Network Storage Alternatives (Windows Home Server is Gone)

WHS

Since getting rid of the Drive Extender everyone lost hope in the new Windows Home Server iteration, the Vail Edition. I was waiting for so long for that edition that I am somewhat saddened by their decision. Luckily for me I got a ReadyNAS 3200 alternative which I shifted everything over to and rebuilt quite a bit of my collection since a lot went missing due to hardware crashing. I even went to the extent of shutting down my Windows Home Server as it wasn’t performing the way I wanted it to, and I started cannibalizing the hardware for other uses.

ReadyNAS

One of my first alternatives is the ReadyNAS line from Netgear because they have proven themselves to be extremely durable and probably the best warranty service I have seen.

  • Network Oriented
  • Works with all different platforms (Windows, OSX, and Linux)
  • Choices of Hardware from 4 TB up to 24 TB, Consumer Level to Professional Level
  • Reasonable prices and more expensive for the higher level hardware
  • More complex options available depending on your requirements
  • Lots of redundancy
  • Excellent Forum Support
  • But has to be specific drives to work with the ReadyNAS

Drobo Pro

My second choice being the Drobo S or Drobo Pro S. My preference for all kinds of storage is for rackmounted because its easier and cleaner to setup so I would go for the Drobo S. Now the Drobo is an even easier solution and they have had years to improve on it and perfect it, and they have really done a good job with it. Initially it was just a storage device without any network options, but they have added a network connection but it had a few flaws and gradually improved. There are still some skeptical reviews about this product but its a simple product

  • Simple
  • Easy setup
  • Any type of drive can work with it
  • 8 Bays is more then enough
  • Works with All types of Operating Systems
  • Varying pricing depending on the which Model you choose

Windows Home Server! Different Versions

WHSsm

I have been talking about Windows Home Server for some time since I have been using it since the original version. At first it seemed like a pet project from Microsoft thats on the side and has a cult following, seeing that a lot of people really do love it they have developed it forward and its only getting better. You can use it in different forms, in simple hardware setups to complex 20+ TB Storage as I have. Some people use it to control other machines throughout the house, to control the lighting system throughout the house, streaming movies and music to every location.

Now this is the best comparison I have seen yet of all the possible versions, for a prosumer WHS Vail is your best bet which is coming out in the next few months, I’m hoping at the end of the year at the latest. The Original WHS was based on Windows Server 2003 and has its limitations, and now with WHS Vail those limitations have been passed since its based on Windows Server 2008. Aurora is the more business oriented version with features that Admin want but its not Windows Server 2008, not that much. I can’t wait for Vail, I’m honestly waiting for it since I’m facing a few hiccups with my current setup since I have advanced it so much, as soon as its officially out I’m installing it and moving the data all around.

Link: HomeServerLand

WHS @ 30+ Terabytes

This is one of the most complex Windows Home Server systems that we have built yet, and it drove us nuts. We started this project out in June of 2009 and didn’t finish it until March of 2010. We have reinstalled this system probably 4 times to have a clean install, its sensitive to install any Windows Home Server Ad-Ins once its working. We wanted the ultimate WHS Storage with the large capacity all in one unit, it would take a certain hardware setup to achieve this and thats what we aimed for. We suffered set backs, my system at one point just had a black screen, we switched out the motherboard, and nothing, we switched graphics cards, still nothing, changed the ram, and at the end it turned out to be a faulty power supply. Luckily my friend and myself were building the same system together so we just kept on testing as we went along, we got busy towards the end of 2009 but this was one difficult machine to get fully stable. I slowly kept gathering more and more 2 TB Hard Drives, we started off with 10 x 2 TB Drives and I just kept ordering a few when I saw a deal for them. Now that the system is operational it fantastic, we are doing some stress testing, its looking good with transfer speeds of 78 to 90 MB/s over the network which is the fast I have seen.

HW Configuration:

  • Norco 4220 Case
  • ASUS P3S WS
  • Intel Quad Core Q8200 2.33 Ghz
  • OCZ Vertex 120 GB SSD (Main HD)
  • G Skill 4 GB
  • 2 x Sata SAS Controllers (To Control 20 HDs)
  • ATI Radeon 7500

With the Sata SAS controllers we could use the extremely effecient and powerful SF8087 connectors to connect to each one of those back planes. Each back plane held 5 drives with 4 back planes for a total of 20 drives. Overall I installed 17 out of the 20 drives with e Western Digital 2 TB Drives to get it up to 30 + TB, and I have a little bit more room to go, I think I can get it to 36 TB with the last few drives. Going overboard with the storage is understatement in my case, but it has been a long and arduous trip with this machine but with a clean install and the right setup its very solid.

