TechAdding mControl to Windows Home Server on a Friday...

Adding mControl to Windows Home Server on a Friday night

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WHS currently controls all of my files, photos and videos. In addition, WHS also controls my other computers, backs itself up, monitors it own power source, could shut itself down if needed and even send text messages to me when it needs attention. What else could it possibly do? Well I have decided that I am going to take the next step with Windows Home Server and give it control over my home.

mControl uses WHS as a platform to connect with modules that you attach to existing equipment in your house. For example, I currently have a timer attached to a light in the spare bedroom. This timer turns off and on based on where I put little plastic pins. Once mControl is added to WHS I can replace that timer with a Module that will allow WHS to control the light. How cool is that?

Title Picture

In addition to the WHS interface, mControl has multiple user interfaces such as Internet Explorer, Windows Media Center and Media Center Extenders, touch screens and Windows Mobile Clients.

mControl supports Vista, works with Insteon and Z-Wave devices and can also interface with your security system, cameras, thermostats and can even be programmed for voice controls.

They offer a free trial for mControl so there is no cost to check it out.

More information about mControl can be found at:

http://www.embeddedautomation.com/ 

Network Diagram 

Honestly, this is a semi-complex job and I would not suggest trying this if you are not comfortable making changes to your WHS via Remote Desktop or prone to getting pissed off easily.

In theory this is how it works:

  1. Add mControl to your WHS
  2. Connect your WHS to the electrical wiring in your home (with a PowerLinc USB modem)
  3. Create a zone for the room in mControl
  4. Tell mControl the address of the Module (each Module has a mini-MAC address like 0A.B6.13)
  5. Unplug a light, put the Module into the wall where the light was plugged in, and then connect the light to the Module
  6. Set up a schedule (macro) to turn the light on and off

Sounds easy enough. Lets set this pig on fire!

Equipment Needed:

mControl for Windows Home Server (download trial version)

Insteon PowerLinc Modem #2412U, USB ($80)

Insteon Plug-In Dimmer Module #2856D3B ($27 for bedroom light)

Insteon Appliance Module #2856S3B ($27 for living room light)

3 Beers (optional as always)

iTunes playing your favorite radio station

 SmartHome Boxes 

Notes:

I bought my equipment from http://www.smarthome.com . They have a whole crap-load of different equipment so I would suggest getting an idea of what you want to control in your home first before making the purchase. Start easy with a few lights and then work your way up to HVAC controls, intercoms, etc. There is a link on the side that says Beginner (Installs 10 minutes) that can give you some products that connect easily to your mControl system. The PowerLinc modem connects your WHS via USB to your house electrical system. You must have one (or similar) of these but you usually only need one. Each regular Module controls one outlet so you would need one for each light. Start small. I am starting with just two lights for this article. I also bought a light switch to control the office light and a sprinkler controller that I will add later. 

Add-In Installation

Installing mControl as an Add-In is relatively straight forward. Open beer number one.

Download the file from http://www.embeddedautomation.com/EAHAmControlDownload.htm

Unzip the file, open the folder and find the Windows Home Server folder that contains the mControlWHS_Setup msi file.

Copy the msi file to the WHS Add-Ins folder on your server and open then WHS Console.

WHS Add-In Screen 

Click on Install and let the magic happen.

WHS Progress Bar 

Your magic lasted on a few seconds? Mine too. If only everything had a “Time remaining” counter.

Ok, the Add-In is installed. So now what?

mControl Customization

Ok, there are FOUR CHANGES we need to do to mControl and WHS before we can start adding turning on and off the lights. In fact, I bet if you already have mControl working on your WHS you probably had to find out on your own how to make at least some of these changes.

DISCLAIMER: In no way am I telling you to not read the manual and follow their instructions, however, following the manual along with these steps may keep you from throwing a Module through a window!

