So for the curious, I started my Drobo+WHS adventure!
The best practice is to use XP-compatible NTFS on the Drobo.
While Windows Server 2003 (the base of WHS) supports GPT disks, it seems WHS is erm… uncomfortable with them. Adding a 16TB Drobo volume to WHS gave me only 2TB of usable storage and left the rest of the disk unpartitioned.
It seems some trickery is required to get WHS to use a GPT disk to its full capacity, and experience has taught me that combining trickery and reliability often leads to unhappiness.
So, I reformatted my Drobo with XP-compatible 2TB volumes. That way WHS can manage 2TB volumes like it likes to, and Drobo will share the free space among them. The end result is the same, since I can’t put in more data than I have actual storage capacity for, and simpler is generally better.
I have a small fear that much like multiple partitions on a single physical disk, the multiple virtual volumes on Drobo may cause WHS to access more than one simultaneously and reduce performance, but my goal is not cutting-edge performance, so I choose safety over performance and let WHS do what it wants. Besides, WHS “balances” its storage mainly on a file level.
Reformatted the Drobo… now have two 2TB (1.8TiB) “disks” added to my WHS storage pool.
It’s worth noting here that if you have multiple Drobos, things can get very confusing. I highly recommend adding only one device at a time to minimize the likelihood of accidentally adding the wrong device to the storage pool, as adding a device to the storage pool deletes whatever used to be on the drive.
WHS uses its own file-mirroring for its fault-tolerance, called Duplication in WHS. Essentially, for shares with Duplication enabled, it’ll keep multiple copies of the contents on separate drives.
Folder duplication is already turned off on all my shares, because Drobo is taking care of protecting the data, so I don’t need WHS making duplicates of stuff for its protection.
Unfortunately, since you can’t specify which drives are used for Duplication, using hardware fault-tolerant storage like Drobo in conjunction with WHS’s Duplication function will result in extra redundancy and a lot of (IMHO) wasted space.
So, if you’re planning to go WHS+Drobo, don’t plan to use non-redundant drives as part of your storage pool. In this aspect, WHS and Drobo features conflict, but WHS has enough other features I like that I am okay with disabling its Duplication and let Drobo handle disk-level fault-tolerance for me.
Balancing and the Data Partition (Landing Zone)
WHS “balances” (moves data between physical disks) its storage as it gets used.
Thus, it is best to add Drobo to the WHS storage pool before you actually start using the WHS shares. This way, WHS will put its data on the Drobo and not on the WHS machine’s Data partition, as the Data partition is not fault-tolerant (unless you installed WHS onto a Drobo or other fault-tolerant storage). Power Pack 1 and onward no longer use the Data partition for storage unless you run out of storage elsewhere.
If you did put data on the WHS prior to adding Drobo to the storage pool (like I did), there are some utilities available to help migrate stuff off of the landing zone (Data partition), though they didn’t seem to work for me and I ended up just moving data off of the shares and back on.
Windows Home Server is mainly managed through the Home Server Console, which is a nice interface that gives you tabs and status information. The console installs as part of the Windows Home Server Connector software that you need to install on Windows PCs that will be monitored and/or backed up by WHS.
Just about all of your WHS configuration and management will be done in the console. It’s really a tweaked Remote Desktop session, so there are some methods to “break out” of the UI and run programs if you don’t want to open a traditional RDP session to the server.
If you have some additional non-add-in applications to install, you’ll still need to RDP into the WHS machine and you get presented with a nice HTML page that warns you about potentially breaking WHS. Good note.
I created a separate user account (from Home Server Console) for services and installed Drobo Dashboard (with email notification enabled), Eye-Fi Manager, and pyTivo under that account. I installed Drobo Dashboard and Eye-Fi Manager as services using Any Service Installer (a nice GUI for the Windows Resource Kit’s srvany utility). pyTivo installs itself as a service, I just changed its account so I could control what it had access to.
I also deleted the services account’s user share from Home Server Console (by default it creates a personal folder for each user). I suppose you don’t have to create the account from the HSC but doing it that way lets you change share permissions from the HSC rather than having to use the traditional tools.
Data Portability and Share Backups
Sadly, WHS-managed storage is not portable, meaning that you can’t disconnect a drive from your WHS storage pool and expect to make sense of it on another Windows machine.
This means… (drum roll) WHS is not a backup solution, at least not for backup of data it manages.
