Windows Home Server “Vail” Overview and Review

by Alex Kuretz on April 26, 2010 · 93 comments

in Reviews

Now that Microsoft has announced the availability of the public beta of Windows Home Server Codename Vail, I wanted to share an overview to benefit both those of you that will be installing the Beta as well as those that don’t plan to install the Beta but are curious about what Vail delivers.

Remember that this is a beta product with no announced final release date, so what we are seeing today may not be what the final product looks like. Also remember that if you choose to run the Vail beta, you should only do so on a test system and definitely do not store your production data on it.

Initial Thoughts
At first glance, Vail has a very similar feature set to Windows Home Server v1. The Home Server will back up your client PCs, you can easily add and remove hard drives to expand your storage, you can remotely access your files and computers from outside the home, and you can install Add-Ins to increase the functionality of your Home Server. While the basic features look and even feel similar to it’s predecessor, Vail has been polished, refined and improved in many ways, and delivers a few key new features that should provide a better experience for Windows Home Server users.

If you like the way Windows Home Server currently functions, I think you’ll be mostly pleased with the changes in Vail. However if you were hoping to see significant new features such as Media Center integration or the ability for Windows Home Server to be the only box that is always running on your home network, you’ll likely be disappointed. There are also a few key changes to Windows Home Server Vail that I think may be show-stopping issues for some of you. Please read on for all the details.

As a further reminder that this is a Beta release, Microsoft has an extensive list of Known Issues that I recommend you review before installing Vail.

Supported Client Operating Systems

The following home computer operating systems are supported by Windows Home Server Vail.

The Windows 7 Operating System

  • Windows 7 Home Basic (x86 and x64)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium (x86 and x64)
  • Windows 7 Professional (x86 and x64)
  • Windows 7 Ultimate (x86 and x64)
  • Windows 7 Enterprise (x86 and x64)
  • Windows 7 Starter (x86)

The Windows Vista Operating System

  • Windows Vista Home Basic with Service Pack 2 (SP2) (x86 and x64)
  • Windows Vista Home Premium with SP2 (x86 and x64)
  • Windows Vista Business with SP2 (x86 and x64)
  • Windows Vista Ultimate with SP2 (x86 and x64)
  • Windows Vista Enterprise with SP2 (x86 and x64)
  • Windows Vista Starter with SP2 (x86)

The Windows XP Operating System

  • Windows XP Home with Service Pack 3 (SP3)
  • Windows XP Professional with SP3
  • Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 with SP3

New and Improved Features
There are number of new and improved features in Windows Home Server Vail that I believe will make a large number of you happy. Here’s a summary of some of these changes, I talk about some of them more later in the article, you can read more in the Getting Started guide, and of course explore Vail after you’ve installed it.

First, the client PC backup feature has been made more robust and so we should see less errors and erratic failures that we are used to in Windows Home Server v1. They have also added a computer backup archive feature, so that you can save off the backup of a PC that you wish to retire and not have it count as one of the 10 connected PCs. Vail also borrows a cue from the popularity of my BDBB Add-In and has a “Backup the Backups” feature, just like you can back up the shared folders. This is a welcome change, but means I’ll have to find a new Add-In to work on for Vail. :)

The shared folder backups can now be scheduled, and also include the ability to back up and restore the entire Vail operating system, which was one of the most requested features.

Drive Extender has been extensively worked on and claims to have increased robustness and control. One of the issues we saw with v1 was that failed or failing hard drives could cause significant issues with Windows Home Server, often leaving the user with no idea of how to repair their server. Here are the listed changes from the Getting Started guide, I believe they are important enough to call out specifically here.

  • Allows you to remove the system drive from the storage pool to help increase the speed of the OS
  • Automatically detects and corrects many silent hard drive data errors
  • Allows you to remove a drive without server down time
  • Offers improved drive health monitoring and alerting
  • Makes data for duplicated folders available when a drive is missing without requiring you to remove the missing drive first
  • Supports 60GB hard drives or larger, and up to 10 drives can be a part of the server storage pool

I imagine that last bullet point has several of you with your jaws hanging open. This is the first I’ve heard of a 10 drive limit in Vail, and if it is true I believe this is a bad idea and will be feeding that back to Microsoft.

One other concern point I have is that while drives can be viewed and added to other Vail servers, due to the technical changes in Drive Extender there is currently no way to access your data on your server hard drives should you need to. The drives are no longer formatted with NTFS and so your data is “hidden” behind the abstraction of Drive Extender. I’m hopeful that Microsoft will be able to create a utility or driver that provides access to your files for when you need access without building a new server.

Another positive Drive Extender feature is that Previous Versions can be enabled in Vail, which is a nice improvement over v1. This allows you to keep historical versions of changed files on the server, in case of accidental or unintended changes. You will need to manually turn this feature on to use it, however, as it is disabled out of the box.

Finally, DLNA Streaming and “PlayTo” are now supported by Windows Home Server Vail which delivers an improved media streaming experience to the Xbox 360 and other media streaming devices in the home. Vail also provides HomeGroup support which is included in Windows 7 and simplifies the process of sharing files and printers on a home network.

Now we’ll take a look at what the new user interface looks like, and examine the Remote Access and streaming features of Windows Home Server Vail.

Client Installation and Setup
We have full guides on how to either manually or automatically install Vail onto your MediaSmart Server as well as your own server so be sure to check those articles to see what the installation process looks like.

After the installation completes you are ready to join your client PCs to your Vail server. This process is now completely web based instead of requiring a Client Install CD, which means you perform the installation and configuration simply by pointing your browser to http://servername/connect. This will download a small file to run on your computer that joins your PC with your Vail server.

In my case, I still had the Connector software from my Windows Home Server v1 installed on my client PC, which Vail detected and required me to uninstall. After uninstalling v1 I restarted the client install and proceeded through the steps.

Having the ability the add a description for your PC is a nice touch for identifying each PC that you join with your Home Server. As you can see I’ve stressed the importance of this particular PC. :)

The rest of the installation should be familiar to current Windows Home Server users. You can choose to wake the computer for backups, participate in the Microsoft feedback program, and then the actual join with the Home Server occurs.

At the end you are left with three shortcuts on your desktop and a system tray application giving you access to the Launchpad, Dashboard, and server notifications.

Client Launchpad
In addition to the system tray icon and Shared Folders desktop shortcut that was included in v1, Vail now includes a client Launchpad application. The Launchpad gives you access to the Home Server features running on the client PC, such as the ability to see Recent Backup status, Backup Now, and the Server Health Notifications. An interesting new item is the “Remote Access” item that launches a browser to your servers Remote Access URL, and will be handy running on your laptop when away from home.

Add-In developers are also able to add their own items to the Launchpad to extend the functionality of Windows Home Server.

Server Dashboard
The Server Console has been renamed in Vail to the Server Dashboard but should be familiar in layout to users of Windows Home Server v1. The Home tab has basic instructional information.

The Users tab allows you to add, edit, and view the users configured with your Vail server. The Add User feature allows for a little more fine-grained control of user permissions.

