So I decided to migrate a server I built to a NAS. I did this for several reasons. (1) The case I used was not a server case, thus it had no hot-swappable drives. This was a big problem because one of my drives developed bad sectors and needed a warranty replacement. (2) I wanted/needed a device that could also be used for security cameras. Just replacing my case with one that had hot-swap bays would not satisfy that. (3) I wanted something that would make sharing my TV recordings through the network easier, something better than Plex even though I will still be using Plex. (4) And I wanted to learn more about NAS because I want to discourage my customers from using servers when all they are doing is sharing files.

So now that I determined that I needed/wanted a NAS, now I needed to determine which one to get. I still needed to run Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials, which meant I needed a powerful NAS that supports virtual machines. This limited me to NAS that use either Intel or AMD processors. I decided on one with the Ryzen processor because it is just as good as the Intel ones — especially with the Meltdown bug — and because I don’t need to pay extra to get something with Thunberbolt in it, seeing as that standard is about as popular as gangrene. A 6 core Ryzen will outperform a 4 core Intel with the Meltdown fix. This is why I decided on the QNap TS-x77 line of NAS.

This blog post will be a constant work-in-progress with few updates.

File and Disk Management

So now the challenge is migrating my files to the NAS. I bought a new hard drive to transfer the files and what didn’t fit on that I put on the external USB backup hard drive I was using for Server 2012 R2. Once the hard drives on the server were emptied, I put them in the NAS and built a RAID 5 array. I quickly found out that QNap’s file manager is garbage. When I told it to move files, usually it only copied files and sometimes it created doubles where the double was a temporary file in the same directory. It also would say it was finished when it still had more files to move … er copy. I quickly decided to use my desktop to move the files from the external hard drive. In the future I will likely use the file manager to copy files, not move them, and then manually delete the copied files.

File sharing itself is easy. It is file transfers that are the problem. I am still with Windows 7, which means I use the NTFS file system. The QNap NAS supports it, but the speeds are slow.

QNap also has something called volumes. What these really are are partitions. I think. There is a static volume which is 100% of your hard drive or RAID capacity. I needed a partition for my virtual machine, so that was out. There is thick volume, which is a resizable partition whose reported size is the same as the actual size. Then there is thin volume whose reported size is whatever you need but the actual size is only what is needed. At least, that is how I understand the idea. The explanation is not thorough or completely clear and included no examples or use cases. And here is a serious flaw: You cannot under any circumstances shrink a thick volume. So you better err on caution and make it too small and expand only a little at a time.

There is some good news with disk management. Converting from RAID 5 to RAID 6 is easy. And even if you mix and match traditional and advanced format drives, you are okay. Once I emptied the hard drives I used for transferring files, I plugged them in and started the conversion. Now I am protected from two hard drive failures.

Getting Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials Back

After all the files were moved, the next step was migrating my actual Server 2012 R2 to a virtual Server 2012. I absolutely need this because the only backup that I found was better was the one in the original Windows Home Server. The backups in WHS2011 and Server Essentials are the second best. QNap provided instructions to create a virtual machine file compatible with their NAS. I did that before any move. However, when I migrated the machine using QNap’s instructions, I could not get my copy of Windows Server to boot. I tried all sorts of ways, but the problem was my server used UEFI to boot whereas QNap’s virtualization station (which is based on Linux KVM) uses BIOS by default. If this was a standalone Linux machine, I might be able to add-on UEFI support. And maybe if I dug deep enough I could enable UEFI in this NAS. But I decided that it would be quicker to re-install Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials. I guess I just lost all my old backups. (A minor loss as I was saving a few but not many.)

