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Advice from tech oriented folk: servers for plugin host


Dr88s

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I have Googled this question approximately once every two months for the last year or so. I have never seen a straightforward answer.

 

My Receptor is aging and can't support any of the new receptor OSs. The options for now would be to i) abandon the plug-in world, ii) upgrade to a VIP for $1300 or iii) find some other solution for live plug-in hosting.

 

I really do not like the idea of having a laptop on stage. I am aware of some of the solutions mentioned in other threads. Let's just put the laptop option aside for a moment.

 

I see tons of local companies selling old unused rackmount servers, one unit and two unit systems. These are typically quad core Xeon systems with 4-8 gigs of RAM. Usually, they come with an array of small hard drives and no OS. These sell for very cheaply, in the range of $200.

 

While I am very comfortable in the world of PCs, I am no IT specialist and have no idea how servers differ from PCs. Would it be possible to install a typical version of Windows 7 or 8 on these servers, designating one of the hard drives as primary, using the other hard drives to store VSTs and libraries. The intention would be to rackmount this and boot it directly into Cantabile performer. Perhaps connect it to a wireless router (if possible) and use VNC to control program selection from an iPad or iPhone.

 

My most basic question is: is this scenario even feasible? I realize that servers are very loud. I would not intend to use this for studio use, only live performances. I am also not asking a highly technical question about whether I would be taking advantage of the multiple cores. I am just seeing this as a cheap way of getting a rack mountable system to play soft synths.

 

FYI The demands on the computer would probably be quite basic. I don't foresee playing more than one soft synth at once. This would mostly be to play some sounds in Kontakt that I couldn't get anywhere else, or the occasional program in OP-X Ii Pro, my synth of choice.

 

Thanks for any input.

Nord Stage 2 Compact, Yamaha MODX8

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I'm not the best person to respond since I'm a hardware guy. But I'd say it depends. Are you wanting to port your receptor stuff over to the new rack mount PC without buying new? That would likely be an issue. If you simply want to know if the server would be suitable, I'd say yes.

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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I see tons of local companies selling old unused rackmount servers, one unit and two unit systems. These are typically quad core Xeon systems with 4-8 gigs of RAM. Usually, they come with an array of small hard drives and no OS. These sell for very cheaply, in the range of $200.

My most basic question is: is this scenario even feasible? I realize that servers are very loud. I would not intend to use this for studio use, only live performances. I am also not asking a highly technical question about whether I would be taking advantage of the multiple cores. I am just seeing this as a cheap way of getting a rack mountable system to play soft synths.

I would first get the model number of a server you have in mind and check the depth and weight. The ones I am familiar with weigh in at 80lbs and are 30 inches deep.

 

Also in server rooms I am familiar with the fan noise is similar to small plane idling before takeoff.

 

Older second hand servers are usually purchased for parts as Windows Server restore is really picky as to the hardware configuration that it will restore to. So best usually to make sure that the replacement part is an exact match in the event of failure and hence the market for older servers.

 

Also most older servers use SCSI drives which are much more expensive than consumer IDE drives. Also they are optimised for network connectivity (via cards) not USB.

 

Doable but you would have to comfortable with the weight and size considerations.

MainStage 3 | Axiom 61 2nd Gen | Pianoteq | B5 | XK3c | EV ZLX 12P

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Sven, I was not aware of the depth issue.

 

I had the feeling this was a bad / unattainable idea before I posted here. I am just looking for some concrete examples (like the depth) to turn me away from pursuing this further and wasting time and money.

 

Thanks.

Nord Stage 2 Compact, Yamaha MODX8

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The ones I am familiar with weigh in at 80lbs and are 30 inches deep.

 

Also in server rooms I am familiar with the fan noise is similar to small plane idling before takeoff.

 

Also most older servers use SCSI drives which are much more expensive than consumer IDE drives. Also they are optimised for network connectivity (via cards) not USB.

 

Doable but you would have to comfortable with the weight and size considerations.

 

All excellent points. Doesn't sound so doable practically.

 

I love this place!

Nord Stage 2 Compact, Yamaha MODX8

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Yep, get a laptop, load Cantabile and do what AshvilleGuru does, put it in a rack tray closed and no-one will know the difference.

 

And when AG has tested it and got it working you will be able to connect use an Android tablet inconspiculously located on the keyboard connected to the laptop using wireless or Bluetooth to view Cantabile or Forte.