The Computers and Backup tab gives you access to the joined client PCs as well as the exciting new Server Backup features that allow you to backup up the Operating System of the server to protect against system drive failure, schedule automated server backups, and even backup the Client PC Backups (I guess they took a hint from the popularity of my WHS BDBB Add-In :) ). In the below screenshots I’ve attached a 1.5TB USB drive and designated it as a Server Backup drive, and am now configuring the server to back itself up.

The Storage tab allows you to add and remove drives as either Storage or Backup, as well as configure the shared folders. One noteworthy item is that the individual Users shares are no longer created by default. If these were valuable to you then you’ll have to manually create them yourself. In the first two shots you can see that Duplication is unavailable because I only have a single drive in the server.

A nice feature is the ability to name or add a label to your drive when you install it. You’ll likely want to use a more descriptive name than I did.

Another nice feature is that Vail now automatically enables duplication on your shared folders after additional drives are added.

The Add-Ins tab will give you access to any installed Add-Ins. We’ll see how long it takes for the community add-ins to begin showing up.

The Settings tab is simplified and my understanding is that Add-In developers will no longer be able to add their own settings tab. One area I’d like to see improved is the configuration for Media Streaming. Currently in Vail, streaming provides access to all media types in each share. This means that my music album art appears in the Photos stream, which is incredibly annoying. I mention this more in the Remote Access section later.

The Remote Access configuration has been improved so that you can choose to manually configure your Remote Access. This is useful if your router doesn’t support UPnP, or if you prefer to manually forward ports. You can also add your own custom images and links to the Remote Access pages.

Finally, the Alerts tab allows you to view the health status of your home server.

Remote Access Features
The Remote Access features have been significantly updated in Vail, and Microsoft has now built-in many of the features that differentiated the HP MediaSmart Server from other Home Server offerings. Your Media is now completely accessible from anywhere on the internet, thanks to the new Remote Media Streaming features.

The initial login is familiar with Windows Home Server v1, and provides access to the Server Console as well as Remote Desktop sessions to any PC that supports RDP and has it enabled. Unfortunately the ActiveX control that provides RDP access was out of date and required me to download a new version (and then reboot my PC) before I could utilize this feature. There is also access to upload and download files from the shared folders.

The music streaming is one of my favorite features, as I like to listen to music on my headphones while at work. The interface is very attractive, and usable even with relatively large libraries. I have over 7,000 tracks in more than 500 albums, and the browser was able to load the album art fairly quickly. Music streams started within a couple of seconds and there is little to no delay between track changes.

The user interface is very similar to the Windows 7 Media Center experience, with scrolling album covers in the background.

The Music Streaming experience is more attractive than the current offering from HP, however the “beta” state of Vail has shown itself and I am experiencing issues with playback where tracks randomly stop playing and skip to the next. I’ve not yet determined if specific files cause this or if it is a more common issue.

Video streaming is also included and features on-the-fly transcoding of files on the server. This means that when you start to stream a video over the web interface, your server will automatically convert it to a resolution and format that streams well. This does require some decent horsepower from your server’s CPU so if you plan on using this feature you may want to take that into consideration when deciding what hardware to use.

Streaming videos from my home has never been very important to me, I just don’t seem to have the interest or need to watch the videos stored on my home server while away from home. I did perform some testing, and unfortunately this feature also has some issues. My Recorded TV shows wouldn’t play (apparently unsupported file formats but they appear in the Remote Media display) and more importantly my home video 720p AVCHD files in MP4 container from my digital video camera wouldn’t play their normal widescreen aspect ratio and are instead squished which ruins the experience of watching the video. Interestingly enough the thumbnail image that is generated shows the correct widescreen aspect ratio. I also found that my test .mts files, which are another common digital video camera format, weren’t able to be played by the streamer even though the Getting Started guide claims to support them. The mkv files that are so popular for storing ripped movies are also not supported. Of course WMV files all worked great, including a sample 1080p version of Terminator 2 that have for testing.

In all cases the playback began quickly and the transcoding seems to work well. I did experience many lockups of Internet Explorer during my testing, while Chrome and Firefox seemed more robust.

One of the biggest frustrations for me is that all my media is mixed up (combined) when displayed by the Vail media streamer, meaning that my Album Art from my Music share is showing up in the Pictures stream. I find this to be quite annoying and it makes the Photo streaming feature pretty much useless. I’ll be advocating very strongly for more configuration options for media management in the shipping version of Vail.

The photo slideshow feature is pretty much what you’d expect and worked fine in my light testing. I’m not sure how useful this will be given that a Remote Access user account is required to access the photos.

Summary
There is a lot of excitement about what Windows Home Server Vail will deliver as a second generation operating system. Even though Windows Home Server v1 had it’s warts and issues, it is a popular product that serves us very well at protecting our data and making it accessible wherever we are. Vail improves on these features in many ways, however I have some significant concerns that I’m hoping our feedback as beta testers will convince Microsoft to make some changes.

Here is what I want to see changed in Vail as it exists today:

  • Don’t restrict us to 10 hard drives. There’s no good reason to do this, especially on a “Premium” labeled SKU and when v1 supported 32 drives.
  • Make Vail storage disks readable on non-Vail computers, just like they are in v1. This has been a much needed feature in the current version, people’s systems do fail and they need to feel confident that their data is safe
  • Make the Media Streaming more configurable, I really hate having my album art mixed in with my photos.
  • Keep improving the Remote Streaming experience. It’s fairly buggy right now, and I’d like to see improved media support for Recorded TV and other video containers such as the extremely popular MKV. There is also the need for real widescreen aspect ratio support as currently that doesn’t seem to work well for many files.

Finally, be sure to submit bugs on Connect, and make sure Microsoft hears what you think of Vail and how it is working for you. Post in the comments or the forums to share what you think about the new and changed features in Vail, as well as your experience when you run the Beta.





Article by

I'm Alex Kuretz, and I'm the founder of MediaSmartServer.net. I was the Lead Test and Integration Engineer at HP for the MediaSmart Server until April 2008 when I moved on to other opportunities outside HP. I've kept active in the Windows Home Server community, creating several add-ins and helping users make the most of their Home Servers.


{ 82 comments }

Texas-Hansen April 26, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Great article Alex.

I would agree with your assessment of the negatives for Vail. The two that would be show-stoppers for me would be the 10 drive limit and the inability to read the data from the data on non-Vail computers. Those are some serious limitations for the next gen WHS.

Damian April 26, 2010 at 1:15 pm

As always Alex excellent writeup. I must say I am shocked at the 10 HDD limit. It almost seems like MS wants to keep Vail out of the hands of power users. Losing the ability to read drives outside of Vail is another big negative. Of course the lack of Media Center integration is a joke IMO.

From what you can see there is no way to simply upgrade from WHS to Vail? So you are either forced to copy all your data off of WHS, install Vail, and copy the data back. The other option would be to build/buy a Vail system and copy from WHS to Vail???

So in your opinion, is there enough reason to upgrade (from what I can see the cons are pretty serious)?

Alex Kuretz April 26, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Damian – I’ve said it before, I’ve never heard of Microsoft making a 32bit to 64bit upgrade path before. And now from what we’ve seen of Drive Extender and how it’s largely been rewritten, I’m highly confident that any migration path will be manual, similar to my manual Migration guide except you won’t be able to take your Client backup database with you.

