[SERVER] Windows Home Server 2011 "Vail"

Discussion in 'Windows Operating Systems' started by pyriX, Dec 26, 2010.

  1. pyriX

    pyriX Member

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    Hi guys,

    Well, I had a few moments to spare with the glorious string of holidays along Christmas, so I thought I'd share my experiences with Windows Home Server 2011, code name "Vail" with you all.

    Originally, my rinky dink little file server was based off FreeNAS, which is excellent in many ways - in some ways better than Windows Home Server. The iteration before this one though, which is still happily churning away at the parents house, ran the original Windows Home Server. Part of the reason I was so happy to nuke the stable FreeNAS install and get jiggy with what is still beta software was that 95% of the data on my personal file server is replicated on that box, and I'd only be up for the inconvenience of heading over and copying my files..

    So, if you're wanting to try Windows Home Server 2011 out yourself, make sure you have a reasonable backup available, as this is not officially released software. You can obtain it for free, from here.

    The reason for the change from FreeNAS to Home Server, other than a childish fascination with new and shiny things, was that I missed the Storage Pool feature on Windows Home Server. They'll be more on that later, but for now, let it suffice to say it shits all over ZFS (the unix 'equivalent')

    I've tried to grab a reasonable amount of images, but haven't documented absoloughtly everything - largely due to a desire to get it up and running. Apologies on the image quality, I was in a bit of a hurry.

    The first time I went to run the installer, it did a quick check to make sure I met the system requirements. It ticked the box saying I had a 1.4ghz, 64bit processor, 2gb of ram, but complained I didn't have a 160gb hard disk available. Oops. A quick swap with a drive pulled out of a broken netbook got me started and ready to rock.

    The machine I used is Dell Latititude D620 I picked up off grays online for ~250 at the beginning of the year. It's got a Core 2 T7400 @ 2.16ghz, 2.00gb of RAm, and (now) and 160gb 5400rpm 2.5" Western Digital drive.

    [​IMG]
    The install process should be familiar to anyone thats ever installed Windows 7, it takes about the same length of time (slightly longer, but only because I usually install of USB key). After rebooting several times, it looks like its going to bring up the extremely familiar first run wizard...
    [​IMG]
    ...then changes its mind completely, and brings up a *different* first run wizard, which takes about 1/2 an hour to do its (after asking what you want to call the server, and grabbing the administrator password, completely automated) thing.
    [​IMG]
    Once that finishes (it will restart several times, just to build the suspense), it will drop you off at what I understand is a fairly standard Windows Server 2008 desktop. In the 7 style taskbar, by default there is a link to 'Server Management,' Windows Powershell (Microsoft's attempt to compete with the power of your bog standard Linux terminal), and Windows Explorer. The only difference is that there is a link to 'Dashboard' sitting on the desktop.
    [​IMG]

    Dashboard is the 'normal people' friendly server administration console. As far as it goes, it does a great job of simplifying management of the storage pool, shared folder, users (and their permissions), and even setting up remote access to the server). Of course, if you're wanting to do other stuff, like run a game server, utorrent client, you've still got all the fundamentals of a relatively full featured Windows Server install lying underneath (it will not however, act as a domain controller).

    The true advantage of dashboard is that it doesn't have to be run on the server (either sitting in front of it, or in Remote Desktop (RDP)). Given that, and that RDP was set up by default, I moved the damn thing off my desk and into the cupboard where it will live with its three lovely friends, the 2tb USB hard disks that will provide the storage space. Moving it out into the kitchen (I live in a studio that has a grand total of two rooms) also means I can shut down the majority of the gear on my desk at night and get some blessed sleep, while my torrents of 100% open source and public domain material can mosey along without the hard disk write access light burning a hole in my retinas all night.
    [​IMG]

