Window Home Server Options/Thoughts…

by Damian on October 12, 2012 · 34 comments

in News

For over 3 years my Windows Home Server (codename: Shawshank) has been humming along. At this point I would have thought I would have upgraded my server to a new OS, but due to the successor of WHSv1 removing some critical functionality I decided to sit on the sidelines a little longer. Now that Server Essentials 2012 has been released, and I am quickly running out of space (close to 30TB), I am starting to more seriously think about what the next step will be. Server Essentials (or even Windows 8) seemed like they could be the perfect replacement with the inclusion of Storage Spaces which essentially replicates the Drive Extender functionality that was pulled out of Windows Home Server. However, the more I read around the less impressed I am with Storage Spaces. Read/Write speeds appear to be slow, inconsistencies with replacing drives in the pool, etc… What appeared to be the perfect solution no longer appears to fit my needs, which are primarily data storage/redundancy and media streaming. I still want to come up with a plan for eventually upgrading Shawshank, so here are some of the options I am considering:

1) Do nothing, if it ain’t broke…. This obviously would be the easiest and most cost effective method, with the only thing needing to be done is to purchase an external enclosure to give myself additional storage space. I would still be limited to drives no greater then 2TB, but this would buy me plenty of time to see how the market develops.

2) Go with an aftermarket solution like Synology or Qnap, but given the amount of storage I require, this would be a rather expensive proposition (plus I enjoy being able to work in a Windows environment)

3) Go with a new Operating System (Windows 8, WHS 2011, or Windows Server 2012 Essential) but instead of relying on Storage Spaces (in the case of Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 Essentials) incorporate some sort of drive pool functionality. Right now it appears this would come down to Stablebit, Drive Bender, and FlexRAID. Stablebit and Drive Bender appear to be the most straightforward in implementing (relying on 1:1 mirroring just like Driver Extender), FlexRAID looks like it would be more involved to implement, but the added advantage would be more efficient data redundancy via parity.

So that is where I stand right now. I have pretty much ruled out Windows 8 as a solution since I want to keep the PC backup functionality that I get with the current WHS OS. I already have a license for both WHS 2011 and Windows Server 2012, so I think I will just go with the latest/greatest (Server 2012) and start testing out some of the drive pool add ins. Earlier this year I built a test WHS 2011 server using the Lian Li PC-Q25B case, but I haven’t spent time with. Looks like it may be time now to dust off and start a new round of testing!

For those readers who are current WHSv1 users, or are in the market for a home server solution, what direction are you leaning towards? If you have already implemented one of the newer server solutions, how is it working for you, and you happy with your choice? Of course some of the more adventurous folks are already working with Server 2012 on with HP MediaSmart Servers! I know you readers are out there, so let your voice be heard in the comments section ;)

UPDATE: Here is my solution for now :D

Article by

Hi, my name is Damian, and I'm tech gadget addict! Although I always had some interest in technology, it wasn't until I got my EX470 and more importantly found, that my interest became an addiction. My goal, aside from world domination and to see the Mets/Broncos win another championship, is to set up the perfect digital home where all my media is available at the click of a button. When I am not writing for you can find me over at my blog at or follow me on twitter


WalkinTarget October 12, 2012 at 8:12 am

I was perfectly content to leave my WHSv1 do its thing, as its been running great and backing up my important stuff for well over 5 years now, and I couldn’t be happier … until … I tried a restore of a new rig I built based on the Win7 64 OS … uh oh.
Ahh, no big deal I thought, after google searches showed me I needed the 32 bit NIC drivers for that board. I extracted them to a thumb drive, verified that everything was in order, started the restore again and pointed to the 32bit NIC driver on the thumb drive (success !!!) , only to have the dreaded ‘Server not found’ pop up after a few agonizing minutes of it searching for my WHS.
A few reboots with no resolution or change to that sequence of events and I soon saw how my WHSv1 was now becoming more of a chore for one of its intended tasks – a bare metal restore.
So I got in on the WHS2011 OS deal for $30 and began to actively mull over an OS upgrade on old faithful. I have yet to even attempt it, as my new build didn’t require a bare metal, but I would definitely like the option to do so in the future. I also love to tinker, but one thing I learned from the guy who taught me all about PCs was ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

Damian October 12, 2012 at 8:15 am

Interesting, sucks you had issues. I have done quite a few PC restores of W7 64 OS without issue (the pain always being finding the correct NIC driver)

I definitely agree with the “If it ain’t broke”, learned my lesson enough over the years. Now I want “Set it and forget it!”

