Let’s talk about the workflow of getting a machine setup to act as a “slave” for our Vienna Ensemble Pro network.

The first thing we have to figure out is what physical machine we will be using.  I’m going to tell you what I’m doing, I’ll give you an “off-the-shelf option,” and then I’ll go through the parts that I would get to build one to do the job if I wanted a more DIY approach (including a PC Part Picker Link).

For those that just want the three options, here you go:

Server: eBay Link

  • If you want to max out the ram and replace/add the mechanical drives with SSD, use this also: PC Part Picker
    • Cost of just the server: $600
    • With the upgrades: $2104 before tax.

Off-The-Shelf: From VisionDAW

Customized with the following:

  • Intel Core i9-7900X
  • 128GB DDR4 Memory
  • Main OS Drive – 1 TB SATA III SSD
  • 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th, Hard drive options set to 500GB Performance SATA III SSD
  • Set Operating System to Windows 10 Professional
    • Cost comes to $7,880.00 before tax and shipping

Custom: PC Part Picker (everything is explained through this post)

  • Cost comes to $3,931.21 before tax (as of writing, will be updated through link)

 

Build Considerations

When you are choosing the hardware or the “off-the-shelf” unit you will be using as your server or “slave,” you have several considerations:

  • Machine Class
  • Form factor
  • Processor(s)
  • Memory or RAM
  • Drives (SSD vs HDD etc.)
  • Sound factor
  • Cooling
  • Reliability/Uptime
  • Other uses for the same machine

We are going to make some assumptions for all but that last one.  Let’s, for the sake of this post, assume that the server you will be configuring/buying/building will be used ONLY for the purposes of a Vienna Ensemble Pro Server.  You aren’t going to use it for gaming, taxes, or anything else. We will adjust our scope on the final issue.

Machine Class & Form Factor

First up, Machine Class and Form Factor.  What I mean here is if we go for an actual server build, a beefy desktop, a laptop, etc…  Since this is a single use machine that we won’t have sitting on our desktop, I’m going to go with an actual server, intended to be used in an enterprise environment, designed for maximum efficiency and reliability.  This class comes with some caveats: They are rather large, they are loud, they boot slower than their desktop cousins, terrible on board graphics, usually zero sound cards, sometimes quite difficult to add more hardware to.  That said, there are ample benefits… Usually, these systems come with hardware RAID cards, and RAID is beautiful… We will get into that later though. They will almost always have multiple gigabit ethernet ports that can be “teamed” in Windows Server build to allow for much faster and more efficient network activity.  They are easy to find second hand with high spec configurations. They are designed to fit into racks, so they are easy to organize in a machine room. The biggest thing for me, though, is that they are made for this mission critical sort of situation, and while I’m absolutely capable of building a system with equal or better specs, I don’t think the benefit is there.  I can spend less money on a system that will give me peace of mind, and if I find that I need a little more processing power, I’ll buy another one, and I’ll probably still come out having only spent ⅔ of the amount I would have if I curated the parts and built my own system. I’m a fan of the Dell PowerEdge servers. I use them to run a school district, and I now have 2 running my template (one is plenty for my writing style at the moment, but I already had the other, so spreading things out a bit makes sense).  I’m using a Dell PowerEdge R710 as my primary server, in case you want to shop for the same thing and for some reason the link from earlier doesn’t work. Also, I would only get four of the SSD drives because the 4 that are included are 10K SAS drives, and in RAID 0, they are super quick. I would get the additional 4 SSD’s, and then I would set those in a RAID 0 array and then have it clone to the mechanical as a backup, or use the mechanical for less frequently used samples…

Personally, I find this part of the build to be obvious, and it pretty much takes care of the majority of our considerations list, but, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that we don’t want to use a server, and we want to build a custom machine…  No problem. We will go for a system that tries to make up for some of the shortcomings and still gives us a workhorse to drive our templates, but we will pick parts that are a bit easier to come by.

Personally, as an IT guy, I love server rooms.  I think they are beautiful, so, naturally, I want my systems in a server rack.  So, to address this we are going to use a rack mountable case. Rosewill makes several of these, and to make our lives easier, we will choose the 4U option, meaning it is taller, so easier to fit normal size parts in.