The four changes are:

  1. Change IIS access to WHS (optional but recommended)
  2. Add mControl to the Firewall
  3. Install USB link and modem drivers to WHS
  4. Change the COM port in mControl to match WHS

Let us walk through each one…

CHANGE ONE (Optional but recommended)

By default, mControl is available to ALL external users. The interface to the mControl is on the main WHS page in your browser. If you want to restrict access to mControl then you must follow the directions below. If you are ok with everyone having access to mControl then you can skip this step. I allow a friend to access some folders on my WHS so I need to restrict access. If I did not, when he logs on to the server via the web, he could access mControl and start turning the lights on and off in my house from the other side of the world!

Remote Desktop to your WHS or use the Advanced Admin Console and go to “Administrative Tools” and access “Internet Information Services” (IIS)

AAC Console 

Using the navigation tree locate mControl under “Default Web Site”. Right-click and select “Properties”

IIS Manager 

Select the “Directory Security” tab and click the “Edit…” button in the “Authentication and access control” section

mControl Properties 

Uncheck “Enable anonymous access” and select a “Authenticated access” method that works for you. For my situation I enabled “Integrated Windows authentication” so it recognizes me but blocks others from access.

Authentication Methods 

When finished click on “OK” and OK/Apply out of the IIS windows making sure to save your changes.

Now we can test the access via the browser connection so open WHS via the web and you will see mControl on the right.

WHS Browser 

If you are “inside” your network you may get an authentication box immediately. Just enter your log in information again.

Login Screen 

If you are outside your network the authentication should already be in place. Click on “mControl for WHS”

WHS Browser 

You should now see the mControl web interface but do not get too excited.

mControl Web Interface 

We still have more work to do so just close the browser window before you start messing with it. 

CHANGE TWO

We now need to tell WHS that mControl needs to have access through the Windows Firewall.

Remote Desktop to your WHS or use the Advanced Admin Console, open your Firewall and select the “Exceptions” tab.

WHS Firewall 

Click on the “Add Program…” button and browse to mServer.exe. On your WHS mServer.exe is located in the C:\Inetpub\wwwroot\mControl\server directory.

Firewall Program Addition 

Click on “OK” and OK yourself out of the Windows Firewall.

 Add a Program 

Additional information about adding firewall exceptions to other client machines can be found at:

http://www.embeddedautomation.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1393 

CHANGE THREE

So now I have to download the drivers for the module that connects the WHS to the PowerLinc modem. I ordered the 2412U from SmartHome so the driver support is at:

http://www.smarthome.com/files/2412udrivers.zip

There is a whole list of stuff to do so be patient. This is from their Quick-Start Guide at:

http://www.smarthome.com/manuals/2412uqs.pdf

  1. Be sure your PowerLinc Modem is not connected to your PC
  2. Open a web browser, type in http://www.smarthome.com/files/2412udrivers.zip and hit enter – File Download dialog box will appear
  3. Click “Save” and select a convenient location (like your desktop) and click “Save”
  4. Locate the 2412udrivers.zip file on your PC, right click on it, and then click “Extract All…” (Note: Unzip process may vary, depending on your default unzip utility) – Extraction Wizard dialog box will appear
  5. Click, “Next,” “Next,” and then “Finish.” – A folder containing “USB Drivers” will open
  6. Double click on the folder “USB Drivers” and note the path of your drivers. It will be needed for steps 10 and 13
  7. Plug PowerLinc Modem into an AC outlet, plug square end of included USB cable into PowerLinc Modem’s USB jack and rectangular end of USB cable into an available port on your PC. – Found New Hardware Wizard will appear
  8. Select “Install from a list or specific location (Advanced)” and click “Next”
  9. Select “Search for the best driver in these locations” be sure the box “Include this location in the search:” is checked and then click “Browse”
  10. Locate the folder “USB Drivers” from step 6, select it in the dialog box and then click “Ok” – Windows will search for the proper driver, then wizard will display Completing the Found New Hardware Wizard
  11. Click “Finish” – Another Found New Hardware Wizard will appear
  12. Select “Install from a list or specific location (Advanced)” and click “Next”
  13. Select “Search for the best driver in these locations” be sure the box “Include this location in the search:” is checked and then click “Browse”
  14. Locate the folder “USB Drivers” from step 6, select it in the dialog box and then click “Ok” – Windows will search for the proper driver, then wizard will display Completing the Found New Hardware Wizard
  15. Click “Finish”
  16. Congratulations! Your INSTEON PowerLinc Modem is ready to be used with your home automation software.