Alex Kuretz October 12, 2012 at 8:27 am

My EX495 is happily humming along and I see no need to make a change any time soon. When I do I’ll likely move to a home-built Linux solution since I’m familiar and comfortable with RAID configuration and management. I’ve noticed more people in the forums talking about Synology devices lately, I think many WHS users may head that direction over time as those products look fairly compelling.

Damian October 12, 2012 at 8:39 am

Agreed, Synology seems to be gaining some traction. One interesting item to note that right now would only affect a very small section of users, there is a limitation with NFS on Synology that is causing a lot of problems with a few media players. Of course, you could just use smb, but the issue is currently if you are trying to stream 3D Blu Rays to a media player the bit rate is too high for smb, so you need to use NFS. I have only seen this tested on the Mede8er media player along with Synology, but the limitation makes it impractical to use NFS as is.

Brajesh October 12, 2012 at 9:13 am

Yep, I ‘upgraded’ from a souped-up HP EX490 to a high-end Synology DS1812+ with a DX510 add-on. I was really happy with its ease of use, features, stability, and streaming performance, until… I started streaming 3D Blu-ray ISO’s over SMB to a Mede8er 1000X3D streamer. With 3D bitrates peaking near 100mbps, I’m getting bad stuttering on titles like ‘Titanic’ 3D, ‘The Avengers’ 3D, ‘The Immortals’ 3D, etc. Mede8er suggested I try NFS, but it turns out Synology only support an 8K buffer, not the necessary 32K. So, NFS streaming is even worse. My only hope is (1) the upcoming PCH-A400 does fine over SMB where 1000X3D doesn’t, or (2) wait for Synology to support 32K NFS with its DSM 4.2 update, which is only rumored.

At this point, I’m mulling whether I should revive my EX490 for 3D Blu-rays or scrap both it and Synology in favor of… well, that’s the problem, I don’t know. Windows 8 or Windows Server 2012 with ‘storage spaces’. In any case, we’ll have to wait and see what we find out in terms of the best storage and streaming (SMB and NFS) options between now and year’s end. Like Damian, I’m not impressed with slow read/write tests I’ve been reading about with ‘storage spaces’.

Tuxster October 12, 2012 at 8:35 am

I’m in the same spot, my WHSv1 is running fine, but I’m dreading the day it’s going start showing its age, so I’m continuously looking for a solution that will satisfy me. For me, any solution needs to support Squeezebox Server, a wife and kid-friendly Media Serving Solution (i.e., Plex or XBMC). backup with redundancy, and storage expandability over time. And right now, there is no ideal solution… Synology comes close, Windows Server Essentials 2012 is possible, but both of those come at a price.. Windows 8 may work, but I’ll wait until it’s released and field tested.. I’ll continue to look, but I’m not convinced there is a ‘perfect’ solution out there yet…

Damian October 12, 2012 at 8:40 am

Yup, you pretty much nailed what type of solution I want/need as well.

Nate October 12, 2012 at 9:22 am

I’m contemplating my next move as well. I had WHSv1 running great for a long time. I’m running about 14TB in storage space and given the cost/reliability issues for drives bigger than 2TB, it was fine. I probably would still be running WHSv1 if something hadn’t happened about 6 months ago.

Essentially I got a virus/trojan/hacked/corruption/something that hit two of my PC’s and the WHS. I did bare metal restores on the PC’s (did have the nic issue, but figured it out) and that was wonderful. Amazing technology and a must have. Then the WHS started to have failing drives, but I couldn’t find anything wrong with them. Eventually, it wouldn’t boot. I tried to do a repair using the system disk. but it was a mess. It was unable to repair (and I never could get it to boot from USB drive so had to buy a USB CD drive). I finally did a reinstall, but it took me several days to get it to recognize that there was already an installation (so it wouldn’t delete my shares and data). Even that failed and I finally had to do some manual copying of all my data (it had all be duplicated in the storage pool) to get it safe. I would have lost 7TB of data had I not been vigilant, so I wanted to be able to back up the WHS, but v1 couldn’t do that.

