Category Archives: Windows Home Server

Hard Drive Performance

Today I spent an hour or so reconfiguring the hard disks in a few of my home machines. The idea was to boost the Windows Home Server machine  to 2Tb and also replace the aging 120Gb ATA drive in my main dev box (the oldest of four drives in that box and my last remaining ATA drive in service).

Once I was done swapping physical drives I wanted to check that the drive I was going to use to install the Windows 7 64bit RC build was sufficiently speedy. I decided to run a simple drive benchmark across my widely varying collection of disks. The results are as follows:

            120Gb                          200Gb                              400Gb                           640Gb                         1500Gb

HDD Benchmark 120Gb HDD Benchmark 200Gb HDD Benchmark 400Gb HDD Benchmark 640Gb HDD Benchmark 1500Gb

So the 120Gb drive that cost me AUD$413 in July 2002 has about one third the read speed of the latest 1.5Tb drive that cost me AUD$199.

From a cost perspective the 7 year old drive cost me $3.44 per gigabyte, compared to the new drive at just $0.13 per gigabyte. Still this pales in comparison to my first 20Mb hard drive that I bought 20 years ago for $950. That works out to $45000 per gigabyte!

Windows (Home) Server 2008

Last weekend I went down to the local (geek) hardware store and bought myself a 640Gb drive and 2Gb of RAM for my home made Windows Home Server box (for a total of AU$150). After a painless hardware upgrade I then downloaded and installed the latest Virtual Server 2005. I installed the 640Gb drive as a “back-up drive” instead of adding it to the Windows Home Server “disk pool” using the Windows Home Server Power Pack 1 Beta. This gave me two benefits – first it meant that I could then use the drive to actually backup the server shares automatically, and secondly it meant that the drive was not going to be affected by the routine “disk balancing” that Windows Home Server performs on the storage pool.

Windows Home Server Power Pack 1

So with plenty of spare RAM and disk space I could then easily create a virtual machine instance running Windows Server 2008 with a copy of SQL Server 2008 RC0. This is the first real chance I’ve had to take a look at the new features in SQL Server 2008 (the main reason for the install). Initial thoughts… new DataTypes – nice! Built in Change Tracking in conjunction with ADO.NET Sync Services… funky!

WHS Remote Access

One of the features of Windows Home Server (WHS) that I really like is the ability to use the server as a remote access “hub”. It means I can remote desktop into any one of my home machines from anywhere on the planet. This is kinda cool and can be used to:

  • Fire off disk defrags, backups, video renderings (try rendering an hours worth of HD multi-track video with effects! – even on my own mini render-farm it takes forever).
  • Use WebGuide to setup my TV recording schedule (of course if I allowed external access to WebGuide through HTTP I wouldn’t need WHS for this).
  • Do some coding on VS 2008 Beta 2 via my home workstation to try out some stuff. Handy when I don’t want to install the Beta on my work laptop but need to do a quick proof on concept.

But for this to work it means I need to keep all my computers running 24 hours a day right? Nope – WOL to the rescue – that’s “wake on lan” which has been sitting there on all my BIOS’s for years now but I’ve never used it!

So how does it work – well in picture format it goes something like this:

Login to my WHS box using https://{myUniqueName}.homeserver.com .

Home Tab

From here I can access all my Shared Folder content – kinda neat for uploading images whilst on holiday etc. to make sure they’re all backed up nicely as part of my home-wide backup policy.

Clicking on the Computers Tab shows a list of all the computers configured in my current home setup so far (I haven’t gotten to all of them yet).

Computers Tab

From this we can see that of the three machines only the Media Center PC is currently running (as per the WHS box it also runs 24/7). The WHS box itself isn’t listed below since but we can click on the “Connect to your Home Server” to bring up the WHS dashboard.

Dashboard Backup Tab

The WHS dashboard actually runs as a windowed remote terminal application. This is kinda weird and takes some getting used to – seeing pop windows rendered in the WHS host theme rather than the local theme. The default page shows the backup status for each machine.

Clicking on the Wake On Lan tab gives us the following screen which shows which of the machines are online (switched on and connected to the network) together with their MAC and IP details.

Dashboard WakeOnLan tab

So from here we click on the machine that we wish to start and then click on the “Wake Up” button. At this point we logout of the WHS dashboard and go make a cup of coffee whilst that machine boots up.

Computers Tab 2

After a few minutes we see that the machine is now available for connection. Woohoo! Simply click on the “available” machine and we’re away with a full-screen (optional) remote desktop connection. I don’t get glass – but hey I can live with that

Login

I’ve tried the remote desktop from a few locations and it works surprisingly well even though I’ve only got a standard ADSL connection at home with a very limited 256k upload speed.

This is probably a good time to mention that the Wake On Lan feature does not come out-of-the-box with WHS. Its one of the cool Add-Ins that are floating around on the net – this particular one by Evangelos Hadjichristodoulou. I’ve played with the WHS SDK myself and its pretty cool – certainly very easy to make a simple add-in.

Restoring PCs using Windows Home Server

Over the last week I’ve had an unlucky streak with hardware on my home computers. Firstly my sons aging P3 tower had a hard disk failure. It wasn’t catastrophic but it was preventing new data from being written to the drive. So I copied everything off onto the Home Server’s shared folders.

