Mineserver – A Minecraft Hardware Solution

Having fled from the impending demise of NetherByte… which was still up and running the last I checked… and its “$22.50 for six months” pricing to find refuge at MCPro Hosting, which has a better reputation, but charges about that much a month if you add on the ability to do server backups, and for less RAM, the whole “buy or rent” question has surfaced in my head again.

At what point is it worth just buying some hardware and hosting the server myself?  Visions of Intel NUC boxes float through my head, but the cost even at that end puts the return on the investment a bit too far out in the future.  If I could just put together something that would handle our group, wasn’t a complete pain in the ass to manage, and had a ROI point of about 12 months, I would be very interested.

On to this fertile mental pasture… and remember, fertilizer is traditionally most shit… lands a post about the Mineserver Kickstarter campaign.

Mineserver, according to the campaign, is a hardware and software package that gives you a headless server that you can plug into your network, administer through a web interface, can be made accessible/discoverable outside your network (so your friends can play), and even has an Android/iOS admin app that allows parents to control access from their ever present phones and tablets.

For this, the three primaries in this operation Channing, Cole, and Fallon (ages 13, 11, and 9 if I have the names in the right order) want only $99 for a Mineserver capable of hosting 20 player, or $199 for a Mineserver Pro, which is billed as being able to host 50 players and still keep its cool.  Less if you order early.

Pull the other one, right?

The tale is more plausible when you bring their father into the picture, Mark Stephens, more commonly known as Robert X. Cringely.  A long time staple of Silicon Valley, his column in InfoWorld was a must-read though his primary claim to fame is his book Accidental Empires, a history of Silicon Valley and the early tech industry, very much a must read in my cranky old opinion (along with Rick Chapman’s In Search of Stupidity, which fills in some of the missing lore), which was turned into the PBS documentary Triumph of the Nerds.  His blog, I, Cringely, is a regular read of mine and is linked somewhere down in my blogroll.

Anyway, Cringely and his tech connections and knowledge and backing of the whole venture makes everything more plausible.  The kids have clearly had access to the right sources and mentoring from the right people in order to put this sort of project together.  This gives the project credibility.

Still, I look at it and I have a few doubts.  In this sort of venture it seems to me a good plan to emphasize your strengths and obscure your weaknesses.

The strengths they are running with are cost, ease of administration via their custom software, security and safety for your kids, and server speed.

However, on speed, they are focused almost entirely network speed because the Mineserver will be plugged into your local router. (Though there is a WiFi option for people who want the box to sit somewhere else.)  That is a speed boost for people in your house, maybe not so much for anybody remote.

Things they have not brought into the picture include any details about the admin software, the discoverability aspect, the Linux distro, the Minecraft server version, the long term viability when it comes to updates and support for ongoing Minecraft development, and most important to me, any hardware specs whatsoever.

The last to me is doubly vexing.  First, as I have learned fairly quickly that, at least for hosting services, saying a config will support X players is often hopelessly optimistic.  I refer back to MCPro Hosting where, during their setup I told them I wanted to be able to host 20 players for vanilla Minecraft and they immediately recommended a 30 player option where we are constantly at edge of processor and RAM usage with four players in-game.  So when they say a Mineserver can accommodate 20 players, whose measure are they using?

Second, hardware isn’t something this project should be competing on, yet when asked point blank about specs, Cringley has declined to answer because he says he doesn’t want to project to be reverse engineered. (Comment on his blog post.)  But the secret sauce on this burger is the software, the stuff that they clearly see as the strong part of their pitch.  Hardware is a commodity and ought to warrant two lines at the bottom of the page with basic specs simple to prove that the platform has the moxie to do what they say it does.  Doubly so because whenever I show the Kickstarter to anybody in tech, the first question they ask when they see the hardware is, “Oh, is that run on a Raspberry Pi?”

Screen grab from the project video

Screen grab from the project video

I hope it isn’t a Raspberry Pi, or if it is, that they have been able to really optimize their software as I am not sure that would run anything beyond 10 players very well.  Also, Raspberry Pi as a server has been tried and talked about before.

Still, the doubts I express might just be mine.  As somebody who works in enterprise software and frets about such details professionally, I tend to have a skewed outlook.  For somebody who wants a home server this may very well be an ideal solution.

The project itself looks like a slam dunk to fund.  They opted for just a three week campaign and here, a couple days in they are just inches from their funding goal of $15,000.  (The joy of having a father people listen to, something my daughter will never experience.)  That will get them cases to kick off production, as everything else is reported to be done, so that they can start shipping out units before Christmas.  That would have to be some sort of short turn-around record for a Kickstarter project more complicated than potato salad.

It looks cool, sounds cool, and I want to believe, all the more so because of the enthusiasm of the kids in their project video.

What do you think?  Worth a go or not?  Certainly something I will keep my eye on.

Mineserver Kickstarter page

I also wonder what the guy who did the Mineserver software distro thinks about the project.  So few good names to choose from.

Addendum: The project passed its goal somewhere between when I wrote this and when it posted, so congratulations to the team.  Now where will thing go with stretch goals and such?  I hope they stay focused where ever they head.

