In Valid Logic

Endlessly expanding technology

Moved to Windows Home Server

It was not even a year ago that I setup my home NAS server complete with RAID, however now I am abandoning it.  Previously, I had disliked Windows Home Server's idea of redundancy, however some recent events with my not-as-trust Infrant ReadyNAS NV have changed my opinion.

About two months ago, I had a little issue with my NAS storage box.  I was out over town over the weekend and when I came home, I found that the unit was off.  No power had gone out, since no clocks were blinking, but the box was off, and when I pushed the power button, it wouldn't turn on.  Took it out from behind my monitors, blew out the dust, and then it worked.  Was confused why that fixed it, but hey, it was working again.  However, over the next week, I started smelling something occasionally in my office that smelled like burning potatoes.  It smelled like it was coming from my ceiling fan (though turns out it was the ceiling fan blowing down the bad smell it pulled up from the NAS area)... after a week of having the NAS back up, it was broke again, and this time for good.

It turned out it was just a blown power supply, and it was somewhat common the model I had.  I ended up fixing it by popping out its proprietary PSU and replacing it with a normal big-ass ATX PSU, since I found all you needed to do for them to be compatible was snip a little wire it didn't use (used a cheap spare PSU I had laying around).  This brought up several problems with this type of box though.

First, it is entirely proprietary.  Custom power supply, custom hardware, custom build of some Linux distribution, integrated RAID controller... nothing is end-user swappable.  Compare that with a home-PC based storage system.  Dead PSU?  Ok, run to Fry's, by a new one, done.  Dead motherboard?  Get another.  Dead CPU?  Get another.  Some may be bigger headaches to get up and going, but for the most part, no need to RMA the entire unit.

While it supports RAID for hard drive redundancy, everything else about the unit is a closed box.  When the unit was broken, there was no way for me to access my data.  I couldn't plug the drives into another system.  I couldn't pull the controller out and access the array on another system.  Nothing.  Your data gets locked to that device.  To get access to your data, you have to get the device running again.  This sucks when you store all your important data on there.

All this made me take another look at Windows Home Server.  Its idea of redundant storage is to just keep two copies of the file.  Have a hard drive die?  No problem, it can rebalance its storage and ensure another copy of that data is somewhere.  Want to add more drives?  No problem, plug them in (can't exactly do that once you have all 4 drives in on the NAS solution).  With its "two copies" idea, it is basically RAID1, but without the dependence on a RAID controller.  Say you have a total system failure with WHS and need access to some of your data.  All you have to do is plug that drive into another system.  It is just a regular NTFS partition with some special directory structure.  Just go to the drive, Shares, Photos, and boom, there is the Photos share.  Additionally, even though you will get 1/2 your drive capacity with the "two copies" method, you have to face one ever growing reality... storage is cheap!  Run out of space?  It is pretty easy and rather inexpensive to add another drive.  You can get a 500gb hard drive for ~$100 nowadays... so for $200, you have 500gb of redundant storage with WHS.  $0.40 a gigabyte?  Not too shabby.

On top of that, I can now backup all the PCs in my house nice and easily (as opposed to buying several copies of Acronis TrueImage).

What's next?  Maybe when I find some free time, I'll write up a little add-in to WHS to support remote off-site backups with rsync or some other continuous backup software.

Monday, October 22, 2007

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