I’m not sure if the 10 drive limit is just for the beta or not, as I mentioned I’d not heard of this from Microsoft before, only just saw it in the Getting Started guide and haven’t heard any response from Microsoft on that question.

AO April 26, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Bummed to not see more Media Center integration. I want only one machine on 24/7 and I would like it to do everything my ex495 does in addition to record and host all of my TV shows.

Interface looks nice and I like the improved music/video streaming minus the bugs.

TheGuy April 26, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I agree:
■Don’t restrict us to 10 hard drives. There’s no good reason to do this, especially on a “Premium” labeled SKU and when v1 supported 32 drives.
■Make Vail storage disks readable on non-Vail computers, just like they are in v1. This has been a much needed feature in the current version, people’s systems do fail and they need to feel confident that their data is safe
■Make the Media Streaming more configurable, I really hate having my album art mixed in with my photos.
■Keep improving the Remote Streaming experience. It’s fairly buggy right now, and I’d like to see improved media support for Recorded TV and other video containers such as the extremely popular MKV. There is also the need for real widescreen aspect ratio support as currently that doesn’t seem to work well for many files.

I have the in-laws look at the kids video activities (soccer games etc) via the home server. Make it work flawlessly please.

Sean Goller April 26, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Is this still Windows Server 2003 under the hood? Or did they move to 2008?

Alex Kuretz April 26, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Hi Sean, it’s now Windows Server 2008 R2, a much more modern and robust platform.

diehard April 26, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Maybe the limit to 10 drives is because it’s the beta. If someone transfers 32 drives of content to this build and then there are issues, that guy won’t be a happy camper.

I’ll be trying to install this on my EX470, I designed a few VGA printed circuit boards for the EX models using ExpressPCB, but I’m looking forward to Alex’s How To.

Alex Kuretz April 26, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Diehard, the how-to for the EX470 is up, please let me know how it works for you! http://www.mediasmartserver.net/2010/04/26/how-to-install-windows-home-server-vail-on-the-hp-mediasmart-server/

Jason April 26, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Great review, I do like Windows Home Server features however the down side is I cannot join it to a domain. This one additional feature would make me want to buy it, instead I went with an Iomega StorCenter that can share through the domain, backup with EMC retrospec and I use a server running weezo for external media access.

Peter April 26, 2010 at 1:44 pm

I agree with the problem of not being able to read WHS disks in other machines. That is an absolute must for data recovery.

I would have to disagree with you about the 10 drive limitation being a problem. The 32 drive limitation was created when 250 GB hard drives were considered “huge”. By the time this is released 2 TB drives are going to be the norm. If you have more than 20 TB of data, you probably need a more robust solution than WHS. While it would probably be easy for MS to up that limit, the number of people who would use more than 10 drives has to be very, very small.

Alex Kuretz April 26, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Peter, I think you have a fair point that the number of users with that much storage is pretty small, but as a data point there are more than a handful of such users on my (relatively small) forums alone, I’m sure there are many more in the WHS community with 20TB or more of storage.
http://www.mediasmartserver.net/forums/viewforum.php?f=22

Sepf April 26, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Currently I’d have to say the 10 drive limitation is an absolute show-stopper for me. Our current WHS v1 box was just migrated to a 4U rackmount with 20 drive bays, and currently 15 of them are in-use (over 13tb total storage).

Unfortunately, if it ships with such a limitation we cannot migrate to it, which is a shame as some of the other features look like things I’d be interested in (get rid of ampache and orb with the web-streaming of audio, that would make me happy, especially if it had FLAC support).

I’ll definitely be sending some feedback to Microsoft, as I absolutely love my WHS box!

Thank you Alex for the great write up, now I need to go find something to cure my shock.

Matthieu April 26, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Damian wrote that WHS V2 lacks Media Center integration?
I don’t understand this statement
my media center V7 can connect to my WHS and read the videos/music/photos.
Thanks

Alex Kuretz April 26, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Matthieu, some people have wanted Media Center to be built-in to Windows Home Server, including TV tuners, so that it could be the only box that is on all the time recording shows.

RMS April 26, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Peter may not have a problem with a 10 drive limit, but I know I do. I have a bucket of 750GB drives, a bunch of 1.5TB drives, and a handful of 2 TB drives. As drive capacity increases, so do our requirements. Today’s 1080HD video cameras alone can fill a few of those drives pretty quickly (ask me how I know).
Yes, there are other solutions…. but Server 2008 is not optimized for home users like WHS is.
OK Microsoft… Please offer a WHS Ultimate Version for those of us who need it. You can even charge me double…….Oh- and by the way, I need to be able to read those drives elsewhere; even if its another WHS box.

GLS September 2, 2010 at 11:48 am

2tb drives are regularly available around $100 now, time to let go my friend…

Christien Lomax (TheCatWhisperer) April 26, 2010 at 2:23 pm

I’m rather surprised that so many of you find the 10 drive limit a show-stopper. I personally have 3x 500gb, 2×1.5TB and 1x 1TB drives in my v1 WHS, and even with all my HD movies, photos, music, data, personal files, computer backups, etc I am only using about 60% of my available space.

When I start to run low, I’ll upgrade the 500gb drives to WD Green 2TBs, even with only 6 drive slots I think it’ll be a few years before I get low on space, then I’ll look at purging old crap ;)

Really? you are running out of space with over 20TBs? Wow… look into SBS 2008 ;) I don’t belie there is a limit there. I think that is probably why MS put the 10 drive limit in place (kinda like not allowing non-ultimate users to use drive-extender in vista…). They seem to like to force power-users to pay up.

PS: Matthieu, I think Damien was talking about WHS acting as a PVR, integrating with MC as a storage provider. (ie: the server would actually do the recording…)

Sean Goller April 26, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I use MyMovies to serve my DVDs and Blurays to my Media Center, and I store everything (with folder duplication!) on my WHS. 20TB is not enough. I’ve got 14TB across 10 drives (my root drive is 2 120GB 2.5″ drives in hardware raid1, so really it’s only 9) and I’ve only got about 4TB free, and I’m still ripping my movie collection. at 40GB a Bluray, space fills up fast….

Christien Lomax (TheCatWhisperer) April 26, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Y’all need to re-encode your data :| I also was using myMovies to server DVDs, etc. (I’ve since switched to Boxee… like much better as a media player) i ripped then re-encoded them. With Bluray discs, I just get the already ripped versions after I of-course buy the originals. *cough-cough*

I don’t use folder duplication on media files that I have the originals for (or that I can re-get..) Its too wasteful. I use it for sensitive items like photos, personal files, etc (which I also backup to an external 2TB hd).

Sean Goller April 26, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Sorry, I want the original content, menus and everything. I don’t re-encode anything. :)

And considering the time cost for re-ripping everything versus the cost of double the drive space, I’ll take double the drivespace. :)

Seth April 26, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Can anyone with Vail installed on a machine try installing Microsoft Security Essentials and see if it takes? I hate the idea of paying for anti-virus when MSSE is free and is actually pretty good.