    Anyway, to get the dashboard (and incidentally, set up backups on your computer) has changed a bit since the first iteration of Home Server. On that version, you either ran a cd or navigated to an SMB file share, and ran the Home Server Connect software from there. It wasn't all that complicated, but its been simplified even further in the new version. All you do now is point a web browser at http://NAMEOFSERVER/connect, and click the big, green button. It even picks up what operating system you're running (Windows or Mac, and changes what the big green button does accordingly.
    [​IMG]
    Once its downloaded, you run the setup file, and do the usual click through thing. The windows client is much more fleshed out than the mac one - all the mac one does is add a program called 'launchpad,' which has links to backup (which opens time machine), 'remote access' - which opens the web based configuration/management page and 'shared folders' - which shows you the SMB folder shares. Time machine can't backup to the home server (by default anyway, theres a few guides on getting this to work on the interwebs. I could never get it going with the old version, and haven't yet tried on the new).
    [​IMG]
    I should also mention that navigating to http://NAMEOFSERVER/connect didn't work on my Mac. I don't know if it works on anyone else's mac, but I had to use the direct IP address link.

    Once the windows client has installed itself, you can launch it from the start menu, by opening the Dashboard, or from the icon in the task bar.
    [​IMG]
    The dashboard runs in a different way to the old version. It appears to use some sort of bastardisation of the Remote Desktop Protocol. New windows spawned from the dashboard will appear on your desktop as if they belonged to the local machine (sans-transparencies) but are clearly remotely executed.
    [​IMG]

    Added hard disks to the storage pool is as easy as a few clicks. Its literally a matter of navigating to the appropriate tab, selecting the disk you want to add (internal and external drives show up), and clicking 'add to storage pool.
    A small wizard appears confirming you're aware that the operating will format the drive, and then it'll add the drive. The whole process takes less than a minute, which would indicate its quick formatting the drives, rather than a deep format. This caused no issues on my drives, which had been formatted and in use for a few months in a ZFS Raidz1 array. But if your worried, it may be worth manually formatting them to NTFS first.
    [​IMG]

    I'm going to take a brief detour and explain the main reason that I swapped back to Windows Home Server after being relatively happy with FreeNAS for so long. The prime, central component of any server is the storage. On enterprise grade systems, that key components to that are size, redundancy and speed. On consumer grade systems, a forth key component comes in, and that's ease of use. You still need the other 3, because personal data can be extremely important to the user, if not a matter of massive financial consideration.

    ZFS was working well for me for several months, but then I wen't to add to the storage pool. Partially my fault, for not reading the documentation correctly, but when I went to do so, I discovered I couldn't add another singular drive. The initial 2 2tb drives where formated using raidz1 (exactly the same as RAID 5 (single redundancy), but it was my belief I could later add to this array. To ZFS credit, it will allow you to add another 2 drives to an existing pool, but that would effectively mean I had 4 drives, 2 mirroring the other 2. The data would be spread across only 2 drives still, resulting in half my storage space for my dollar. If I'd initially setup a raid of 3 drives, it wouldn't have been such an issue.

    In any case, the storage pool from Windows Home Server is much more flexible. You can start out with one drive (though this will disable file duplication), and add another. If, at some point, you want to reclaim a particular drive, you just need to make sure there is enough free space in the pool, and remove the drive you wish to reclaim. This starts a long process of copying the existing files out onto the other drives in the pool, but it will eventually give you the okay to remove the drive. You can also add more drives at any point 'on the fly,' growing the size of the pool. Data is then synchronised across all the drives.

    I'm not sure if the new version automatically balances the storage levels on all the drives when you add a new one - in the old version of home server, there was a third party console application that did so when you asked it to. New files added to the file system will go on the 'emptiest' drive (by percentage).

    Redundancy is handled in software. It doesn't have the speed of raid, but it does the job. What you sacrifice in speed, you reclaim in flexibility. Duplication is enabled by default on all folders, but it can selectively disabled on any folders. Duplication essentially makes sure that of any given file in the folder, there is a copy on one other hard disk. In this way, the pool can withstand the loss of one (but not more than one) drive.
    [​IMG]
    I noticed a bit of an oddity. When the storage pool was initially created, and I started copying files, the 'Data Protection' indicator, above, showed that about 3times as much actual data as was on the server, when I would have expected it to be just double.

    A couple of updates+restarts later, it appears to have settled down - it dropped steadily for a couple of hours. Lord knows what it was doing, but it appears to be fine now.