Processors

Next up, Processors.  When it comes to music systems, the more processing power you have, the better your situation.  This is technically true for all computer practices, but, for music, a weak processor results in so much more added time due to the workflow changes that must be made to account for the lack of processing capability.  “Creative uses” for computers demand CPU processing power.

For the PowerEdge, we have 2 Xeon processors, each having 6 cores at 2.93 GHz.  So, when you look at that, we wind up with a total of 12 cores for this machine.  For perspective, a maxed out iMac Pro has 18 cores at 2.3 GHz. Now, the iMac has newer processors, but number wise, it should make it easy to see what we are working with.

For the VisionDaw option, the best we can do (without getting into crazy money) is a single Intel i9 with ten cores at 3.30 GHz.  I know that I phrased that in a negative way, but that is still quite fancy, and it would perform very well.

Our custom build veers from the world of Intel in search of higher numbers.  We have a single CPU here too, but it is an AMD Threadripper whith has 16 cores at 3.4GHz.  Zip zip…

All three of these options will result in plenty of power for our needs, and remember, your license for VE Pro comes with 3 server uses, so you can absolutely configure more than one of these to get more CPU if you find you have exhausted the system you get.

Memory

Memory, or RAM, is crucial to our mission.  All of the virtual instruments consume RAM in great amounts.  Basically, more is better, and faster is better too, but I honestly find that second one less impactful.

For the PowerEdge, I’ve upgraded to 144 GB of DDR3 memory, which is the max config for that system.

For the other two systems, they both max at 128 GB of DDR4, which is absolutely faster than the DDR3 of the PowerEdge.  It is also substantially more expensive.

Again, all three work well, and I can’t feel or hear the speed difference between the two.  Basically, your goal is to get the maximum amount of RAM your motherboard and your pocketbook can accommodate.  

Drives

This is pretty simple on the surface.  You want the fastest drives possible, and you want those drives to have a capacity that can handle your sample libraries.  SSD drives are so much better than traditional Hard Drives, but there are ways to make that not really noticeable, like on the PowerEdge. The traditional hard drives spin at 7200 or 5400 rpm.  The ones that come with the PowerEdge are 10,000 rpm. I also have them in a RAID 0 array, which isn’t the safest of the arrays, but it is the fastest, and I have other backup strategies. With the speed of the drives and the RAID setting, I rarely hear dropped samples (the RAM helps a lot).  That said, the drives can be replaced with the same SSD’s we are using int he other two systems.

For the other two systems, we went with 8 total SSD’s.  Both systems also support RAID, so that can be setup when you get  it.

I’ve mentioned RAID several times, but if you don’t know what it is, that probably hasn’t been very helpful…  Basically, RAID is a technology that allows the software to see the drives as one 1 combined drive instead of multiple drives.  It is possible to choose RAID schemes that either expand the drive size to take up the space of all disks in the array, clone data from a disk to another automatically, or do a combination of the two.  RAID 0 just combines the drives, and effectively doubles the size and the speed of the drive (or multiples both by the number of drives in the array). RAID 1 mirrors the drives, so if two disks were in the array, writing data to the first disk would also write it to the second disk.  RAID 1 effectively halves the space available to you, and it doesn’t increase speed, but it handy if one of the drives in the array dies… RAID 10 is sort of the “standard” now, but you will want to look into your available options if you choose to use it. Check here: Tech Republic

Also note that while write speed is helpful during setup, we aren’t really concerned about that during normal operations.  We care about read speeds.

If you choose to setup Hardware RAID, there will be an option during the boot process that walks you through the setup.

Sound & Cooling

This system is going to be used in a music production environment, meaning that we don’t want noise pollution.  This is, in my opinion, the biggest negative about using the PowerEdge or, really, any server. They are quite a bit louder than a normal workstation because they are designed to go into an environment that is full of other noisy machines.  So, if you use this option, you will need a separate room to put it in, meaning you will need a longer ethernet cable when the time comes to connect to the system.

As for the other two builds, they should both be reasonable inside your writing room, but you will still hear them.  The custom build will be the louder of the two, but not to the point of spoiling all of your work.

