New HP MediaSmart Home Servers on the Horizon

HP will be shipping updated models of its Windows Home Server products starting February 1st. The EX485 will be the 750GB (1 drive) model and the EX487 will be the 1.5TB (2 drive model). Like it’s predecessor, the single drive model is the one to buy since 750GB hard drives are as low as $55 and easy to install.

Most of the buzz has been about the new feature that allows the HP MediaSmart Windows Home Server to be used as a backup destination for Time Machine. HP also includes software to allow the Windows Home Server to be backed up to Amazon’s S3 service. The server hardware gets bumped to 2GB of memory and an Intel 2.0GHz processor.

Some of the enhancements, such as the Time Machine and S3 features will be available as a software update to existing owners, probably around Feb 1st when the new servers start shipping. This means it’s probably not worth buying the new servers if, like me, you have one of the initial home servers. But you may want to consider upgrading memory to handle the new software.

HP has a brochure (pdf link) that details the technical abilities of the new servers and includes a table on which features work with Macs. (via MSWHS blog)

The servers won’t start shipping until February, but Amazon and NewEgg will notify you when the server is available.

Hands-on reviews have already started appearing, here’s a few:

HomeServerHacks.com – Hewlett Packard announces two new MediaSmart servers.

MediaSmartHome.com – Bringing Your Blended Mac & PC Household Together and Unboxed and Reviewed

WeGotServer.co.uk – Hands On

Seagate 1.5 TB Windows Home Server Problems

As I mentioned previously, I added a Seagate 1.5 TB drive to my Windows Home Server just under two months ago. Things were fine until this week when my WHS began acting up. Problems were sporadic, it would either just stop communicating for a couple of minutes or in one case, until rebooted. Disk access was also excruciatingly slow at times. There were some disk time-outs logged in the event log but they didn’t specify the physical disk affected. There was even one case of apparent file corruption. I say “apparent” because any attempt to access the files or view their properties (or delete them) resulted in the server access problem. No error, just a complete lack of response. I eventually resolved that by deleting the directory that contained the files and restoring the known good files from backup.

I was eventually able to trace down that the problems occurred when the 1.5 TB drive was being used.

Now, it’s not that the drive has been dormant for these two months. What changed this week is that the Windows Home Server has been in almost constant use copying files back and forth along with streaming videos. Based on what’s currently on the drive this also seems to be the first week where most of the video I’ve been streaming is located on that drive. It’s the drive currently catching most new files and it’s the new files I’ve been streaming.

A Google search quickly turned up a problem with the Seagate 1.5 TB drives. Sure enough, my drive has the affected model number and firmware. So, as I sit here writing this post the WHS drive wizard is removing the drive. Hopefully it will run to completion. I’ll replace the drive with a spare Western Digital 1 TB drive while I figure out how to update the Seagate’s firmware. Apparently the firmware needs to be burned to CD, then the CD needs to be booted on a computer where the drive to be updated is the only one connected. Simple, if you have a desktop handy, but I’m not about to crack open my iMac to do it so it’ll take some time to find the desktop. I’m hoping I can create a bootable USB with the firmware and then use my WHS with the Seagate as the only connected HDD.

Some additional information on the problem:

Seagate announcement of the problem and instructions for getting the firmware are here.

That announcement is part of a long forum thread that starts here.

Here’s another forum post with a way to test for the problem. (I haven’t downloaded the utility or done the test. I may try it if I find a PC to hook the drive up to.)

Drobo has temporarily decertified the drives for their Drobo hardware which they announced here.

The announcement of the firmware update was made in early November so I’d be concerned that drives with the buggy firmware are still in stores. Seagate will verify model and firmware versions before giving you the firmware, but affected drives seem to be part numbers 9JU138-300, 336 with firmware revisions SD15, SD17, or SD18.

Seagate 1.5 TB Hard Drive Added to Windows Home Server

I’d recently noticed the new Seagate 1.5TB hard drives at Newegg had competitive prices. The time came for me to buy a new hard drive for my offsite backups (I backup video files to hard drives and store them elsewhere. Despite the apparent cost it’s actually cost effective since HDD prices are way down). Since the cost per GB of the 1.5TB drive was comparable to smaller drives I decided to get one and use the drive it will replace as my backup drive.

I ran the remove disk wizard for the 1TB drive in the top bay of my HP MediaSmart EX475 Windows Home Server as I’ve done before. Since the disk was 97% full and the files were being copied to a disk connected via USB the wizard was relatively slow and took about 10 hours to move all the files and free up the disk.

Then it was a simple matter of powering off the server to be safe, and replacing the drive. The Seagate 1.5TB powered up just fine. It wasn’t noticeably loader than the Western Digital Green Drive it replaced. The temperature is typically at 38°c compared to the Western Digital green drives that run around 34°c. The drives that HP delivered with the server (and I no longer use) ran as hot as 45°c.

I can’t really speak to performance, it’s one of 4 internal and 2 external drives. All I can say is there hasn’t been any noticeable change in performance.

Due to differences between manufacturer and OS math, along with a little overhead, there was 1,397GB of space after WHS formatted the drive which is 50% more than the 1TB drives.

I’m a little hesitant to go with the latest hard drive capacities before they’ve had a chance to prove themselves. But the Seagate drives have a 5-year warranty so I decided to give them a try. It’s been less than two weeks, but no complaints so far.

Windows Home Server Power Pack 1

 

Windows Home Server Power Pack 1 has been officially released and I just finished installing the update on my Windows Home Server. The update was straight-forward and quick, taking less than 30 minutes.

