New Windows Home Server!

Following another failure of our home PC about 2 months ago, I got approval from the “the powers that be” (aka my lovely wife)ย  to buy a new PC….ย  So I duly went off to the Dell website, and spec-ed up something suitable (and not too pricey).

Dual Core 2.8Ghz, 4 Gb RAM, Vista 64 Bit (soon to be Win 7 – but that’s another post) and a 22″ full HD screen to cap it off.ย  Suffice to say, performance is superb – and knocks the old box into a cocked hat – not that it was shabby, just a bit old… 3Ghz P4, 2 Gb RAM, Shuttle RefleXion Chassis….

I was running an old HP SFF desktop with an assortment of external drives as my Home Server – and it was doing a wonderful job – it got all the data back following the PC failure, and it just sat in the corner of the Study humming away gently (if a little loudly). This week I took it upon my self to repurpose the old PC chassis as a replacement WHS box and to rearrange the layout of my LAN a bit ๐Ÿ™‚

So, I started off by testing out a load of hard drives I had lying around – mostly in external USB enclosures, they had all “failed” in some way shape or form – I suspect thay had got too warm in the cases and “freaked out” a bit – so stopped being visible to WHS. They all worked quite happily whaen removed from their enclosures, so I set about working out the best arrangement for them in the Shuttle case…. there’s room for 3 disks (once I’d removed the card reader and DVD and grabbed a set of brackets from E-Bay to fit one in the 5.25″ bay) so I started with just one, SATA disk and loaded WHS…..

Everything went exactly as expected – as it should, and all the patches installed (eventually). I added the second disk, and dropped it into the storage pool – 1Tb… lovely….

Next up was the plan to move the server to the Garage – but there’s no structured wiring to there….. bring on the Devolo ethernet over power adaptors I bought AGES ago and never really got to work as expected (I put the original server in the garage when we first moved in – but it kept dropping it’s LAN connection – so I gave up and moved it next to the router)

The trick with these little devices is to not plug them into “Surge Protection” power strips – I discovered this after lots of searching…. and I now get 50 – 70Mb connections showing for all of them – which seems to be good enough for WHS ๐Ÿ™‚

One weird thing I found was that I could only get an IP address on the server if I had one of the Devolo devices cabled direct to the router – rather than a switch away:

Router -> Switch -> Structured Cable Drop to Lounge -> Devolo Device -> Power Circiut -> Devolo Device -> Serverย  gives NO IP

but…

Router -> Devolo Device -> Power Circuit -> Devolo Device -> Serverย ย  works a treat….. bizzarre!!

It tool a fair bit of trial and error and a lot of walking up and down stairs to iron out this particular little glitch – but now that I’ve got it sussed, the new server is running very happily (and much cooler) in the garage.

I’ll be decomissioning the old server over the weekend – once I’ve copied all my data off it to the new one. Once it’s decomissioned, I’ll pull the remaining disks and add them to the new server – so I should end up with 1.75Tb connected to it initially, and I’ll look at adding more in the future ๐Ÿ™‚

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I know…..

It’s been too long – but I’ve been busy!

Work is hectic, I’ve booked a round the world trip (more info to come soon on that…), and there’s just generally been a lot going on …..

I’ve been playing with U3 and the Portable Apps suite in the last couple of weeks – and Portable Apps has won the battle – my Sandisk Cruzer Micro 8Gb U3 drive has been formatted and Portable Apps installed – it’s mostly the same applications – but it’s less “intrusive” ๐Ÿ™‚

My Home Server is a little more stable now – but I guess I’m going to have to save up and buy a “proper” one at some point (I like these), the mix and match approach doesn’t really seem to be conducive to a stable server and a happy backup database…. thankfully I’ve not had to try and restore any data recently!

Another bonus is that the “XBox360 as a Media Centre Extender” concept that I introduced to the house 6 months ago is finally gaining some traction, Becs is getting the hang of streaming DVD’s (converted to HD-WMV and stored on the Server) and I’m giving serious thought to getting an “Arcade” for the other TV in the Kitchen / Diner to allow us to stream to there as well…more for music admittedly, but with HDMI it’s as capable as my Elite for video ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m just waiting for a black version to appear now…..

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How to make a Home Server user VERY sad…

a.k.a How to lose a customer and evangelist with one move.