Each unit comes with the fans required for cooling, so your game here is all about where to put the systems that they don’t cause more harm than good.  A machine room is the standard, but an acoustically treated closet would work also. Make sure you choose a space that is either cooled or not so small that the units can’t cool themselves effectively.  

Water cooling is a thing, but it make me nervous, and I won’t do it…  It is also possible to get quieter fans these days, so I don’t see the benefit.

Reliability & Uptime

I think the server wins here just because of how it is designed, but as long as care is taken with them, any of the three should be more than capable of serving you for many years.

Something to note, however, is power.  It is highly advisable to get a battery backup unit for your server (and possibly your production machine).  If the power dies, it will either buy you enough time to shut down your systems gracefully, or, often, last long enough for the power to be restored.  

Keep your machine room (or other permanent server home) clean, cool, and check on the status lights to make sure everything is well on occasion.  Install all of your Windows updates.

Other Uses for the Server Machine

It is totally practical for someone to want to use their server for more than just the singular purpose of hosting instruments/plugins.   One example might be as using it to run Dante Via on the network so your main computer and any other computer can use the virtual soundcard application, perhaps to send audio to a “print rig.”

So, if you are going to use the system for other purposes, you might consider doing a few things differently.  For one, I highly recommend using Windows Server 2016 instead of Windows 10. This is due to the way that RAID, storage, memory, and processing power are handled as well as the lack of bloatware (needless software) the server copy has.  That said, not all applications like to install on Windows Server. Do your research to make sure it is supported before committing to this operating system.

Next, you might choose to have a better graphics card added (except the VisionDaw).  You may do this if you wanted to use the system as a Video Slave also.

The PowerEdge server is undoubtedly the least effective, or at least the most complicated, to use for any other purposes.  Anything that requires high quality interaction, not suitable with remote desktop connections, will require either very long cables for video and usb or the use of technology that sends those over a network, which has many layers of difficulty that you would need to add to your Vienna Ensemble network.  Unless you know what you are doing, or you have the time to research it, I would probably advise the other two build options for multi-use applications that can’t be strictly done through Remote Desktop or network.

 

Installation Workflow

Install Windows

So you have your system built and in front of you.  Beautiful. To get started, we need to install our operating system (if you want to use Windows Server and/or if you chose to use the PowerEdge).  Now, if you purchased the PowerEdge, you can use a DVD to install, but if you purchased one of the other options (or you are like me and hate optical drives), you will need to create an installer USB key.  This is a little different depending on if you are a MAC user or a Windows user, but regardless of your OS preference, you MUST be connected directly to your new server for this to work. You will need to plug in a keyboard, mouse, and a display.  This can’t be done remotely (for our purposes).

For the MacOS folks, go here to get an ISO file: Microsoft

Then use a program called “Etcher” Free download here: Etcher

Put in a flash drive, point Etcher to the ISO file you downloaded, and click “Flash!”  Once it is done, wait for the PC folks to catch up. 🙂

For those on the Windows platform, download the same ISO then download this utility, and follow the steps provided. Microsoft

You can also use Etcher if you would prefer, if it goes you trouble, Rufus is also pretty great.

Ok, now that we are on the same page, we have to get our system booted.  Go ahead and insert the flash drive into an available port on the server.  I’m not going to go into the process of setting up RAID because that is HIGHLY dependent upon the system you have in your possession, so at the initial screen, you should have a few keyboard shortcuts listed.  We want to access the boot menu, and then we want to choose to boot from the USB drive. The PowerEdge lists USB drives as Hard Drives, so when you arrow down to that option, you will see the USB flash drive listed.  Proceed with installing Server. If you’ve never done this, here is a walkthrough: The Windows Club

Enable Remote Connectivity

Now that we have Windows installed, we are ready to enable Remote Desktop Connections.  This will allow us to connect to our Windows install from a remote desktop utility like Microsoft Remote Desktop.  

  • If you have installed Windows Server, the Server Manager application will have automatically launched once you logged in.
  • On the left side of Server Manager, click “Local Server.”  This will bring up the common settings you may need access to.
  • Find “Remote Desktop” near the top, and click the link that says “Disabled.”
  • On the resulting window, click the radio button next to the option that says “Allow remote connections to this computer.”
  • Click “OK” on the Firewall exception warning.
  • You can now click “OK” to proceed.