    I installed a utorrent client and activated the webUI, which works great.

    User account creation is even more dead simple than the creation built into any windows system - What's their name, what's their username, what do you want their password to be. The only additional item is the ability to set what levels of access you want the user to have to which folders.

    I noticed, unlike its previous iteration, Windows Home Server doesn't automagically create a folder for the user in the 'Users' share - this needs to be created and the permissions set manually, which seems to me like a strange oversight. Keep in mind though that the software is still in beta.

    I haven't yet got remote access working, but there's primarily due to issues with my network playing nicely with the Telstra ADSL router (I've got a linksys WRT320N handling local traffic, and doing DHCP allocation, but the DMZ feature on the Thomson doesn't appear to work properly). There's plenty of run throughs with regard to the new, much improved remote access on the internet already though, and it doesn't actually interest me all the much.

    Backups are largely unchanged from the previous version. They can be initiated at the local machine, or from the server. They backup most everything on the PC, and are scheduled to run at anytime between 12:00am and 6:00am by default.

    New in this version is the ability to restore your computers from backup (in case of catastrophic failure) from a USB key, rather than a CD key, which the netbook crowd will probably love.

    I haven't had too much a chance to play around yet, but I'll report and edit this post if theres any important bits I've missed.

    If you have any questions, please let me know.
     
  2. FLB

    FLB Member

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    Its a shame they have droped the drive extender technology from WHS as of now.

    The new Vail beta in January apparently will not have this feature at all.
     
  3. foxmulder881

    foxmulder881 Member

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    I rather enjoyed reading your review and all, but it all seems very fiddly to setup for me. I currently use a BSD based file server in the form of FreeNAS. Both initial setup and admin are quick and easy and the system as a whole seems to be as flexible as you need it to be. This all seems too Windowsy for my liking. And by that I mean, it just doesn't have the look and feel of a server admin panel. But anyway, each to their own.

    And how you can claim that the NTFS storage pool system is better than ZFS is almost laughable. But anyway...
     
  4. OP
    OP
    pyriX

    pyriX Member

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    I should quantify - better for *my* purposes than ZFS. It *is* more flexible, with the ability to add or remove single drives without sacrificing redundancy.

    If I wanted to grow a ZFS pool, I need to add a whole new array. Add to that the flexibility and ease of use of WHS storage pools, it's all around a winner for *me.*

    Obviously, everyone's needs are subtly, if not grossly different. If I had a few more unix box's at home, rather than just at work, I might have spent the extra money for another hard disk and added another mirrored array to the pool. But as it stands, I don't, so I won't :)
     
  5. OP
    OP
    pyriX

    pyriX Member

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    Well, bollocks.

    Looks like I should have again done my research, given this was a prime reason for the switchover.

    Will continue using this beta I suppose until I find a replacement - though throughout my research, the ease-of-use of drive extender was leaps and bounds ahead of the competition

    (for reference purposes, this page backs up FLB's statement)
     
  6. FLB

    FLB Member

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  7. Vladdo

    Vladdo Member

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    I just can't fathom why MS killed the only selling point for WHS.. you might as well just install win7 instead...
     
  8. fist4jesus

    fist4jesus Member

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    Oh well, no upgrading for me.
    I have a older version with 9 drives.
     
  9. pksw

    pksw Member

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    The loss of the drive extender has been well documented at the wegotserved.com forums. This is the best support forum for WHS that I've found, with great guides and tutorials.

    I have run the Vail beta, but with the loss of the drive extender, went and set up a server using WHS v1 using powerpack 3. I have no need for RAID at home, and the simplicity of WHS to share files and automatically backup all connected PCs is great.

    To the OP - pity you've wasted your time on a now redundant build :(
     
  10. Mudg3

    Mudg3 Member

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    Yeha OP didn't know until I posted it on his facebook :p
     
  11. OP
    OP
    pyriX

    pyriX Member

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    Actually, FLB got in there before you.
     
  12. stmok

    stmok Member

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    According to the third link provided by FLB's post...