13 thoughts on “Mineserver – A Minecraft Hardware Solution

  1. Faeldray

    Judging by the location of the ports, I think that’s an ODROID-U3. You can see the specs on this page: http://www.hardkernel.com/main/products/prdt_info.php?g_code=g138745696275

    If you’re looking for just the hardware and can deal with the software on your own, it might be a better to just buy your own ODROID (especially since there are newer ones available). I haven’t run a Minecraft server on an ODROID but I have on my own computer, and I didn’t find it too difficult.

    Like

  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Faeldray – Well, I am going to assume that the one pictured in the video is possibly a prototype, as the ODRIOD you linked is also flagged as discontinued, at least there. Plus I got a little more info from somebody in email that makes me think that the standard server might be on an ODROID-C1 while the Pro could be a ODROID-XU3 or ODROID-XU4. Maybe. Totally guessing based on a couple of data points, not all of which line up. (Pro is supposed to have double the cores, so assuming quad core, a double the RAM, so assuming 1GB on standard and 2GB for Pro, for example.)

    Still, that would have enough horsepower to make me happy going with a Pro.

    Like

  3. zaphod6502

    I am in the process of buying an Intel NUC to use as a dedicated Minecraft server box. Even so I applaud the Kickstarter kids for developing their own solution.

    Like

  4. Vendan

    One thing to note, you better have a pretty good internet connection to host at home. I have relatively high end for my area(30/5), and I can notice the lag when I’m remote and the only one on the server. I priced out upgrading my internet to just paying for a server, and a server that can easily run 4~5 people on heavily modded minecraft was cheaper a month then getting my internet to the point where I could have 2 remote and not be laggy.

    Like

  5. TheGreatYak

    I’m not sure the JDK/JRE for ARM architecture CPUs gets the same love as X86 always has. Just another data point to consider.

    Like

  6. Stropp

    Aside from your concerns, there’s one thing that bothers me a little. Essentially what they’re proposing is to attach a server to the home network that is accessible from the outside. This kind of thing absolutely requires ongoing security updates as new security holes are found. Security is a huge job that even large companies like Microsoft have struggled with.

    Good on these kids for having a go. Even if they’re entirely capable of releasing the product with all the features announced on the Kickstarter, do they have the capacity (and willpower) to spend the next five years supporting it?

    Of course there is the possibility they’re building this business for a quick sale once they have a product and customers. In that case, the kids long term ability doesn’t come into it as much.

    Like

  7. Jenks

    Out of curiosity, why would you go with the pro and not the regular, when the selling point is 50 users vs 20 users? Is there a different benefit or are those numbers just inflated and 50 really means 5? I gather from your other posts about Minecraft that you are playing with 2 or 3 other people and not even at the same time. I’d also imagine the pipe required for 50 users is going to be quite a bit more substantial than most home internet connections.

    My wife plays a lot of Minecraft but I don’t. This intrigues me so I’m very interested in your answers. I’m a sucker for gimmick hardware – the fact that I own an Ouya is all you need to know.

    Like

  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Jenks – My experience so far with hosting services… which is admittedly just a sample set of two… is that the claims for number of players supported rank somewhere between optimistic and wildly optimistic. As I noted, when setting up with MC Pro, I said we needed slots for 20 max for a vanilla server, and they recommended a 30 player package which seems to be resource constrained when we get 5 people on and playing at times. There are, no doubt, other factors in play here, including how many other games are being hosted on the same machine as yours, but I remain unimpressed with my experience.

    Meanwhile, the price point for the Pro isn’t that unreasonable, I shoot high when dealing with hardware that doesn’t look to be upgradable, and who knows what the next version of Minecraft will require for RAM and processor resources. I am willing to bet it won’t be less.

    But that is just me and my own personal demons. It it were just something for my daughter and I on our home network, I’d got for the standard server.

    Like

  9. Jenks

    Thanks, great answer. Like you I wish there were more solid hardware specs so I had something to really base the decision on. I think my hangup is that $69 is in my impulse by range, whereas $179 is getting more into the territory where I need to know what I’m getting. I plunked down the $69 ($74 w shipping) for now, since it is limited. Hopefully more details will emerge over the course of the campaign and I’ll have a better idea if I want to upgrade or cancel. I think this will make a cool Christmas gift!

    Like

  10. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    A FAQ has been added to the Kickstarter that includes some information about the hardware.

    “Both are ARM-based. The Mineserver™ has a four-core processor running at 1.5 GHz, one gig of DDR3 and eight gigs of SSD. The Mineserver Pro™ has an eight-core processor running at 2.0 GHz, two gigs of DDR3 and eight gigs of SSD.”

    Like

  11. Mas Gomez

    The hardware is pretty cool and $99 is a good price but then its the actual connection to the net that is the problem. With a hosting company you are paying for almost uninterrupted uptime which you don’t get with a home internet connection. Also, what if you have a server with several hundred players connected…… im sure your own internet is going to suffer big time with routers kicking up a fuss as it thinks its being DDOS’ed

    Like

  12. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Mas Gomez – A couple hundred players connected? Going for the extreme case argument? I mean, if we’re going to play “what if?” then what if I have Google Fiber and a decent router, right? Anyway, I suspect that somebody whose name links back to a site dedicated to recommending hosting services might have their own agenda in mind.

    Like

Voice your opinion... but be nice about it...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s