Now with Windows Home Server running on Windows Server 2003 it has taken a lot of steps forward Power Pack 3 and all the patches. Now I have two WHS servers running, one is extremely solid and this new one, planning on running one as back up to the other so I have two complete back solutions for the other. Now I’m just waiting for Windows to release Vail which Windows Home Server built on Windows Server 2008 which is a huge step forward. When that is out I’m going to just format and reinstall one of the systems and test it out.


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WHS Hardware Failure

As of recently my WHS Server has gone through a major Hardware failure, and luckily WHS seems to be handling it to a degree, but there is only so much it can take. My setup is one Back Plane inside the Lian Li case with two Sans Digital Tower Raids each holding up to 8 Hard Drives each connected through eSata with a PCI-e interface.

This setup works perfectly except that the Sans Digital Tower Raid failed before and once I replaced it, it all worked perfectly again. Its rare that two hard drives fail at the same time, and its very rare that three hard drives fail at the same time but in this case its 5 hard drives which are becoming inaccessible meaning its hardware failure at the interface level and not the hard drives again. I’m looking for an alternative solution because this has gotten ridiculous.

Results of inaccessible Hard Drives:

  • Usually I get 40 to 70 MB/s on my network when streaming shows or transfering files but due to the system unable to find files or trying to search for them it drops down to 0.58 to 4 MB/s and sometimes stopping to think. It finishes the job but you get stopped sometimes
  • Files go missing due to the missing hard drives which makes it difficult to continue watch any episodes, you have file duplication running but because of this mass Hard Drive failure so files are not accessible so you can watch a few episodes and can’t see the rest of the show

Storage – 2TB Madness


At some point I think we have gone overboard with the amount of space we are consuming, but the best part is space keeps getting cheaper. There is about 24 TB sitting on the table destined for two servers, for K’s & myself monstrous server that we are building. This time its a server with a 20 HD slot WHS so it can be maxed out 40 TB and my current solution is running with 22.1 TB, so the numbers keep jumping up. The only large storage I trust is Western Digital Caviar’s, the Green are great for lower power consumption and lower heat, heat is very important because it affects the life of the hard drive and with that many in the same proximity that is a lot of heat.


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One Thing

It just takes one thing for a domino effect to take place when it comes to hardware, I had a failure with one of the tower raids so only half of it was working. So four drives were missing from the WHS and it was issuing warnings left right and center to my computers. I wasn’t sure what was going on but luckily I was able to isolate the location of the drives because that’s another issue and I transferred them to the new TowerRaid, but only three out of the four available were working so one drive was still out. Luckily I had duplication running and everything was safe and dandy in the WHS, at least I didn’t lose any data with a port multiplier failure resulting in four hard drives going missing. That took a little time but I managed to unravel the issue but coming to a full solution is a little bit a head when I butcher the Bunker Server, and that deadline is coming closer and closer.

NetworkCables

After that I went ahead and trying to configure my APC 5000 XLI UPS with a network address but turns out it was having issues. But luckily at the end I managed to configure it correctly and access the wed control panel to see what makes it tick, and it has so many features to mess around with but I will make full use of that when I install the servers over the next two weeks.

Hazmat – WHS – Expansion to 22.06 TB

Due to the urgency of my hardware capacity expansion I needed increase the amount of space available on my WHS Server. The steps were simple, I ordered the Sans Digital 8 Disk TowerRaid for the fast expansion and I already had a eSata controller in my Hazmat server which had two spare ports, so that worked out perfectly. It just took 10 days to get all the hardware I needed, at first I only ordered two 2TB drives, but then I ordered two more and the replacement to the damage one came as well.

I took some snaps of the Sans Digital TowerRaid which looks great and ready to go, I plugged it in without any hard drives and started it up. No problems with the hardware, everything was working as it should. I tend to be a bit paranoid when it comes to installs such as these, I take things step by step and install one item at a time and I perform a restart every time to make sure nothing goes wrong and if it does I know where the problem originated from, finding the problem is half the issue.