Now I’ve been very keen on Windows Home Server – it’s been the thing that’s made me “happy” most in computing terms – I got my RTM copy some time ago, and I’ve been more than happy up until about 3 minutes ago – I would have recommended it to anyone, and did to several friends. Now, however, I’m NOT HAPPY AT ALL.

We’ll start at the beginning, I have a couple of PC’s / laptops floating around the house, and they’re all running Vista. So far so good…. I got WHS and set it up to backup everything each night and had some other stuff synced to the shared folders using Foldershare all in all I was very happy. I had some issues with the 500Gb Disks I was using in external USB caddies for additional storage and had set them back for replacement a couple of times due to mechanical failures (read: load clunking noise and no data) but I thought I was past that. (I’ll do a rant about the disks another day when I’m not quite so upset)

I was getting an occasional error with one disk “disappearing” but a reboot of the caddy and the server seemed to resolve it each time. I wasn’t too concerned…..

Then the hard disk in my Primary PC started playing up – the odd funny noise, and the infrequent hang became more frequent…. so I ordered a replacement disk and loaded up my restore CD – all fine so far, I booted and it found everything and so I kicked off my restore. It failed part way through as the disappearing disk went walkies….. no problems – I had sufficient spare disk space to remove the disk from the storage pool and then do the restore.

Now at this point I think it’s prudent to mention that this PC was the one with the PST files for both my Outlook and my Wife’s primary mail account…. (approximately 4.5 years of mail for her and more like 6-7 for me) everything else was backed up elsewhere… just not these files as WHS had them covered….. can you see where this is heading yet?

SO I start the removal process and I’m informed that all I will lose is the duplication of a couple of folders – all my Data and Backups will be safe. Lovely, so get on with removing the disk please…..

24 hours later when the removal process finishes, I unplug the offending disk and reboot the server to ensure that all is as it should be. When I reboot, I check the server storage screen in the WHS console and this is what I saw:

Hopefully you can see that there’s a lack of BACKUPS in the pie chart….

I did some digging through the event logs and found this really helpful message:

Great….. so my data is gone and my wife is likely to send my balls the same way when she finds out…. Thanks for fuck-all Microsoft!

If there’s anyone from the WHS team that is reading this and has any ideas – I’m open to suggestions – please leave a comment….. or better still get in touch – slimboyfat (at) gmail (dot) com I’d love to hear from you! In the meantime, I’m going to leave my server switched off to ensure that nothing “bad” happens to the data still on there, and look at other backup solutions…..

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Home Server – lost in post?

Following my post yesterday, and my excitement at the availability of the RTM software it was only a matter of time before I was disappointed…… Novatech are now reporting that they are expecting stock on September 14th rather than yesterday ๐Ÿ™

On the plus side, the wonderful guys at SVP have got stock of their 500Gb PATA drives again (ยฃ52.30 + VAT) – so one was duly ordered first thing this morning and is en-route now. I suspect that it should arrive along with its’ SATA siblings tomorrow if all goes according to plan ๐Ÿ™‚  This will give me all the storage I need to rebuild my server… Just a USB2 PCI card to come. I’ll have 1 500Gb PATA drive internally, 2 500Gb SATA drives in external caddies attached via USB2.0 (hopefully), and still have 2 USB2.0 & 4 USB1.1 ports free for expansion – loadsa room!!

I’ve managed to source a PCI USB2.0 card in the UK, but it’s also out of stock until ~18th September – so it looks like the big rebuild is gonna have to wait a while ๐Ÿ™ There’s also the small matter of no guarantee that it’s supported by WHS – it’s got Windows 2003 Server drivers – so I’m hoping that it’ll be OK… otherwise I may be in the market for a new chassis to house all the kit…. more expense I could do without….

In the meantime, I have my CCNA exam a week on Monday – so the study has commenced ๐Ÿ™‚ and so far, so good….. subnetting actually seems to be making sense this time around – I’ve “understood” it before – well enough for MCSE at least – but I suspect that a better understanding is required for CCNA ๐Ÿ˜‰

Enough waffle for one day – I’ll post my impressions of the new hardware once it arrives – especially the drive caddies…. I’m hoping they’re better than some of the previous ones I’ve had.

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