Ubuntu Home Server: The Beginning

My Ubuntu Home Server caseAs I previously mentioned, Windows Home Server is all but dead to me now that Microsoft is killing the Drive Extender technology. So the search was on for an alternative. As the name of this post implies, I’ve made a decision. Here’s how I came to it.

Just days before Microsoft’s announcement I wrote about how I use Windows Home Server. My primary use is for file storage. Every file of any significance is on it, including my iTunes and Video libraries. Music and Video are on the server simply as files, there’s not management/streaming software actually running in the server. I also use it for PC backups but since all my data is on the server it’s not a critical piece. I’ll want to do something in case I need to rebuild my PC, but it doesn’t have to be something the server does.

The other requirement is that it needs to work with my new hardware. Moving Windows Home Server V1 to the new hardware is a viable option, at least for the next year. So anything I looked at was compared to WHS v1.

I’ve also been researching ways to manage my music and video libraries, which is currently done with iTunes but I haven’t seen anything, for any OS, that has me excited. So at this point what I want is flexibility.

So to to sum up my requirements:

  • Lot’s of file storage. I currently have 5TB worth of data and expect dramatic growth in my video, music and photo libraries. My new hardware can hold 10TB before data protection under WHS. (I turn on duplication for everything)
  • Good data redundancy. I doesn’t count as a backup, but hard drive failures will occur at the worst possible time so I want the files fully accessible should a hard drive fail. The new hardware has 12 drives, the odds are against me.
  • The files need to be accessible from both Windows and Macs. Might as well throw Linux in there too.
  • No new hardware needed.

I looked at Amahi Home Server and it seems interesting. But I decided not to test it out. It is on my list to look at if I get a chance, but I’m not willing to commit to a full blown managed server. It has a lot of features, many I won’t use. It seems to have a level of complexity I don’t want.

I decided to go with a plain old Linus server running Samba for file sharing. Since my web server is Ubuntu I’m most familiar with it and decided to stick with it. My main concern was how to do RAID, or RAID like data protection. Only 4 of my 12 SATA ports are on a card that can do real hardware RAID. The rest are on the motherboard which does fake RAID. (Fake RAID is when the PC’s cpu provides the RAID processing, and not hardware on the controller.) I’ve never really trusted Motherboard based RAID but I had been using it to mirror the Vail OS in testing. As it is, most Linux distro’s are flaky (at best) with fake RAID.

So RAID through the motherboard BIOS was out which meant the best I could do via hardware was a 4 drive RAID 5 array using my 3ware card. But my research found good things said about software RAID in Linux, using mdadm. This was a flexible solution that seemed reliable, so I moved forward with it.

I spent some time over the long weekend installing Ubuntu Server using different RAID array configurations and breaking the arrays to make sure they would rebuild without a problem. Everything seemed fine. The only minor hitch was when I broke the OS mirror I needed to reboot before I could add the drive back in. Removing or adding the drive resulted in a not found error. That is until I rebooted which seemed to cleanly remove the drive and I could re-add it.

So as it stands now I installed Ubuntu Server 10.04.1 into what I think I want as my configuration. I picked 10.04 rather than the newer 10.10 because Ubuntu 10.04 is the long term support version and I won’t be forced into an upgrade 18 months down the road. I have until April 2015 before it end of life’s.

I used software RAID (mdadm) all around. The root and swap partitions are mirrored using the WD 320GB. I ended up putting all ten of the 2TB drives in a RAID 6 array. RAID 6 can survive two drive failures as there are two parity bits. In what may be overkill I included one hot spare.

Considering I had planned to lose half my space to duplication under Windows Home Server this is an improvement. Currently 30% of my space is for protection but the percentage will decrease as I add drives. My testing showed that resyncing the array takes a long time. The initial sync for my 13TB array took over a day (with the server under pretty heavy use). So the hot spare will get the rebuild going without me needing to do anything (at least in theory) and being able to lose two drives simultaneously makes me feel more secure.

I also installed LVM and created on logical volume for the data array. The theory is I can easily add drives to increase the space, although my testing hasn’t gone far enough to prove this.