It is a great backup solution for the other Windows PCs in your network though… Also keep in mind that WHS has a 10-client limit and there seems to be no way or plans to increase that. More on PC backups later.
WHS Power Pack 1 introduced the ability to back up the contents of WHS shares, which lets you add disks to the system to use as backup targets. These don’t get assimilated into the storage pool.
My plan is to use the old 750GB PATA drives from my old array as standalone backups of my WHS-managed data.
WHS lets you choose which shares you want to back up and to what (backup target) drives to back them up to.
Unfortunately, this is a manual process. I’m still looking for a cleaner method. If all else fails I could use automated backup/copy tools and perhaps online storage for offsite backups.
The backup target drives are portable, and WHS does an incremental backup via some smart symlinking in the NTFS structure (see de-duplication note later).
Now I need to learn to label my drives…
WHS is quite nice for automatically backing up your Windows PCs that are on the network, at least as long as you fall into its 10-client license.
But, it should be noted that the backup database that the WHS server uses to track the backups, is stored locally. So, it’s important to back up the Backup Database. Luckily, someone wrote an add-in to do that called Backup Database Backup (BDBB). So, I’m backing up the Backup Database too.
Since the WHS-managed storage pool drives need the WHS system to access them, much like drives in a Drobo disk pack need to be in a Drobo to access their data, the WHS machine itself becomes the single point of failure here.
If one of my hard drives experiences a hardware fault, Drobo’s redundancy protects me from that. I get a replacement drive and wait for relayout. No data lost.
If one of my Drobos experiences a hardware fault, I can get a replacement Drobo chassis (yay for DroboCare) and get running again. Barring data corruption caused by using the faulty hardware, no data lost.
If my WHS machine goes down… Barring data corruption caused by the machine going down, no data lost. But, because I can’t access the storage pool’s data without the WHS machine, my data becomes inaccessible.
Luckily, it seems the WHS team (sort-of) envisioned this scenario. WHS has a Server Reinstallation mode where you can reinstall the server software and have the storage pool’s data reconstructed in the new server install.
My plan is to take Clonezilla images of the server’s drive - its install footprint is fairly small - the WHS install itself makes only a 20GB System partition and uses the remainder for the Data partition and the now-unused landing zone. I’ll store these backups locally and off-site, so I can recover my a WHS hardware fault. I also have extended warranty on my WHS hardware (an Acer AspireRevo R1600).
And, of course, if all else fails and the storage pool’s data is irreparably lost, I have my backups of my shares and the WHS backup database.
WHS only de-dupes PC backups. Specifically, it does cluster-level de-duping for PC backup images. Backups of the WHS shares do incremental backups by symlinks, which is smart since the backup remains portable and you can see the entire backup contents in the FS, even if a specific file is pointing to a file in another backup folder. WHS keeps track of what backup folders are on what drive, which is nice.
Add-ins to extend functionality through the Windows Home Server Console
“Consolidation” of storage into centralized shares (they also integrate into Windows 7’s library)
Network status notification through HSC (antivirus out of date, new drive added to a machine, etc)
[*]Shares are available to clients without the Home Server Connector software installed (as long as the client can access Samba). 10-client limit still applies though even that is way better than the 10-connection limit on workstation-class Windows OSes (5-connection for Home editions of Windows)
What could be improved:
Better backup of the server as an entity is needed for more fault-tolerance, but hey, this is a home user solution.
Since WHS manages its storage pool and that makes it non-portable anyway, it’d be nice if at least file-level de-duplication could happen on storage pool storage and not just on backups.
It’d be great if I could say “Enable duplication, but only for data stored on specific drives” - that way I could mix hardware (Drobo) and software fault-tolerant storage without wasting a bunch of space.
Would’ve been nice to have GPT disks supported, especially as we head toward >2GB individual disks, but hey, it’s another reason to use Drobo, as Drobo will slice out the storage in WHS-digestable chunks.
More support for non-Windows clients (at least status notifications - emailing would be nice, though I think there might be add-in for that.)
EDIT: There are two email notifier add-ins - Remote Notification and Windows Home Server Event Monitor - I settled on the former.
Wish I could add more user licenses (again, this is a home user solution… but there are some 10+ member families!)
Drobo+WHS is a winner, even though Microsoft officially does not support RAID solutions for WHS. I think it’s mainly from a support aspect.