More details here, if needed: Root Users

If you used Windows 10: Groovy Post

Setup NIC Teaming

If you have multiple Ethernet (network) ports, you can Team them in Server.  This lets you combine the bandwidth of the ports and provides a failover.

Let’s set this up while we are in Server Manager.

  • Click “NIC Teaming” Just below where you setup Remote Desktop.
  • In the bottom right box, “Adapters and Interfaces,” click the links you want to add to this team.
  • Click “Tasks” above that, and choose to “Add to New Team.”
  • Give it a name, check the right items are ticked, and click “Additional Properties.”
  • Set it to Switch Independent, Dynamic, and None.
  • Then click “OK.”
  • Close the NIC Teaming window and get back to the Local Server properties window within Server Manager.

More details here if you feel you need more control: Microsoft

Set a Static IP Address

Servers should always have a static IP address.  This means that the address will be the same every time you connect the network cable(s).  This allows us to do direct connections without guessing and without potentially having our Dynamic IP Address changing

  • Click the link below “NIC Teaming,” which should be to the right of whatever you named your NIC Team.
  • In the resulting window, right click the name of your Team, and choose “Status.”
  • Click “Details.”
  • We need to know the following things take a screenshot or write them down:
    • IPv4 Address
    • IPv4 Subnet Mask
    • IPv4 Default Gateway
    • IPv4 DNS Servers (there will probably be two of these)
  • Click “Close.”
  • Click “Properties.”
  • Double click “Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4).”
  • Change the settings to the “Use the following IP address:” and “Use the following DNS server addresses.”
  • Copy all of the information you wrote down into the appropriate boxes EXCEPT THE IP ADDRESS!
  • For the IP address, you want to change the last block of numbers to be in the 100s (unless you are on a big network with over 100 devices connected, but you will probably have a tech person if that is the case that can give you an IP Address that is outside of the DHCP range).
    • For example.  If I wrote down 192.168.1.4 as my IPv4 Address, I’ll change it to something like 192.168.1.101 or 192.168.1.110.
    • Everything stays the same except the last block of digits.
    • Write this down too.
  • Click on “OK.”
  • Click on “OK.”
  • Click on “Close.”
  • Close out the Network Connections window.
  • The IP address you put in should now be just to the right of your NIC Team name.
    • If it doesn’t show, click the refresh button at the top right.

If you did a Windows 10 install, the steps are all the same, but you access Network Connections differently.  Just click the start button, and type “View Network Connections.” You will then edit the “Ethernet” labeled device you intend to use.

Disable IE Enhanced Security Configuration and Server Manager Auto-Start

Two things that really bother me are the fact that Internet Explorer is so locked down on a fresh server install and that Server Manager launches every time someone logs in.  Let’s fix those.

  • Back in Server Manager Local Server Properties, click the word “On” next to IE Enhanced Security Configuration.
  • Choose to turn off for just users or users and Administrators.  I turn both off…
  • Click “OK.”
  • At the very top of the page, click “Manage.”
  • Then click “Server Manager Properties.”
  • Check the box next to “Do not start Server Manager at logon.”
  • Click “OK.”
  • Close Server Manager.

Set Automatic Login

If, for some reason our server goes down, we want it to reboot, log us in, and then launch our VE Pro instances so that it is ready to go when we get back in the studio.  For now, step one is to automatically login our account when the server boots.

  • On your keyboard hold down the Super (windows) key, and touch the R key.
  • When the “Run” dialogue come up, type in Netplwiz and then click “OK.”
  • Uncheck the box that says “Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer.
  • A box will then ask for the username and the password of the account you want to have automatically login.
  • Provide the information.
  • Click “OK.”
  • Click “OK.”

Install Updates

Windows is fond of their updates, and they are pretty important to install, so let’s do that before we go any further.

  • On your keyboard type the Super (windows) key, or click the start button.
  • Type updates, and choose “Check for updates.”
  • If you see a box to allow you to check for updates, go ahead and click it.
  • If you see a box that says “Install now,” go ahead and click that one.
  • This will probably take a bit the first time, and you will probably have to restart the computer.
  • Once you are back into Windows, go ahead and check again for other updates.
  • Install updates until it says your computer is up to date after checking.

