Downsizing Windows Home Server 2011

In keeping with my recent obsession with the HP MicroServer I just migrated my WHS 2011 Server from a case with dimensions that approach 2 feet for both length and height, to the diminutive HP MicroServer that keeps well below a foot for those dimensions. It’s got lower specs, but more power isn’t always desirable.

In keeping with my recent obsession with the HP MicroServer I just migrated my WHS 2011 server from a case with dimensions that approach 2 feet for both length and height, to the diminutive HP MicroServer that keeps well below a foot for those dimensions. The table below lists the major differences:

Old HAF 32 Build HP MicroServer Build
CPU Intel Core i3-530 Clarkdale 2.93GHz (Dual Core) AMD Athlon II NEO N36L processor 1.3 GHz (Dual Core)
RAM 8 GB 8GB
# Disk Drives 12 5
RAW Disk Space 20.6 TB 12.2 TB
Usable Data Space 16.7 TB 11.2 TB
RAID Protected Space 5.5 TB None
Power Draw @ Idle 155 W 48 W
Location Lots of floor space Cabinet top

The actual parts are:

  1. HP MicroServer w/160GB HDD
  2. Kingston 8GB Memory Part # KVR1333D3E9SK2/8G
  3. Antec Easy SATA Drive Bay
  4. 4 X 3 TB Drive –  (1  Western Digital, 3 Hitachi) in the internal drive bays
  5. Added Cables – Molex to SATA power adapter & SATA cable for the Antec Drive Bay

The Antec drive bay was installed into the ODD bay and it’s what required the power adapter and SATA cable. There’s an internal SATA port intended for the ODD. There’s no BIOS settings related to this port so I assume it’s locked to IDE mode. Benchmarking the included 160 GB drive connected to the original bay and the ODD bay resulted in similar results.

The disk space is well above the 8 TB limit listed in the HP specs but its been working fine for me. The Antec bay lets me add a fifth drive. When I put the bay into the server I planned to use it as a way to swap backup drives in and out. But I changed my mind before the install and used all four of the 3 TB drives I had for the internal bays. I like the Easy Sata bays and they’ve been reliable, but the drive sticks out. I already had the bay from a previous build, but if I was buying a new one I’d look for one that keeps the drive entirely internal.

This is definitely a downsizing. File copies have been a little slower than to the old server. That’s just an observation, not formal tests. But the file copies have been fine for what I do and I’ve been able to play movies from the server.

There’s no RAID so I lose some redundancy and will experience downtime when I lose a drive. But what I lose in redundancy I gain in simplicity and space. Losing a drive has me down for whatever was on that drive until I do a restore. But since I have multiple MicroServers I have spares of everything ready to go. With the old server if I lose a RAID controller/motherboard/psu I have to get a replacement and (depending on the part) do a restore anyway. And frankly, my old server had more moving and electronic parts creating those single points of failure.

The CPU is less powerful but it’s been fine for me. I don’t run a lot of add-ins and I don’t run “desktop” software on it. If I was using a add-in like My Movies and wanted my server to do the actual DVD ripping and encoding I probably wouldn’t be happy. The memory is more than enough and can help make up for the deficiencies in the cpu by avoiding any swapping.

Backups & Future Expansion

I have a Icy Dock External 4-bay Drive Cage. It’s an older type with unique SATA port for each drive. Since the MicroServer only takes low-profile cards my 4-port card (or any other 4 port) wouldn’t fit I bought two HighPoint Rocket 622 dual eSata port cards. They work fine in the server and give me the four needed ports.

I have typically backed up to another server rather than local drives but since I had the gear I hooked up the external bay with four 2 TB drives and have been using those as my backup. I’m not doing any RAID on those backup drives since I want to be able to get at the drives in another computer should the drive cage or cards fail. So this way I can pop a drive into my PC and copy the files off.

This backup is a temporary solution while I rebuild some other servers since the math is not going to work. I have each internal 3 TB drive mapped to a different external 2 TB drive for backup. So as I add more data the math will catch up to me, but I’m safe for now.

Once my data needs really grow I’ll be able to use the external drives for data. The HighPoint cards are supposed to support 3 TB drives although I have no spare 3 TB to test with. The Icy Dock sits nicely on top of the MicroServer so it’s still smaller than the old server. But if I wanted to go really nuts, each of those HighPoint cards can support up to 10 drives with port multipliers but at that point it wouldn’t be downsizing.

Summary

This is a shift from how I used to do things. Rather than redundancy and performance I’ve gone with simplicity and “good enough”. What ended up happening is I reached my data storage capacity and needed to decide whether to add more drives or not. I chose not, and instead revisited what I needed always available. Once I did this my online data needs dropped drastically. It will continue to grow, but the change made sense. Adding to the simplicity, drivers for all the hardware is included in Windows Home Server 2011, no added drivers. Support for the 3 TB drives doesn’t require any software or jumper changes (I’m not using them as boot drives).

While it was only a $15 part and my server kept running, the recent broken latch on my OS Drive Bay made me more paranoid about single points of failure. It’s not so much those single points of failure, but the time and expense needed to recover from them.

I kept all my shares the same to maintain flexibility and minimize the changes I had to make to my desktops and software. I used robocopy to transfer from old to new and when that was done I turned off the old server so I wouldn’t accidentally save files to it. On the Mac I simply disconnected the old shares and reconnected to the new. Since the names were the same all the software and scripts just worked. For Windows I had to remap the drives. I do use UNC connections in scripts on Windows so I had to do a search and replace there.

I’m happy with the first few days of use. It’s not a powerhouse, but it does the job I want it to do. Now I have to do something with that old hardware.