Review: Drive Bender for Windows Home Server 2011 – Part 1

by Paul Carvajal on November 4, 2011 · 17 comments

in Reviews

With Windows Home Server 2011 out and running, the biggest complaint most users have is the lack of Drive Extender (DE) being incorporated into the operating system, which was included in WHS v.1.  Drive Extender allows users to use any size hard drive (JBOD-Just A Bunch Of Drives) in their system and consolidate them so it looked like a single drive.  If you had 2-500gb hard drives and 2 -1TB drives, Drive Extender would pool them together so it looked like 1-3TB drive.  In addition, there was a type of software RAID that duplicated files in case a hard drive failed.

The lack of DE certainly has slowed the adoption of WHS 2011 by increasing the complexity for many users who would like to upgrade but can’t as there isn’t a cost effective storage solution for them. In extensive reading of blog comments and forum discussions, I’ve noticed a strong skepticism regarding the lack of DE for WHS 2011 and the viability of a 3rd party DE replacement. Honestly I’m not sure why people are as negative as they are about a 3rd party creating this. In my readings of some of the forums, many people have used a software RAID but seem to bash a DE replacement. For some people this means that Drive Bender could either be “the savior for WHS 2011″ or possibly a “doomsday for your data”.

Now there is at least one alternative to Drive Extender available for purchase called Drive Bender.  Please note I called this a program and not an Add-In since it runs as a program in WHS 2011.  It does have an Add-In interface for the Dashboard where you can control many, but not all, of it’s functions.

This review of Drive Bender is going to document my experience installing the program, copying approximately 10TB of data to the new pool of drive (16TB)s, merging a drive with data on it into the pool WITHOUT ERASING THE DATA, working with duplication, destroying the pool and seeing if the data stays intact, and anything else you can think of to test it out.  Feel free to submit any test scenarios you might be curious about and I’ll try to test those and we’ll see how Drive Bender handles it.

Part 1 – What is Drive Bender?

From their website: 

Drive Bender is state of the art, single point storage pool technology for Microsoft Windows. Drive Bender presents multiple hard drives as a single pool of storage, either as one or more drive letters, or a network shared drive.

One of the nice things about Drive Bender is that they have two versions – one for WHS 2011 and one for Windows.  So you can use it on a regular PC as well in case you don’t want to use WHS 2011.  Drive Bender is available to run on XP, Vista, 7, and WHS 2011, SBS 2011, and Windows Storage Server.

Here are some of the main features of Drive Bender:

  • Allows you to merge an existing drive into the pool WITHOUT reformatting it AND PRESERVING THE DATA on the drive.  Big improvement over DE for WHS v.1 as you had to format the drive to add it to the pool.
  • If the drive pool is destroyed, your data is retrievable and can be used.
  • All data is balanced automatically between the drives when data is copied to the drive pool.
  • Data Duplication is also completed when data is copied to the drive pool.

What about cost?  Drive Bender is available for $40 for a license to run on one machine.  With WHS 2011 selling currently for about $60 and Drive Bender is $40, the total cost is $100, which was the same price WHS v.1 was selling for.

While it sounds like it’s the add-in/program everyone’s been waiting for, I’ve heard many people being skeptical about trusting their data to a new program, and rightfully so.  I started to use Drive Bender during the early stages of the beta in preparation of this article, however, I stopped using it as there was limited functionality during the beta (which is to be expected) and I didn’t want to be totally frustrated before the final product release.  Also, I wanted to experience the final product as an end user would the first time.

I’m going to document my journey as I convert half of my server to Drive Bender and copy all of my data to the Drive Bender pool.  Then, we’ll be able to see if the program does what it says it will do, so you don’t have to and jeopardize your valuable data.

I’ll be doing this with approximately 10TB of data, so I think this will be a good test scenario to evaluate the product.

Below is an outline of the series of articles I’ll be writing about Drive Bender. Please post in the comments if you have specific scenarios you’d like to see addressed.

Part 2 – Installation and Terminology - configuring and setting up the drive pool.

Part 3 – Adding drives with data and removing drives from the pool – can we really integrate drives with data and not lose the data?

Part 4 – Data Duplication – how Drive Bender duplicates data and can we retrieve the data after a simulated drive failure.