 

Install your Vienna Key or your Steinburg e-Licenser

  • Follow the package instructions.  There are no differences on Windows Server.

Sort Out the Sound

If you have chosen to go with a server rather than one of the other two options, chances are high that you don’t have an audio device installed on the machine, which makes sense for the case of using the server just for the purpose of hosting our instruments.  That said, Kontakt and most other sequencers don’t know what to do if they don’t detect an audio device, so we have a few options.  We can go the software route, or we can go hardware.  The hardware approach can be as complicated as your audio device on your main system, or it can be as simple as one of these: Amazon.com.  These guys will make your sequencers happy, but they will take a USB port.  Because the software solution is so simple, and because it doesn’t have any downsides I’ve discovered, and due to the fact that it is free, I’ll show you how to do that method.

  • Go to the ASIO4ALL website here: link
  • Download the appropriate language version
  • Run the installer with defaults
  • Done!

This method will make your sequencers happy, and it took you about 4 minutes to complete.  Moving on!

Store the Server

Ok.  Setup of the actual server is finished, so we can put it in the machine room (or wherever).  We need to mount it or put it somewhere (not on the floor). Run the ethernet cable(s) from the server to the switch you are using for VE Pro.  Disconnect the monitor keyboard and mouse unless you want them to be accessible in the machine room (note that if you aren’t using an actual server, you may have to set your BIOS to not hault when it doesn’t detect a keyboard).  Now power on the server, and go to your main machine, or whichever computer you will be using to remotely manage your new server.

Install Microsoft Remote Desktop

If you are on a mac, you can find Microsoft Remote Desktop in the Mac App Store.  If on a PC, you can find it in the Windows Store or use the built in “Remote Desktop Connection” program.

Create a connection & Connect

This connection will allow you to control your server using your main computer’s monitor, keyboard, and mouse.  You can switch between your main computer and your server as easily as switching between two different programs.

  • In Microsoft Remote Desktop, click the New button.
  • Type something distinguishable in “Connection name.”  This will be the label you see when making future connections.
  • For PC name, type in the IP Address you assigned when you created the static address.
  • Type in the username you set on the server
  • Type in the password you set on the server
  • I usually uncheck the option to “Use all monitors,” but that is preference
  • I leave the rest at defaults.
  • Close the edit window.
  • To connect, just double click the label under “My Desktops” that you just created.
  • You will probably get a certificate warning.
  • You can permanantly accept it by clicking “Show Certificate.”
  • Clicking the tix box for “Always trust….”
  • Click “Continue”
  • Provide your MAIN MACHINE’S username and password, and clicking ok.
  • You will now be logged into your server’s desktop.  Nice right?

 

Install VE Pro and Sample Libraries

From this point, you can remote in using that connection, and use it as if you were sitting in front of the machine.  To get things going, you will, obviously, need to install Vienna Ensemble Pro, and you will need to install whatever sample libraries you need, along with their required samplers (Kontakt, Play, etc…)

This is totally dependent on your configuration, so I’ll leave you guys to this one.

Set the Template to Auto-Launch

*optional*

Earlier we made our server automatically login, so now we need to make it better by making it automatically open VE Pro Server and load all of our instances every time the computer starts.

  • In your finished VE Pro Session, click “File.”
  • Choose “Save Server Project As…”
  • Save this to some location you find easy to access and remember, like your Desktop.
  • Minimize VE Pro.
  • Find the file you just saved.
  • Right click on it and choose Send to
  • Then Choose “Desktop (Create Shortcut).”
  • Hold down the Super key, and type R.
  • Type in shell:startup
  • Drag the shortcut you just created from your desktop into the window that opened.
  • Close the window.

Any changes you make will be reflected in the auto start (as long as you save).

That’s a Wrap


At this stage, you should have a fully functional, high powered server that will automatically boot to your saved VE Pro Instances, ready to go.  Hopefully this is thorough enough in what is involved in getting one of these servers going. Please feel free to comment and ask any questions you may have.