to enable DHCP on Smoothwall again, so it's not a serious failure and I can even fix it remotely if need be.

Does that sound reasonable?

Btw, an entirely unrelated question: As LinuxMCE supplies boot images for the media players, could it also be configured to do something else which I've been wanting to do for a long time, supply other boot images? It would be nice to not have to dig out the Kubuntu CD whenever I want to install a new machine, just network boot it and install from that image.

sambuca

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Re: Is LinuxMCE for me?
« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2010, 02:31:32 pm »
You certainly can use LMCE as your DHCP only, and keep the firewall etc on the existing server(s). That is the way I run it.

If you do a install on a computer with only one NIC and make sure it is set up to use a static IP address before installing, it will run the DHCP server as default.

It could be used to supply other boot images also. You could configure that manually for each computer, or perhaps even extend the LMCE configuration to support other network boot devices than its own Media Directors (that would be neat, indeed).

best regards,
sambuca

Troberg

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Re: Is LinuxMCE for me?
« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2010, 03:44:14 pm »
Sounds nice. I'll set up a small test network with a bunch of machines I have lying around and see what I can do. Whatever way I do it, I want to switch to be as quick and painless as possible.

Just to make it more interesting, I'll probably make a switch from 192.168.0.* to 10.0.*.* as well, as the space I've reserved for static addresses on my 192.168.0.* network is running out (mostly because I don't keep proper track of them...).

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It could be used to supply other boot images also. You could configure that manually for each computer, or perhaps even extend the LinuxMCE configuration to support other network boot devices than its own Media Directors (that would be neat, indeed).

I saw some tutorial on PXE boot, which more or less set up the system so that you just put the ISO images in a folder, and then it presented a boot menu where you could select image, with timeout. That's what I'm aiming for, but it's not a high priority at the moment.

Now, if it only could work as a virtual CD server as well...  ;D I'm a programmer, and if there is one thing I've learned, it's that there is always one more idea to add. The trick is knowing when to stop.

wierdbeard65

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Re: Is LinuxMCE for me?
« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2010, 04:47:10 pm »
then using small switches (8 or 16 port, depending on what I had in my "things I might eventually use"-box) to get more ports where I needed them.

In other words, each room just have one or two cables going to it, the rest are branched out from there. Simple and neat if you have one network, awkward as hell if you have two.
Sorry to bang on, and this may be more relevant to others who stumble across this thread, but that's EXACTLY what VLANs are for!!! You set up all your switches to use the same set of VLANs and then specify the ports that link the switches together as "Trunk" ports. You end up with a single physical network (like you have now) but multiple virtual networks (so a seperate one for MCE, if you want).

I understand you may well have a solution worked out that meets your needs and if so, great! Be warned, though. Thom, in particular (and to be fair he's right and others will say the same) will tell you not to fight the way it's designed....
Paul
If you have the time to help, please see where I have got to at: http://wiki.linuxmce.org/index.php/User:Wierdbeard65

trentend

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Re: Is LinuxMCE for me?
« Reply #13 on: January 04, 2010, 04:49:37 pm »
then using small switches (8 or 16 port, depending on what I had in my "things I might eventually use"-box) to get more ports where I needed them.

In other words, each room just have one or two cables going to it, the rest are branched out from there. Simple and neat if you have one network, awkward as hell if you have two.
Sorry to bang on, and this may be more relevant to others who stumble across this thread, but that's EXACTLY what VLANs are for!!! You set up all your switches to use the same set of VLANs and then specify the ports that link the switches together as "Trunk" ports. You end up with a single physical network (like you have now) but multiple virtual networks (so a seperate one for MCE, if you want).

I understand you may well have a solution worked out that meets your needs and if so, great! Be warned, though. Thom, in particular (and to be fair he's right and others will say the same) will tell you not to fight the way it's designed....

Yes, that's exactly my thought. VLANS to keep the two networks separate is my provisional solution.

Troberg

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Re: Is LinuxMCE for me?
« Reply #14 on: January 04, 2010, 05:27:43 pm »
VLANs are not an option, unless I replace all my switches, as they do not have that capability. Also, in m experience (and one of the larger government agencies of Sweden, which I will not name here), the more configuration options you have on a switch, the more problems you have. Nothing to configure, nothing to go wrong.

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Be warned, though. Thom, in particular (and to be fair he's right and others will say the same) will tell you not to fight the way it's designed....

Well, if it has to be a choice between fighting the way LinuxMCE is designed and the way my entire network is designed, I'll take the fight to LinuxMCE (or simply use some other media option). I need my network design more than I need a specific media center. No offence intended, it's just the way it works for me.