Saturday, December 19, 2009

A new adventure: Proxmox VE

This last week or so, I've undertaken a new tech adventure at home: Proxmox VE.

First, a little backstory:
  • My wife, Michelle, has a photography business.
  • She has a lot of photos, and generates a lot of data (currently over 600GB/year), all of it important. Every time she gets a new camera, that number increases.
  • She's outgrown her built-in RAID array on her workstation (the backing up, etc. is too time-intensive).
  • We bought a Dell PowerEdge 1900 II server for all of her future data storage, etc. (Dual Xeon 5310, 4GB RAM, 2x750GB disks, LTO3 tape drive).
    Tip: Make sure you look at the Dell Outlet if you're looking for a deal on a system including a tape drive. We got the complete system including the tape drive for slightly more than the cost of the tape drive.
  • I made the decision that we would use non-Microsoft products to handle her file storage, file sharing, etc. The cost of Microsoft was going to be more than we could handle.
So, I then made the decision to virtualize this system. I needed setup to be easy, and a slick, easy-to-use management interface. I came up with a list of 2 choices (for free):
  • VMWare ESXi (what I use @ work): Free, 'industry-standard', proven tech, but no backup abilities (without $), no volume management in Host OS, no Tape Drive use in Host OS.
  • Proxmox VE: Free, proven tech, with every management feature I could want. But I don't use it at work (the only downside).
    I did consider other OpenVZ or KVM-based solutions, but they didn't have the ease of management that Proxmox has.
Up next (later posts):
  1. Installing Proxmox on a Dell PE1900
  2. Setting up and managing storage on Proxmox
  3. Getting VM's access to the Host OS hardware (tape, etc.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Automating Video Conversion, Part 1

Part of my role here at Calvary is “other duties as assigned”. This blog post today is the first in a series with the goal of “documentation for myself and my coworkers category”. This post is from the viewpoint of an IT guy trying to help coworkers out (when you really need a Broadcast engineer for all this video stuff). You’ve been warned ;)

A little background:

Recently we started using MediaShout for some ministries (Youth, Children’s, etc.) It’s a very nice product, but definitely has some quirks. One of those is getting it to play QuickTime files. The nuances of video formats and vendors makes my head hurt, so we’ll skip most of it.

Our Children’s Ministry recently started using some curriculum from Re:Think Group. They get a “packaged” solution, and can adapt it to their needs. Unfortunately, Rethink doesn’t offer their files in a format that works well (supposedly it works perfect if you have Mac’s). Unfortunately we discovered this after purchasing the curriculum (which is marketed as working on Windows OOB).

Note to curriculum vendors: my next post will be highlighting automating this process. You’ll earn big customer loyalty if you provide your video in a format that a non-video/non-techie can use.

So, as part of my helping, I was tasked with finding a solution. After spending a few hours working with the people at Rethink, we reached the conclusion that the only way to get their files to work reliably was to convert them (they primarily provided some h264 format that didn’t work for us). Rethink recommended QuickTime Pro ($30). Fortunately we had a license handy to give it a go.

Using Quicktime to convert video files

  1. Install QuickTime player, and then register your "Pro” version (the free version doesn’t convert files).
  2. Open your source file in QuickTime (if it plays w/ QuickTime, you should be able to convert it)
  3. File –> Export (specifying the destination directory)
    07-2009 Video Conversion Automation 01
  4. Specify your export settings. In my case I’m exporting with the intent of using these in MediaShout, and I’ve previously decided on “mp4” files:
    • Choose “Movie to MPEG-4” in the “Export” menu:
      07-2009 Video Conversion Automation 02
    • Click the “Options” button. This will bring up the Export Settings dialogue. We’ll be changing a lot of these settings:
      Note: many of these options stay in the format that you last used, i.e. you don’t have to change them every time.
      07-2009 Video Conversion Automation 03
    • First of all, change the “File Format” to “MP4” without the (ISMA). Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. What I do know is that vanilla MP4 worked, and MP4 (ISMA) didn’t work in our situation:
      07-2009 Video Conversion Automation 04
    • Next, we need to specify a video format. We decided on H.264, because it provides high quality, and high compression, and the source content is H.264:
      07-2009 Video Conversion Automation 05
    • Now we need to specify the “Image Size”. We’re just looking to do a format conversion (no scaling), so choose “current”:
      07-2009 Video Conversion Automation 06
    • Next we need to change the “Data Rate” (the amount of disk space used during compression). We’re going with 6000kbits/sec (that’s what I picked). Go ahead and replace the current setting with “6000”:
      07-2009 Video Conversion Automation 07
    • Now, we need to change some other, more advanced options. Click on the “Video Options” button:
      07-2009 Video Conversion Automation 08
    • We’re going to stick with the “Main” profile (that’s the default), but change the “encoding mode” to “Best Quality (Multi-Pass):
      07-2009 Video Conversion Automation 09
      Click OK
    • At this point, we’ve set all the options. Before moving on, let’s review the options we’ve set:
      • H.264 Video (in an mp4 “wrapper")
      • maintain the video size/frame size
      • use a video compression rate of 6000kbps (6mbps)
      • use the default of 30 fps
      • AAC-LC audio, Stereo
      • 128kbps audio compression rate
      • 44.1 kHz
        07-2009 Video Conversion Automation 10
    • Click OK, name your file, and click “Save”
      07-2009 Video Conversion Automation 11
    • Go get a cup of coffee, and then (hopefully) it will be done converting your file. If you want to, you can start up multiple conversions simultaneously.
      07-2009 Video Conversion Automation 12

