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Looking to build a multi-computer system

Last response: in Systems
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January 28, 2013 4:55:48 PM

Hi all. I'm new here and I was looking to spend a few days getting some ideas. I'm a pro photographer and I am looking to build a computer system up for the work I do most. I went through the digital camera section of this forum and posted some thoughts to pay my way forward some.

Basically we go out and shoot youth sports. The parents come by our tent and sit down to look at the images I take. If they find things they like then we print them out on the spot for them.

What I have now is one PC and 3 laptops that are on a network. We download the images to the PC and then copy them to a public folder.

We have been running for about a year and a half and we were working on our business model last year. This year we want to focus on gear.

I was wondering if this is possible and affordable.

I am looking to build a single enclosure that is capable of allowing 6-10 monitors to show anything they want without interfering with eachother. I would like a keyboard and mouse by every monitor. I prefer to use the standing desktop monitors because they are easier to see in the sun versus a laptop monitor. I would like all the viewing stations to be able to print from where they are.

About storage we shoot about 40-80 gigs a weekend and may need to increase that by 2 in the next year as well.

As far a RAM I am not sure about RAM. But basically it is fairly low. All I need from a computer is the ability to run a program like Irfan View or windows photo viewer. It also needs to run a small program to allow customers to crop and print. I do not need video running. I don't need gaming capabilities. I do need mid to high grade video quality.

I would like there to be one station that is our work station. This one will need full computing capabilities.

Any thoughts from you good folks out there?
January 28, 2013 5:24:51 PM

Doesn't sound like you need any significant amount of processing power. It sounds more like you just need a bunch of functioning mid to low level PC's. In addition it sounds like you need a solution that's easy to manage, transport, and isn't too fragile.

Personally I'd find a 5-10 PC lot on ebay.
http://www.ebay.com/itm/LOT-OF-10-DELL-Optiplex-755-SFF...

http://www.ebay.com/itm/LOT-OF-5-DELL-OPTIPLEX-CORE-2-D...

Those would be easy to transport and perform maintenance on. They're also cheep so if someone dumps a drink in one it won't be a huge loss. With homegroup in Win7 your network would be really easy as well. Not a single box solution but probably easier to scale and maintain.
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January 28, 2013 5:32:53 PM

Good info. You are dead on in your first and last paragraphs. The issue is size for now. 5-10 CPU stacks are more volume than I can really add right now. What I was wondering is if there is some way to rearrange the components and maybe move all the hast shrinks and fans to one place that can have a great thermal systems for it because we do tourney in Texas. 100 plus degrees for 10 hours out of the day.

Also I was wondering if there were components on the market that are capable of these unique tasks.

We use the 3 laptops because of their size and then we just wire up a mouse and monitor to view from.

And is this honestly asking too much in terms of either the components out there or cost? I have a good budget but not infinite.
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January 28, 2013 5:44:08 PM

Understood, and makes sense. 10 even small form factor PC's take up a lot of room.

If you're open to and your demands allow you to not use a windows environment. You could build something like a Raspberry Pi cluster. The link below is a cluster for number crunching, but they can obviously work independently as well. 10 Pi's would be easy to transport, you'd just need to lug around the monitors.

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2012/09/u...
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January 28, 2013 5:48:50 PM

Along the same thought lines as the Pi would be to use media streamers. Super simple, lightweight, and the remote might be a lot easier for your customers over a moue and keyboard. Would be easy to manage the pics for the terminals through shared drives and folders.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
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January 28, 2013 5:55:39 PM

Ok so it is a single board that has basic capabilities. I could daisy chain up as many of these as I want and then run them to a master that would be my work station? And I could just stick a keyboard monitor and mouse on each one. And it is basically infinitely expandable?

This seems to be one of those too good to be true things for me right now. I see that distribution is a problem.
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January 28, 2013 6:00:48 PM

I'm not sure I understand what the media streamer is?
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January 28, 2013 6:05:09 PM

I'm not sure which post you're referring to, sorry the media streamer just popped into my head. I've been playing with them and they're pretty neat little products and from what you've described they may be a really nice fit. The picture and video viewing functionality would provide fairly attractive UI and very very easy to administer. The remote would be a nice bonus as well.

As far a the PI goes. They're kinda the darling of the DIY crowd these days. Lots of community support available and people are doing really interesting things with them. If you're comfortable with a bit of admin overhead they may be able to provide a very customized solution.

http://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads
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January 28, 2013 6:08:42 PM

The media streamer is essentially like your set top cable box at home. A really simple always on style OS that allows you to access shared drives and folders as well as web content. For what you're talking about I was envisioning...

You have media streamer 1, 2 & 3 - pointed to shared folder1 + folder2 + folder3 or a general shared folder. The user would be able to view and navigate through your vids and pics with a TV style remote. Simple plug and play no real software or network issues to deal with.
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January 29, 2013 1:20:19 PM

The media streamer is interesting. So I understand that it can connect a computer to an output device like a TV, but can it send out 5-10 signals to a computer monitors, Or should I get a bunch of small TVs to use with it? How many devices can it send out to?

Thanks alot!

Just some more info if you'd like.

We basically create one folder that is the tournaments name. Then we have about 30 folders by the end of the weekend for games. Each game has about 1000 JPG image files. I shoot them at about 2 megs each.

To me this almost seems like working an ipod or some other simple device. It sounds intuitive and I like that.

What I'm wondering is if there is any way to have our master computer offer 10 viewing stations. Do we need one streamer per TV?
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January 29, 2013 5:39:00 PM

It would be one streamer per TV. They're pretty much simply a Media viewing device, can't really do any data manipulation through them. They would work like an iDevice in the sense that they will very easily allow someone to scroll through your pics and vids with a dummy proof remote. The idea that the customer/user wouldn't have the ability to navigate anywhere other than viewing media would seem to be very attractive.

The menu systems in the media streamers might be to your advantage for the folder structure you outlined. They make units with wifi built in. Therefore all you would need is one central computer with a shared drive/folders, a wifi router, & TV's for the media streamers. As new photos and folders are added the customer would have access to them immediately and you could have a slide show on constantly. Now this obviously isn't different than having a bunch of computers it just would be super easy to maintain, upgrade, cheep, and simple to use. You'll probably still want a couple of computers so you will have access to your production software, but for viewing they would be a painless solution.

Having one computer displaying 10 different images on 10 screens isn't a difficult task. Having the ability to effectively control the screens is the problem. With a traditional OS environment, 1 keyboard 1 mouse so how do you have people change the pic. If you were to try to attempt to control all of the screens from one location, all screens would have to be readily visible for the main PC.

I've contemplated this scenario before, what you're referring to is a thin client setup. Used to be very common in enterprise environments due to the expense of PC's in the past. Simple terminals fed by the processing power of a mainframe. This is uncommon now and relatively more difficult to setup and maintain over a bunch of inexpensive PC's.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thin_client

Good idea, but the thin clients are about the same cost as a complete PC. Honestly net-tops would be a superior choice in nearly any scenario. Server + thin client environment is completely inaccessible if anything happens with the Server which I would imagine is unacceptable for your events.
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