Part 5 – Can we break the pool?

Let the journey begin!

This is part of a multi-part review of the Drive Bender software for Windows Home Server 2011.
Part 1: Introduction to Drive Bender
Part 2: Terminology and Installation
Part 3: Adding Drives With Data to your Pool
Part 4: Managing Your Pool Instance
Part 5: Importing your WHS v1 Data




Article by

I guess you could say I'm Home Tech Enthusiast. I'm a little different than most of the people who probably visit the website. I'm not an IT person! I love technology and want to find cool things that have a purpose. I'm not one who likes to program, create things, etc., I like to spend my time using them. Plus, my wife is NOT technology oriented! The more complicated things are, the more my life is complicated! One thing I hate about electronics nowadays, is that all documentation is written as though you know this, you've already been to another site or section to find this, etc. Nothing is clear cut. So, I try to write everything to the lowest denominator. Keep it basic, keep it simple, and make it fun!


{ 16 comments }

Cubanblood November 4, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Part 2, part 2 , part 2!!!👍

Damian November 4, 2011 at 12:56 pm

This is going to be great Paul. Some sort of DE replacement is what I will need if I move to WHS2011. I did start testing Drive Bender during beta but just found it cumbersome how it took a process that was dead simple in WHS v1 and made it a multi step journey. Hopefully there has been a big improvement since the beta days. I am also eyeballing StableBit and FlexRAID

Comp1962 November 4, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Thanks Paul for taking the time to put this multipart guide up. I like most people am currently sitting on the sidelines as far as which DE software to run. I did build a rather large WHS2011 Server and its been running great but am still running my WHS v1 server and both servers have basically the same file set so I am for the most part relying on my WHS v1 server for redundancy. I also have a WHS2011 test server sitting and waiting to put a DE replacement software to the test. While I have experience with Stablebit and had a favorable experience with it I am also interested in Drive Bender but most of what I tend to read up on is with Stablebit.

So I have to say I am anxious to read your guides and hopefully get educated on the inner workings of Drive Bender so that when the time comes I can better determine which route I will take. Of course I have not ruled out Hardware Raid as an option but I am trying to avoid that cost and am hopeful that a simple DE solution will become a reality. This is the missing piece of the puzzle to my WHS2011 build which I have fondly named Highlander.

jericko November 4, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Really looking forward to this review. This will make me decide if WHS 2011 is for me, or if I need to start looking at Unraid.

Itay November 4, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Im also looking forward for this review. I wish you could then continue with the same review for the other solution (StableBit) as well.

I’m getting fed up with my MB’s FakeRAID capabilities and consider either getting a dedicated NAS box like Qnap or switch to one of these software solutions.

teq November 5, 2011 at 7:41 am

Paul,

Great review project. May I suggest to add the chapter ‘Backup Strategies’ to your review? For me this would be a critical topic, i.e., what options are there to backup the WHS since – I assume – this will no longer be possible with the built in tools.

Thanks,
teq

gearhead364 November 5, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Great, I have been meaning to look into one of these every since I moved to WHS 2011. Looking forward to read the rest.

groves31 November 6, 2011 at 8:26 am

You might comment or test whether DriveBender affects the 2TB limitation on backups current to WHS-2011. Like you, I have aboput 10TB of videos, photos, etc. I resorted to keeping the WHS-v1 as backup. maintaining duplicate copies on each–not very economical!
I have made separate folders for most subjects on WHS-2011, so have not missed DE as much as I expected to.

gardian November 6, 2011 at 8:45 am

I second (teq) idea on backing up all the data and if all else fails can I take a single drive out of the pool and access its contents some way?
That was/is what I would miss the most, being able to have a last ditch way to access the data.
I bought DriveBender at the discount when it was first released and have hopes for it down the road when my EX470 and X510 have died.

Much thanks for sending your time helping us see how dis thing works!

Paul Carvajal November 6, 2011 at 9:00 am

Thanks everybody for your comments.

1. I expect to have the 2nd part completed today or tomorrow at the latest.

2. Backup Strategies – this makes total sense – I will either do this as part of the series or immediately following. I’ve been working on this for a couple of months and think I found the ideal solution – set it and forget plus offsite storage for a VERY MINIMAL COST! I kept a WHS v.1 also as a backup, but I have sold mine and am making the leap with WHS 2011 with complete faith in it and the backup strategies I have in place.