So I moved to WHS2011 and added in FlexRAID for storage pooling and parity redundancy. It was great (a couple tricks to get the FlexRAID shares to show up on the network, but otherwise easy). I put in a RAID1 for the OS disk as well, plus added a 500GB to backup the OS drive using WHS2011′s backup feature. I even nuked the OS drive and did a restore just to make sure it worked. Beautiful.

Then I started noticing some of the things they left unfinished in WHS2011. It could have been an amazing piece of software, but they gave up. It doesn’t handle UEFI motherboards. Not an issue today for me, but I’m looking to upgrade one machine and the board I am looking at has that. So that’s an issue. Then the DLNA media streaming seems to pick up media at random. 90% of my collection doesn’t show up and that was something I really wanted for streaming to my XBox. Of course the 3rd Party developer support dried up as well, so no more managing my UPS via the console. And it turns out that it uses some different technology for remote access than v1, and my company blocks that (no idea what 2012e uses though), so no longer can I remote in from work when I need something mid day.

Looking at 2012e, it seems to have the things I really need: Backup for all my PC’s, remote access (not sure if it will function from my office though), media streaming (will it work better than WHS2011 though?). I’ll stick with FlexRAID likely for storage pooling though. I don’t like the concept of virtual spaces in Storage Spaces. Most importantly, 2012e will be well supported for a long time, both by MSFT and 3rd party.

So looks like I will be moving on shortly. It’s pricier than I would like, but in the end I think it will be worth it.

Alex October 29, 2012 at 6:56 am

I hear you. But since the os is your problem. Why not insyall windows 7 ultimate and put flexraid on that ? You would get best of both worlds.

John Zajdler October 12, 2012 at 10:01 am

As I Windows Home Server MVP, I’ve tried them all. I can say that my main production server is WHSv1 with a bunch of add-ins and I’ve done the hack to add 3TB to the pool (system drive must stay as 2TB). Even while testing out Windows 8 and the Metro stuff, all works. I have even went so far as to migrate my PC’s personal folders to the servers User folders. This keeps my Windows 8 footprint small.

Stay away from Storage Spaces. Stablebit Drivepool is not supported in Server 2012 Essentials for now.

Since you have your WHSv1 finely tuned, I would suggest sticking with it and try the hack to add the 3TB drives, just add 1 and see how it goes. Once you understand the logic, converting subsequent drives becomes easy.

I can talk about Windows Home Server for hours, but I’ll stop here before it becomes a book :-)

Damian October 12, 2012 at 10:06 am

Forgot about the hack, may have to give that a shot! Thx John

T-Bone October 12, 2012 at 2:16 pm

What I think is interesting is that no one is talking about Drobo anymore…

Ricardo October 12, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I’m in the same situation as most of you who have commented. My WHSv1 is running along without any issues. I have had to restore a x64 OS computer and other than having to find the x86 driver it actually worked pretty well. I am also looking into what is next to come. I don’t want to be in a spot were I am force to upgrade to something because my WHSv1 died. So in my case I am considering WHS Essentials 2012 with storage spaces and if that did not work out as well continue using the OS but integrate FlexRAID for pooling the drives. But again still considering and for now (since my WHSv1 is still running) wait on what the feedback is from people who actually upgrade and start using Essentials 2012 on day-to-day basis.

John Watson October 12, 2012 at 5:46 pm

I’m a casual home server user – meaning I don’t go to the lengths that you and your readers seem to go to. I received an EX495 from my Dad and put 3 TB into it. It worked fine with the exception of streaming movies to the XBOX 360. First I upgraded to gigabit network (wired) plus a Cisco N for wireless. Still found the transcoding and streaming to be not perfect. I recently purchased a Synology DS412+ and am very impressed with the ease of use, Plex, dozens of easily installed plugins for everything (mail, wiki, DHCP, CRM, etc.). Also recently purchased a Retina MBP and the TImeMachine support is super slick. Cloud Station backups/synchronization while at home and over the ‘Net from work is amazing!

