Windows Home Server 2011: RC1 to Gold Release

I spent Saturday migrating my Windows Home Server Rc1 server to the final gold release of Windows Home Server 2011. This was not an upgrade in any sense of the word but a complete re-install of the OS. If all went well the data would survive. I could flatten the OS drive and re-install it, then point everything to the surviving data drives. Despite some careless corner cutting that added, rather than saved, time it all went as planned. You can read the details here.

My Ubuntu Home Server caseI spent Saturday migrating my Windows Home Server Rc1 server to the final gold release of Windows Home Server 2011. This was not an upgrade in any sense of the word but a complete re-install of the OS. If all went well the data would survive. I could flatten the OS drive and re-install it, then point everything to the surviving data drives. Despite some careless corner cutting that added, rather than saved, time it all went as planned.

I did this between other chores on a Saturday afternoon so it wasn’t a continuous process, but it was done in an afternoon. Here’s how it went…

The Plan

I won’t be saving anything related to the OS, add-ins or settings. Everything will be rebuilt and re-configured from scratch. All the data is on separate drives from the OS and will survive the upgrade so that once the shares are recreated it will be available, avoiding the need to restore terabytes of data.

I won’t be saving the PC backups done with Windows Home Server. I don’t save data to my PC so the backups are mainly to provide quicker recovery in the event a PC fails.

Backups and Documentation: Despite the best plans things go wrong. Plus I was going to be mucking around with the drives all my data is on, so just before beginning I run one last set of backups and make sure they’re usable. I also verify that my documentation matches the current configuration of my two add-ins (Cloudberry backup & KeepVault backup)

Hardware Changes: I’d be replacing a bad Intel NIC with a Rosewill Gigabit Ethernet NIC (Rosewill is the Newegg house brand). I’d bought two of them for another project but figured I’d give one a try since I had it and they’re dirt cheap.

I’ll also be adding a Areca ARC-1200 two-port SATA controller so that I can mirror the OS drive. The motherboard RAID hadn’t gone well so I’m going with true hardware RAID.

The Implementation

My backups have been running well so it didn’t take much time to make sure they were current. Then it was simply a matter of shutting down the server and moving it to the bench.

Installing the NIC and RAID controller was straightforward. The Areca ARC-1200 was also easily configured for RAID 1 through the BIOS. I also upgraded the BIOS to make sure I’m on the latest version before I start using the controller. The ARC-1200 controller took 75 minutes to initialize the 320 GB RAID 1 array.

Whenever I install any version of Windows I make sure only the OS drive is connected. This was no different. I didn’t want to mess with data cables so I pulled the power from all except the two OS drives.

I booted from the Windows Home Server 2011 DVD (from Technet). While it would boot from the eSATA connected DVD drive the WHS 2011 setup wouldn’t recognize it. But a switch to USB and all was fine. I did have to load the ARC-1200 RAID drivers during setup. I had copied them to a USB thumb drive and they loaded from there. The installation was smooth, requiring a couple reboots. Once the OS was installed I had to update a bunch of drivers so that device manager didn’t show any errors.

Then I shut down the server and connected power to the four drives running RAID 5 off my 3Ware controller and booted up again. I left the other drives unpowered since I wanted the RAID array to be drive E:. Mainly because that was what I was used to seeing it as. Then I powered up the other drivers one at a time and made a note of what driver letter they used in WHS 2011. One of the problems with WHS (at least out of the box) was telling which drive was which from the console.

Once all the drives were connecting restoring the shares was a simple as creating a new share (“Add a folder” in WHS 2011 speak) and pointing it’s location to the directory already on the drive.

whs2011_addafolder

The only hitch was for the shares that were created as part of the WHS 2011 installation. I couldn’t move them off of the newly created D: drive because they already existed in the data drives (from my previous installation). This was easily resolved by renaming the directories with real data, moving the new (but empty) folders and then moving the files from the renamed folders into them.

Once the shares were recreated the only thing left was to re-install the KeepVault and Cloudberry add-ins for backup. Both add-ins found the existing backups just find and synced what was already backed up so the files weren’t sent again. The KeepVault sync took a couple hours and was longer than I expected and longer than Cloudberry, despite having far fewer files (both in size and quantity).

I also set up the server backup right away, and unlike the release candidate the backup is working. I‘ve been backing up the OS and the directory that holds the PC backups. These are the only items that don’t get backed up elsewhere through my usual methods. But I’ve never gone through a complete restore. Hopefully I won’t be trying it here, but it is on my list to test on another server.

Summary

Overall it was a smooth afternoon of work. The lack of a true upgrade wasn’t a problem since I’d never do anything other than completely overwrite beta software. I’m not a fan of benchmarks since I don’t have the patience to set up good controls, but the rebuilt server feels faster than the RC1 build. Whether it’s the new controller, software improvements or just overwriting some OS corruption will never be known but I’m happy to see snappier performance.

Other than the backup add-ins I’ve yet to install any other add-ins. I’m going to run things for a week or so to make sure everything is stable before I start making changes.

I’ve yet to try a PC restore from the WHS backups, so while the backups are running I have to stop short of saying they work. Since I don’t keep real data on my PCs this isn’t a huge problem, although I will be testing it since it would provide a quicker rebuild process when my hard drive fails.

I’ve gotten used to the lack of WHS v1’s drive pool and folder duplication although I’m still hunting for a reason to use WHS 2011 over Ubuntu or a basic NAS product. That may change if the add-in’s that appear meet my needs but for now the server is just a plain old file server. Kind of boring, but with multiple-terabytes of my data on the server boring may be a good thing. Yet I still hear the ghost of Ubuntu Home Server calling to me.

What are your Windows Home Server 2011 plans?