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Windows 7: Windows Home Server v2, What do you think about it?

28 Apr 2010   #1

Windows7 Ultimate 64bit
 
 
Windows Home Server v2, What do you think about it?

I read this article from Anandtech, it seem that what made WHS "interesting" is being replaced by something that's "proper". In Linux world there's LVM, it manages volumes in a pool. Linux has done this since '99. An abstraction layer is created above the block devices so that the kernel can create a file system on top of it. You can have pools that are filled with mixed devices, a physical disk, a RAID array, a SAN datastore, as long it's registered as a block device, you can use it in LVM. Now back to Windows Home Server v2, when I talked to pparks1 few days ago, he said about a feature that made me interested in WHS, it's the "pool" concept, but WHS can "chop" your data, file by file, and put it in different disks. If a disk is failing, you can unplug that disk, and read it on another computer just like a normal disk. In WHS v2, this kind of pooling data is discarded (according to the article at least). It uses (what seem to me) similar abstraction layer used by LVM in Linux. WHS v2 saves data in 1GB chunks, it stands between your HDD and NTFS. If you HDD fails, you can't just simply unplug it and read the data on another computer, it'll show you a lot of gibberish and unusable blocks of data (once again very similar to LVM). Another interesting point, WHS v2 now creates an ECC hash of each 512 byte HDD sector, very similar to ZFS auto healing capability... Does this mean Microsoft finally decided to do things "properly"? What do you think?

zzz2496
My System SpecsSystem Spec
28 Apr 2010   #2

Windows 7 Ultimate x64
 
 

Within Windows Home Server (1st edition) and in the vail preview release (version 2)...you can choose to "Duplicate" your shared folders...meaning that Windows ensures that the physical data is stored on at least 2 physical hard drives with the storage pool. And you set up this duplication on a shared folder by shared folder approach. So if you have some folders you don't need duplicated (maybe an internet downloads folder), but other folders that are important (pictures), you can pick and choose which to protect.

I think for the super cheap price and the ease of use that Windows Home Server is a very compelling product. I'm presently testing Vail on a physical machine at work as well as in a virtual environment where I can add more drives into the storage pool and test failing them out to see exactly what happens.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
28 Apr 2010   #3

Windows7 Ultimate 64bit
 
 

pparks1, yes I understand the meaning of "duplicate" feature in WHS v1. I've played with WHS v1 at my friend's house, I have to say... it's convenient - VERY convenient. I haven't tested "Vail", but looking at my current running Linux "Home Server" (that is RAID 5 with 1 hot spare) + LVM and rsync backend (I use BackupPC from sourceforge), I lost interest to WHS v1. The current stack of Linux that I setup is fairly easy to put together, not to mention after I read that article, it's as if Microsoft fixed what was "wrong" with WHS v1 in the first place, file by file "access" is WRONG in my book. Storage systems must work at block level. As for $99 price, I can't find WHS anywhere overhere , let alone paying the price...

Maybe it's just me, but I personally feel that it's wrong if you can "extract" your data off one of the "fragment" disks, but I LIKE IT (it's like "eating fatty food is bad, but it taste marvelous"-kinda "wrong" yet "good"). It feels like WHS v1 won't be able to use all of my storage space, an example: If I store my movies and Linux ISOs in WHS using on a volume that's using "Drive Extender" in WHS v1, let's say the total storage pool is divided by 2x40GB and a 20GB disk. Then I store files ranging from 4.5GB to ~12GB each to the volume. I presume when WHS v1 hit the "border" of first 40GB to 2nd 40GB, let's say the first disk used 39GB (out of 40GB) and I put 4.6GB file, the file will be put on the second 40GB disk, leaving that 1 GB wasted (the minimum file size is 4.5GB), if all of the disks in pool have "excess" free space under 4.5GB, that free space is wasted since WHS v1 can't put a 4.5GB file spanning over 2 HDDs. WHS v2 OTOH will be able to use the "excess" free space and use it accordingly - but by doing that, it's what my Linux server do, not the WHS v1 ease of data extraction "way" (unplug a disk, plug that disk on another computer, extract data). Right now, if I want to add extend my storage pool, I plug a disk (hot plug), go to my Linux's web interface, add the Physical Volume to my Volume Group, then extend the Logical Volume (if need be). Not far different to WHS v1. Assuming I read on that article is true, then WHS v2 will have some sort of an "eject button", which will move the data off the physical disk that you want to eject to another physical disk, then eject the physical disk. That is just like what LVM does for Linux for years. Other than "ease of setup" (well, "easy" is different to each individual), what else can WHS offer me?