So…with 20 years of continuous Windows development and use going back to Win 3.1 I have to say that I’m more impressed with the Linux/OSS market than Microsoft’s tepid and even pathetic efforts here. Note that before the WHS, I used WIndows Small Business Server first with DIY hardware and later a Dell PowerEdge. While I develop on and use Windows 2008/2012, SQL 2008/2012, VS 2010/2012, etc. every day at work I am turning my back on Microsoft for home and consumer use – even worse, I’m helping friends and family move away too! I’ve had one too many negative experiences with failed and sh*t-canned projects – Win CE, Win Phone 6/6.5, Money, Small Business Accounting, etc. I honestly laughed outloud when their spin-meisters started telling yarns about how the simple-to-use WHS was being folded into EBS. Yeah, right! I can see my friends and family setting that thing up!

Sorry to the fan boys but I felt an honest, alternative point of view was warranted.

Luke Luo October 12, 2012 at 10:46 pm

I am running WHS2011 on Win2008R2′s Hyper-V. I think it is easy to migrate the vm image to new server plant if I only plan to upgrade the server OS and keep the backup function provided by WHS.
In my solution, the backup function is provide by WHS VM and the file-sharing function is provide by the host OS. Media is also stock on WHS VM to utilize the streaming function.
To protect/’mirror’ my data, I use the synctoy and schedule task running at mid-night.

Adam October 13, 2012 at 9:45 pm

I think you should look at Hyper-V or ESXi as your baremetal OS rather than straight windows. In my case, after years of hand wringing, I purchased a Fuji server off of Newegg for $299 and a Dell Perc Raid card off of eBay and then put 4 2TB drives in it (when the prices finally started coming down).

Rather than put WHS2011 straight, I installed ESXi 5 (on a USB Key) and then installed WHS2011 as a VM. This also gives me the ability to create other VMs. This gets WHS out of the storage business.

I admit, this is not particularly average consumer friendly, but I think at 30TB, you are way beyond consumer space.

Alex October 29, 2012 at 7:02 am

This is what. Had in mind. Decieded to install just windows and runeverything from it with virtual desktops. Basically you switch desktops when you want to swith envirnlents.

Of course the esx is more sexy but what if there is a windows update ? You would have to update all 4 machines and reboot all of them. Work. Wife. Me. Server machine.

Tedious. Do you have a solution for that ?

JohnBick October 15, 2012 at 9:41 pm

I have stayed with my WHS (v3.3.1.35443) on an EX-475 (with TR4M Expansion Chassis). I am running just under 10TB in that and still use rotating USB drives to copy critical data for off-site storage. I back up most critical data using Cloudberry and Amazon S3. It works and I am happy. Still running 32-bit only so have not had to cross that bridge yet! I, too, worry about end-of-life for the hardware — and have already replaced the PS fan and a failed drive.

At the moment I am just procrastinating on future planning and enjoying having something stable & reliable. (It ain’t broke…)

The cost of cloud storage is dropping. I am thinking that when the WHS system fails the best answer may be to go directly to the cloud. The benefit is the ease of use; the downside is doing restores! As I have restored my main machine three times now and my wife’s laptop 4 or 5 times that is a major factor! Also Cablevision (Optimum) has not applied any transfer limits around here yet, but when it does the cloud approach may become unreasonably expensive again.

I got started with WHS when seriously considering a Linux solution. I might consider that again, but, frankly, I do like being all-Windows as my Linux skills are increasingly rusty.

I’m down to one consulting client on WHS who has NO intent to change and, frankly no need for me at all. I am on a contingency contract at a fixed annual fee to be available and a cost-plus arrangement for anything over a very minimal number of hours — basically enough hours to provide an estimate to support. Have not even been called in almost a year and wonder if I’ll get renewed! Other clients have moved on to Windows or Linux servers and I encouraged them to change consultants. (Yeah, I really DO want to BE retired!)

