Windows Home Server 2011 Will Protect Your Data

whs2011logo

Many of you may recall that last year there was quite a bit of noise from the Windows Home Server community about the removal of the Drive Extender (DE) feature from the next version of Windows Home Server (WHS).

Drive Extender was the technology in WHS V1 that allowed you to add any size drive to your server’s storage pool and it would just be incorporated into your server with just a few clicks of the mouse.  This technology also allowed you to duplicate any folder on your server so that the files were being stored on at least two different physical hard drives in case of a hard drive crash.  Of course DE had its share of issues including the data corruption bug that could trash MP3 files under the right circumstances.  Microsoft and the WHS team did a good job of fixing that bug quickly when WHS V1 came out.  I never had any issues with corruption myself but I did hear of others experiencing it.

Ultimately, while the next version of WHS was being tested, a decision was made to remove the DE functionality all together from WHS 2011.  I am not here to argue the reason for its removal because I trust in the fact that the engineering and development team made the right decision based on the circumstances they were seeing as they worked the DE technology into WHS 2011.  As enthusiasts we sometimes can not see the logic behind a decision like this because of our passion about the technology.  Although I liked the convenience the DE provided I could also live with the choices being made about WHS 2011.

At this point WHS 2011 was already being beta tested with the DE technology in the software so everyone had to wait to get the next beta release of WHS 2011 to see what things looked like with out the DE in the system.  That next test version of WHS 2011 ended up being the Release Candidate.  That means it was pretty much feature complete and just looking for showstopper type bugs.

The final version of WHS 2011 was released to manufacturing in late March and made available to TechNet/MSDN subscribers in April for testing and development.

I decided to give WHS 2011 a run on my home network to see just how the system performs without the DE technology in it and to see if it can really protect my data on a level that I thought matched up to what WHS V1 provided using folder duplication.

Here is my WHS 2011 system configuration:

  • Aspire AMD Athlon X64 X2 Dual Core Processor 5000+ at 2.60 GHZ
  • 4.0 GB RAM
  • System Drive is 320GB SATA II
  • Internal Western Digital 1.5TB SATA II Drive (x2)
  • External Hitachi 1TB Drive (USB 2.0)
  • External Seagate 500GB Drive (USB 2.0)
  • External Western Digital 320GB Drive (USB 2.0)
  • External Maxtor 320GB Drive (USB 2.0)

As you can see I had added quite a bit of external storage to increase my storage pool in WHS V1 which provided me around 1.8TB’s of space for files and backups.  The only drives that were not in the WHS V1 system were the two internal 1.5TB Western Digital’s as I added them for the WHS 2011 configuration.

So before I started this transition from WHS V1 to WHS 2011 I performed a clean backup of my WHS V1 system and all of the files I had stored on there to an external USB hard drive.  That back up included 62GB of software archives; 54GB of photos; 40GB of videos; 20GB of music and a few GB’s of various things.  The nice thing about the backup of your server in WHS V1 is that it is just a copy of the files and their directory structure on the server.  That means the data can be read from that hard drive via USB by any other PC.

After I completed that backup I shut down the WHS V1 machine and disconnected all of the external USB drives noted above.  I then opened up the case and added the two 1.5TB Western Digital internal drives to the machine for use in WHS 2011.  WHS is a headless/keyboard less system so I connected my spare monitor, keyboard and mouse so I could see what I was doing while installing WHS 2011.

With that done I closed the case up, inserted the WHS 2011 installation DVD and booted the system from DVD to start the install.  This process took about 70 minutes for me from start to finish.  Your mileage will vary depending on your system specs.  It is certainly not as fast as a Windows 7 installation is.

After the installation was complete I started setting up the system.

The main page of the Dashboard helps with this setup by providing you links to tasks to get your server setup and other common tasks.

If you follow this list of steps it will have you up and running pretty quick.  There may still be some tweaking and settings you want to adjust but these steps get you moving in the right direction.

whs2011gettingstartedtasks

This list of tasks will help you set up your user accounts and add shared folders beyond the default ones that are present in WHS 2011.

whs2011commontasks

By the way – don’t try to delete any of the default folders – they can not be removed. Hopefully, we will get the option to remove them in a future update.

After the setup is complete it is time to decide what drives you want to hold which folders on your WHS 2011 system.  Since the storage is not one big pool like it was in WHS V1 you have to manage this yourself.  To get access to my files from the WHS V1 backup I just plugged it into a spare USB port and ignored the alert about adding it to the system as a back up drive – that would result in the loss of all of the data and be a very bad thing in any household!

If you do a remote desktop connection to your server you can use Windows Explorer to copy the files from your backup drive to the new server folder locations since they have a drive letter and file folder to match.

After setting things up I do not find the setup all that bad and I think this is going to be a great server system for the house. 

Here is how my system is using its storage for my data and backups:

  • 160GB of my system drive is the D: drive and holds my client PC backup files.
  • Internal Western Digital 1.5TB SATA II Drive #1 is for the files on the server such as documents, photos, etc. This is my J: drive.
  • Internal Western Digital 1.5TB SATA II Drive #2 is a mirror of my J: drive providing redundancy for all of the files I store on the server’s J: drive.  Since both drives are the same size this was easy to do but it must be done in the Disk Management applet of the Server Manager on your WHS 2011 system.  The mirroring process took a couple of hours on my system since I had placed all the files on the server before doing it – about 180GB of files – which had to be synched between the drives.  Now any file that is added, removed or changed on the server storage is duplicated on the mirror drive.
  • External Hitachi 1TB Drive (USB 2.0) is used as my server backup drive which holds the operating system, all of the files we store on the J: drive and the client backups from the D: drive. Backups are done once a day but you can set up whatever schedule you want.  I opted to back up the server in the middle of the day and the client PC’s after midnight.
  • External Seagate 500GB Drive (USB 2.0); External Western Digital 320GB Drive (USB 2.0); External Maxtor 320GB Drive (USB 2.0) are all designated as server backup drives.  I know server backup will not span the drives but I am curious to see if the backups get shifted to those drives when the 1TB external drive gets filled up.  I have been unable to find any data online about this process so I am just watching it to see what happens.  I will probably try to pool these three drives together with one of the third party plugins that will allow pooled storage for testing purposes when they go public for beta testing.