As I write this tonight all my non-video data is on the Ubuntu Home Server and the RAID array finished it’s initial syncing a little while ago. I start copying the video files tonight but that’s going to take about a day to copy. All the data is still on the Windows Home Server in case I need to go back, but I’ve blocked access so I don’t save data there by accident. I have two more days off so can spend some additional time testing things out. But so far things look good and I plan to continue down the Ubuntu Home Server path. Next on the agenda is a PC backup solution that will be similar to Windows Home Server.

Links: Tech Links for Saturday Nov 27th

Tile for posts in the Links categoryMost of my reading this week was related to the removal of Drive Extender fro Windows Home Server. And the interesting links for that topic are here. I added a couple new links today so if your interest head back there.

In keeping with the Thanksgiving theme (at least for those of us in the US) Lifehacker has a list of the 50 free apps their readers are most thankful for.

Forklift for the Mac has been updated. This is an FTP client/Finder replacement that I’ve always found intriguing but never pulled the trigger and bought. Every time it makes news I look at it again but it’s never enough for me to move away from Pathfinder and Transmit, which I already own.

A hard drive in a Delorean is pricey but if you’re a Back to the Future fan with extra money it’s a fine novelty.

MediaMonkey is a potential iTunes replacement that I came across recently. I’m taking the free version for a spin but have yet to try syncing to my iPod or Android phone.

Tom’s Hardware has a good analysis of when to add RAM to a system. My opinion has always been you can never have too much RAM but they help us decide when more RAM won’t help.

Technologizer touches on a topic I’ve been interested in recently, cutting the cable TV cord,  as I think about how I want to reconfigure my living room entertainment. I’ve been down to basic cable and I’d only save $5/mth for dropping TV (due to a bundle discount with my internet service) so I’m not looking to cut as much as I am looking to bring more in.

WordPress 3.1 beta has been released so it looks like the full release is getting close. Even though I use WordPress I usually don’t look at the betas, but it’s there if your interested.

System Build: Home Server

When I started looking at a Home Server replacement back in October the plan was to get some new hardware and transition to it when Vail was released. Then Vail was gutted when when Microsoft removed drive extender and it became just another OS with nothing unique, at least not for me. Luckily this system build is flexible and I have options. In it short life it’s already run Windows Home Server Vail and Ubuntu 10.04.1.

The Parts List

Case: COOLER MASTER HAF 932 RC-932-KKN1-GP $130 (although it’s currently on sale with an additional rebate). I talk about the case here.

Power Supply: Corsair Professional Series Gold High Performance 850-Watt Power Supply CMPSU-850AX for $180 which I wrote about here.

Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-P55-USB3 LGA $103.50 (currently down to $95)

CPU: Intel Core i3-530 $114 (now down to $100)

RAM: Two sets of G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10600) Model F3-10600CL8D-4GBHK for a total of 8GB at $160 (and now way down to $90)

I wrote about the motherboard/cpu/ram choice here.

Drive Cages: I write about by trials and tribulations looking for a drive cage, preferably one that was hot swappable. I ended up going with the Cooler Master 4 in 3 cage at $20.

To hold the two 2.5” drives in one 3.5” bay I went with a Connectland CL-HD-MRDU25S Removable Enclosure 3.5-Inch for Two 2.5-Inch SATA Hard Disks for $32. This is open above the drives to it the drives can breath a little more than my first choice which wrapped the drive in metal.

Hard Drives: Most of the hard drives would be ones I already had, but I did but two Western Digital Scorpio Black WD3200BEKT 320GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache 2.5″ SATA 3.0Gb/s Internal Notebook Hard Drive -Bare Drive at $60 each. I’d be using these mirrored for the operating system.

Video: The motherboard doesn’t have onboard video. The spare card I have has a noisy fan, so I picked up the cheapest fan less video card I could find on Newegg which was MSI N8400GS-D512H GeForce 8400 GS which was $30. Eventually the server would be headless, but I decided I would have the video connected for awhile while I was testing, a didn’t want the noise from the card I usually use. So far I haven’t needed to use anything but the built-in Windows and Linux drives.