Here's another feature I have yet to see in WHS (any version). If I want to work with my data on the storage server, let's say I'm testing a new set of modules for my internal web portal and I want to create a "snapshot" of the "http document" volume without spending a lot of disk space. In WHS (and any other Windows server products) there's Volume Shadow-copy service. From what I understand, this service works at "File" level, what it does technically made an exact copy of whatever file/folder/object I took snapshot of, which in turn will waste a lot of valuable disk space. In LVM, a snapshot will "freeze" the logical volume "in time". Every write to that volume will be redirected to another logical volume and tagged accordingly - which will effectively save A LOT of disk space. In LVM, you can even mount a snapshot, and make it writeable, which is quite insane. These kind of flexibility was previously only available to high-end SAN systems (like Veritas FS). Today, a Free Operating system can do what a several hundred thousand dollars worth of equipment for effectively free of charge, and do it reliably (unlike WHS v1's glaring issues at it's inception days), why would I go with WHS?

I mean, come on... aside from the need to understand the concepts of LVM/RAID/Physical Disk/iSCSI/SAN/block devices (which was quite an enlightening process by it self), why settle with a CONSUMER product that you have to pay for (I have the money, yet I can't buy a copy of WHS here) to an ENTERPRISE grade storage capable FREE OS...? It's mind boggling to say the least...

zzz2496
My System SpecsSystem Spec
28 Apr 2010   #4

Windows 7 Ultimate x64
 
 

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by zzz2496 View Post
I mean, come on... aside from the need to understand the concepts of LVM/RAID/Physical Disk/iSCSI/SAN/block devices (which was quite an enlightening process by it self), why settle with a CONSUMER product that you have to pay for (I have the money, yet I can't buy a copy of WHS here) to an ENTERPRISE grade storage capable FREE OS...? It's mind boggling to say the least...

zzz2496
It's the simplicity. I'm a server admin for a living and am just as comfortable on a Linux machine as I am on a Windows box. I manage a number of servers at work, work on our VMWare ESX environment and manage our current iSCSI disk arrays and storage systems.

My current file server is just that, a file server. It just runs smb shares and I store stuff on it. I've considered going to WHS to add easy backup...without using any outside 3rd party tool. And the ability to 'easily' grow the storage and switch out drives is quite nice. And I can often find some of the HP Media Smart boxes with hot swap drives around $400 or less on NewEgg when they go on sale. Plus, streaming out the videos and such to my Xbox360 would be a nice thing.

So, while I could set up a server at home running CentOS and doing lots of fabulous things....after a long day at work, sometimes I just want to come home and spend time with the kids and watching TV..rather than playing, tweaking, learning and troubleshooting.

As far as exactly how it stores the files, I'm a bit drastic with my backups..so that wouldn't be a concern. I backup to external drives, using robocopy jobs on a weekly basis to 2 different USB external drives, and I keep one of them offsite in case my house is robbed, or is destroyed.

Edit: And back in the day when I was studying for my MSCE and such, I ran a Windows NT/2000/2003 server at home, with an Active Directory domain, ran my own DNS, had my own mail server, enabled group policy, etc. These days though, when i want to do any of that, either to test or learn, I simply set up some virtual machines under either VMWare ESXi or VMWare Player 3.0 and put together my lab.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
29 Apr 2010   #5

Windows7 Ultimate 64bit
 
 

pparks1, I have to agree that at the start, Linux needs a lot of work. But once it's setup, you can almost forget it, very similar experience with WHS. With WHS, since it is by design does what it does, it seem to be much easier. I guess ease of use really is the decision maker, huh? Even OpenFiler (Linux SAN server) sets up VERY easily, yet once you got into it - it starts to bite back with too many options, too many settings, and unfamiliar way to setup. But more or less the same as WHS, once you done the initial setup, you can almost forget it...

zzz2496
My System SpecsSystem Spec
29 Apr 2010   #6

W7 X-64 RTM,SUSE 11.1, XP PRO SP3 as a VM, VMware ESXi
 
 

Hi all
Just to be the devil's advocate here

ANYBODY who wants to set up ANY type of server IMO has passed beyond the total "Don't know how it works, Don't care, just want to switch it on straight out of the box" stage and will have at least a basic understanding of computers.