What about MY reality. Let us see how this goes.

I download the drivers and placed them in a folder on the server.

Directory 

I then use the Advanced Admin Console to copy the drivers to the C: drive. Remember this location. You will need to find the folder in a few minutes.

WHS AAC 

Now, this is where I got screwed at first. I was in the Console and plugged the PowerLinc into the WHS. I should have been connected via the Remote Desktop Connection. Just like Dorothy, I missed the Wizard.

Disconnect from the Console and Remote Desktop to your WHS. Once you are on the WHS Desktop you are ready to go!

Plug the PowerLinc Modem into an AC outlet, plug the square end of the USB cable into PowerLinc Modem USB jack and the USB cable into your WHS.

From the SmartHome instructions:

The USB cable cannot be any longer than 10’ (6’ or less is recommended)
Do not plug PowerLinc Modem into a power strip or AC line filter

I plugged the PowerLinc Modem into the wall on the other side of my UPS. 

Once you are in Remote Desktop and you connect the USB Modem the Add Hardware Wizard should come up. Click on the balloon, if necessary.

Wizard Screen 

The firsts time I did this I was in the Console and did not see the New Hardware process. You can see below that I, again just like Dorothy, had to go back to the Wizard.

Another Wizard Screen 

Choose to install from a specific location and click “Next”.

Yet Another Wizard Screen 

Find the location of the driver folder and let the Wizard complete the process.

Still Another Wizard Screen 

Once the Wizard is completed you should get a screen that says “Click Finish to close the wizard”.

You should see a USB Serial Converter icon. Click “Finish”

Final Wizard Screen 

You are not really finished though… 

CHANGE FOUR

Now that you have connected your WHS directly to your house we need to verify the COM port and make sure that mControl has the same COM port information.

For those of you that are playing at home, the mControl manual says on Page 17 that “for the Power Line Modem 2412U (USB), you will need to load the associated driver, as provided by SmartHome. After loading the driver, the Power Line Modem 2412U will be available as a COM port.” You just did that but we need to verify the COM port number and make sure the WHS and mControl are synchronized to each other.

Remote Desktop to your WHS or use the Advanced Admin Console, open Administrative Tools and click on Device Manager.

On the right hand side in Device Manager find the “Ports (COM and LPT)” icon and expand it by clicking on the plus sign. Once it has expanded you should see the USB Serial Port (COM XX) where XX is the COM port you need to sync with the mControl in WHS. As you can see below my COM port is 3. Write this number down or carve it into your desk.

Close the Computer Management window.

Computer Management 

Now you can finally click on the mControl Manager icon you have been seeing in your WHS Console. See it? Find the name of the Modem you are using (for me it is the INSTEON PowerLinc Controller) and double click on it. Once the “Edit Adapter Parameters” box opens you need to make sure that it says “SERIAL” in the “Connect Using” box and change the COM Port number to match the one from the Device Manager. This is the number on your desk or paper in front of you.

Edit Adapter Parameters 

Once you have changed (or verified) the COM port settings Restart the mControl Manager by clicking on the light blue “Restart” just above the App Settings tab in the Console.

 mControl Manager 

Once you have Restarted mControl is should show “mControl Service Running” in the lower left corner as shown in the picture above.

Further instructions on this process can be found at:

http://www.embeddedautomation.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1358 

We are almost done. The last step is to Restart your WHS for good measure. Open beer number two.

Creating Zones

Before you start plugging things in a driving your wife, husband or pets crazy with mControl we need to create zones.