NIC: Intel PWLA8391GT 10/ 100/ 1000Mbps PCI PRO/1000 GT Desktop Adapter at $30. I generally dislike on-board NICs and find the Intel’s to be rock-solid.

Fans: The CoolerMaster case has a lot of fans. But with all the hard drives in there I decided to replace the top 230mm fan with three Scythe S-FLEX SFF21F 120mm Case Fans at $15 each. The intent here is to pull more heat out the top of the case.

Fan Controller: I picked the Scythe KM02-BK 5.25″ Bay Fan Controller to handle 4 of the 7 fans. Motherboard connections could handle the rest.

SATA Controller: The hardest decision was to spend $325 on the 3ware 9650SE-4LPML 256MB PCI Express to SATA II RAID Controller for the additional SATA ports I needed. Rather than go low cost to add 4 ports I decided to go with a quality controller that can do real RAID, even though Windows Home Server does it’s own file duplication. This should also give me many years of use.

This wasn’t exactly a budget build, costing me over $1,200. (Not including the drives I already had) A quarter of that was the added RAID controller which was the biggest single opportunity to save. But I looked for quality parts that would server me for a long time and into future builds or years of upgrades.

The Build

The build was fairly straightforward except for the problems with finding drive cages. The end result was the lowest cost, simplest solution. Since the internal drives wouldn’t be hot swappable I not concerned about that loss. Replacing drives in the 4-in-3 is a pain, needing to remove the entire cage to get at the drives.

This was my first build using a full size case and it was great. No problems with space or getting at the components. Also plenty of room to run cables and keep them out of the air flow.

The only BIOS settings I needed to change was to enable AHCI for all drives (really only needed for the OS mirror which are hot swappable but I use it exclusively now) and to set the memory timings since they weren’t standard.

Vail Install

The Vail installation went fine. The two 2.5” drives were configured for RAID in the BIOS (using the Gigabyte controller that had only two SATA ports) so Vail just saw the drive. I’ve never really trusted the RAID provided by motherboards but this seemed to work find for the time I ran Vail. Performance was fine. I’d break the RAID by removing a disk or pulling a cable and the rebuild went without a hitch. I was also able to boot using just one of the drives and rebuild the mirror.

Ubuntu 10.04 Server Install

Since Vail has a questionable future in my house I decided to install Ubuntu server on the box to see if I could use it as my home server. Some research shows Linux is sketchy with the fake RAID provided by motherboards (or cheap controllers) I went entirely with the software RAID provided by Ubuntu. The two 2.5” drives still have the OS mirrored. Mixing controllers in a RAID scares me so I did RAID 5 for the 6 drives on the Intel controller and another RAID 5 array for the 3Ware controller drives.

Ubuntu Server 10.04.1 x64 had all the drivers I needed cooked into the install DVD. I didn’t need to download or add any drivers. I’m not using a GUI, just the console so video is simple. The on-board and 3ware drive controllers were seen just fine and seem to be performing well. Copying from my PC to the new server is faster than copying to the old Windows Home Server but I haven’t done any benchmarking.

All the drives are 2 TB drives but I do have a mixture of manufacturers. The 4 drives on the 3Ware are all the same since I had 4 Hitachi’s. Although I noticed one had a different BIOS. The Intel has two each of Hitachi, Samsung and Western Digital.

I’ve only been running Ubuntu a few hours but so far it’s going well.

Conclusion

I’m really happy with the build, which is a problem since I’m impatient. Performance has been considerably better than my current Windows Home Servers, both for Vail and for Samba on Ubuntu.

My plan was to wait until Vail and use that time to research some home media solutions while I waited. I had already started using Vail for my easier to move shares because it worked so well. Ubuntu also seems to be working well but I’m not far enough along to know it’s my permanent solution.

I could move Windows Home Server v1 over to the box but if I do that there will be another big move in a year or so since WHS v1 end-of-life’s in January 2013. It’s easiest enough to copy files from one box to another. But if I need to replace/upgrade my production home server I’d need to find storage for all those files and that could be a problem.

