Tag Archives: Windows Home Server

End of an Era

Windows Home Server splash screen tileJuly 2014 brought the end of an era that began in January of 2008. I shut down my Windows Home Server. Except for a brief two month fling with an Ubuntu home server I’ve had a Windows Home Server running for the last six and a half years. There’s nothing replacing it. Although, an existing Synology NAS takes over some duties.

My Windows Home Server started with two small drives on a HP Windows Home Server version 1. It grew to a home built box with over 20 TB of disk by the time WHS 2 was released. Eventually it began to shrink and by the time I shut it down it was an HP MicroServer with four 3 TB drives plus an OS drive. My needs continued to shrink and even this was more than I needed.

By far most of my drive space was used by video files. These, along with files being archived, were all that was on my Windows Home Server. All my non-video data had been moved to my Synology NAS.

The growth of streaming and cloud services meant my local video library rarely grew. Even in the rare cases where I bought a video, all else being equal, I’d prefer a cloud purchase and not have to worry about local storage. My Blu-Ray purchases for the past year could be counted on one hand.

I rarely accessed the WHS files, yet the server was running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So as I was looking to downsize and save electricity, this was an obvious first choice.

So I cleaned up the files on my Synology DS1511+ NAS which I uses for backups and files storage and copied my video library to the available space. I had so many duplicate files and backups I was also able to free up another five 3 TB drives that were in an expansion unit and still have room for the WHS files.

So I copied the Windows Home Server files to the Synology 1511+ and then copied them to a few of the freed up drives to be put in storage as a backup. The Synology 1511+ just gets fired up every weekend to refresh backups and verify the drives still spin.

I moved a couple of the 3 TB drives to my Synology 212+ NAS which serves as my main data storage for what I consider my active data. The extra space will be used for time machine backups and future needs.

Windows Home Server will be supported into 2016 so there was no rush for me to replace it. Despite this, time has moved on and now my Synology NAS is better suited to my needs which doesn’t include needing terabytes of files being always available.

tombstone_rip.gif

Windows Home Server Is Terminal

tombstone_ripWhile not unexpected, Microsoft made it official, Windows Home Server joins the Zune, Kin and others in the Microsoft product graveyard. But that doesn’t mean its dead yet. It will be available as an OEM DVD (such as from Newegg) through 2013. Plus, mainstream support doesn’t end until April 16, 2016 so we’ll have security fixes through then at least. I assume we’ll also get general bug fixes if they’re bad enough. OEMs can install it on devices through 2025 but that seems more bizarre than realistic.

Microsoft’s Plan? From the Windows Server 2012 Essentials FAQ (PDF Link):

Q: Will there be a next version of Windows Home Server?
A: No. Windows Home Server has seen its greatest success in small office/home office (SOHO) environments and among the technology enthusiast community. For this reason, Microsoft is combining the features that were previously only found in Windows Home Server, such as support for DLNA-compliant devices and media streaming, into Windows Server 2012 Essentials and focusing our efforts into making Windows Server 2012 Essentials the ideal first server operating system for both small business and home use—offering an intuitive administration experience, elastic and resilient storage features with Storage Spaces, and robust data protection for the server and client computers.

Unless they discount the $425 retail price of the license I don’t see a lot of homes using SBS 2012e as a home server. (Except for enthusiasts who have a Technet subscription.)

I’ll be running my Windows Home Server 2011 until something better suited for me comes along. My Windows Home Server doesn’t know it’s terminal so it will keep chugging along. Technology is constantly changes as are my storage needs. April 2016 is the earliest I would be forced off WHS. I suspect it will seem like old tech long before that and I’ll move to something more appropriate for the times. That is, assuming I still want a central storage box. I’m already heavily invested in Synology NAS’s, which I love, so they certainly have an edge. But if they could replace my WHS they would have done so already.

Considering or running WHS? Does Microsoft’s announcement change anything for you?