Modern LINUX distros aren't AT ALL difficult to set up as servers and once they are up and running you can often leave them running FOR MONTHS if not YEARS at a time between re-boots.

IMO WHS is a flawed product for its price -- For Bog standard file and print sharing there's nothing wrong for a small HOME network simply using the basic networking facilities built in to Windows 7 and for more complex server type operations I'd recommend almost ANY LINUX Distro -- OPENSUSE IMO is probably the easiest one to use "Straight out of the box"

The main gripes people have with LINUX when coming from WINDOWS is that to use it as a desktop OS often requires a lot of fiddling to get applications and hardware to work -- for example playing DVD's in LINUX is STILL a bit of a hassle and as for TV cards - it's like playing the lottery.

However as a SERVER you can usually run these straight from the box and NETWORKING will ALWAYS work whatever the client computers are -- Windows 7, XP even MAC's.

Linux servers will also run reasonably well on almost any type of hardware --even quite modest hardware at that. You don't need super fast CPU's for a small server especially if you aren't doing a lot of VIDEO streaming. Add a SATA card or two to an old PIII or PIV computer and you've got a CHEAP file server with almost unlimited storage.

Being a technet subscriber I'm using W2K3 server as this will also run a load of my XP legacy apps too -- but this option is only worthwhile if you are a technet suscriber.

The IDEA of WHS is good but stacked up against a FREE ENTERPRISE rugged LINUX server I'd know what I would choose any day.

IMO they've just "Dumbed Down" the whole thing - people are either totally "computer agnostic" in which case they would go for "Standard Sharing" available in standard Windows 7 / XP or they want and understand a network and therefore would opt for something more robust - Linux fulfills this perfectly FOR NOTHING too.

Cheers
jimbo
My System SpecsSystem Spec
29 Apr 2010   #7

Windows7 Ultimate 64bit
 
 

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by jimbo45 View Post
Hi all
Just to be the devil's advocate here

ANYBODY who wants to set up ANY type of server IMO has passed beyond the total "Don't know how it works, Don't care, just want to switch it on straight out of the box" stage and will have at least a basic understanding of computers.

Modern LINUX distros aren't AT ALL difficult to set up as servers and once they are up and running you can often leave them running FOR MONTHS if not YEARS at a time between re-boots.

IMO WHS is a flawed product for its price -- For Bog standard file and print sharing there's nothing wrong for a small HOME network simply using the basic networking facilities built in to Windows 7 and for more complex server type operations I'd recommend almost ANY LINUX Distro -- OPENSUSE IMO is probably the easiest one to use "Straight out of the box"

The main gripes people have with LINUX when coming from WINDOWS is that to use it as a desktop OS often requires a lot of fiddling to get applications and hardware to work -- for example playing DVD's in LINUX is STILL a bit of a hassle and as for TV cards - it's like playing the lottery.

However as a SERVER you can usually run these straight from the box and NETWORKING will ALWAYS work whatever the client computers are -- Windows 7, XP even MAC's.

Linux servers will also run reasonably well on almost any type of hardware --even quite modest hardware at that. You don't need super fast CPU's for a small server especially if you aren't doing a lot of VIDEO streaming. Add a SATA card or two to an old PIII or PIV computer and you've got a CHEAP file server with almost unlimited storage.

Being a technet subscriber I'm using W2K3 server as this will also run a load of my XP legacy apps too -- but this option is only worthwhile if you are a technet suscriber.

The IDEA of WHS is good but stacked up against a FREE ENTERPRISE rugged LINUX server I'd know what I would choose any day.

IMO they've just "Dumbed Down" the whole thing - people are either totally "computer agnostic" in which case they would go for "Standard Sharing" available in standard Windows 7 / XP or they want and understand a network and therefore would opt for something more robust - Linux fulfills this perfectly FOR NOTHING too.

Cheers
jimbo
+1 Very well said, Jim My thoughts are exactly the same...
My System SpecsSystem Spec
29 Apr 2010   #8

Windows 7 Ultimate x64
 
 

You guys are simply just missing the point of this product. The intention is NOT to provide an enterprise class server product. I'm a Linux user, Red Hat certified, I use OpenFiler in my office to provide cheap iSCSI space to some VMWare ESXi labs...so I have experience and know how.