The final step of this setup is to install the WHS 2011 Launchpad on each client computer that you want your WHS 2011 server to backup and you do that by browsing to http://yourservername/connect on each machine.  If you prefer to not have the Launchpad on your desktop each time you boot up you can turn it off and adjust what alerts go to that machine in the Launchpad settings.

Just click on the down arrow in the Launchpad and select Settings.

whs2011launchpadsettingsmenu

Here you can stop the Launchpad from starting up when you start Windows and adjust the level of detail the user receives for server alerts.  The Launchpad does not need to be running for the system to get backed.

whs2011launchpadsettingsdialog

With that your client computers should start backing up that night.  I initiated a manual backup of each machine after everything was ready just to have them done and to test the setup.

So how is my data protected in this setup?  Well let’s review the system, its drives and where the data is.

I have four client computers that get backed up each night.  That means the data on each PC and all of the installed drives is on the client machine and a copy is on the WHS 2011 server’s D: drive in the Client Backup folder.  In turn that D: drive is backed up once a day to an external 1TB hard drive.  At this point each machines data and OS is in three locations and on three different hard drives.

All of our files which are stored on the server’s 1.5TB internal drive (J: drive) are mirrored on the second internal 1.5TB hard drive plus the J: drive is backed up once each day to the external 1TB hard drive.  So that data is also located on three different hard drives as well.  Each directory of files on the J: drive also have Shadow Copy turned on so if any file is changed the system keeps track of the previous version which can be restored if necessary so that is even another level of protection.

The WHS 2011 server OS is on the system drive (C: drive) and also backed up to the external 1TB hard drive each day as part of the server backup process.  That puts the OS data for the server on two separate hard drives.

For me that is plenty of redundancy and I would have to suffer a catastrophic, sequential loss of three different hard drives to lose 100% of the data I am storing on the client PC’s and server.  Could that happen? Sure it could but is it likely? I don’t think so.

So in the final analysis will WHS 2011 protect my data as much as WHS V1 did? I think so as explained above.  Will I miss the convenience of the Drive Extender technology and the flexibility it provided in adding storage to my WHS system?  I am not sure about that yet.

There are two third party add-ins being developed to provide the ability to have pooled storage. One is called Drive Bender and the other is StableBit Drive Pool and I will certainly give them a run for their money.  I am not 100% sure I want to trust my data to a third party add-in right off the bat but it can’t hurt to try them out.

Who knows maybe those add-ins will blow our socks off and make WHS 2011 as flexible when it comes to storage pooling as WHS V1 was – only time will tell.

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7 thoughts on “Windows Home Server 2011 Will Protect Your Data

  1. Richard,

    I am one of those die-hard fans of the DE technology in WHS v1 and I will miss it greatly whenever I upgrade to the new version. I wouldn’t mind missing the convenience of DE if I had a couple of 4TB hard drives but the fact is I don’t, I have a nice collection of 1TB drives and a couple of 500GB/250GB drives of which I am using a considerable amount of space.

    If I upgrade to WHS ’11 I will have to actively manage where things go in these 4-5 drives and that sucks…which is what I love about WHS v1. Like you said maybe those third-party solutions will prove useful, but until they get plenty of testing they will be nowhere near my previous data.

    Thanks for giving us an overview of your experience with WHS ’11 so far…keep us posted.

    • I completely understand your perspective Gil – I think it is a common theme amongst those who are disappointed that DE is gone from the next iteration of the WHS product. I am signed up to get in on the next level of the betas for those add-ins and will be looking forward to testing them. I think the potential is there to have a great add-in that will allow people to continue to use WHS 2011 like they did WHS v1. Take a look at the StableBit site – they seem to have really nailed their scanner technology so it certainly seems they understand working with and managing hard drives. I am still waiting to see more on DriveBender – their next beta level opens up next month.

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    • WHS 2011 is a much faster OS. Disk access is quicker and backups seem to be faster as well. Plus I am a geek and like to be on the latest stuff if possible. WHS 2011 is better than WHS V1 in my humble opinion even without DE.

  3. I recently downloaded and installed WHS2011. I setup a usb flash drive via Win 7 usb/dvd download tool to install the WHS2011 on a HP EX487. Install went perfect. However, when I tried to create a PC restore CD the iso icons were not present on the CD. But the restoring PC booted OK from the CD anyway! When I tried to greate a restore usb flash drive as I had done successfully with the install.iso, the win 7 usb/dvd download tool give an error “the selected file is not a vaild ISO file. Please select a vaild ISO file and try again”. I prepared the usb flash drive with diskpart per technet instructions and redownloaded the PC restore.iso for final attempt. I prepared the install.iso on same computer w/ win7 ultimate OS 32 bit. Problem seems to be win 7 usb/dvd download tool does not recognize the PC Restore.iso file! Has anyone tried this? If so, please comment!

    • I have never tried to use a USB drive to run the restore process. Is there anything documented somewhere that says it should work?