Peter April 26, 2010 at 2:59 pm

@Seth – I can’t give you a definitive answer, but I would have to guess it’s “no.” MSE is only designed for client OSs. The system requirements don’t say it can be installed on any server OS. Do you have MSE installed on the current version of WHS?

Bart April 26, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Just get a copy of Symantec Endpoint Protection. No hacks, cracks, serials or subscriptions needed (as a stand-alone)…

Damian April 26, 2010 at 4:08 pm

@ Peter & Christien Lomax,

You would be surprised at how many people are slowly seeing their data pool grow. Right now I have 16 drives in my WHS, for a little over 20TB worth of data. Because of cheap and larger hard drives I just don’t see a need to re encode anymore. The average Blu Ray movie is anywhere from 15-50GB in size. Add duplication and you can see where a 10 HDD limit becomes problematic.

My guess as Alex mentioned, this is mostly just a beta restriction (I hope).

As others have mentioned, when I said lack of WMC integration I was talking about turning VAIL into a tv tuner farm so I don’t need to leave my desktop PC on 24/7 as well. Right now the only solution if you want this is to use SageTV.

Dustin April 26, 2010 at 4:18 pm

I don’t mind if MS wants to put a 10-drive limit in, but the problem is they don’t offer us another product to move to.

Sure they have SBS and whatnot, but one of the whole points of WHS is ease of use…

Matthieu April 26, 2010 at 4:23 pm

ooops, lost my post.
@ Alex Kuretz
I understand tthat having one machine is cheaper.
I have “solved” this issue by installing both WHS and W7 on the same machine.
W7 is the host, and WHS runs in a virtual machine (using VMware)
it works like a charm.
the WHS VM can be confirmed in different network configurations, since I only have one media center, I went for the “Host-Only” option. media files are streamed directly from WHS to W7, without going through the router.
it’s also highly recommended to install WHS with direct acess on a hard disk. This greatly improves the performance. the 6 data disks are also directly and exclusively accessed by WHS, W7 don’t see them (hidden).
in the beginning I used this approach to test WHS and a feeling of the product. Over time, the solution worked perfectly so I kept it.
I really appreciate the snapshot feature of vmware, I can always mess up WHS and go back to a previous snapshot.
I beefed up my Pc with a I5 and 8gb of RAM plus a SSD for W7.
kids are getting older now and am thinking of adding another media center. I recently put WHS on its own IP address so data are now going through the router. I can also access WHS from work. It works fine.
Will see later if I need to beef up the network (dual gigabit + switch).

Installing WHS in VM requires a few tricks but this guide has it all worked out:http://www.edbott.com/weblog/?p=2061

Nigel Wilks April 26, 2010 at 4:37 pm

I’ve been running WHS test systems on VMWare for development work for some time now; in an array of different languages and it performs flawlessly. Vail was no exception and was pretty easy to configure which is why we put 2 guides up to ease the install for new users both using VMWare Workstation and the free VMWare Server. The folks over at HomeServerLand have also covered it running on Hyper-V.

Matthieu April 26, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Hi Nigel,
where can we see those 2 guides? Am interested to see if I can improve things.
cheers

T-Bone April 26, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Im happy to see information about vail surfacing. Looks like some of the features natively built in will make HP have to work to diffrenciate the next server from a DIY. I like innovation and I cant wait to see what HP brings to the table.

The 10 Drive limit sucks I like to have options. and I have my 4 bays about full and that is without duplication which I want to turn on badly. I can see where this could be an issue.

As for not being able to read the drives on other machines if my MSS goes down. I dont like that at all. After talking to Alex in the very beginning this was the major selling point for me. I mean you hardware goes out. you have things in life that come up and you need access to that data now. Say your not in the position to purchase new hardware right this second. isnt it nice not to have your data locked out of your hands?

Damian April 26, 2010 at 5:10 pm

@ T-Bone,

The lack of reading the drives reminds me of the Drobo. If you use a drobo for your data storage and you have a hardware failure you have to purchase a new Drobo to access your data. If you don’t you are hosed.

What I don’t like about the current 10 HDD limit is simply it alienates current users which is not a good business model. If this was a brand new product coming to the market then 10 HDD would be no big deal as the consumer would know that limit going in. Assuming the 10 HDD limit is in fact legit and not just a beta only feature then MS just insulted every current WHS user who either current relies on or was planning on relying on using more then 10 HDDs. My gut tells me this is just a beta feature, hope I am right

MikeC April 26, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Darn, I guess my plan for using an Intel 40GB SSD as a boot drive has been thrown out the door! I can’t afford a 160GB SSD for a boot drive.

Comp1962 April 26, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Like most I have been anxious to obtain information on Vail and to see what it had to offer but the 10 drive limitation hurts and what hurts even more is not being able to work on your drives outside the WHS box. I have to wonder what Microsoft was thinking when they came up with this.

I apologize if I appear negative but I am just dissappointed. I realise this is not the finished product but none the less I am still very disappointed.

Comp1962 April 26, 2010 at 9:26 pm

I found an interesting post on Microsoft posted by BulatS [MSFT] regarding the 10 drive limitation here is part of what he said:

3) 14 shouldn’t be a problem in most cases. We don’t prevent the user from adding more than 10 drives, it’s just not stable enough in this beta release. We’re testing on machines with more than 10 disks at the moment and are seeing occasional bugs, which we need to fix before raising our official limits. The number of disks is less important than the combined capacity of all disks though.

Here is the Link to review the discussion:

http://social.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/whsvailbeta/thread/49a8c753-0f27-48af-a60f-a4eee49636cb

Now I have to say I feel better but still it concerns me. I am downloading Vail now and maybe I will get it installed on an EX470 only I will use a new drive so I can exchange drives to continue my testing between the old and the new.

Nigel Wilks April 27, 2010 at 12:40 am

@Matthieu – We’ve got a whole suite of Vail related articles at http://www.mediasmartserver.net . You’ll see 2 VMWare articles there as well as other guides on installing on MediaSmart Servers.

Griffon April 27, 2010 at 2:05 am

Pththth, well it sounds like a few nice changes but mostly more of the same. I’m really disappointed that they are not going to go with real media integration allow at least for MCE blade type access. They say they want to own the garage but the clearly can’t see how to get there.

TNips April 27, 2010 at 3:03 am

Maybe I’m confused by those that don’t find a 10 drive limit a problem and correct me if I’m wrong – but – The ability to do bare metal backups of all 7 of my computers (all equipped with at least 1×1.5TB drives and in most cases 2x) makes that limit a little worthless. Not to mention all my photos, HD home video, moves, TV, music, important documents, etc. This limit would fill up for me far too quickly.

I would also like to see the option to purchase and enter a license code from the trial rather than completing another full install. I didn’t see a way to do this in the current WHS trial and had to complete a full install. Once you have it set up it’s a pain to have to do it all over again when you buy a copy. Just let me buy that license Microsoft! (Again maybe I just didn’t see this option).