What Windows Home Server provides, in the easiest implementation I have ever seen compared to any other server product I have used is;
  1. Backup of workstations, with bare metal restore, automatically. And it uses single file storage, so it doesn't have to waste space backing up the same files over and over again from other hosts. No other software, no third party apps.
  2. Typically sold as a pre-built machine with hot swap drives, very small size, and low power footprint.
  3. Run out of space, add in 1 drive, go into console and click add drive
  4. Need to replace a drive, click on it, say to remove data and it puts it on other drives, then pull out drive and put in a new one

So, I challenge you guys to show me an alternate product that
  1. configures a scheduled automatic backup, with bare metal restore as soon as you make the first connection to the server
  2. Allows you to add dynamically a drive to your LVM with a button press or two
  3. Allows you to remove a drive from the LVM with a button press or two.
  4. Lets you create 3 or 4 user accounts and dictate who has access to which shares in a few clicks of the mouse.
Give me a Linux distro, which includes all of these features that I can setup from nothing in less than 1 hour and I will try it out.

So, if having an easy to use box on your network with backup capabilities and incredibly easy ability to increase space when you run out is a top priority..I don't see where this product misses the mark. If you are looking for something that (runs for years without reboots, provides iSCSI targets, can be used to run an Exchange Server, can be an active directory/ldap server, can be clustered, is a hypervisor, etc), then this isn't the product for you.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
29 Apr 2010   #9

Windows 7 Ultimate x64
 
 

Sorry for the double post, but thought this should have some space of it's own.

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by jimbo45 View Post
Modern LINUX distros aren't AT ALL difficult to set up as servers and once they are up and running you can often leave them running FOR MONTHS if not YEARS at a time between re-boots.
I would say for most home Windows users...they would care less if it runs for months or years without a reboot. They would be far more interested in fixing the scenario when their picture folder runs of out space, how to increase it without having to delete any of their precious photos.

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by jimbo45 View Post
Linux servers will also run reasonably well on almost any type of hardware --even quite modest hardware at that.
As will Windows home server. Most home servers have between 512MB and 2GB of RAM and often run on lower power chips like Atoms.

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by jimbo45 View Post
Being a technet subscriber I'm using W2K3 server as this will also run a load of my XP legacy apps too
I would say file servers should only serve files...they should not be used as workstations...that's what workstations are for. Windows Home Server even has a nice warning background by default saying just this.

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by jimbo45 View Post
The IDEA of WHS is good but stacked up against a FREE ENTERPRISE rugged LINUX server I'd know what I would choose any day.
Clearly you are looking to achieve other goals best provided by something else. Nothing wrong with that.

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by jimbo45 View Post
IMO they've just "Dumbed Down" the whole thing - people are either totally "computer agnostic" in which case they would go for "Standard Sharing" available in standard Windows 7 / XP or they want and understand a network and therefore would opt for something more robust - Linux fulfills this perfectly FOR NOTHING too.
I disagree. At my house, I want a dedicated box to host my files and I want that box to be available, with as little maintenance as possible and I want to easily be able to add disk space when I run out. I love to tinker..but on my workstations and such. This was the whole reason for me to get a server...so that our files were always available to my wife and the rest of the family even when I had my computer turned off, torn apart, or non functional.



Cheers
jimbo[/QUOTE]
My System SpecsSystem Spec
29 Apr 2010   #10

Windows7 Ultimate 64bit
 
 

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by pparks1 View Post
You guys are simply just missing the point of this product. The intention is NOT to provide an enterprise class server product. I'm a Linux user, Red Hat certified, I use OpenFiler in my office to provide cheap iSCSI space to some VMWare ESXi labs...so I have experience and know how.