I installed the first 2 TB, and added it to the WHS server storage pool which bumped it another 2 TB, then I added another one. Later on in the evening I got a message saying that the Hazmat server is suffering from a Hard Drive failure and that led me to order a replacement hard drive from Amazon. I took it out, and since I got three more hard drives, one of which was the warrantied drive, which I added to the pool it was working perfectly and I went through the same process of adding one by one. This time I waited about three hours before moving any files and this time it seems to have stabilized.

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WHS Hazmat Upgrade II (11.14 TB to 13.87 TB)

I did something a while back with my Hazmat WHS a while back when I was building it that I forgot about it. I knew the backplane wasn’t full, I just assumed it had all but one slot empty, I plugged in one hard drive and it didn’t show up so I assumed I left the SATA connection empty inside the server which was the case. When I went to plug it in, I found out that I had another slot in the backplane open so out of 5 only 3 were being used and only 3 were connected. I plugged the two but I still had one slot empty. And at the same time I have received the replacement drive for the 2TB which worked perfectly, I was surprised Amazon dispatched it so quickly. The only extra cost I had was spending a couple of KD sending the damaged hard drive back to the states.

After adding the hard drive in the WHS console to the collective of the server I managed to bump it from 11.14 TB to 13.87 TB and still a lot of room for expansion. Now all I need is to get the port multiplier and a few other parts to continue my expansion.

Server Rebuilds

I think I have a love of building PCs and seeing these creations come to life, such simple steps to building great machines. I’m going to dismantle and pretty much cannibalize the first Windows Home Server and use it as parts for the current WHS Server. I’m also building a rackmounted server as test bed and I managed to find another Asus P5Q WS motherboard, I have to say that it is probably one the best motherboards I have used and its a real work horse.

I have about 8 TB in the new Hazmat Server, and that has been the capacity since day one. Now that I’m going to use the parts from the other server I’m planning to expand that to about 18 TB or more. WHS safeguards your data by spreading it across multiple drives and switching on the “Duplication” feature which basically keeps a copy of it, meaning I would need about 16TB to duplicate all the data I have, which I don’t have at this point. I have to commend Microsoft, for once, on a great product such as WHS, I think they need to dedicate more support and development for it since it can really make having a server at home a very simple task. The hardware setup is fun for someone such as myself, and the software setup is a breeze so I don’t mind that I keep reinstalling or reconfiguring. Then there are the new WD 2TB drives, I already ordered a couple of those and I am waiting to see their performance and durability, I’m hoping they drop in price quickly because right now they were a little too pricey. I’m planning to use the Kandalf case from the gutted WHS Server and use it as a power house machine, I have had the skultrail motherboard laying around for a little while now and its a powerhouse of a mother board, but its so damn big that it doesn’t fit in any normal case, it needs a special case and this beautiful silver case will do the job wonderfully. I also have this sudden urge to build some Lego Technic machines, those were the days I loved putting those machines together.

WHS – Hazmat Server Setup


We had to start off with a clean install and a few items to work on. We put the basic hardware together to make a clean server install.

The Skeleton Crew:

  • Lian Li – PC80
  • ASUS P5Q WS
  • Intel Core 2 Quad Q9450 Quad-Core Processor 2.66 GHz
  • NVidia 7200 GS
  • (2x) 2GB G-Skill DDR2-800 Ram
  • Sata/Raid Card PCI-X
  • (2x) Seagate 250 GB Slim
  • (8x) 1 TB Drives
  • (1x) Back Plane
  • Tower Raid 8 Slots

 

After installing just the backplane and main hard drives we started up the machine. After a few tries nothing came on the screen but everything was working. We switched graphics cards from other machines, and tried it multiple times but something wasn’t working. Turns out we forgot to plug in the PCI-Express power cable into the motherboard so thats why nothing was coming out into the screen, after finishing that little problem we proceeded with the install which went smoothly.

After the basic install was complete I proceeded to install the mobo drivers, then connected to the internet for the rest. Basic rule of thumb with us, not to install drivers from the CD but to perform a Windows Update with the optional items checked so that you can get the latest versions of the drivers compatible with the OS. And this the point we have reached, I tried using the tower raid with eSata connections on the mother board but that didn’t work out very well, requests to those hard drives kept timing out, so I have to take a different route. Nothing feels better then working on a clean installation.