Enough dry blogs now behind me, I thought I’d entertain a more informal post.

Can data centralization create euphoria?

If Philip K. Dick can ask if androids dream of electric sheep I feel I’m entitled, right or wrong, to ask the above question – well at least on this blog anyways.

I mentioned in some previous blogs that I’ve been using Windows Home Server (WHS) for about a year and a half now. My WHS system has allowed me to centralize all my family photos, music, videos, documents, etc… It was a time consuming process and involved a great deal of data discovery and de-duplication. Fortunately I have access to some internally developed tools that helped streamline the effort. All said and done, data centralized and all backed up, I’m definitely, in the words of Mike Tyson, “ekthtatic” about the results.

So this is how a SAN admin feels. Sweeeeeet.

After that enduring adventure (probably a hundred hours or so), I needed some time away from WHS to simply enjoy it’s simplicity and focused purpose. A techie’s “tinker-free” vacation of sorts.

I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. – Edgar Allen Poe

But as time heals all wounds, by about early January I decided it would be a nifty idea to rip my entire DVD collection to my WHS box, so I could stream them to a Media Center PC (currently running Windows 7) that sits under the family room TV. Once done (hundreds of hours of effort), I could comfortably flip a few buttons on one of those 256-in-one remotes from the comfort of my couch and view any DVD of choice without having to get up.

Such is the rationale of the lazy.

But I did have a higher purpose in my madness. I consider myself a decisive person; apparently just not when it comes to picking out a movie. Typically I stand staring, like a deer-in-headlights, at my DVD collection (a respectable 500+) for a good 10-20 minutes in deadlocked self-debate before making my final decision, simultaneously driving my wife nuts. This detailed qualification process (or so I like to explain to her as she rolls her eyes and calls out “JUST PICK ONE ALREADY”) is also likely a key contributor to why I like to joke that ‘she has seen the first half of every DVD we own’ (she nods off on the coach about 30 minutes in to ANY AND EVERY movie). It’s almost like clockwork. Anyway I felt I had enough motivation to undertake this new project. The wife might actually be able to see how all these wonderful stories end (or at least 10 more minutes of them). That is all based, of course, on the likely faulty assumption that I won’t simply exchange this quarter hour of upright idleness for supinely flipping through my Media Center’s DVD catalog.

Project “Illogical-use-of-time-to-save-time” is a GO!

I initially added two 1.5TB Seagate Barracuda drives to increase the space needed to accommodate DVDs ripped as TS_Video files (approx 4-5 GB per DVD). I figured this storage capacity (another 3TB) could get me most of the way through the project, and the price and capacity of HDDs may drop by the time I get around to completing the project, given each DVD rip takes 30-45 minutes to backup to disk. I’d also read about other such adventures in forums where fellow propellerheads took a year+ to finish. But hey, for those technical-consequentialists, the end will justify the means… right?

I also decided to make an experiment out of the process. I turned Diskeeper off for several months as I backed up my movie collection.

I’m now about 400 DVDs into the project. While I’ve purchased a couple more of those same drives, I have yet to add them to WHS’es storage pool. Using the handy WHS Disk Management add-on I’m able to see that my system drive is 98% full and I’m at 98% and 99% capacity on the storage drives, with only about 20GB of total free space left on D:. All part of the experiment mind you.

While I successfully tested this setup early on, I was waiting until completion to make it live and get my wife up to speed on navigating this multi-function super-remote, which by the way, seems is just one newfangled feature shy of operating some future bluetooth-enabled toaster. But, a defrag analysis from the currently disabled Diskeeper got the best of me.

2.5 million fragments!!! – simply “mind bottling”.

I reviewed the “Most Fragmented Files” list and found it populated almost exclusively by DVD data files. I then proceeded to attempt to watch these movies, the files of which were in thousands of pieces (some in tens of thousands).

Now, I use only 802.11G WiFi, but this was more than adequate to stream movies from WHS to the Media Center PC in previous pilot tests. However, when trying to watch these horribly fragmented movie files I was presented a choppy mess by Media Center. The video paused sporadically and frequently, as did the sound. It was entirely, and unacceptably unwatchable.

So the next step was to put Diskeeper to the task. I re-enabled Automatic Defragmentation and returned to the WHS box a couple of days later to find that Diskeeper had removed all but a small handful of fragments (about 500 excess fragments remained -on WHS related files nonetheless). I went back to re-watch those movies that had been previously so stop-and-go and VIOLA! (unless you’re French, in which case you are able to correctly proclaim enthusiasm) we have viewable content again!

So I have another 100 or so DVDs and thousands of pre-digital era photos to digitize (I’ve learned my lesson and will send these off to a scanning service) to add to my WHS box. All told, I expect to surpass 3.5 million fragments eliminated by the end of 2009. Millions of fragments on a home computer, who da thunk it?