Windows Home Server ‘Vail’ Updated Preview

by Nigel Wilks on August 16, 2010 · 6 comments

in News

Since the release of the public Beta of Windows Home Server Codename Vail (see our Review and Overview here), Microsoft have been busy integrating feedback, fixing bugs and polishing the interface and have now released an updated Public Beta which is available on Connect.

There are several changes in this build, but the first key one for existing Beta users is that you cannot upgrade. The Drive Extender code has undergone some critical changes so you cannot import any data from the Beta storage, you will need to replicate any data you have and start clean.

There is also an important update available already for this release. After you install Vail, and before you copy any data to the server’s folders, download and install QFE KB2314472. This fixes an issue where saving files to a server shared folder may fail with a time-out or sharing violation error when a large amount of data, typically more than 1TB, is present on the server.

Here is an overview of some of the more interesting changes in this release over the Beta we have been running for the past few months.

Dashboard

After Vail is installed, the first thing you will notice is that the Dashboard has had a major refresh, the Dashboard is now green and some new icons give a cleaner interface. You’ll notice I’ve also added a couple of additional custom links to the Community links page as well, this is a pretty simple addition and I will cover in a future post but demonstrates some of the extensibility that has been built into Vail.

Microsoft have also added a Safe Mode to the Dashboard so if a problem is detected during starting of the Dashboard, you can now choose to disable any errant Add-In.

Launchpad

If you are working remotely, the Launchpad now has an Off-line mode giving you access to the convenient links to items that do not need a connection to the server. Disappointingly this still contains links to items that do need a connection to the server, such as the Dashboard, and the Backups. It would have been better to hide these in the off-line mode. The little flag you can see in the bottom left corner of the image below actually pulses, giving you an indication when you are in off-line mode.

Server Folders and Hard Drives

A new Storage Summary Tab has been added giving a quick overview of your servers storage in a graphical format.

Opening the Properties page for a Server Folder shows that not only are Previous versions (aka Shadow Copies) now supported, but they are now turned on by default. This was probably one of the features most asked for in WHS V1 so it’s great to see Microsoft acknowledge this and include it in Vail. You can also see in the screenshot below, we now have a convenient option to Check and Repair a folder (essentially a graphical interface to Chkdsk). This same feature is also available for drives via the drives own property page.

Email alerts

In his review of the Vail Beta Alex had noted that Microsoft had taken a hint from the popularity of his BDBB Add-In to backup the Windows Home Server Client Database, and now in this release we see that Microsoft has also incorporated the features from Alex’s Remote Notification Add-In. There is an item in the Release Notes about this feature, so you’ll want to note this if you try to use the email alerts feature.

Issue
Email recipients for alert notifications may not be saved.
Description
You can configure your server to send email notifications for critical alerts. In some situations, email recipients are not saved.
Solution
To ensure email recipients are saved, set up recipients in Alert Viewer. From the Dashboard, open Alert Viewer and then select Set up email notifications for alerts. If this is the first time you are configuring email alerts, complete the SMTP settings and click OK. Type the email recipients in the box and then click OK.
You can verify your settings by re-opening the email notifications for alerts. Then select apply and send email. The server will confirm email delivery.

Apple Mac clients

Previously the only way to get integrated support for the Mac on Windows Home Server was to purchase the HP MediaSmart Server, which includes a Mac backup and restore feature. Windows Home Server Vail now offers a solution to add your Mac to the server as a connected device, though unfortunately I was unable to connect my Mac to fully explore this feature. We’ll be doing some troubleshooting and investigating to learn more about how this feature works and why it failed on my test system, in the mean time here are some screenshots of what the setup process looks like.

Summary

Having spent a few days playing with this release, it is much more polished and looking set to be a great final product. However it’s obviously disappointing to see a hotfix addressing data issues in these late stages of the products development considering the DE bug that plagued the early days of Windows Home Server V1. Because of this, I would still encourage people to try it out either on old hardware or using a Virtual Machine such as VMWare Workstation or VMWare Server and not use it in a production environment until it’s full release.

Let us know what you think of this release, and whether or not you think this is ready for production in the forums.





Article by

I'm a Technical Architect based in the UK predominantly working on Windows Server and Active Directory based solutions. I'm also a Microsoft Windows Home Server MVP and moderator/author at http://www.mediasmartserver.net. I've released the FirePlay for Windows Home Server, WHS PHP Installer, MySql Installer for WHS and Wordpress Installer for WHS Add-Ins as well as co-author of the SanEncore and WHS Health Add-Ins with Alex Kuretz.


{ 6 comments }

Comp1962 August 16, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Hey Nigel very nice write up. To be honest I have fallen behind on fully testng Vail at work because of an unresolved issue with the ISP no one is in any hurry to resolve.

Does this RC version of Vail offer the choices of lanugages when logging on remote as did the beta version? This is what I am most interested in as the intention for the test was to see how the Chinese and Spanish speaking employees could make use of it. I found this to be unique and while the server is running I am most interested in testing this out with our corperate office for document sharing between manufacturing facilities as well as client backups.

Sam August 17, 2010 at 7:31 am

No way is this anywhere near ready for public consumption with two flaws that potentially lead to data loss:

Issue
Do not use Storage Check and Repair.
Description
Under certain conditions, running Storage Check and Repair may lead to data loss.

and

Issue
Removing a missing hard drive from a storage pool may delete the wrong files.

Comp1962 August 17, 2010 at 3:29 pm

@ Sam ~ After reading what Alex had to say about it I am in agreement there. Vail is not intended to be used as a production unit only as a test unit. MS changed the status from RC to Public Preview. While I have downloaded the software I am still debating on using it or not. At this point I am just going to keep my test unit the way it is until some have used it for a while then I may impliment the preview software to see what it can do. My sole purpose is for testing only and to get some feedback from those I work with who are already using my primary server to access shared files. Vail has one unique function that interests me most in that it allows a language selection at remote logon and its my feeling that some are reluctant to use my server because its and all English environment so I want to provide access to the files on both servers is all. So if it messes up then so be it as its mainly for testing and evaluation purposes and not to be relied upon.

Eidos August 17, 2010 at 6:40 pm

I see all the issues and I have downloaded the new version and I am installing it as I am typing this. I am using it to learn and I am using a very good sever DIY system that works well. I have sent in 5 items to Microsoft for issues and improvments and will continue to do so.

Vail works well and I enjoy the speed of backups which is far superior to the old server software. I understand it is not the final version but I want to know the software before I pay money for the final version.

Is it perfect, no! Is it good so far in my testing, yes!

I own 3 servers and I have like using Vail and comparing it to WHS 2003 and the HP version 3.0. It is a good learning tool.

Joe August 19, 2010 at 12:08 pm

I am not sure if I am seeing things correctly here or not, but in one of the pics above showing the usage of all drives, it is showing that the server is taking 64gig for Data protection of 2.5 gig for folders and .9gig for backups. Can this be correct? What is Data Protection that is taking so much of the array?

Nigel August 20, 2010 at 1:37 pm
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