3. I’ve been using WHS 2011 for almost 9 months now and I really don’t miss DE all that much. However, there are those that have mixture of different size drives, that this would be very economical for them. Not to mention that with the floods in Thailand, we’re seeing some nice size price increases of hard drives.

4. I will be “destroying the pool” so this scenario WILL BE part of the test.

Thanks for your comments and I look forward to your comments.

Eidos November 6, 2011 at 7:26 pm

I am in the same boat as you are. I am running a 19 TB WHS 2011 plus 2
HP servers. I would like to use Drive bender but from what I have been following, my confidence is not high enough to do it yet. I got tired of the Beta scene doing work on other programs and I did not want to play the same game again. I am looking forward to seeing your results. Can you list your hardware including even
the SATA cards. I would like to compare your system to mine. Occasionally I have had issues with my SATA cards and I would like to see what you are using.

Good luck!

Paul Carvajal November 7, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Here is what I have currently:
Norco 4U RPC-4220 20 Bay SAS Chassis
Intel S3210SHLCServer Board
Xeon Quad Core Q8300, 8GB RAM,
Adaptec RAID 4-Port SAS/SATA RAID Card 5405
Chenbro UEK-13601 SAS Expander, 4 – NEC USB 3.0 Ports
WHS 2011 Operating System – 11TB RAID 5 / 16TB with Drive Bender
4 Drive Optical Bay with (3) LG WH10LS30 BluRay Writer & (1) LG UH08LS10 BluRay reader
xBox HD-DVD Drive

jericko November 7, 2011 at 11:59 am

Paul, really looking forward to part 2. Can I ask one stupid question for those that are on WHS 2011. My big fear with WHS v1 is if my main HD crashes, the one with the OS, you are pretty much screwed. Did they fix this with 2011?

Lee November 7, 2011 at 12:01 pm

This sounds great and glad there is advancement where M$ left off. If I go to WHS 2011, this will be a must-have. Can it be run in trial mode first to see how it performs?

The reason I ask about a trial is that I am currently in the process of moving to Windows Server 2008 to see how that works. In this process, I have stopped DE’s folder duplication and removed a drive from a 2-drive pool. I was surprised how much faster my WHS v1 was without using DE!

Safe Data: Currently I have an off-site HDD as a full backup and the 2nd drive I removed from the pool is updated daily as an in-house full backup. Until I get WinSrv2k8 on my EX490, I’ll have to manually manage my backups. That is the nice part of “DE” and/or Drive Bender.

Paul Carvajal November 7, 2011 at 12:18 pm

The big issue with WHS v.1 I had was that it stored part of your data (Drive D:) on the operating system drive. You had to manually move the data off so that if the OS drive died, you wouldn’t lose that data (unless you used duplication on all of your shares).

WHS 2011 does allow you repartition the OS drive so that the OS uses the entire drive and no data is stored on it. As a matter of fact, the last part of the article is I’m going to reinstall my WHS 2011 from scratch to totally kill the pool and see if I can rebuild it as it says I can.

Drive Bender does offer a free, full featured trial for 30 days if you want to try this.

As far as backups are concerned, I’ll be writing an article on how to backup you WHS automatically and allow you to have two different sets of backups.

jack May 3, 2013 at 10:15 am

The frustration isn’t dropping it out per say, it’s dropping things out when there is really no reason to do so. If adding a dinky program fixes most of DE’s usefulness then why remove it? Same with Windows 8, nobody has a problem with innovation as they saw it, it was if a 550mb program like Classic Shell is out there why not allow me to set up the pc brand new in Windows 7 style and for those who prefer the new Windows 8 their way? Can you answer me that? I just don’t understand the this is how it will be orders from Microsoft and then lectures from others stating get with the program. It my pc and I’m paying the money to get what I want, not what Microsoft wants or other private owners want. DE made it simple. Its sad it seems sometimes Microsoft just feels customers need to be proded along like cattle. Will they ever learn this lesson? THE CUSTOMER ISN’T ONCE IN A WHILE RIGHT THEIR ALWAYS RIGHT,why because you want their money not the other way around.

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