Christien Lomax (TheCatWhisperer) April 27, 2010 at 5:28 am

I personally think those of you who want/need more than 10 drives would still be considered “power users” and not the norm. I think (and without a survey & research its speculation on both parts) that the majority of WHS users buy their HP/Acer WHS from the local computer mega store and might throw in an extra drive or two. Most of these prebuilt machines only support 3-5 extra drives (on top of the base drive that comes with the system). Most wouldn’t even have a clue that you could add extra drives via USB or eSATA. Many wouldn’t fathom more than 4-10TB of data.

We are power users (many of you much more so than I). You talk about running in VMWare, having U4 rack units with 20 drives. The average consumer that WHS is aimed at wouldn’t have a clue where to start (even if they knew what you were talking about).

Don’t get me wrong, I think the 10 drive limit is silly, and as Comp1962 pointed out it may be a moot point (post-beta). I still wouldn’t be surprised if MS stayed at a 10 drive limit or maybe 15-20. They typically make power users shell out for more expensive “features”. Those doing backups of more than 3 machines, running on rack mounted equipment with 20 drives, etc, they would probably see as “should be running SBS 2008″. It has most of the same base features and more for the power user (DC/AD, more stringent security, mail/exchange, web server, etc…). But who in their right mind would pay for that for a home server ;)

Anyway, I just think that those of us who post to forums sometimes forget we are edge users. We are not the norm, and MS could probably set a 10 drive limit and the 5% of us who cared (and the probably less than 1/3 of those who switched OSes) would not make much of a dent in MS’s profits.

Let’s be serious, you CAN re-encode you HD Home videos to a better, less space consuming, just as good quality format. There are tools out there (encodeHD, etc) that will do this with very little fuss. Some will even do it on a schedule.

There was an article yesterday (or earlier) that was on re-encoding Bluray & DVD to x264 format (I believe menus and all??) for backing up your disks in a less space consuming manner (yes, it can take upwards of 10-12 hours be 50gb blu-ray, again, you could probably schedule this).

Really, let’s say MS does not take out the 10 drive limit (bugs, laziness, arrogance, whatever). You will do 1 of 3 things (just like me):

1) Won’t upgrade, stay with WHS V1.
2) Will upgrade anyway, and hope that larger capacity drives come out, or will buy NAS device(s) that mask multiple drives as 1 – should work?
3) Will switch to another OS (not likely, we do rather like WHS… )

I know some of you will disagree with me, that’s fine, its the point of discussion. And none of what I said above is meant in any way to offend. I’d like to hear your thoughts on my points though.

As a little background, here is my setup:

WHS: Custom Athlon X2 4800+, 3gb ram, 3x 500gb, 2×1.5tb, 1x1tb – runs IIS, ms sql, etc. (no slots left for internal drives, WHS crashes when using drives via USB, never really looked into, will probably upgrade to an HP based device in next 6-12 months)
Media Center: Windows 7 Ultimate – athlon 5600+, 1 tuner (hauppage dual tuner digital/analog), 1x 500gb drive, 6 gb ram, gt86oo (512mb)
Office PC: Windows 7 Home, 2 gb ram, Intel Core2 Duo (3.2ghz) 1x 320gb, ati???? (I forget, g/f uses it the most).

I store mostly HD movies, home video, photos (about 60gb of RAW), music, personal data & backups of the MCE & office PC.I checked last night and am at bout 65% capacity.

Christien Lomax (TheCatWhisperer) April 27, 2010 at 5:38 am

@Damian: I wouldn’t be surprised at all, the simple truth is (in my experience) that most people delete old data (even old home video, etc). 2 years ago I though 2 TB was a huge amount of space on my WHS. Now I have over 6Tb and am at 60% capacity. I completely agree that the 10 drive limit alienates _some_ users (and most likely a small fraction, again, most real users wouldn’t have a clue how to add space on to their HP device post 4 drive internal limit, let alone how to custom build a WHS…). I just have my doubts weather MS will care about the small fraction who would actually switch.

@TNips – edge user. 7 PCs with 1+TB each? You are not the norm my friend ;) Again, I definitely see how a 10 drive limit negatively effects you. Especially if all those PCs run near capacity. Your power bill must be frightful! :D (I find my 1 server, 2 PCs add enough as it is that I frequently only run the WHS 24×7, the PCs hibernate…)

Christien Lomax (TheCatWhisperer) April 27, 2010 at 5:45 am

Sorry for spamming comments…

A few other thoughts:

- I agree tht the lack of letting WHS (natively) act as a networked PVR is sad. This is one of the most requested features I’ve seen on various forums, etc.
- Would like to see a backup that allows you to backup (chosen) data only… I could care less if I have to re-install the OS for how infrequently one has a critical fault. Yes, plopping a disc in the drive then telling it to restore a machine is nice, but in 2+ years using WHS, I’ve never done i.. I typically wipe my machines every 6-12 months anyway.
- Like the updated remote capabilities. We use SBS 2008 at work and I use the remote desktop all the time, it CERTAINLY works better that the WHS version.
- like the new media capabilities… now if only Rogers (Canadian Cell Service) would offer a realistic unlimited data plan for my iPhone (and soon to have iPad)…

Damian April 27, 2010 at 5:49 am

@ Christien Lomax (TheCatWhisperer):

I agree that the feeling is MS might be trying to make power users pony up some more money with the 10 HDD limit. As I mentioned before though if this limit is in fact kept they are alienating current users which is never a good thing and really makes no sense. I could possibly see the 10 HDD limit making more sense if MS had come up with a more efficient way to handle data protection (parity such as Flex Raid, unRaid, etc…), but they still employ duplication which means the user is forced to have 2x the amount of HDD space then they really need just to have data protection.

Regarding encoding, that is definitely a viable option, and something I used to do with all my movies (using Ripbot 264). I stopped doing this for several reasons:

1) I got tired of having my PC run full speed for 8-12 hours a day just to encode one Blu Ray. This is a waste of time and energy (especially considering I can rip a Blu Ray in its original format in under an hour, and then shut off my PC)

2) There will always be quality loss when encoding. Now that quality loss will undoubtedly depend on factors such as the settings you choose, etc… but you do lose something. Some people say they see zero difference, others notice differences right away. I can say that I do see a difference between an encoded Blu Ray and an original. Some of the differences may be very small, others more glaring

3) Also lets not forget that with a Blu Ray the audio aspect is just as important as the video aspect. You can encode the audio down to something like AC3 just to save on space (2-4GB HD Track vs maybe 600MB Ac3 track), but you are definitely losing something (of course though this is all dependent on your setup and whether it can take advantage of the HD Audio). Another option some people use is to encode the HD Audio into a lossless FLAC.

This makes for a great discussion and there is definitely no right way, as each persons situation will determine what is best for them

SimSim April 27, 2010 at 6:09 am

This may seem stupid, but did anyone trie to install this : http://support.microsoft.com/kb/968211/fr on Vail. As W7 and 2008R2 share the same kernel, that may work?
But it’s more likely that MS is not stupid and it can only work on W7 N Edition…

PS, excuse my English i’m French :)

Rhinoevans April 27, 2010 at 9:30 am

I just did a complete backup of all my data on the WHS. If I install Vail, will it be able to see all that data on the HD. I guess worst case, I can just put it in my BLACKx SATA enclouser and drag everything to the Vail server.