Image of Synolog DiskStation 212j

Synology to Windows Home Server Using iSCSI

Image of Synolog DeskStation 212jI’ve been looking at the capabilities of the Synology NAS products by looking over the Synology DiskStation 212j. This time around I gave it a spin as an iSCSI target from Windows Home Server 2011. There’s links at the end for more information about iSCSI, but for my purposes here it can be thought of as a way to present a network connected drive as a local drive to the operating system. The Synology NAS will be addressed by WHS 2011 as a local drive. No additional software is needed, it’s all built in to Synology and Windows Home Server.

This was configured using the Synology DiskStation 4 beta software although the DiskStation 3 software is set up the same way based on the information at the Synology website.

iSCSI Target Types

The Synology DiskStation software supports three different configuration types as an iSCSI LUN:

Regular Files – this configures the target on an already created file volume. This allows flexibility in allocating space. It can be increased anytime, as long as there’s space available on the volume.

Block Level (Single LUN on RAID) – this configures the target on available disks. There can’t be anything else on the disks used and they will be completely allocated. This provides the best performance (according to Synology). The disks can be configured for RAID.

Block Level (Multiple LUNs on RAID) – this configures the target on available disk space. Space already allocated to volumes can’t be used, but the disk(s) can be shared with file volumes.

Configuring iSCSI

The Synology website has good instructions on configuring iSCSI with their software so I won’t repeat it here. But for my simple requirements I was able to run through the wizard and accept the defaults. I didn’t set up any advanced options. When configuring a “Regular Files” LUN the size defaults to 1 GB so I did increase that to a more useful size.

Configuring iSCSI on Windows Home Server 2011 was a bit different than documented by Synology so I’ll run through it here. The configuration is the same for Windows 7 and Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials. I suspect Windows Server 2008 R2 is also the same along with the other related software such as Small Business Server 2008.

This needs to be done on the server itself so a Remote Desktop connection is needed (assuming the server is headless). Go to Control Panel and select “Set up iSCSI Initiator”. Then answer “Yes” to the prompt to start the iSCSI service.

iSCSI Control Panel iSCSI Service notice

The iSCSI properties dialog will appera – select discovery tab then click the “Discover Portal” button and enter the IP address (or DNS name) of the Synology NAS. Once the info is entered you should see the iSCSI target on the Synology NAS although it will still be listed as inactive. To establish the connection click the “Connect” button. In a strange twist of terminology you want to leave the default “Add this connection to the list of Favorite Targets” in order to make the connection persistent.

iSCSI Discovery Properties dialog Discovered targets list Favorite Connections prompt

At this point the connection is established and the status will change to “Connected”. Once the connection is established you’ll need to switch over the “Disk Management” section of the Computer Management console.

iSCSI properties after connection  Computer Management

When you click on “Disk Management” you’ll be prompted to initialize the disk. If the disk will be larger than 2 TB select “GPT” as the partition table type. Right-click on the newly added disk and select “New Simple Volume” from the context menu. Run through the wizard and when the wizard is done, so are you.

Initialize disk prompt  Create volume menu selection  Drive after formating

Now the disk can be used like any other local disk.

Benchmarks

Performance isn’t a reason for doing iSCSI, at least not with a home network and a low-end Synology DS212j. It’s going to be slower than a local SATA drive, but since I can, I did some benchmarks.

This is Windows Home Server 2011 running on an HP MicroServer with relatively slow Western Digital 1TB Green Drives. It’s a Gigabit network using the MicroServer’s onboard NIC. When running the benchmarks I kept network traffic to a minimum, no streaming video or file copies, but I didn’t turn any devices off, so there was the normal background network traffic. Everything is connected to the same switch.

The DS212j had two 7200 RPM drives in it. One a Western Digital Caviar Black and the other a Hitachi HDT721010SLA360 drive. Both are on Synology’s compatibility list.

The first benchmarks show the local drives, the second shows a “Regular Files” iSCSI target.