From the Settings Menu you choose “Manage Zones”

mControl Config 

You can add Zones at any time as you need them but I would suggest adding every room of your house first. I am adding the Living Room below. You can change the Zone Image to one of many preset pictures.

mControl Add Zone 

I am going to add most of the rooms now.

mControl Manage Zones 

Creating Devices

Once you have created a Zone you add a device to that Zone. Each device is controlled by a Module. Each Module communicates through your home electrical wiring with your WHS.

Find the room you want to add a Module to and click on “Add Device”.

mControl Edit Zone 

I am adding a simple On/Off Switch Module. Follow the manual that came with your Module plug in the Module and Light/Appliance/Etc.

Mental note: Make sure you get the address from the back of the device before you plug it in!

You enter the following data:

  • Name
  • Adapter Type
  • Module Type
  • Image
  • INSTEON Address (like a mini-MAC address)

mControl Edit Device 

When you have finished adding a device to a zone click on “Save”.

When you navigate back to Zone View you should now see your Module with your device on the right as shown below.

mControl Zone View 

Now that you have connected a Module you should now be able to control the device. I have my wife stand in the Living Room looking at the light while I mouse click on and off. It turns on and off with each click.

“It works” I scream. She thinks I am nuts. She is probably right. I wonder if this is how Tesla felt.

Open beer number three and click on the light control a few more times just to make sure it is working properly!

Next weekend I will be back and walk you through adding another Module and adding macros to control multiple Modules.

See you next Friday night!

Timothy Daleo

Timothy Daleohttp://usingwindowshomeserver.com
Timothy Daleo is a Project Resource Analyst and Oracle Applications Trainer in Pasadena, California. In addition to financial analysis, Tim has been developing training materials since 2003 and supporting direct projects through various auxiliary databases since 2005.

19 COMMENTS

  1. Mental note: You can avoid the Login Screen on your website by going to Tools>Internet Options>Security>Custom Level and scrolling to the bottom to change your logon settings. At the bottom, under User Authentication, choose Automatic Logon with Current Usename and Password.

  2. This is awesome. I may have to give this a try if I can come up with some spare change to get some of the products. I'm really interested to see this done with HVAC control.

  3. Great, best post so far I could find to give an idea how to start mith WHS and mcontrol. I also would like to look at controling a thermostat. Looking into this before I was not sure what to use with regards to Hardware (Z-wave, X-10,Insteon, or even Moeller). I will try with Insteon!

  4. The whole thing seemed intimidating at first. I would suggest starting with just a coupe of modules. The challenge is the setup of mControl. Everything else is a breeze.

  5. My Insteon hardware arrived today (3 days early!). I followed your steps. Had a little trouble, but got things running. Here's what I learned…

    The trouble I had was updating the 2414u drivers. The hardware wizard never popped upon USB connection. Thinking the driver update was a must, I tried everything. Updating the driver within the Device Manager failed. No "better" driver was ever found.

    I started playing around with the "Connect Using" value. When I changed from the default "USB" to "Serial" then back to "USB" the PowerLinc Controller was instantly recognized! So USB connected it stays.

    Question: Why do your steps list connecting the PowerLinc Controller to your PC, immediately followed by connecting it to the WHS? I proceeded as recommended, but the PC connection step was unnecessary.

    Based on my trials updating the USB Driver, I found that step unnecesary as well. It works with the default MS driver. (I'm running an HP MSS EX475 with PowerPack 2) Maybe this is required for a home-built WHS?

    Once I saw the PowerLinc working, the adding of a Lamp Dimmer and an Appliance On/Off Module was a snap.

    My home has begun to be automated! Very cool. Can't wait to spend more money for more controllers. The whole place will be controlled by my iPod Touch. The wifee just loves it. Ha!

    Thanks for your advice, Tim.