Alex Kuretz April 27, 2010 at 9:37 am

@SimSim – I doubt that will install but I’ve not tried it.

@Rhinoevans – Your drives will be formatted and all data lost when you install Vail, there is no upgrade path.

Wil April 27, 2010 at 10:09 am

Thanks Alex, great overview. Is there any encryption of the server and the backups possible with Vail (bit locker or true-crypt)?

Alex Kuretz April 27, 2010 at 10:22 am

Wil, thanks for the comments. I’m not aware of any encryption options built into Vail, so I do not believe it’s supported. It may be possible, we’ll need to do some experimentation.

T-Bone April 27, 2010 at 10:19 am

This is great I was thinking the other day something exciting needed to happen for the WHS community. I was thinking more like news of a new server, This is even better. The sad part is that at the looks of this vail will not be in the next HP version server unless some heavy duty coding happens. HAHA!!! Looks like old faithful will be kicking around for another year haha.

Jim April 27, 2010 at 10:24 am

Alex–As usual, great review. One question: what type of web server did MS implement with this release? Assuming that they did PHP/IIS7.0 and maybe SQLServerExpress…can you confirm?

Alex Kuretz April 27, 2010 at 10:40 am

Jim- Vail runs on Server 2008 R2, this comes with IIS 7.5, though I don’t see PHP or SQLServer on the box.

GaPony April 27, 2010 at 10:46 am

Excellant “First Look” review Alex. I look forward to seeing more as you dig deeper into this new product.

I think it may be a little early to get overly excited about the features, or lack of, that you may like or dislike in this first beta. I would recommend making yourself heard with constructive feedback to the development team. I, for one, appreciate getting the opportunity to get my hands on “Vail” and intend on making the most of it by sharing my thoughts with Microsoft in the most positive and persuasive ways that I can.

Alex Kuretz April 27, 2010 at 11:05 am

@GaPony – Thanks for your comments, I agree that positive and constructive feedback is the best way to make yourself heard. I’ve had access as an MVP to Vail for over a year so I don’t think it’s too early, and I have been giving my feedback to Microsoft regularly during that time. Definitely provide your feedback via Connect once you’ve got the Beta installed!

Rhinoevans April 27, 2010 at 11:01 am

@ Kuretz

Formatted even when they are not added to the pool? They cant see normal NTFS formated drives connected?

I havent tried this yet, but just backed up the shares to an internal drive on WHS, have yet to remove it, but will I be able to see all the data when the drive is removed from the server and conected to a Win 7 machine as an external HD? This is probably a noobie question. Just new to this, been running WHS for 3 weeks. :)

Alex Kuretz April 27, 2010 at 11:08 am

@Rhinoevans – If you connect the drive without adding it to the pool, then yes, you should be able to access it via Remote Desktop to copy your data to the server shares.

Server 2008 has built in support for the new Advanced Format drives and my understanding is that they are compatible with Vail though I’ve not personally tested this for compatibility or any possible performance impact.

Rhinoevans April 27, 2010 at 11:03 am

Also is the problem with WD Advanced drives problems gone with Vail?

Andrew McNeill April 27, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Hi – have read great web content on the v3 upgrade. All info points to the CDs that can be ordered from HP support site. I have been around the site and no luck getting to the order/ship step??
I get to my HP model & all is OK then cannot find the order/ship link is my query.
I can see the download link for an upgrade but that isn’t CDs. I tried the download & got a missing 2.msi error message. So I’m taking the order CD step.
Seeking help.

Cheers Andrew McNeill

Alex Kuretz April 27, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Andrew, all discussion on the HP 3.0 software (including links to the HP site) are in the following two articles and their following comments.
http://www.mediasmartserver.net/2010/02/22/hp-mediasmart-server-3-0-software-update-available-this-week/

http://www.mediasmartserver.net/2010/02/23/guide-how-to-upgrade-your-mediasmart-server-to-the-3-0-software-update/

TNips April 27, 2010 at 10:32 pm

@Christien Lomax (TheCatWhisperer) – I’m guessing you don’t have children. 7 pc’s is not a lot. My wife and I each have a desktop and a laptop (with external drives) – and each of our 3 children have desktops (and one netbook but that doesn’t count). In fact I didn’t count my 2 media pc’s or my old desktop running a CNC machine in my shop. So actually I have more than 7 although only 7 are backed up to bare metal on a regular basis. And no – they don’t run all the time but they are backed up regularly. I would hardly say I am a power user but I do manage my family’s data. I don’t do anything fancy with the data I just want to be able to restore. In fact the ability to have historical backups in VAIL is a welcome feature and one that will take up even more space causing this 10 drive limit to be much more tedious.

TNips April 27, 2010 at 10:36 pm

… That being said – maybe this version of WHS is not directed toward those with a family and only for college students and bachelors lol. (not that Christien Lomax (TheCatWhisperer) doesn’t fit into any those groups…. i’m just saying lol)

Kenneth April 28, 2010 at 12:11 am

The music streamer is good but not great. There are way better alternatives. The video streamer is good because there is only one other option. I have all my DVDs encoded in XVID and DIVX in .avi, .divx, and .mpg. I can’t play any of them. Of course the .wma works…… LAME
I am also trying to figure out if I can manage the library that WHS uses otherwise I can’t limit folder to certain categories in my library….
They didn’t do much to prove that I am not better off with a esxi server with linux virtual machines.

steve April 28, 2010 at 6:25 am

hi all
the fact that it does not have built in windows media center will not help at all.
most homes dont want or require a server, but a WHS that also does WMC would mean only 1 pc on all the time.
WMC req to connect to extenders, and whilst they are at it, a QUIET cut down xbox meadia center extender please :)

if they do this right it will sell big, at the moment im gonna pass.

Eidos April 28, 2010 at 3:25 pm

note from Microsoft
Internally, the “Vail” software has been tested with up to 16 hard drives and with up to 16 TB of total storage capacity. We’re aware of a number of bugs that occur beyond these limits, so please keep your beta installations under 16 drives and 16 TB total drive space.

Luke April 28, 2010 at 4:21 pm

There you go HP if you’re listening to your customers. For the next MSS with the Vail OS we want TOTAL Media Center integration. We want our MSS to schedule/record/stream live TV via TV turner card integrated into the server box.

Comp1962 April 28, 2010 at 5:04 pm

I think the media center integration would be great but not necessarily a deal breaker. I use it once in a while but its not a deal breaker for me. I am more interested in #1 How many drives Vail will allow me to install, #2 the ability to read my drives outside the box #3 the servers backup functions that have been listed #4 Flexibility in domain setups, #5 figuring out a game plan for data migration which is simple enough.

I think its too early to determine what the finished product will have. I imagine that Microsoft is watching closely what people report and request. I believe they want this version of WHS to succeed but not sure if they will please everyone. What HP adds to it will be interesting but I am not sure I would invest in another MSS unless I find it complements my Primary Server. I continue to run EX470′s for testing and because I believe the 3.0 does compliment my Primary Server but I am trying to determine if the media fit into my needs but thats another topic.