So we’ll see. I liking the hardware so I foresee the move starting in the next few days (I have several days vacation so it’s a good time). If I was smart I’d install Windows Home Server v1 and use that for the next year. I’m probably not that smart and will keep Ubuntu and move it in to replace my current Windows Home Server. In theory a Linux box is more flexible, but that flexibility comes at the cost of complexity.

So, do you think Ubuntu would be a good home server choice or will I crash and burn, reverting back to Windows Home Server V1?

Links: Windows Home Server Bombshell

Tile for posts in the Links category

Tile for posts in the Links category

[Last updated: Nov 27, 2010]

With Microsoft’s recent dropping of Drive Extender from Windows Home server I’ve been doing so related browsing and find the following links of interest:

Let’s not forget that Windows Home Server v1 is still around, and gets mainstream support from Microsoft until January 2013.

The Home Server Show Podcast, episode 114 has a good discussion about the implications of the announcement. They avoid the the extremes of either bashing Microsoft or being fan boys.

Paul Thurrott has a couple articles discussing Microsoft’s move, including info on discussions he’s had with Microsoft. In addition to being a tech writer he’s also been a big WHS supporter and user.

If your looking to replace WHS there’s the open source Amahi Home Server that seems interesting. I should mention that while I’m posting the links, I haven’t used this or any of the other software mentioned in this post. A migration guide is available that compares drive extender to Greyhole (the technology included in Amahi)

FlexRAID is open source software that provides a interesting take on data protection. I find it interesting in that they do say it’s not suitable for databases but is suitable for storing files. Almost sounds similar to Microsoft’s problems being on the SBS side rather than the WHS side of development. Might be that this will work on Windows Home Server v2.

FreeNas: from the site:  FreeNAS is an embedded open source NAS (Network-Attached Storage) distribution based on FreeBSD, supporting the following protocols: CIFS (samba), FTP, NFS, TFTP, AFP, RSYNC, Unison, iSCSI (initiator and target) and UPnP. It supports Software RAID (0,1,5), ZFS, disk encryption, S.M.A.R.T/email monitoring with a WEB configuration interface

I might look at the software out of curiosity, but at this point I think I’d stay with WHS v1 rather than moving to something else which may lock me in. If I leave WHS v1 before 2013 I’m more likely to go with a Linux server such as Ubuntu or the super-stable CentOS to serve my files and give me the maximum flexibility. WHS simplified everything, making RAID (OK, not RAID but data protection) stupid simple and it served out the files reliably. If I leave WHS I might as well go with maximum flexibility.

Drobo is offering a discount to WHS users (actually anyone with the coupon code) as a promotion. I have a Drobo but am not a fan. I don’t see the value proposition. Mine serves as a backup drive.

A little drive extender related humor.

Ars Technica has a good analysis of the Drive Extender removal and these two lines sum up my own opinion:

If Microsoft is going to stick with its decision and remove Drive Extender across the board, the company might as well cancel Windows Home Server altogether. I think, however, this is a bad decision.

The State of Vail (Windows Home Server v2)

I started to write this article on Sunday, at which time it had a lot different focus and the only thing that remains is the title. I was writing about what I liked in Vail and that many of the ways I use Windows Home Server had already migrated to Vail, despite it’s beta status. Then today Microsoft dropped a bomb and announced they were discontinuing Drive Extender in WHS and SBS.

My first reaction is that Windows Home Server v2 is dead to me. Drive Extender (DE) provided the features I most liked about Windows Home Server. The ability to pool drives of different capacities/capabilities and the RAID like folder duplication. I already have one share that exceeds the capacity of even the new 3TB drives and other shares are growing closer to that 2TB barrier where all the rules change. There are some things I just want to always work without muss or fuss. WHS provided that.

I never liked the media capabilities of WHS so that was never a big deal for me. Too many gaps.   I was recently looking at add-in options but was waiting for the final v2 release (luckily). I do like the PC backup capabilities but have never trusted it enough to put all my eggs in that basket. Besides, all the data I care about is on the server. So PC Backup isn’t enough to sell me on WHS.

I think part of the problem is MS was having issues with drive extender itself. There was the data corruption problem in version 1. I’ve been having a few strange issues on Vail which may be DE related, but it is beta software. Unfortunately I was expecting a company with Microsoft’s resources to fix the issues, not pull an existing feature. Microsoft has killed entire products before so I should be shocked by this, by I was.

