My Windows Home Server Journey

Well I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who was quite peeved with Microsoft’s decision to can Windows Home Server. I know this is old news, and the canning of Drive Extender even older news, but since their decision only impacts my life now, it’s only become relevant to me now.

My faithful Windows Home Server v1 has served me well over the past couple of years but has recently started to develop some annoying quirks. Like freezing. And then freezing during the POST, and then freezing during boot and then, well, you get the picture. So it was time to go shopping! I purchased the HP N40L  as it was cheap, quiet and I figured I wouldn’t have any driver issues with whatever OS I decided to replace WHS with. You can watch a review here.

So now the search was on, I had a couple of choices: stick with WHS v1, buy WHS 2011, install an opensource solution or use Storage Server 2012. I wasn’t happy with what MS did to WHS 2011 or Vail as it’s also known, was tired of v1 even though it never gave me problems software wise, so I decided to go the opensource route first. I looked at Openmediavault, FreeNAS and NAS4Free. I decided against Openmediavault for two reasons. Firstly, it was Linux based and I’ve come to prefer FreeBSD over the years. Secondly, a mate of mine who specialices in data recovery filled my head with horror stories about data recoveries on Openmediavault servers. I decided to heed his advice this time around as I’ve disregarded it to my cost too many times before.
I decided against FreeNAS and decided to try NAS4Free instead. I can’t actually remember why I made the decision but it made sense at the time. I really like the fact that I could install it on a USB drive, and since the HP40NL has a USB slot built into the motherboard on the INSIDE of the case, it seemed like a match made in heaven! And it meant I wouldn’t waste a SATA slot on a system drive, thus giving me a total of 5 drives I could use for data.

Installed it, loved it, and decided against it! Why you ask? I think NAS4Free’s greatest strength is ZFS,  a filing system developed by Sun Microsystems. However, my challenge was that I had a 1Tb drive, a 2Tb drive, a 3Tb drive and no cash! Since ZFS, specifically RAID-Z, is similar to RAID 5 I would need at least 3 identical disks, preferably 3Tb disks. And ZFS requires RAM, lots of RAM, so that would be another cash outlay. And the final hurdle for me was that I could not add a Samba share to my Windows 7 Library since it kept complaining that the share was not indexed. I was not prepared to make the folder available offline (space considerations) and really didn’t have the time or the energy to expend on researching the matter further. And I didn’t feel like going back to mapped network drives or UNC shorcuts. So I decided to remove the USB and try installing Storage Server 2012 to the 250Gb drive that came with the server.

What a pleasure! While there’s no web interface like there was with NAS4Free and no funky graphs giving me all the stats my heart could possibly desire, it JUST WORKED!. I could JBOD my disks into storage pools, create mirrored volumes for my personal important data and photos and a single 4Tb volume for my music and movie collection. And all this with only 3Tb of physical disk space! Storage server allows you to “future proof” your volume by provisioning more space than you actually have available, thus allowing you to add a new drive at a future stage. Of course I’m a bit screwed if I find I need 5Tb instead of 4! Now my next task is to see if I can mirror the storage pool consisting of the 1 and 2Tb drives onto the 3Tb drive.

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