So everyone is somewhat different in there wants, needs, and desires but I am very happy everyone is expressing them but do not just express them here make sure you voice them on Microsoft Connect too so they become visible to Microsoft.

GaPony April 28, 2010 at 5:19 pm

I hope that Microsoft resists the pressure to make this version of WHS all things to all people. Let the OEMs and add-in developers bring non-server functions to market and to those who want them. Keep it easy for the average Joe home user and have the base platform to support those other features that some may want. Most importantly make it a stable product.

Andrew McNeill April 28, 2010 at 6:13 pm

My interest is the migration of WHS to the current 64b space and away from the older technology. Migrating provides MS & other developers the opportunity to build/create using current tools etc. The WHS we all have (std) was interesting but lags compared to oven other NAS devices offering like features. ‘
I haven’t decided whether the MS WHS or HP’s implementation is better. Having been in IT for many decades the MS offering w/o HP’s bit might be a superior direction. It takes you from locked into HP’s commercial release.
On add-ins & developers. Apple are the masters of content & add-ins. They have in my mind kicked the footy out of the arena. I do not wish to denigrate the developers efforts but some wouldn’t get a gig in a commercial world. The WHS add-ins are in my opinion useful/technically smart but all together uncommercial. Amateur hobby stuff.
My interest is to see WHS rise to the space Apple have gone & make WHS the product to have at home. Ipad isn’t new by itself it’s the content that will flow from having one (at a cost) that’s the winning ticket. MS have some great products but miss the consumer market like a ”water bomber” each time. Only external developers or partnering with iconic product firms can WHS move to the space Apple & some others occupy. MS have almost killed the consumer market with their mobile offering. I am a MS mobile user but it’s out of hope I stay. Need:- keep an active community world going but avoid the # of drives as the main request. Get a server farm if that’s the interest. WHS is unique.
I’m sure many folks will disagree but that’s my thinking.

Alex Kuretz April 28, 2010 at 8:10 pm

On add-ins & developers. Apple are the masters of content & add-ins. They have in my mind kicked the footy out of the arena. I do not wish to denigrate the developers efforts but some wouldn’t get a gig in a commercial world. The WHS add-ins are in my opinion useful/technically smart but all together uncommercial. Amateur hobby stuff.

@Andrew – Thanks for your comments, I agree with you to a point. The vast majority of WHS Add-Ins lack polish and elegant design, my own add-ins being some of the worst offenders. However, I think it’s a stretch to compare the iPod/iPad/iPhone with a Home Server. The use models are completely different, the human interfaces are nothing alike, and their very natures are drastically different. You’re comparing a work pickup truck to a sports car.

Yes, WHS Add-Ins are almost exclusively utilities. But, what exactly do you want? The Home Server is a largely leave-it-alone device, not something you carry in your pocket or sit on the couch playing with. Can you give a good example of what might be a “killer app”, or even a use model of the server that would allow us to even remotely compare ourselves as Add-In developers to the Apple community?

When you purchase a MediaSmart Server, you aren’t locked into HP’s commercial release, you get Windows Home Server updates at the same time as anyone else. You do get a handful more features, if they are valuable to you is a personal opinion.

I also fail to see a truly compelling reason to migrate to Vail simply because it’s a 64bit platform, there is very little in the typical use of a Home Server that makes a 64bit OS much of an advantage.

Andrew McNeill April 28, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Hi – good points.
My focus in making the earlier comments are:-
MS are less than responsive/no compelling reason? to take a minor product in their terms (guess) and invest heavily putting the state of art features into WHS. What transformed Apple was content not the UI you referred to earlier. I’m not making any comparison on the platform.
Fundamentally, moving the WMC into WHS would be a huge bonus as it delivers very competently media/content to various home based users.
As mentioned earlier MS kill more great products thru lack of input than they generally create. They do platforms well.
64b confirms MS is interested in developing WHS SQL’2003 is currently an unsupported product. 64b delivers a more stable platform for WHS and has improved speed/processing capability. Raising the bar here means any add-ins can count on fast performance. Speed isn’t the be all etc but does reduce the waiting times currently experienced.
Locked into HP – well the build of my EX475 makes upgrading a geek proposition, interesting but beyond my general interest. Primarily I remain a user & prepared to migrate to a new space when it’s available.
My thoughts are generic small server & MS WHS not the HP line. If HP dropped one of these out instead of the unique footprint EXxxx have then I’m in.
In closing, experience tells me software is everything & what lifts the game. Raises interest. Typical case – agricultural focused s/w best products come from New Zealand/Australia where innovation drives better real benefit to the user. We are completely unsupported by the govt & great functions/content makes using them a boon to the user. Same applies to WHS we need creativity here not tech focused add-ins. Leave that to the MS’s etc. The information inside is the go & WMC would be a great step.

GaPony April 28, 2010 at 10:03 pm

@Andrew.. In my mind, Apple has long ceased to be a computer company. They are a gadget company and a content reseller. As far as productivity, they leave it to their customers to figure out a Microsoft solution to run on their platforms and WHS is no different. Why else would they bend over so far to enable their “computers” to run Windows and Windows software? Apple doesn’t have anything even closely resembling a server, so they have their customers whine to Microsoft and Windows developers for solutions. They are little more than the Sharper Image of the computer world. Making products that look great on TV, but are little more than overpriced toys with with a few useful functions. Lots of polish…little function. They are best in class at marketing… I’ve give them that.

I don’t have anything against Apple stuff or people who use it. I just think Apple customers need to put Steve Jobs on the hot seat for some computer based innovation and stop yelling for Microsoft to support the junk they bought from Steve Jobs while in a Kool-Aid haze. Microsoft needs to focus on its customers..

Please remember that WHS and all server operating system are utilitarian by design. They were never intended to be flashy or particularly functional, beyond their core design… connectivity, security, data storage, and a provider of resources and services to other computers.

Andrew McNeill April 28, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Hi – I don’t have any Apple products except iTunes on my Win7 PC.
Agree that Apple have some unique ways of doing business that is quite different from MS.
WHS is a server yes and does all the good stuff servers deliver. But servers delivered those roles 10-15 years ago. WHS delivered them in a cheap package. That’s the significant point (my opinion) WHS brings to the table.
The next step is bright sparkly spangled things. eg WMC is what we hang out for.
An aside, on drives numbers a # > a small no is way beyond the home of home computing.
It’s good good. I use WHS for supporting my farm as well as all the media stuff as per other uses. Does a good reliable job but I look for the next iteration that has speed, reliability & sparkly stuff.

Marsha May 2, 2010 at 9:45 am

What’s with the 12% overhead for CRC’s on the disk?? This is just a weird addition. There is plenty of error checking and correction at the lowest level on drives. No MS nor Sun nor EMC nor NetApps storage system needs anything like this at all. It wastes enormous space (12%) and will certainly slow server functions on gigabit networks. Why is nobody raising this as the big issue it really is?

Alex Kuretz May 2, 2010 at 10:27 am

Marsha – What I’ve heard from Microsoft is that this is indeed a needed addition to the system, that drives do suffer from various bit errors and other failures that cause problems or data loss. We’ve seen many instances where drive issues and failures caused significant problems for Windows Home Server v1 and I know MS has seen many of these issues as well. My understanding is that by adding the error correction capability there is a significant increase in data reliability.

