The OS Quest Trail Log #35: Vacation Edition

This Trail Log comes as I’m wrapping up a perfect two week vacation. Now I know “staycations” are all the rage due to the economy and gas prices, but to me there’s no better vacation than staying home and deciding what to do when I wake up in the morning (or afternoon, or evening). The weather was great which allowed me to spend a lot of time on the patio with my laptop and a beer. Naturally a significant part of my time was spent on the quest so I’ll dive right in.

New Webhost: Slicehost

The big news, at least for me, is I’ve moved the site to a new webhost. I’m now on Slicehost, having moved off Bluehost. This is a significant change for me as I now have root access to server (well, not a full server but a virtual private server) rather than being in a shared hosting environment. The cost is significantly more in dollars (by percentage) but I consider it a better value and still a reasonable price. Since I now have a production server, getting real traffic, I’ll be able to expand and continue my Ubuntu Server Project articles.

With Slicehost I’m completely responsible for my server so if there’s a problem it’s up to me to fix it. Because of that I was hesitant to move things over and I kept delaying the cutover until I could learn more and do more testing. (A process without end) Then my Bluehost server had a seven hour outage (having had intermittent very short outages for a couple of weeks). This prodded me into making the change, especially since I’d just done a full set of backups in preparation for another test. It was time to bite the bullet. My experience and the process used is covered here.

I’ve since had to do some tuning and I’ll provide a more detailed review in the future but suffice to say I really like Slicehost and managing my own server. My own experience is that the website is more responsive than at Bluehost but if you find otherwise add a comment or shoot and e-mail to the address found on the About page.

Drobo

My Drobo adventure continues. The latest firmware had improved my performance but just as my vacation began it dropped drastically and performance was terrible. I should probably do a more complete post to wrap up my Drobo experience but for now I’ll just say I’m disappointed. It’s a device I bought because I expected simplicity yet I’ve expended considerable time and effort working with it. I ended up doing another complete reset and formatting which restored performance to previous levels. The one “change” here is that the Drobo had been partitioned and formatted using the older firmware. Now it’s all Firmware 1.2.4.

But that wasn’t my only problem. After the reset/format I was testing running iTunes off the Drobo. The Drobo did a spontaneous reboot and corrupted my iTunes database. It’s in the same UPS as my iMac so it wasn’t a power problem. Since I was testing I had the original files serving as my backup and simply switched back.

I still have the Drobo but I’m using it simply to hold backup files. Not data files are ever opened directly on it. I’m considering selling it but before I did I’d want to go through their tech support to eliminate hardware as the cause. I don’t think it’s hardware and I don’t want to deal with tech support at this time. It seems the problems always occur when I’m busy and just want things to work. While resetting the Drobo took nearly a day it was very little of my actual time. It’s not like I needed to sit there while files copied. It’s now been stable for about 10 days.

Windows Home Server

I gave in to the urges and purchased one of the new Seagate 1.5TB hard drives for my Windows Home Server. It continues to run quietly and without complaint while serving up files.

I had a bit of good news/bad news on the WHS drive expansion front. I’d previously mentioned my failed attempt to add an eSata enclosure to my WHS and that I’d have to send it back. There were only two things that I wasn’t able to eliminate as the cause of the problem. One was the external cage and the other was the Windows Home Server itself (or the SATA controller/external port in it). I sent the enclosure back for a replacement. After sending it back I was unexpectedly able to borrow another external enclosure. I also had the file corruption and since the enclosure worked for my friend it meant the replacement I’d be getting would be useless for me unless I got the WHS fixed, since it as likely the problem. The good news comes in because NewEgg was out of stock and couldn’t send a replacement so is refunding my money and I avoid the restocking fee. This gives me more freedom to decide what to do.

I really should deal with this before the warranty expires in December although it’s not a high priority in the grand scheme of things. I’ll open it up and check cables and connectors sometime soon. Maybe I knocked something loose when I upgraded memory. Being without the WHS while it’s out for repair would certainly suck. Sending it back could be a hassle. While the memory upgrade no longer voids the warranty I’m still going to want the original memory back in there. I don’t think I can trust HP (or any vendor) to send it back, especially if they go the refurb route.

This also made me think about the cost of backups and redundancy.

The Cost of Backups and Redundancy

As I was thinking about the hassle of sending my Windows Home Server out for repair (and considering living with the problem in order to avoid that hassle) I started to think about what would will happen in the event of a complete failure. I have backups of all the files so it’s not the loss of files that worry me, but rather, like sending the server out for repair there will be a time when it’s unavailable. My initial reaction to being without it for several days (a week or more?) was not good. But then I started to think about the cost of preventing that extended outage.

In addition to being used to backup files it’s the primary home for my video collection. I’ve been moving my DVDs to files so I can watch them wherever and whenever I want and the WHS is where they live. If the WHS fails I’m back to pulling out DVDs (which are now packed away in boxes) which isn’t really a huge problem although I find it easier to find something to watch by flipping through the menus than looking at DVDs on a shelf. I would lose the sync with my Apple TV which is nice since it makes it easy to go through a season of TV episodes as it keeps track of what I watched. Still, not a huge deal. Also, as a couch potato it’s nice to not have to get up and swap DVDs.

But let’s say I found the temporary loss unacceptable, how would I avoid it?

Well, I could buy another EX470 and keep it as a spare. When the first one failed I could move the drives. That *should* work just find. But that would be ~$500 for hardware just sitting there waiting for a failure.

As long as the HP470 is still being manufactured I could just buy a replacement when mine fails. Same cost as having the spare, I just don’t spend the money until it’s needed. I’m not sure how tied the install is to the hardware but it’s Windows so I’m assuming moving to different hardware won’t be smooth. The price for waiting in this case is the delivery time (for internet orders) or paying bust-out retail if I find it in a brick and mortar store.

Assuming I wanted to spend now I might be better off building my own WHS (replacing the HP). That way if a component failed I’d be able to just replace that component. Even with overnight shipping this probably costs less than a non-warranty repair. But this goes against the whole ease of use thing I look for from WHS. Building one would be fun, but doing it at this point is not a realistic recovery solution.

I have to say, I don’t find any of these worth the cost when compared to one or two weeks without the server. But it did start me thinking about reliability and redundancy now that more of my home life relies on computers. It also puts the server loss in perspective. It’s one thing to bake the cost of redundancy and recovery into a business when you can relate it to the potential dollars (or customers) lost. It’s another thing to compare the cost to inconvenience or the loss of leisure activities.

My Windows Home Server will fail if I keep it long enough. When it does I’ll regret not spending more to prevent the outage but I can look back at this post and remind myself that it wouldn’t have been worth the cost. My solution? In a couple of years something better will come a long and make me want to replace it. Until then, fingers stay crossed.

That’s it for this edition of the Trail Log. Happy trails! (sorry – that’s the post vacation beer, maybe Google needs to come out with blog goggles.)