Note: We decided to use Sorenson Squeeze to automate this (detailed in my next post)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Clonezilla, Imaging and Sysprep

My apologies for the long wait on a new posting. Chalk it up to living life ;) This is the first in a 2-part post.

This post here is of the "technical, document it so I don't forget" nature.

One of the "projects" that I've been working on lately is getting a more standardized installation of software on our computers.

To help accomplish this, I've been working with a volunteer, Phil, on using Clonezilla (currently the Live version). Up until now, we've been using all WindowsXP boxes. Here's an idea of the process as it happens (some of this is scripted):

NOTE: All installs are done as a local "admin" account, not as a domain account (more on that later). We use an internal software repository. This order is simply a guide, and what we've found works best from trial and error.

  • Install Windows XP on the machine (using the proper media)
  • Install any needed service packs
  • Join the machine to our AD domain
  • Add local administrator accounts, including setting passwords (we'll call these accounts "admin1" and "admin2" for now)
  • BIOS update (if applicable)
  • "System Software" ala Dell Desktop System Software
  • Chipset Software/Drivers
  • Graphics Card software/drivers
  • NIC software/drivers
  • If a laptop, management software, ala Dell Quickset
  • Audio card software/drivers
  • Wireless Card software
  • Touchpad/Pointing software
  • vPro/TPM software
  • Antivirus/Anti-Malware software (we use Sunbelt Vipre, a great product)
  • MS Office
  • MS Office addendum's (visio, etc.)
  • MS Office service pack's
  • Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 & patches
  • Paint.NET
  • Foxit Reader
  • Mozilla Firefox
  • XP Previous Versions client
  • UltraVNC (used for in-house remote tech support)
  • Verify UltraVNC setup is working
  • Adobe Flash Player plugins
  • CDBurnerXP
  • ACS Facility Scheduler
  • ACS People Suite
  • ACS The Ministry Scheduler
  • Copy "Sysprep" folder to C:\ drive
  • Run Windows Update (preferably use Microsoft Update)
  • Setup and copy a clean user profile
    • This is why we have 2 local admins. You need "admin2" so that you can copy the profile info from "admin1" to the "default user" profile
  • Run Sysprep
    • we use "C:\sysprep\sysprep -reseal -quiet -mini -pnp"
    • This cleans the SID's from the system, does all it's work with little/no intervention, and also "resets" the system (similar to how a new PC comes from the OEM)
    • If you also create a "sysprep.inf" file, you can make the complete setup "unattended"
  • Image the machine. We use Clonezilla
  • Reboot, and watch the magic happen
  • Properly name the computer, and add it to the domain

Some possible "gotcha's":

  • If you use the "pnp" switch, upon first bootup (after you re-image a system), you will have to wait 3-6 minutes for Plug-n-Play to redetect hardware, but you get the added advantage of having images that can traverse hardware types (Core2Duo -> P4, etc)
  • I have ran into issues when working with large platform changes (i.e. very old P4 ServerWorks architecture to a new AMD architecture). This happens because the system doesn't have the proper IDE/ATA drivers in place, and sometimes different drivers don't play well together.
  • If you are moving between different hardware with one image, you need to include the proper drivers for all your systems before you image the machine.

This process works for us, even though it's very 2004. There are now better solutions, and Vista requires some rethinking/reworking of this process. At some point we'll upgrade. How do you handle imaging/deployment of your machine's?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

House Purchase

Today my wife Michelle and I started the process of purchasing a house.

Details at our family blog.