Cornel October 17, 2012 at 7:18 am

I would suggest you stay away from Storage Spaces! At least for the time being.

One month ago my WHS v1 with 12x2TB drives stopped booting anymore. At the time, moving to Windows Server 2012 sounded like a good idea so I switched. I chose a Two-way mirror storage space spanning over all 12 disks

One week into happy use, the unlikely happened, two drives died almost at the same time. Now I’m left with 20 TB of drives space full of data and no way to access it. For all the searches I did, I couldn’t find any solution on how to recover my data. There are couple of companies working on software solutions to recover data out of storage spaces but noting will be out for another at least 6 months.

For me, it doesn’t make sense. I understand that I should lose all of the data that happened to build the mirror over the two failed disks, but not to be able to access the rest of the storage space, that is dumb.

The thing that I miss the most at the moment is the nice Windows Media Center integration with WHS so that makes me think of maybe going back to WHS v1 and not some Linux solution

Nate October 17, 2012 at 7:38 am

Wow, you can’t access ANY of the data on Storage Spaces if a drive fails? That sounds like a really fatal flaw.

Claude October 17, 2012 at 9:23 am

Cornel, have you added two new blank disks in your pool? SS needs to reconstruct the Space. Besides, Win8 can read SS disks too.

Finally I would suggest you create a pool for each two same size disks of data you have. In your case you would have 6 pools of 2 TB disks each, and each pool in a two-way mirror Space. Therefore, when a disk dies, you can just replace it for that specific pool, while your other pools stay untouched.

Cornel October 17, 2012 at 9:49 am

I did add two additional disks and when trying to remove the faulty disks from the storage space to bring the storage back online, it complains of not having enough free space to move the some of the data. I ended up adding the third 2TB disk and still getting the same error.

Splitting the big storage space into smaller ones its a good idea, just too late for me :)

Claude October 17, 2012 at 10:01 am

I tried this on a smaller scale. Hardware: First you remove the faulty disks from the machine. Then you add new disks in the machine. Software: You have to add these disks to the pool. Then (I don’t remember which one is first) you delete the faulty disks (which still show) from the pool and the pool reconstructs (takes a long time).

Gordon Currie October 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Almost three weeks ago, my EX485 system disk dies (again). Even though WHS v1 has been working fine, it takes so long to restore the server due to all the customizations (removing the mostly crappy HP software, changing hard-coded defaults) needed to get back to daily server life.

I decided to pick up a HP N40 Microserver, since it could run either WHS 2011 or Win Server 2012E. I decided to go with WHS 2011 for now, since the migration path is shorter and has been walked by more people.

Plus, she who shall be obeyed was increasingly asking “when will our data be available again?”

I’m not sure where I will go from here. I am not thrilled to hear of the issues people are having with Storage Spaces, but WHS 2011 lack of UEFI support will bite me in within the year.

Surfdiver October 18, 2012 at 5:15 am

I have been running EX470 for five years now without any major problem. It only works! Still I have plans on migrating. I have put together a WHS 2011 build with Lian-Li PC-Q07 and a Ivy Bridge i5 cpu. It really rocks! So fast and under 30W in idle. Windows Server 2012 essential are way to expensive for me. WHS 2011 is ok but you have to install streaming SW like Airvideo, iHomeserver, PS Media server, Plex etc. to be able to use all your clients that you have as iPhone, Android, PS3, Apple TV etc.

pmdci October 19, 2012 at 4:18 am

If you want to get the natural successor from Windows Home Server, then WS 20112 E is your choice. I am running it at the moment and I am very, VERY happy with it. Here is a post about it:

Matthew Sawyer October 19, 2012 at 10:05 am

I’m bummed after reading this. I’ve been contacted by several users informing me my software products Home Server SMART 2012 and WindowSMART 2012 don’t work with Storage Spaces in Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 Essentials, respectively.

I have Windows 8 installed on a box, and whipped together a pool real quick to test this. Sure enough, the two drives disappeared from Windows completely. They’re not even in Disk Management!

And so I was going to rebuild my EX487 from scratch. I use it for onsite backups. Since we also have a CrashPlan+ cloud backup plan, I have no concerns about having the EX487 down for a couple of days and having to rebuild its backups. Plus it would give me another machine to test Storage Spaces!