Another pitfall — QNap’s virtualization software has a driver problem. You are given 4 possible hard drive controller options: Standard IDE, SATA AHCI, SCSI, and Red Hat’s VirtIO. With IDE, you can put your virtual machine in sleep mode (when you turn off your NAS), but hard drive performance is garbage. With SATA and SCSI, you get much better performance but if you ever turn off your NAS you will have to turn off your virtual machines first. The first time I turned off the NAS and tried to get back in my virtual Windows after a power on, the whole thing froze up. That leaves you with Red Hat’s VirtIO as your only good option, which requires you to load a driver. Oh, by the way, QNap didn’t bother with instructions on this version of virtualization station. But I was able to get the right idea from an older document on their website. What you have to do is boot to the DVD using the ISO image. Try to install as normal. When you are prompted for a driver, go to the virtualization station main app page. There is a small CD icon. Click on that and press “Insert Guest Tools CD”. For me, it prompted for the drivers before it asked for the product key. I had to browse to virtual CD with drivers, install the appropriate drivers, quit the install, and then restart the install. I then had to go back to the main app page, eject the Guest Tools CD, insert the ISO image again and continue. You will have to do the same for the network drivers after Windows boot.

Another note — Windows Server can be very temperamental. So can Exchange Server. Especially Exchange. After the virtual Windows Server began to reboot, it became caught in a boot loop. This has happened before to me on my real server. A simple reboot fixed that problem. Installing Exchange … let us just say I won’t do that again. When I first tried with that, it took me 3 tries to get it to install properly. And this was going word-for-word by the book on a fresh install without absolutely nothing else installed. And then it stopped working properly 1 month later, and stopped working completely 15 months later. It did this even though I never once made any changes of any kind at any level to it.

A major flaw in the virtualization software is that if you restart your NAS, it will disconnect any USB drives assigned to the virtual machine. This NAS has 8 USB ports, but quite frankly because of this problem that 4 more than you will need. I wanted to use an USB external drive as a backup for the virtual Windows Server. I had to plug an old laptop hard drive into one of the 2.5″ trays, format it, and create an VM disk image file on it for the backup.

About that network driver … I found out that getting the networking to work requires you to create a virtual driver and assign a network adapter to it. It took me a little bit of time to figure that out. I created the virtual driver, because you pretty much had to before you can create a VM, but no network adapter was assigned to it. I couldn’t figure out why for a little bit. At first I thought it had trouble talking to the router, so I manually assigned an IP address — something I was going to do anyway. That didn’t work, so I investigated the virtual switch even more. And that is when I saw that when I created the virtual network switch, it was not assigned a network adapter. Once I did, the networking instantly worked.

Unrelated to all this, I quickly discovered that you do not restart the VM for any reason unless you use QNap’s virtualization console. Every time I tried to install updates using remote desktop it got stuck at the boot screen with the spinning dots. What I did was turn off automatic updates, which I like to do anyway considering that some updates can have problems.

Plex and Media Streaming

My dad bought the Oppo UDP-203 Blu-Ray player. This should probably be your first and only choice for a Blu-Ray player, although it is expensive. It is focused on playing movies, not trying to do everything. And Oppo is obsessed with making their players play everything possible. I already tested playing a MKV file that I encoded in H.265 (HEVC) using a portable USB drive. It worked great. Now to test it playing through my NAS. It worked like a charm. The only issue was that for some reason, my movie recordings with chapter markers worked but TV shows with chapter markers did not. (Video ReDo TV Suite inserts chapter markers at spots where I cut out the commercials.) And sometimes when I fast forwarded through a SD recording the audio would get out of sync. I suspect both are the Oppo player and not the NAS.

Then there is Plex. Plex is really good, except it tries to be too smart some times. I have several Simpsons episodes recorded with their episode name in the title and Plex will think they are a movie with a similar title and display a movie poster about it. A minor inconvenience. This version of Plex lets you define TV shows so it does a better job of not confusing movie titles with episode titles. On the old server, Plex had to transcode my recordings to a format that would work through my TiVo box. It had trouble with HD recordings. Will this NAS be able to handle those, and some 4K samples I downloaded?

One complaint about Plex is that it wanted me to manually install an update. I don’t want to bother manually installing anything on this NAS.

Problems

I did encounter a few problems, for which I will have a separate blog post. First, to use a virtual machine you will have to define a virtual switch. After the April 2018 firmware update, the virtual switch assigned to a Windows VM would go dead after 2 to 4 days; any virtual switch assigned to Linux would stay alive. Second, I renamed a folder then attempted to encrypt it. The encryption got stuck in a loop — essentially did not start at all — and it was annoyance to fix.

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