Definitely check out Mark Vayman’s discussion about Drive Extender in the Microsoft forums if you’ve not yet read it, he is the feature lead for Drive Extender and has shared a wealth of information.

If you’ve got links or additional info to provide on your perspective I know myself and likely many other would be interested in learning more.

Marsha May 2, 2010 at 10:45 am

Alex – Thanks for the nice response. I have years of experience with server systems, and this addition is just not used in server systems. That’s not to say that errors cannot happen – I just hope this isn’t a complex (and large overhead) fix for why Drive Extender isn’t as good as, for example, a RAID 5 system. On a MS Server 2008 (for example) running SQL Server, there is nothing like this CRC overhead. If there are disk errors (and that’s rare), then the RAID parity system corrects the error and notifies that a disk needs replaced. Of course, any file system can add layers of error correction which is what this CRC is. And the result of each additional layer is more overhead, both in terms of less storage and more computer cycles for each block read or written.

I haven’t read Mark Vayman’s articles, but I will. I’m getting an uneasy feeling, though, that this overhead, the lack of reading a v2 drive on other computer systems, as well as the normal Drive Extender duplication (which I really like) is going to make it have so much overhead that traditional RAID will return as the best solution for server storage. Which would make me sad.

MikeF May 2, 2010 at 6:03 pm

It is very disappointing that this will be 64 bit only. All of the all WHS V1 servers on http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/windowshomeserver/buy.mspx except for 3 of the higher end HP’s cannot upgrade. They are all based on the 32 bit only Intel Atom processors. I choose the Asus TS Mini because of the extremely low power consumption. MS is pushing WHS to more power hungry hardware for little benefit. None of the features for backup of the server and client PC’s require 64bit. I suspect this is because of the new Drive Extender.

I use my WHS as a huge bit bucket to back up all my data without tools to recover data from non-WHS systems I am very leery of using WHS Vail.

The minor improvements to streaming without better Media streaming tools do not seem to be much of a reason to change from V1. My ultimate media system would be to stream and translate at the same time. This would allow me to use my DLNA Samsung TV’s without the need to RIP DV’s first or to record in non-Windows formats. The combination with Media Center for TV recording is a must. I would like to have one box for combined PVR and system backup. The current solutions require 2, one for WHS and one for Media Center Recording. Given the push for Green everything I could envision combining WHS, Media Center recording and a proper Smart Card enabled tuner to combine 3 boxes into one for further energy savings.

If MS wants to really push Green then fewer boxes is better. I would even pay a premium for a combined WHS and Media Center system. This model has been useful since Windows XP home/Pro and could be extended to WHS.

Alex Kuretz May 2, 2010 at 9:59 pm

Marsha – I hear you and agree with you to some extent. Keep in mind a critical difference – while the server class hardware (and software) has more error correcting features built-in (such as ECC memory being standard in server configs) Windows Home Server is destined for consumer hardware which can be not as tolerant or robust in the interest of being available for the lowest possible price. Something to consider.

To be honest I’ve not given this topic a lot of thought yet; when we first learned of it at the MVP Summit in February it sounded like a good idea as a way to improve on the poor behavior WHS v1 exhibits with failed or failing disks. I think as we use the systems more and learn more about how it all works we’ll get a better understanding of what this new feature means.

Marsha May 3, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Hello Alex – I have left a post for Vayman. We’ll see what he says.One thing I urge you NOT to do is through up flags that aren’t relevant, e.g. ECC memory. If memory failures were to happen, the OS would be crashing as much as (really more) than any block of data being written to or read from the disk. It also has nothing to do with cost, since the cost is added as soon as duplication is turned on. Drives are the largest cost in my MediaSmart servers.

The real issus, I believe, is non-correctable errors on the disk. While DE (todays version) duplicates files, it does nothing, AFAIK, to duplicate the necessary system directory entries, so a sector failure for a directory entry results in data loss. Note that the advantage of standard RAID 1 (mirror) is that any sector error on one disk doesn’t get in the way since that same sector is going to be good (unless the horrible “2 drive failure) occurs.

With MS doing this big change, I sure would like Vayman or someone to do a white paper on the errors and their causes that have been in v1 and what v2 changes will do to fix this problem. For so many reasons, if the OS disk (partition, whatever) isn’t also just as reliable, then there is certainly big holes in any scheme that promotes data reliability.

I could carry on about this, but until some discussion gets out of the marketing features and into the bits and bytes of the data flows and the error security of the data, I’m probably missing important points.

Peter May 3, 2010 at 8:03 pm

@MikeF – “None of the features for backup of the server and client PC’s require 64bit. I suspect this is because of the new Drive Extender.” The real reason for moving to 64 bit is that the underlying OS is Windows Server 2008 (maybe even R2), which is 64 bit only.
While few of the features of Vail require 64 bit, you can’t deny that 64 bit is going to be the future of computing. Manufacturers will eventually develop cheap, low power 64 bit systems.

Michael May 12, 2010 at 7:30 pm

I’m extremely disappointed… Media center was the one thing that I was praying for. my current setup is a homebuilt whs with 7 harddrives totaling a little over 2 TB. one hard drive is non storage, with Sage tv and a tv tuner card that records all my tv. and I’m also running magicjack on it. It has worked without issue for over a year with no data or hardware failures. the only problem I’ve had with it is it feels like a frankenstien monster with the way everything is cobbled together. Due to it being recorded thru sagetv, it doesn’t show up on my other pc’s media center without adding software and making adjustments. I was hoping that they had added media center and made everything easy and built in. since they have not added it, I will NOT be upgrading. I would rather stick with what I KNOW works rather than take a chance on something that the only noticeable upgrade would be remote streaming. until they add media center, they will not have a sale with me.

Hvakrg May 14, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Anyone have any idea on when they they are planning on releasing this? Is it this year or next?

Alex Kuretz May 14, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Microsoft has given no indication on when that might be.

Karthik Vazhkudai June 17, 2010 at 11:05 am

Does Vail support IIS 7 and IIS Media Services 4.0? I am interested in streaming my media collection to my iPhone and apparently IIS Media Services is great in terms of transcoding on the fly. If it works it might turn out to be a better solution than using some third party apps like Orb or Air Video Server. MSFT had a demonstration of IIS Media Services streaming to iPhone a few months back.

http://blogs.iis.net/chriskno/archive/2009/12/01/faqs-on-using-iis-smooth-streaming-with-the-apple-iphone.aspx

Alex Kuretz June 17, 2010 at 11:16 am

I’m not sure about the IIS Media Services support, I’ll follow up if I learn more.

Rob August 11, 2010 at 10:22 pm

I understand that the “data” drives in Vail are not NTFS formatted and thus cannot be read by a non-Vail system. However, I was wondering if a drive configured as a “backup” drive on Vail is NTFS? For my v1 HP, I backup my most critical data on a esata drive via the MSS interface — which I can read on any XP/Vista/W7 system. Is the Vail limitation only on data drives, or does it also include the backup drives?

Cheers,

Rob

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