A second issue is that Microsoft does see this as an OS for an appliance type device that OEMs sell, not for people like me building their own box. So I think Microsoft’s statement about working with their partners is a driving force. It may be a way for vendors to distinguish their products or offer tiers of servers at various price points.

Microsoft also said people wanted to be able to be able to remove a drive from WHS and still get at the files. While I don’t argue that there were complaints when this ability was removed in Vail it’s a terrible reason to remove DE

So does this really mean WHS is dead to me?

Probably. I’m going to need something as a home server (I use the term broadly in this case) and it will need some sort of OS. That OS might be Windows Home Server v2, but I seriously doubt it. Short of some killer third party software I don’t see any benefits WHS gives me over Linux (for example). Even with a killer third party or OEM solution I suspect it won’t survive a value evaluation. Good RAID is expensive and now the R&D expense has shifted to the third parties.

So this weekend I’ll probably go back to Windows Home Server v1. Since Vail was beta I’ve kept the hardest to handle files (all video and almost all music) on my version 1 server. Plus I’ve been copying all changes from Vail back to WHS v1 every night. So moving back will just require some changes to links and drive mappings. I’d removed some 2TB drives for the new build so space is a little tight so I’ll probably move a drive or two back. I’ll probably be on version 1 for awhile.

I don’t see much point in running Vail anymore. Maybe there will be some 3rd party apps or add-ins to fill in the bomb crater, but until then there’s not much point. So the question I have now is do I move version 1 to the new hardware and use the old hardware to explore other options? Or do I use the new hardware for my explorations?

I’m leaning towards testing on the new hardware. I’ll be using the available RAID so will want to test breaking and rebuilding the arrays with the hardware I’ll actually be using.

On the other hand Windows Home Server Version 1 isn’t going away. I certainly won’t be spending a lot on future add-ins, but what I have now will probably run through next year without a hiccup. I’m curious if the faster hardware will give version 1 any noticeable performance improvement.

Andrew Edney’s post on Using Windows Home Server was were I first read the bad news.

Alex Kuretz has an opinion piece that asks if Windows How Server is dead? Well, it may not be dead to me, but it’s on life support with a negative prognosis.

Update: I added some related links.

Links: Tech Links for Saturday Nov 20th

These are the tech links that I starred in Google Reader during the last week.

Using Windows Home Server brought the Western Digital AV-25 hard drives to my attention. These are 2.5” drives intended to be used 24 X 7 and remain cool and quiet. Good for HTPC’s. I should have considered these as 2.5” drives for my recent Windows Home Server build. I will keep them in mind if I decide to go with a HTPC.

While the AV-25 drives are economically priced with a 320GB drive costing about $50, Tom’s Hardware brings new of a $11,500 300GB SSD drive.

Process Explorer has been upgrade to version 14.

Intel has lowered the price of their 120GB SSD just in time for holiday shopping.

Continuing the storage theme, Tom’s Hardware has an in-depth performance analysis of SSDs versus a RAID array of traditional drives.

Ed Bott is using a Mac Mini next to a Windows box, linked with Synergy, which is similar to my setup. Like him, I had issues with Synergy but got it working with a slightly older version on the Windows box.

Bruce Schneier is the Chief Security technology Office of BT (aka British Telecom), an author of security books and often quoted security guru. I follow his security blog and he has a nice collection of links related to the TSA Backscatter X-Ray controversy. Lots a links that will take some time to go through, but a pretty good overview.

As more news comes out about the Stuxnet virus, it’s pretty scary in that it appears to have been designed for industrial sabotage. The NY Times has a story about the research into the origin of Stuxnet.

AnandTech has updated their System Builder’s Guide just in time for the holidays.

Tim Berners-Lee, a key creator of the web, if not the creator, has a long article in Scientific-American about current threats to the web. I just came across it and haven’t read through it yet. But anything this guy says is going to be worth reading so it was sent to Instapaper for weekend reading.