    Regards,

    Paul Yantko

    (winner of mControl license for WHS Giveaway

  6. I think the text you are referring to is when I connected the PowerLinc before I was actually in the Remote Connection. What happened with me is that once I plugged in the PowerLinc, and then connected it to WHS, the WHS Device Manager added the modem as generic USB. Since I was not viewing the desktop of the WHS I could not see the automatic process that happens when you connect something that is USB. Had I been looking at the Remote Desktop at the moment I connected the PowerLinc I could have caught it and directed it to the right driver.

    I find it interesting that you connect via

  7. GREAT articles Tim. I read them all and just purchased a 2412U and a couple switches. I was wondering if you could answer a questions I had. So far with your Insteon experience do you think I would need anything else besides the 2412 in order to control a insteon motion sensor? The site says it requires access points but I'm not sure I need this. Also are you able to use a secondary remote (ie tabletop remote) with mControl? I spoke to 3 different reps and I didn't get much help.

    Thanks..

    Kris

  8. You need an access point for cetain modules. Modules like the HVAC and motion detectors need the acess point to connect to mControl. Unless your motion sensor needs to be tied to the system you might be better off with a basic sensor light from a hardware store. If the motion sensor is going to start some other device then you will need to get the access point.

    I do not have information about the remote. I would suggest looking at the mControl forum for more information. I use WMC for all of my controls.

    • Thanks for the Reply, I received everything in the mail on Friday. The install went really well. I did end up purchasing the Insteon motion sensor and the access points. Everything integrated perfectly with WHS. Now by using a macro in mControl when motion is sensed on my stairs at night i have a path of lights that guide me to my kitchen. (nice!) I did have another question though I tried changing the security in IIS for the mcontrol site but for some reason it does not seem to validate with any of my home server user name and passwords. Do you have any idea what could be causing this? I followed your directions but when I enable Integrated Windows authentication i can't get in.

  9. Thanks for the great article, Tim! After finding this article, I immediately proceeded to purchase SmartHome stuff for the house and try to take advantage of my (always-on) EX495.

    I have a question, though. I bought the same PowerLinc Modem as you (2412U) and am experiencing unresponsiveness with it after some time. When I first got it, and plugged it directly into the EX495, it worked for about 16 hours and then stopped responding. I found a stickied thread on the mControl (embeddedautomation.com) forum about this, saying that HP MediaSmart machines have some mysterious loss-of-connectivity problems with the 2412U, and that they basically had no idea on how to solve it. At the same time, they said they never saw the problem in their lab, although they were using a powered USB hub in between the devices and suggested users do the same. I did this, and things improved somewhat, but basically the modem needs to be unplugged/reset every 3-5 days now.

    Are you using an HP MediaSmart server with your 2412U? Are you using a powered USB hub? And have you seen this problem? Any help would be much appreciated! This is so cool and impressive when it works, it's a bummer to be so close but be hounded by this seemingly small issue. Thanks again for a great article!

    • Brett,

      I have two Dell home-build WHS that have mControl. I too run the 2412 USB modems.

      For the first four months everything worked great and then near the end of last year they both stopped working. The only way I can get them to start working again is to restart the machine and then restart mControl a few times. It seems to work for a few hours or even a day and then stops working. The issue seems to be with how mControl communicates with the modem. It just stops seeing it after a while.

      I have tried getting a hold of the company rep who originally helped me set it up but he will not respond.

      I have since "given up for a later day" when I can spend more time on it. I cannot say for sure it is mControl so I have not changed any articles or posts.

      I wish I could be of more help but it sounds like I have the same problem. When it works it works great. Bummer.

      • Thanks for the reply, Tim!

        It sounds like we likely have the same problem, or at least a very similar one. I've found other posts on the web of people mentioning the same problem … however, they are using HCA (whatever software that is) and certainly not WHS at all. Basically, I really think that brings the commonality of all of our problems to the 2412U. I really don't think it's the software … I think it has to do with the whole idea that the device – other than being able to read/write signals on house wiring, communicate via RF, etc – communicates with the PC via COM port emulation (that whole COM3 thing). So basically the SmartHome crew decided that they wanted to re-use the electronics from their existing modems (all prior seem to have had RS-232 connections to PC), and copped out by basically just adding a serial, RS-232 COM emulation via USB hardware component. Rather than truly sending commands via USB, you're sending it to this emulated port. That is pretty crappy!