Local Drive benchmarks  iSCSI Regular Files benchmarks

I also set up each type of Block Level LUN and benchmarked them. The first is the Single LUN setup which should be the best performer, the second is a Multi LUN setup.

iSCSI single LUN benchmarks  iSCSI Multi LUN connection benchmarks

Wrapping Up

Being able to use the Synology boxes as an iSCSI target is a nice feature. Since it’s accessed over the network it’s not going to out perform a local drive unless you got a data-center class network to run it over. iSCSI doesn’t allow multiple PCs to access the same LUN (except with cluster aware software) since there’s no file locking, so it’s not a suitable replacement for a file share.

The more I explore the Synology software the more I’m considering one of their larger models. While I don’t see any immediate need to swap out anything I use for an iSCSI connected Synology NAS, I do think that an investment in a Synology DiskStation would eventually be used as an iSCSI connected drive somewhere in the future.

Additional Links:

Wikipedia article about iSCSI

Synology iSCSI Best Paractices

Synology iSCSI – How to Use

Trashes folder on a WHS share

Apple Software On WHS Shares

Trashes folder on a WHS shareI run a mixed Windows/Mac home and all my data resides on my Windows Home Server no matter whether it’s Windows or Mac. This means my iPhoto library, iTunes library, Aperture library are all on my Windows Home Server. I recently noticed that these libraries were saving deleted files forever.

The libraries are a directory structure that OS X understands and may present to the user as a single file. For example, iPhoto displays as a single file in OS X unless “show package contents” is selected. Even though my iPhoto library is on a WHS share OS X displays it to me as a single file bundle. As long as the files remain within the library structure all is well. Libraries that maintain their own internal trash bin (i.e. iPhoto and Aperture, maybe more) end up trying to move the files to the OS X trash bin when you empty the library’s trash bin.

I recently noticed that when I emptied the trash in iPhoto that it moved the files to a “.Trashes” folder on my WHS share. (Note the leading dot)  See the first graphic to see what I mean, click it to enlarge) Well actually I noticed this huge .Trashes folder and then found it came from iPhoto and Aperture. If this was an OS X drive running on OS X it would be part of the trash bin and get emptied when I emptied the trash. Aperture also worked the same way once I checked. On the WHS share they live forever,  even OS X didn’t see it as part of the recycle bin.

The .Trashes folder could be deleted just like any other folder without causing a problem. The next time you empty a library’s trash it will be recreated. To see the folder you need to enable viewing hidden files and folder (click for full size for the Windows 7 setting below):

 

Show Hidden Folders Option

I also found that iTunes saved replaced apps to the .Trashes folder. Luckily it doesn’t save replaced or deleted podcasts. If it did I’d probably have run out of disk space. iTunes doesn’t seem to save anything I delete on my own, only the apps it replaced.

It’s only my apps that maintain their own library structure that have this issue. Deleting regular files on my WHS from OS X deletes them immediately.

I guess there is a price to pay for trying to get Microsoft and Apple to play together. But this is a small prices since it’s easily fixed with a scheduled task to delete the directory.

Acer Aspire AH342 Home Server

Acer Aspire Windows Home Server AH342-U2T2H

Acer Aspire AH342 Home ServerThe Acer Aspire Windows Home Server seems to be one of the few Windows Home Servers that can still be purchased in the US. Just before Christmas Newegg had it on sale for $290. After Christmas it went back up to $350 but then dropped further to $260 (it’s list price is $449). Since it includes Windows Home Server v1, and not the latest version, I suspect we’ll see more discounting as Acer tries to clear out it’s stock. Hopefully they’ll have a WHS 2011 version and stay in the market. I took a look at the Acer Aspire AH342-U2T2H.

Windows Home Server v1 will end-of-life in January 2013 so any WHS v1 purchase needs to take that into account. It’s not like the server will turn into a pumpkin at that time, but Microsoft will stop providing updates. This will be after the Windows 8 release date so hopefully Microsoft would release new connector software if it’s needed for WHS. If you’re going to be using the server for remote access, meaning it’s accessible from the internet, the lack of security updates after 2012 would be a concern. If the server is going to only be accessed by computers in the home then it’s less of a concern.