How I Use It: Windows Home Server

Update: A couple days after I wrote this Microsoft announced they would discontinue drive extender and the features it provides. This means WHS is not a long term option for me and will leave my home after version 1.

With the next version of Windows Home Server just around the corner (I hope) and having built a new server for when version 2 is released, I figured this would be a good time to write about how I use Windows Home Server.

I wrote about the add-ins I use back in March. The only change to that list is that I no longer use Perfect Disk (or any other defragmenter) on a regular basis.

I have duplication turned on for all shares (well, except the empty Public share). This doesn’t count as a backup, but I like the redundancy that keeps this available should a drive fail. If a drive does fail, it will be at the worst possible time but all my files will still be available.

File Storage

Because I use Windows Home Server as a primary storage location for my data it can’t also be a backup, even with file duplication. I previously covered my backup strategy in detail, but I’ve included a note about how I handle backup for each share. The amount of data I have (~4TB) makes a single backup destination unfeasible.

Shares on my Windows Home ServerFirst and foremost I use WHS to store files. This screenshot shows the shares I’ve created (click for larger pic).

The Archive share contains files I don’t want to delete but don’t change. This is mainly music and videos I’ve purchased electronically. It also contains some old backups I’m saving for posterity.

Backup: These files get backed up to KeepVault for offsite storage. They’re also copied to a Drobo so I have a second local copy.

The DVDImages share contains ISO images of a subset of software DVDs I use. I subscribe to Technet and many of the downloads are ISO files so they are copied directly. I also make ISO images of physical DVDs with ImgBurn. When it comes time to read the images I use Virtual Clone Drive. This share contains software I’ve testing or evaluating, not anything I use for a real purpose. Despite the name I do mix in regular software downloads. The DVDImage name comes from when I saved all my ISO’s here, no matter their intended use.

This is a recent addition once I got tired of always looking for DVDs to go with my software. I’m not well organized in the physical world.

Backup: I said this contained a subset of my software DVDs. That’s because all the DVDs here are not critical. These files are not backed up offsite. They are copied to a local drive but I would stop doing that if space became an issue. The reality is most of these are available from website (such as Linux iso’s) so they are available elsewhere. I just may not be able to get the exact same iso version.

The Music share contains my iTunes Library and any other music files I have. It also contains any videos I’ve purchased directly through iTunes (a rare occurrence). I run the iTunes application from my Mac Mini but it’s set to use the library on this share.

I’ve been running the iTunes library from my WHS since I first set up the centrally managed iTunes library 3 years ago. I had originally anticipated using the share so I could open the library from any PC or Mac. And while it’s true that I can do that, I just don’t use it that way.

Backup: The Music share is copied to a Drobo every night. The Drobo is attached to the same Mac Mini that runes iTunes so it’s easy enough to load the iTunes library from there if I need to.  I have a ChronoScript job that runs every night to copy my electronically purchased/downloaded music and video (and only purchased stuff) to the Archive share so it gets backup up as part of that share. For music I’ve ripped from CD I’ve got that copied to a hard drive I keep in my office. The offsite backup has everything covered, but it’s messy in order to save money.

Photos & Pictures are two shares that seem to serve the same purpose. But they are different and so split to accommodate those differences. The Pictures share contains images I’ve collected over time. Downloaded from the internet or created for web use. One thing separates these from the Photos share – none of these are in a RAW format, all are mostly jpg, gif or png. The Photos share contains pictures I taken. These do contain many RAW images with some jpgs.

Backup: I use Picasa to manage the photos in the Pictures share. I have Picasa set to sync everything to web albums so I get an offsite backup. Because restoring them all would be tedious (almost 1,000 albums one at a time) I also back them up with Jungle Disk. If I can find a way to restore in bulk for Picasa Web I would eliminate the Jungle Disk backup. Since I have two offsite backups I don’t need a second local backup, but since I still have enough space the files also get copied to the Drobo every night.

The Photos share gets backed up using Jungle Disk. Picasa doesn’t handle the RAW files well, and won’t save them to the web, so I don’t use Picasa to manage these. This was the primary reason for splitting images into two shares. This share also gets copied to the Drobo every night.