As it stands today the EX487 is running WHS 2011 with Drive Bender, which is working just fine. But I really could use another machine to test Home Server SMART with Storage Spaces!

If Storage Spaces are fine for backups, which is the EX487′s dedicated job, then maybe I”ll take the plunge. I use the EX490 (WHS 2011 with Drive Bender) for streaming.

On the technical side, it turns out that Windows 8/2012 changed the Win32_DiskDrive class, an “old faithful” from the Windows 2000 days. When you create a Storage Space, the physical disk is removed from that. There’s a new class, MSFT_PhysicalDisk. Talk about making my life that much harder! :(

aaronwt October 19, 2012 at 3:05 pm

I say if it isn’t broke…..

My Hp MSS WHS has 56TB in/attached to it and still works fine. I’m using close to 53TB and I don’t want to use any more in case there is an issue with a drive so I have space to move it if needed. I only read from it now. I have over 900BD ISOs on it and anything new is put on one of my unRAID boxes. I figure if I do sart having issues with it. Hopefully I’ll be able to repurpose the drives to my unRAID boxes.

vidkun October 20, 2012 at 3:17 pm


Have you considered simply expanding your current WHS setup with an additional DAS enclosure? It shouldn’t be too hard to build one out of a 24-bay Norco case. Then you’d still have your perfectly configured WHS server, but an additional 24 potential drives.

Gardian October 20, 2012 at 5:31 pm

I remember what I was doing before WHS/HP. Using 5 year old (retired) dell workstations with scsi drives, stuff as many large ide drives in it as possible. Backups on cd/dvd/thumbdrives/usb external drives, what a kluge. It was just basic storage and file sharing.
WHS and the media server is and has been an awesome little package for me.
I have had problems with bsod’s on client restores, so I save base clones of all the clients and update them maybe once a year. The server recovery has failed twice, but factory resets work great, so I have non-pooled drives to backup everything. Servio works well to get everything to my Samsung 55. and with SMART and WD red drives and a backup power supply and a backup ex470 I don’t plan on changing for awhile. My dvd rips are only a gig a piece so I don’t have as many drives as most.
I have thought about it, what next. I bought a oem copy of whs 1 and whs 2011 and I run different hardware DIY configs in the newegg calculator, but no need to be in a hurry just yet. We have 8 pc’s in the house and only 2 of them has windows 7, 1 has vista and I have no desire to even talk about 8 yet.
Down the road, who knows, I can’t guess that far ahead. I figure at least 10 years from now I might HAVE to do something. If I had to now I would be a DIY win7 pro 64 bit box most likely. The 2 tb thing is a problem.
But what I have now is way better then where I came from.
Goodluck all, hopefully some new and cool will find it’s way here :-)

Damian October 21, 2012 at 9:29 am
adam October 29, 2012 at 7:14 am

Virtual machines need to be updated whether the host is esx or hyper v. Don’t see any difference there.

Alex October 29, 2012 at 7:25 am

I was talking about virtual desktops. Meaning it’s the physical machine, only the icons/applications are visible/invisible depending on the desktop.

there is no virtualisation here, and I update the machine only once.

redhotslk280 November 27, 2012 at 11:38 am

Any experts out there, can you tell me what is different between FreeNAS and WHS? I have 25TB run on FreeNAS ( run on decent PC, micro mb with 8GB memory) and i’m using the FreeNAS to stream video to the players like MED1000X3D, Micca EP950, patriot office, and argosy 335T. I can stream any movie to any single player without an issue (blu ray ISO, MKV…etc). But i will have problem (slow response or stop and go) when i stream to more than one players. The MED1000xd3 is gigabit (freeNAS is on gigabit PC and wired through cat5e cable) I have around 70-80MB/s transfer rate bewtween gigabit PC and FreeNAS. So my question is……is there a NAS or NAS OS out there i can use to stream the movies faster….like stream to more than one players without a problem? or is there anything wrong with my system? do i have the same problem if i switch to WHS? Please give me some advices. Thanks

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