    Drive Extender wasn't well engineered to begin with. This is pretty obvious when you look at how an MS general manager words it.
    => "...a neat feature, but the implementation was off"

    MS tried to scale the technology for server use; as they wanted to also use it in Windows Small Business Server 2011 (codename "Aurora"). It had issues that would cost significant time and money to fix. So they dropped it.

    This could help for those seeking alternatives...

    9 Alternatives for Windows Home Server’s Drive Extender
    => http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/36458/9-alternatives-for-windows-home-servers-drive-extender/
    (Might also want to look through the feedback as well; as some of the comments have more suggestions.)
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2010
  13. OP
    OP
    pyriX

    pyriX Member

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    Of the ones on that page, greyhole (despite the disturbing mental images that procures from behind the scary door in my brain) seems the most drive extendery-ish.

    Might look into it, may as well finish testing out WHS now its up and running in any case - unless I can find a way to stop it disabling itself when the final version is released :)
     
  14. stmok

    stmok Member

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  15. s.Neo

    s.Neo Member

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    While I agree the ability to add a disk to an array and have it dynamically resize is convenient, if you can't afford to drop, rebuild with an extra disk and rsync your array from backups - you probably don't have a strong backup strategy in place. This is even more true for 'home' solutions, where uptime is not critical.

    Data integrity should take much higher precedence over disk expansion convenience. ZFS > NTFS.
     
  16. OP
    OP
    pyriX

    pyriX Member

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    As said in the article, my 'backup' solution is a seperate server, on a seperate property, in a different suburb. It's simply not economically feasible or necessary in the one system, or even house, to have two copies of the same data, as long as there is a reasonable amount of redundancy in place.

    What you seem to be proposing would, at the very least, require me to have another entire array (i.e, another 3 2tb disks) that I could easily resync the data from - which would be another ~$350 that I see no compelling reason to spend.

    I would argue that in a home system, more important than uptime is ease of use. While I, because I've spent a not-inconsiderable portion of my life working with, in and around computers could setup the system you describe, your average home user, which is what this product is targeted at, if not the market that will be interested in it, does not.

    And even though I could, I see no reason to expend the time and effort doing so, when there is, for me, a perfectly acceptable, much more convenient solution available.
     
  17. bodogbodog

    bodogbodog Member

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    WHS 2011 Release Candidate Available

    Microsoft has announced the immediate availability of the Windows Home Server 2011 “Vail” Release Candidate – the first build of the platform released following Microsoft’s controversial decision to strip the product’s core storage technology, Drive Extender.

    The next Vail Release Candidate is out now on Connect @ http://connect.microsoft.com/WindowsHomeServer.

    There is a good overview article on it @ http://www.wegotserved.com/2011/02/03/windows-home-server-2011-vail-rc-released-drive-extender/

    Basically its a poor substitute for a v.2 product - no Drive Extender and a requirement to utilise a customer provided RAID solution to provide system resilience

    Personally I'll be sticking with my v.1 WHS system - it does everything I need include media streaming, file server, client backups and remote access along with a storage pool I don't have to manage at the indivual HDD level and that provides automated duplication of data in folder I choose to have duplicated

    Is anyone planning on giving v.2 Release Candidate a go?
     
  18. Vladdo

    Vladdo Member

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    Since Vail has now gone backwards, I think a lot of people will move onto other things.. I for one gave up on it, and instead bought a Thecus N7700 nas box instead.. I'm really struggling to find a reason why you'd bother using Vail, as you might as well run a copy of Win 7 instead and use that as a fileserver/backup machine.
     
  19. pksw

    pksw Member

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    That's spot on. I'd rather run Win7 with RAID than Vail. The beauty of WHS v1 was its simplicity for home users. We just need to backup our computers and have some form of centralised storage for photos with data redundancy. It just worked out of the box and running windows update.

    The features that home users wanted:
    1. no drive letters
    2. backup connected PCs on network
    3. some form of data redundancy
    4. ability to simply add another HDD (of any capacity) when storage runs out

    Vail will do backups, but not the others. I'm sticking with WHS v1.
     
  20. Dropbear

    Dropbear Member

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    Codename Fail will fall into obscurity..
     

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