The Ray share contains my data files. This also happens to be where my most critical data is kept. So this gets some special backup treatment.

Backup: This is backed up by Jungle Disk on an hourly basis. Jungle Disk is also set to save these files for 10 days if they are deleted or modified. Hourly is probably overkill, but I provides some safety if I corrupt a file while working on it. Since changes are small, I don’t see a performance impact. They also get copied to my Drobo every night.

The Software share is needed for the WHS client software and Add-Ins. But I also use it for storing the software I use. None of the software is installed directly to the share, I just save the install source files there. I previously mentioned I use the DVDImages share for software I’m evaluating. I use the software share for software I need and use. I create ISO images or physical DVDs and save them to the share. Both Mac and Windows software is saved here.

Backup: This gets backed up to KeepVault for offsite backup and copied to my Drobo every night as a second local copy.

The Videos share is the big one. This contains 3.5 TB of video I’ve encoded for use in iTunes. Most of the source is the DVDs I own.

Backup: The size makes this difficult. There is no second local backup (unless you count the DVDs themselves, which would have to be re-ripped). For offsite backup I use Robocopy and some batch files to keep a set of bare hard drives updated. These drives get stored in my office.

The Public and Recorded shares are standard with WHS and I don’t use them. The Virtual Machines is no longer used but had been a place for storing VirtualBox virtual machines.

Remote Access

Windows Home Server comes with the ability to do remote access. I don’t use it. I use LogMeIn Pro instead. It’s the one computer for which I have the paid subscription, all the other computers use the free version. I like the features of LogMeIn so have kept using it. I can also access it from my iPad which is nice.

I don’t do a lot of remote access, occasionally I grab a file while at work or on the road, but not much else.

Video Streaming

If you consider what my WHS spends most of it’s time doing, this is it. We can argue semantics as to whether it’s streaming or just reading a file, but the video lives on the server. I use VLC as a client to play the video on a Windows PC (I won’t install iTunes on Windows). but most of the time the video plays through iTunes on my Mac Mini or on my Apple TV (Gen 1). I’ll occasionally stream, via iTunes, to a iMac connected wirelessly in the bedroom, but that’s rare.

Music

I don’t stream music around the house. I keep it on my iPod and my stereos/radios have jacks that I can connect to. But the music is synced with iTunes which has the files on the Windows Home Server.

PC Backups

It’s been a long time since I kept real data on a PC’s local hard drive, so PC backups are less critical for me. I have been using the PC backup feature since I have had WHS. I’ve occasionally done single file restores. Early on I had some problems with restores due to bugs (like locking up at 80% of reading the backup).

The one time I wanted to do a full restore was when I was moving to a smaller (but faster) drive. While there was plenty of space for the files, it wouldn’t rebuild to a smaller drive so I wasn’t able to use WHS. I could open the backup and drag file, but not do a system restore.

I’ve yet to regain my confidence in it. I consider it similar to tape backup with which I always had reliability problems. One problem and the whole backup would be lost. I’ve hadgood luck with just backing up data, so while I use the WHS client backup, I don’t rely on it.

The Future

I have a Vail test server installed and I’m working on evaluating it for my needs. It will certainly meet my file storage needs and I like the added file protection features such as shadow copies.

Many of the new features were available in version 1 via hacks, but with all the data I have on the server it’s important to me for it to be reliable, so I’ve avoided hacks. It will be nice to have them as official features.

I like my iPod for music (but not video) so the way I handle my music probably won’t change. I’ll look for iTunes alternatives, but I’ve accepted I may need to stay with it. It will still be iTunes running from a share.

I’m looking to completely change up the way I do video and to get it out of iTunes. Windows Home Server will certainly be where the files live, but I’m undecided how I’ll be viewing them on PCs and TVs.

My Windows Home Server use is based upon simplicity, nothing complicated here. But it works for me. How do you use your Windows Home Server? Post a comment or post a link if you’ve written about it elsewhere.

Links: PC Monitoring, Benchmarking & Testing

Having just built a new Windows Home Server and doing some PC upgrades I’ve updated and refreshed my PC monitoring utilities and resources. These are links for tools and sites I find useful.