The hardware should support Windows Home Server 2011 if you want to install it later. There’s no onboard video so you’ll either need to install a PCIe x1 video card or do a blind unattended install. The server comes with 2GB of RAM and the specs say that 2GB is the max so that could be an issue depending on what add-ins you install. The Atom D510 CPU is 64-bit so can run WHS 2011.

This server was purchased to provide backup and central storage for a few PCs, basically a low cost NAS. There’s only one drive so to use folder duplication a second drive would have to be added. Because hard drive prices haven’t returned to pre-flood pricing I’m contributing one of my slightly used 2 TB drives for use in the server.

Initial Setup

Because the WHS software delivered with the server is quit old I couldn’t use if for setup since I have Windows 7 clients. If I had Vista or XP clients I could have installed the bundled software and then upgraded. Since I only had Windows 7 I followed these steps:

  1. Unpacked, plugged in and powered on the server. While it was doing its initial setup I went to step 2.
  2. Download the latest connector software from Microsoft and burn it to a CD.
  3. Once the LEDs stopped blinking I was ready to move on. The quick start light said all the blue LEDs would be on solid which is a bit confusing. The panel LEDs include a network LED which blinks for network activity and a hard drive light which blinks for activity. The status LED was blue and red while the drive lights were blue and purple. I moved on once things seemed to settle down.
  4. I popped the connector CD into a Windows 7 PC and ran it. The screenshots for the installation are below. Click for a larger picture.
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      8 9
  5. After logging onto the Windows Home Server my next step was to remove the McAfee Anti-virus software. I don’t use AV on my own WHS and if the owner wanted AV McAfee would be my last choice. As it is the included license is limited to 60-days so removing it wasn’t a problem for the server owner. The version pre-installed won’t work once WHS is updated although there might be an update from McAfee (I didn’t bother to inquire).I uninstalled McAfee through Add-Remove programs after RDP’ing into the server. It can’t be removed through the add-in manager.
  6. While still RDP’d into the server I ran Windows update and installed all the available updates.

At this point the Acer Aspire is a basic Windows Home Server v1 box with the latest updates.

Hardware & Features

The server comes with one 2TB Western Digital Green Drive (WD20EADS). I’d prefer a small system drive since I don’t like to share the OS drive with data, In this case it’s not much of a concern since I don’t expect heavy usage. So to take advantage of folder duplication I’ll be adding a second drive which is also a W20EADS drive. For testing purposes I added two more drives.

The server also has a nice compact form factor and will look good on a shelf. There’s also an eSata port and several USB ports (all USB 2). The front USB port has a one-button copy feature I’ll talk about later.

It’s also surprisingly quiet. I’ve got four drives installed and I’m doing a file copy. Even sitting next to the server I have to strain to hear the fan and the drives are silent.

There’s some multimedia software that will probably go unused and I don’t have time to test them. The console has tabs for “iTunes Server” and “Digital Media Server” and Firefly Media Server is installed. The server did show up as a “Media Server” for my LG Blu-Ray player and I was able to stream a video from the server.

The Lights Out add-in is also included although it is an old version (v0.8) so it needed to be upgrade. The add-in was licensed with an oem license but after the upgrade the license reverted to the trial version. Once the trial is over the license will revert to a community addition license which, according to this, has all the features of v0.8 plus a few more. The upgrade was done like installing any other add-in. I didn’t need to uninstall the original add-in although doing so probably would have been a good idea.

The One-button USB copy is interesting but I’d prefer it didn’t try to think so much. I tested with a drive full of DVD rips. It copied the drive to the public share as expected but then it copied about 50 of the .BUP and .IFO files to the video directory and renamed them to avoid duplicates. Pretty useless on their own and breaking the rip directory since they’re missing. It was also interesting that other files with the same names were left alone. So if you already have files in an organized directory structure this feature may change the structure so you may want to skip it and do a regular copy.