MainStage 3 | Axiom 61 2nd Gen | Pianoteq | B5 | XK3c | EV ZLX 12P

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I have a 2 space server here, it's a beast. Very deep, you'd need a special rack for it, and it weighs a ton. Not something I'd want to schlep around. I have another old server that stands up like a PC, it probably goes 100lbs itself. Again, too big/heavy. Redundant power supplies and modular components are why they are so big and heavy.

 

 

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Yep, get a laptop, load Cantabile and do what AshvilleGuru does, put it in a rack tray closed and no-one will know the difference.

 

And when AG has tested it and got it working you will be able to connect use an Android tablet inconspiculously located on the keyboard connected to the laptop using wireless or Bluetooth to view Cantabile or Forte.

 

I've been following both the performance PC and the tablet threads and must have missed the mention of Bluetooth. I never thought of that. One small dongle in a spare USB port would obviate the need for a router. The less gear and wires the better. I hope this Bluetooth is viable. Otherwise I like the idea of the laptop with lid closed in my rack.

 

 

Nord Stage 2 Compact, Yamaha MODX8

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I've been following both the performance PC and the tablet threads and must have missed the mention of Bluetooth. I never thought of that. One small dongle in a spare USB port would obviate the need for a router. The less gear and wires the better. I hope this Bluetooth is viable. Otherwise I like the idea of the laptop with lid closed in my rack.

I don't know how Bluetooth could work, but you don't need a router for wi-fi. On Win 7, you can setup an ad-hoc network, so basically your laptop acts as a wi-fi hub. RDP/VNC can then be used to view your desktop.

 

But the hands down simplest and most robust way, is to use a simple USB-based Mimo monitor.

 

The less gear and wires the better.

Gear, perhaps, wires - not necessarily. It's all about efficient cable management. I have a single 'snake' going from my keyboard rig to my laptop case. This includes 4 USB cables - 2 keyboards, 1 NanoKontrol, 1 tablet, + 1 Firewire cable from my interface. This ensures that setup time is hardly affected by number of cables (it helps that I've mounted female USB/Firewire ports conveniently on the side of the case).

 

So effectively, my laptop setup is just as convenient as a racked-up hardware module. Plug in AC power, connect the snaked cables, and I'm good to go. Oh and I just have to wake up the laptop on stage, so there's zero boot/load time. I'm ready to play in about a minute :cool:

 

Which is why I find it amusing whenever I see people actually opting for iPads/ Win tablets, which are severely limited and underpowered compared to a full laptop. And yet end up with no greater ergonomic advantage than my rig... :P.

 

There are two approaches to rackmounting the laptop: a sliding rack tray (google 'laptop rack tray'), or the SKB Studio Flyer.

 

- Guru

 

Edit: My own laptop isn't technically 'rackmounted', since the ergonomics of my playing is rather unique - I play sitting on the floor! In my context, a Stagg UPC-535 case is more suitable than rackmounting. Perfectly analogous solution, though.

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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Not sure about heat issues in racks.

 

I do not have a large vented rack. Currently I have an skb 2u soft padded case. Easy to schlep around.

 

http://www.wayfair.com/SKB-Cases-2U-Soft-Rack-Case-1SKB-SC192U-SK1664.html

 

Would you foresee any problems getting a drawer or sliding shelf and putting laptop on it? Would simple Velcro do or would you recommend a more robust solution?

Nord Stage 2 Compact, Yamaha MODX8

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Rack mount servers (aka pizza boxes) are HUGE (depth), and are grossly unsuited for use on stage.

 

I had no idea how big these are until we got one at the office. Pizza box and HUGE (depth) are right on. In addition, all that square footage of case surface amplifies the sound from fans and hard drives.

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Not sure about heat issues in racks.

 

I do not have a large vented rack. Currently I have an skb 2u soft padded case. Easy to schlep around.

 

http://www.wayfair.com/SKB-Cases-2U-Soft-Rack-Case-1SKB-SC192U-SK1664.html

 

Would you foresee any problems getting a drawer or sliding shelf and putting laptop on it? Would simple Velcro do or would you recommend a more robust solution?

Velcro works for me; helps that the case interiors are padded.

 

Since the base of my setup is solid, similar to the SKB Studio Flyer setup, I use a Targus 2-fan USB cooling pad. Makes a *huge* difference.

 

Personally, I'd only use the soft rack linked above if it opens both sides. Audio performance is sensitive to temparature.

 

- Guru

 

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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