CoreTemp – Displays information about the CPU, down to the per core level in most cases. As the name implies, it’s primary purpose is to display and monitor the CPU temperature. Can display a notification or shut down the machine if the CPU reaches a predefined temperature. Check the Add Ons page for a Windows gadget and more.

AMD Utilities – System utilities and drives for AMD cpu’s and gpu’s.

ATTO Disk Benchmark Utility – I like this for benchmarking hard drives.

CPUID – makes of CPU-Z (cpu/memory/graphics info and more), HW Monitor (displays temp, power and other hardware info), PCWizard (more system information), PerfMonitor and TMonitor.

CPU-Tweaker and MemSet – two utilities for changing CPU or memory settings. I haven’t used these yet but have put them aside for future explorations.

GLINT – System activity monitor. I’m not a fan of the interface but there’s no installation required.

GPU-Z – Video Card/GPU information utility

HDTune – Hard Disk for benchmarking and monitoring. I use the free version (which is different than the trial for HD Tune Pro).

Hitachi Hard Drive Utilities – If you have a Hitachi hard drive you’ll probably want at least one download from this page.

Iometer Project – interesting open source software that I’ve yet to explore.

MemTest86 – Stand alone memory test for x86 architecture computers.

PassMark Software sells software for benchmarking and system testing. They do have som free utilities available for download. Their website also has numerous benchmarking charts and comparisons collected from people running their software on real systems. Useful for seeing how that component I’m about to buy stacks up against it’s competitors.

Prime95 – Commonly used to stress test a system.

Process Explorer – From Microsoft but written by Mark Russinovich of SysInternals fame. Displays a multitude of information about running processes.

SpeedFan – Monitors voltages, temperatures and fan speeds in systems with the necessary sensors.

The following links are to commercial software although there are limited use trial versions available.

Lavalys Everest is a benchmarking and system analysis program. It’s not free but there is a eval version. Also see the next entry for AIDA64.

AIDA64 is a benchmarking and system analysis program I came across recently. It’s not free but there is a limited eval version that I’ll be checking out. Aida was started by some of the same people who created Everest. This software is newer than Lavalys Everest and seems better supported at this time.

SiSoftware – maker of SiSoftware Sandra – System Analyzer,  Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant.

I find the following sites useful:

AnandTech – Hardware news, test and reviews.

JohnnyGuru – I used this site primarily for power supply info, but they also review other PC components.

Thermaltake Power Supply Calculator – there are others, but this is the one I use when I need to size a power supply.

Tom’s Hardware – Hardware news, tests and reviews

Any utilities or sites that I missed or that you’d recommend? Leave a comment. I’ll also update this list if I come across any new links of interest.

Links: Windows Home Server Vail

Tile for posts in the Links categoryWindows Home Server Version 2 (aka Vail) is still a beta but with my test box built I’ve been running it and collecting information. Here are some links that I’ve found interesting.

Microsoft had a 45-min Vail “Demofest” at the latest Tech-Ed. You can see the video here and also get the PowerPoint slide deck they used. The video is a nice overview of what’s in Vail.

Windows Home Server doesn’t really need a DVD drive after the installation. I installed from a spare DVD drive I have, but if necessary you can install Vail from a USB stick.

Jim Clark documents how he set up Vail as a Windows Media Center.

An example Vail system build.

My own Windows Home Server posts, both version 1 and 2, are in the Windows Home Server category.

A $330 PC build that can be used to test Vail. I’m not sure I’d really suggest this. I rather spend more money and have a server that can run Vail for years. But I can see someone wanting low cost hardware for testing.

Alex Kuretz has a good intro to Vail, written when it was first released in beta, on MediaSmartServer.net.

AutoExit is already in beta as a Vail add-in. AutoExit provides features related to managing clients through Wake-on-LAN.

As for getting Windows Home Server Vail itself, it’s available from Microsoft Connect. Remember it’s beta software.

Microsoft’s community page for Windows Home Server still targets version 1, but will be a good resource when version 2 is released.

Any Vail news or information I missed? If so, let me know in the comments. I’ll also be updating the links in this list if I find additional ones of interest.