The expansion slot allows a video card to be added should one be needed. But it’s a PCI Express x1 slot which isn’t common among video cards. I’d be more inclined to look for a USB 3 expansion card to add some external drives. It will need to be a low-profile card.

I wish Acer would drop the McAfee AV add-in which I view as nothing but crapware. Even if it worked, it’s still only a 60-day license. The Light-Out adding is outdated but at least it was a full license. The included add-in and its license doesn’t provide any benefit once the latest version is installed.

I attached a Lian-Li EX-503 External Enclosure via the eSata port. The server could see four out of the five drives in the enclosure so the eSata port can handle a port multiplier but only up to four drives. There were also four drives in the server bays. I didn’t do any benchmarking or other testing beyond verifying that drives could be seen.

Power Consumption

I did some quick power measurements using a Kill-a-watt power meter. The server was plugged into the Kill-a-Watt which was plugged into the UPS outlet. I started with all 4 drive bays populated. There were three Western Digital 2 TB EADS drives including the one that shipped with the server as the OS drive. The fourth drive was a Hitachi  Deskstar 7K200 drive (2 TB, 7200 RPM).

With all four drives the power usage was between 52 and 56 watts. The 52 watts was when the server was idle, at least as far as access goes. Some background processes may be running although CPU usage did remain low. The 56 watts was during file copies or drive removal processing although it mostly stayed at 55 watts under load.

I removed the Hitachi drive and usage dropped to 44 to 46 watts with occasional and brief drops below 44 watts. When folder duplication was active the power usage was 46 watts.

With two W20EADS drives installed the power usage was 36 watts while idle and 37 watts while processing a client backup. During folder duplication, when both drives would be active, the power usage was 37 watts.

With just the original drive delivered with the server the power usage was 29 watts while idle.

Drive benchmarks

The benchmarks below are the screenshots of the ATTO benchmark results. ATTO was run locally on the server (double-click for full size).

ATTO Benchmark for Drive C:  ATTO Benchmark for Drive D:

There’s not much of a difference between C: and D: since they are the same physical drive.

The screenshot below shows the results of a robocopy from my Windows 7 PC to a server share with duplication enabled.

RobocopyResults_Win7ToAspire

The reported speed for the file transfer was about 2 GB per minute. If my math is right at 8 bits per Byte and 60 seconds per minute that’s about 271 Mbps. Turning the results to MB/s shows a speed of 33.94 MB/s which is significantly slower to the ATTO results run directly on the server, but includes all the server and network overhead. Additional tests produced similar results.

The screenshot below shows the results of a robocopy from the Aspire AH342 to my PC. The copy was started after the server completed drive balancing and wasn’t doing anything else.

Results of RoboCopy from Aspire H342 to Win7 PC

Assuming my math is again correct this is 231 Mbps and 28.93 MB/s.

The file copies were done with mostly video files so the average file size was pretty large and there wasn’t a lot of overhead opening a lot of files.

Summary

The price is certainly the big attraction although if you’re going to add three hard drives to max it out the cost will go up considerably at today’s prices. But if you have the drives or can wait for the flood-induced prices to drop it’s worth it. Personally I think a second drive should be added in order to enable folder duplication or to do backups so that will increase the cost.

Returning to Windows Home Server v1 was both nostalgic and a reminder of the frustrations WHS v1 brought. Removing a drive brings down the server while it’s processed which can be time consuming (hours). That’s not something most people will do as a regular activity so it’s not too much of a concern. There was also the occasional slowdown as some process ran (backup cleanup, drive balancing). After using WHS 2011 for about a year WHS V1 just looked and felt old.

I was impressed with the Acer Aspire AH342 Home Server. It will make a good NAS for sharing files and PC backups, which is why it was bought. But it’s not a product someone can buy off the shelf and expect to get running unless they’re familiar with WHS or have only Windows XP and Vista machines. But once the software’s age related issues are worked out it performed well. Plus I like the nice small cube form-factor and it’s quiet. It can be out in the open and on all the time.