What Windows Home Server provides, in the easiest implementation I have ever seen compared to any other server product I have used is;
  1. Backup of workstations, with bare metal restore, automatically. And it uses single file storage, so it doesn't have to waste space backing up the same files over and over again from other hosts. No other software, no third party apps.
  2. Typically sold as a pre-built machine with hot swap drives, very small size, and low power footprint.
  3. Run out of space, add in 1 drive, go into console and click add drive
  4. Need to replace a drive, click on it, say to remove data and it puts it on other drives, then pull out drive and put in a new one

So, I challenge you guys to show me an alternate product that
  1. configures a scheduled automatic backup, with bare metal restore as soon as you make the first connection to the server
  2. Allows you to add dynamically a drive to your LVM with a button press or two
  3. Allows you to remove a drive from the LVM with a button press or two.
  4. Lets you create 3 or 4 user accounts and dictate who has access to which shares in a few clicks of the mouse.
Give me a Linux distro, which includes all of these features that I can setup from nothing in less than 1 hour and I will try it out.

So, if having an easy to use box on your network with backup capabilities and incredibly easy ability to increase space when you run out is a top priority..I don't see where this product misses the mark. If you are looking for something that (runs for years without reboots, provides iSCSI targets, can be used to run an Exchange Server, can be an active directory/ldap server, can be clustered, is a hypervisor, etc), then this isn't the product for you.
Ouch, sorry - it wasn't my intention to make you angry
As your points, I'll try to give you my insight the best I can...

  1. Automatic Backup. I use "BackupPC", it's a collection of perl scripts that runs on cron IIRC. It will access SMB/NFS/Rsync connection and "extract" data, and archive it using Rsync back-end. Because it's using Rsync - the "data" backed up from one host doesn't contain copies of the same "data" over and over, but that's the similarity ends. Rsync only checks one "instance" of data using it's delta encoding, so another set of backed up files off another user is another backup set, it won't check if blocks in the first set is contained on the second set (I say blocks because that's what most Linux storage servers works on, unless you specifically use File Server. thus SMB/NFS - per file access). This is for "regular" download. Since I never see this "bare metal" restore, all I do is store my system image in the Linux "Home server" and whenever my system fail (I use Macrium reflect by the way), I load Macrium rescue disk, put network info in it, browse to my SMB share on the Linux server, and restore my image...
  2. I use OpenSUSE with Webmin front end, adding a Physical Volume (a physical disk) is one button business ("Add PV to VG" button).
  3. Same business, there's a button to remove a PV, it will automatically move the data off that PV to another PV, and yes, you need to push another button to "eject" it off LVM system.
  4. All done in Webmin's "Samba Server" part. IMHO the process is EVEN EASIER than Windows's security tab... That is as long we understand how Linux underlying system works...
Every large distro out there can be setup like that in less than 1 hour. I use OpenSUSE, it installs in ~30mins, sometimes less (Text mode install, no X/Window manager installed). After that, I load up Webmin - that takes another 1 minute. Once installed, I use Webmin interface to do all the work needed... One note though, you need to get all the packages installed in the first run.

Quote:
Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by jimbo45 View Post
IMO they've just "Dumbed Down" the whole thing - people are either totally "computer agnostic" in which case they would go for "Standard Sharing" available in standard Windows 7 / XP or they want and understand a network and therefore would opt for something more robust - Linux fulfills this perfectly FOR NOTHING too.
I disagree. At my house, I want a dedicated box to host my files and I want that box to be available, with as little maintenance as possible and I want to easily be able to add disk space when I run out. I love to tinker..but on my workstations and such. This was the whole reason for me to get a server...so that our files were always available to my wife and the rest of the family even when I had my computer turned off, torn apart, or non functional.

My Linux "Home server" I have now can do that, and is running close to no maintenance at all since install... I've bumped to "out of storage space" problem once... All I did was put a disk in, open Webmin, add PV to VG, extend the LV in that PV larger, then expand the filesystem size in that LV... Done. I love to tinker too, but I'm a "no fuss" guy. If something really took too much time, I usually abandon it less than half way in the process. So far Linux "Home server" provides me a storage pool system with my understanding of how a "storage" is properly done. However I do LIKE WHS v1's "unplug the disk from WHS, plug to client to read data"-way of doing restore, from a storage point - that is horribly WRONG in my book, but for ease of restoring: THAT IS FREAKING EASY, I LOVE IT !!!!. Too bad that can't be done in WHS v2's "Drive Extender" volume, since now it works the way a storage supposed to do, store in blocks rather in files.

zzz2496

Ps. With smartd installed, you can even watch your HDD's health (SMART data) on the Webmin interface anytime. Monitoring HDD's health was never this easy...
My System SpecsSystem Spec
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