Even though WHS can do folder duplication to prevent hard disk failure, that doesn’t do much if he whole server goes down or files are corrupted (or an OS update goes terribly wrong) so I always have copies of the files elsewhere. Because of this I didn’t have to worry about backups. I also hadn’t installed the PP1 beta so there was no need to uninstall it or worry about any special considerations it might impose.

Power Pack 1 Upgrade

My configuration is: HP470 MediaSmart server with 3 additional 1GB drives, Windows Vista running under VMware on Mac OS X. I have additional Windows VMs but the were not used for the upgrade.

The upgrade process was straight-forward and also documented on Microsoft’s download page for the update. You can also wait until it goes out as an automatic update in August.

1. I uninstalled my existing add-ins. While not documented as necessary I figured this was the safest way. I’d check for updates before I re-installed and any problem add-ins would be easy to identify.

2. I had an update from HP waiting for me so I installed that first. I’m not sure if it matters whether or not it’s installed before PP1 but if automatic updates where enabled it would already be installed so I figured it was safer to do it first. It includes two new add-ins which I didn’t install yet. More on these latter.

3. I downloaded Power Pack 1 from Microsoft and followed their instructions to copy it to the server. When I tried to run it I received a permissions error. I had to go into the file properties and click the “Unblock” button. Execution was blocked because the file was copied from another computer.

4. After the update was installed the server did a nerve-rackingly long reboot. There is an option to postpone the reboot.

5. I then had to update the connector software on my Windows vm. I connected to the software share and ran WHSConnectorInstall.exe from the Home Server Connector Software directory. The installation wizard was very basic. Changes (from what I remember) include an option to wake the PC from sleep in order to do a backup along with an option to update the connector software automatically in the future.

Add-In From HP

The HP update provides two add-ins. The first is MacAfee Total Protection Service, a virus scanner. I installed this out of curiosity and soon uninstalled it. It requires registration for a 7-month trial, after which it’s a paid server. Since I didn’t want AV anyway I didn’t go through the registration process.

The second add-in is PVConnect, a media server add-in. I did install this although haven’t used it yet. It does seem like an ideal add-in for a Windows Home Server used to server audio and video.

Additional Tweaks

The big change is that PP1 fixes the data corruption bug but there are additional tweaks there too.

The most noticeable change is that now there’s an alert when there’s an add-in available but uninstalled. To clear the alert you either have to intall the add-in or check the box to ignore the alert as shown below:

Of course, deleting the add-in from the Add-In directory also works.

It’s only been about an hour, but so far everything seems fine. I don’t use remote access through the web server so I don’t know if anything has changed there.

Fail: Windows Home Server System Disk Replacement

Back when I wrote an article about replacing Windows Home Server data disks I received some comments about replacing the system drive. At the time I didn’t think I’d be replacing the disk anytime soon since there was little benefit. The drive is used last for data storage so it would be easier and more beneficial to expand the data drives. In my mind having the OS on a separate drive from the data but would provide better performance, at least in theory.

Events changed and I needed another drive to store some files and I figured replacing the WHS drive with a newer drive that also consumed less power would be worth the effort. In short, the upgrade failed and I’ve decided the effort now outstrips the benefit. I figured I’d relay my experiences. Also, if the drive fails I’ll probably be in the same situation so I’ll probably do some research and try again sometime in the future.

First the good news. I put the original drive aside and popped it back in when I threw in the towel. The server came up fine – as if nothing happened.

When I ran the Server Recovery Disc using autorun I had several problems. The first noticeable problem was an empty license dialog. I had to run the the WHSRecovery.exe directly and then the install ran OK.

On Windows Vista the Server Recovery portion worked fine but when the WHS Connector software install should have started nothing happened. I suspect it has something to do with UAC or security but rather than troubleshoot I went to Windows XP.

On Windows XP everything seemed fine until the Windows Home Server Connector software installation. That install couldn’t find my server. I had similar problems during the initial installation but the things that worked there didn’t work here. The Server Recovery has worked for me in the past. After popping the original disk back I was able to install the connector software just fine. In my case the computer and server were in the same switch and one the same network. I could ping the WHS just fine (I could get the IP address from the mac address), the connector install just wouldn’t find it.

Eventually I’ll set up a simple network with just the WHS and one PC and work on troubleshooting the issue.

If you’ve got an HP MediaSmart Home Server the instructions for replacing the system disk are here. Keep in mind that user accounts will be lost along with other server configurations. If you use file duplication you shouldn’t lose any files.

This isn’t a high priority for me but if I find a solution I’ll update this post.

WHS Add-In Updated: Windows Home Server Disk Management 1.0.8.6

Windows Home Server Disk Management, my favorite and most useful add-in for Windows Home Server, has been updated. My previous version was 1.0.7.3. Functionally there’s not much that’s different, but but the enhancements improve an already fine add-in. Like other add-ins I’ve used, the old version must be uninstalled before the new version can be installed. In general the settings are saved but in this case the server wireframe (diagram of disk usage) had to be re-created. This was documented on the download page which also provides templates that came be imported for HP MediaSmart and Scaleo servers.

Among the new features I like is the ability to set the alert thresholds for disk usage. My biggest annoyance was that disks were shown in yellow when above 75% usage and in red when above 90%. Since disk usage is managed by WHS itself and there’s nothing I can do about individual disk usage I disliked having the yellow or red bars which usually indicate a problem when I had an otherwise healthy disk. There’s also new thresholds for total disk pool usage which is is more useful than individual usage.

If you’ve installed the WHS PP1 beta you should use the WHS Disk Management beta which you’ll have to request. In my case, the WHS data is too important to trust to the beta software even though it should resolve the data corruption bug.