        My trial with mControl is about two weeks in, another two weeks before it expires. I don't know what to do at this point. As I posted on the Home Server Show's forum, I am actually contemplating writing my own software to control this thing, just because I think $129.99 for mControl is a bit excessive and overkill for what I want it to do. I really just want things like my outside lights turning on at a predetermined time, I don't care at all about remote control, wiring in motion sensors, etc.

        I'll keep you posted on what I find out. I can't believe people are having the problems that they are … I swear these guys have run a marathon to get all of this stuff working, and they're just a few feet shy of the finish line. That's so disappointing.

  10. Tim –

    Just as an FYI, I RMA'd my 2412U (for refund) after talking with SmartHome tech support on the phone. These guys were useless, and actually quite defensive of their product (they told me that it's Microsoft's problem!). Basically, they claim that it's the OS – combined with certain types of USB port hardware on your mobo – that causes incompatibilities, and clearly they are not attempting to find a solution.

    What I did do is buy a USB-to-RS232 adapter for my EX495, and I've placed an order for a different PLM that is serial based from them. My hope is that – by removing SmartHome USB from the equation – this will somehow work. I really want this to work!

    I should receive everything and have an idea if it works or not in the next week or so. I'll let you know.

    • Once I get the VAIL stuf done I will try to work on the mControl again. I can see how it could be the 2412U but need to spend some time on it. I really want it to work too. I spent about $600 on hardware for both houses.

      • Tim –

        I have run for six days now with my new setup, without a hiccup (knock on wood). This is certainly an improvement over the other setup, although I suppose only with more significant time passing will I know for sure.

        I replaced the SmartHome 2412U with a TrendNET TU-S9 USB Serial Converter (Amazon, $15.27) and a SmartHome 2413S Dual-Band Insteon Serial PowerLinc Modem ($89.99 at SmartHome). I wanted to buy the non-dual band version of the latter (2412S, $20 less), but they said that they were not in their inventory for another two months.

        I chose the TU-S9 as it (supposedly) has device drivers for Windows Server 2003. I plugged the thing in and fed it the latest drivers from the TrendNET website (not CD), and it seemed happy with no issues. It occupied COM4 – as I could not find an easy way to free up COM3 from the earlier 2412U usage – and I just changed the mControl software to COM4.

        I made no other changes. It all worked like a charm – as if nothing had changed – and mControl was back on the job.

        For me, this – a mere six days or so in – is a major improvement. As the SmartHome guys said, I appeared to have an "incompatible" hardware setup in my EX495. If you seemed to have longer periods of success before failure (say, many weeks), however, all bets may be off as to if my non-SmartHome USB solution will work for you. I feel beat up on this, because – like you – I invested some cash in devices and it should "just work" out of the box. I am appalled at SmartHome's suggestion that Microsoft needed to fix their OS, when someone else's USB-to-Serial adapter is working just fine.

        I'll keep you posted!

  11. Tim – FYI, I have been running with the 2413S (and TU-S9) solution for many weeks now. My confidence has grown in its reliability and I intend to finally start scaling up my whole system now, beyond outside light control. While it may only be WHS and/or HP products that it has issues with, I think it's safe to conclude that SmartHome's implementation of USB interfacing is poor at best. Interfacing with SmartHome products only via serial connections seems to me to be the way to go.

    • I have not given up on the USB quite yet. My test box is Vail through January so I am without automation until then. The second system in Reno also has USB issues so maybe I will pick up a serial for that location. I have not forgotten about mControl just had a switch in priorities this season.

      I will check back on this post when i get the hardware.

      Thank you again,

      Tim

  12. Hi Guys,

    Brett how is the serial working for you since you installed? I want to setup the same way you did but not sure about the reliability.

    Tim, any new development on the USB issue?

    Thanks,
    Sorin

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