Then I grabbed an old 6.4 Gb drive (yes they used to make them that small) and installed a vanilla copy of Windows XP. It took about 10 hours and 10 reboots to get this all the way up to Windows XP SP2 with IE 7 and all the latest patches. It also meant the drive had about 400 Mb free.

At this point I figure I’ll copy across a couple of files from the Home Server only to find its not responding. Turns out that the CPU (an old P4) has fried itself. Bugger.

So a trip to the local computer shop and I’ve got an el’ cheapo Core2Duo (4500), Asus motherboard (P5B-VM-SE) and 1 Gb of generic RAM. I rip out the old MB and replace with new components hoping and boot the machine. First thing I find is that it doesn’t even recognize the CPU. A quick download and flash of the latest motherboard BIOS fixes that, but the machine still won’t boot into Windows – reboots as soon as it hits the windows loader.

So I spend a few hours re-installing Windows Home Server. This is actually a lot less painful than Windows XP was – it has a neat feature that allows you to re-install the system partition without effecting any of the data backups or shares – very nice. During the installation though I can’t help noticing an odd “pfft” sound that comes from my son’s P3 which is supposed to be turned off. Turns out that the power supply (cranky old 230 W) has chosen this moment to commit suicide.

Next day – off to the shop again to get a new power supply. I opt for the slightly more expensive Thermaltake PSU with a 12cm fan. Theory being larger the fan slower the required rotation and therefore less noise. I was thinking I’d swap with the Home Server since that’s going to be running 24/7. However, surprisingly the new PSU was louder than the existing PSU in the Home Server that had two 8cm fans – weird.

So now my sons P3 machine has a whopping 550W PSU – major overkill – most of the connectors aren’t even compatible with the motherboard.

But now the cool bit.

  • I boot up the P3 connect to the Home Server and do a full system backup. Easy – does this very quickly across my 1Gb network (all my machines have 1Gb LAN) and connect to a 1Gb switch with the exception of the Home Theatre PC which is currently wireless only.
  • Next I power down the P3 – rip out the 6.4 Gb disk with the recently installed Windows XP and replace with a spare 30 Gb disk from my main workstation (I figure it can do with the 4 remaining newer drives).
  • Then I reboot the P3 using the Windows Home Server Restore CD. This takes a while to load – but when its done it then allows me to follow the prompts and restore the previous system image onto the new drive. It doesn’t care that the drive is a different size – as long as its >6 Gb. It even lets me go in and create partitions on the new drive before I do the restore.

Very nice! Well done Windows Home Server team!!

Windows Home Server RTM

Just setup my Windows Home Server machine to the RTM version (from RC). Performed a manual backup using a single drive (320Gb) which does an amazing job of backing up my main workstation and the home theatre PC [this isn’t a full backup given the workstation alone has over a terabyte of disk – but its most of the important stuff]. However, I then included the second drive into the storage “array” and the backups started failing again. This was the same problem I had with the RC – basically the server machine just reboots halfway through a backup. It seems like a hardware issue given how sudden the reboot is (there is nothing untoward reported in any of the event logs) – but as to which device is failing…

The most obvious candidate would be the second hard drive – a 400Gb Seagate drive. Thing is I’ve run all of Seagate’s own diagnostics over this drive (SeaTools) and it comes up fine every time. Maybe its the SATA controller – but that’s an on-board device which also is operating the primary drive. Maybe its the Intel gigabit on-board LAN controller – but why does it only fail when the second drive is operational. The Seagate drive is marginally faster than the Western Digital – but both drives are less than 6 months old. The S.M.A.R.T. diagnostics for both drives also look pretty normal – with both showing near-perfect health.

Another annoying problem is that I can’t seem to install the Windows Home Server Connector software on my sons PC. It was all working fine under the RC but for some reason refuses to un-install correctly and hence can’t install the update. Frustrating – I was about to resort to some sysinternals tools to track exactly where it was getting stuck – but figured its probably time to just rebuild the machine anyway given its a very old box whose OS has probably hasn’t been re-installed for 6 years or so. Was thinking of upgrading it from XP SP2 to Vista but my 4 ½ year old son has some nostalgic feelings towards XP and isn’t ready for the leap (stumble?) to Vista.

As for the Windows Home Server box itself… dunno – I checked out some motherboard and PSU pricing tonight. Its currently running a crusty old P4 2.8GHz and given its going to be running 24 hours a day I figured I might opt for a more energy efficient choice with a silent PSU to boot. The home theatre PC is silent from any distance greater than 30cm and uses a CoreDuo mobile chip. Seems like a Home Server box should probably be running the same sort of hardware… which leads me to wonder why I need both a Home Server and Home Theatre PC – both of which run 24/7. Oh well – I think its a common sentiment that hopefully the Home Server team will address in the next version.

______________

Slowly but steadily working my way through the WPF book. There are some huge similarities between a lot of what’s in WPF and that I’ve been working on (in my day job) over the last 3 years. This isn’t surprising given that we based a lot of our work on some early XAML samples from Microsoft (and others). I’m already imagining how it would be possible to build an infrastructure framework over the top of WPF to more easily create business applications. So should I dig into Acropolis or just go ahead and build my own?