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PostPosted: Mon Jan 07, 2013 3:25 pm 
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Hello everyone!

In the coming weeks, I would like to share with you some experiments I made and planned to make on my server(s). Let me tell you first how I appreciate Windows Server Essentials 2012 (WSE2012), it's a very good server system not yet mature, but it carries out the job at least for what I have tested. There are flaws, for certain, for example Storage Spaces (SS) is no Demigrator (DE), it lacks balancing which brings lots of limitations, like the need to have disks of the same capacity for resiliency (or loose the use of some memory you have paid for), or like the risk of loosing data if you put different SS on the same Pool, not knowing how data was distributed over the disks, etc. At the same time, there are unnecessary features for home serving like Active directory (and domain implementation), or the ability to host 25 user accounts (10 seemed OK for home use); but, on the good side, it borrowed most of the special features of home servers: media streaming, SS, dashboard, launchpad, etc. It was meant to reach home and small business users (media streaming is aiming necessarily at the home server crew), a jack of all trades for everyone, but with only one high price, despite the smaller needs a home user can have.

I'm not going to pay 450 - 500 bucks for the replacement of WHS that you can own for 50$. I know WSE2012 is worth the high price with all the integrated features it holds (my experiments have proven it to me, time and money I have spent to get some kind of equivalency), but it is not that bad a necessity for a home network, there are other solutions out there.

So my experiments carried me towards Windows 8 as a server, for which there are a lot of guides on the web, from which:
http://www.wegotserved.com/2012/08/03/building-windows-8-home-server-managing-user-accounts-family-safety/11/
http://windowssecrets.com/newsletter/a-cheap-effective-home-server-using-windows-8/#story3
http://www.maximumpc.com/article/windows/windows_8_home_server_guide

These exellent guides show how it is easy to build; but I found many issues they don't mention which have to be addressed, for example: if your server is headless, you can't Shutdown or Restart Windows 8 through RDP, the Shutdown icon only allows you to "disconnect" from Win8 session. In my reporting I will describe solutions I found to overcome these difficulties. But the primary reason I wanted to experiment with Win 8 was to create a WSE2012 emulation by stacking WHS2011 (which holds most server features), in a virtual machine, over Windows 8. I will also report on this when I have finished with that project. The other reason is because the rebate on Windows 8 ends on January 31st, 2013, and my report would be less userful beyond that date (you will need a genuine previous version of windows (xp to win7) on the server to buy and install Win 8 ).

Using Win 8 (or 7) as a server is not a simple task. There are 3 components of the server that automize tasks:
    Connector
    Launchpad
    Dashboard
We will have to manually implement the underlying tasks of those components in order to set up our server. Some will probably say: there are applications out there to automate these tasks, I agree but you have to pay for each one of those, and at the end of the day the invoice may become high enough to contemplate server systems like WSE2012. So let's try to stay as much as possible with the components available in the windows version(s) we will use.

The last element to look at is the actual hardware and software you own and the upgrades you may need to build a simple server (on any machine):

For a basic Win 8 server (32 or 64 bits):
monitor, keyboard and vga cable (unless someone can write an unattended install???)
memory (2 GB)
Windows 8 (40$ until january 31st, 2013)

For a sophisticated Win8 + Whs2011 server (64 bits only):
Basic win 8 server (above) +
4 GB memory or more (~60$)
64 bits processor
WHS2011 (~50$)
VMware player or VitualBox (free), or hyper-V part of Win 8 Pro if your processor supports it

Any solution has its strenghts and weaknesses. I'll try to point to some of them, but I hope that others will comment to share their point of view and experiments.

_________________
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HP-EX470 4GB Athlon-X2-BE-2350-(Stepping G1) Windows 8 (server build)


Last edited by VieuxJules on Mon Jan 28, 2013 10:50 am, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 07, 2013 4:08 pm 
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Experiment 1: Installing Windows 8 on the server (Mediasmart EX470 in my case)

To buy and install Windows 8 on your machine, a previous version of windows (from xp to 7) has to be already installed on the server. In my case I have two computers that are finished (caput!), so I decided to install Vista Ultimate x64 (from one of them) on my EX470.
    I downloaded a burn to iso freeware (BurnAware), and built that iso file first;
    Then I had to use "isoavdpcopy.exe" to modify the iso file in order to use "Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool"
    With the Tool I created a USB flashdisk with Vista on it

Well arriving at the server empty system disk to install to, the install program could not see or install to the disk. I went into the machine bios to change parameters, to the web to search solutions, but to no avail.
The solution was to install Vista from within a already installed program. I could install Win 8 Release Preview with no problem, but I think it could be installed from within WHS also (but have not tried it). The sequence was:
    Install Win 8 RP (or any OS that can install on that machine;
    Install Vista from within Win 8 (the install was now seeing the system disk and could install on it);
    Download the Windows 8 Ugrade Assistant (if your system is not in accordance with requirements, you are told before buying);
    After buying the software it was downloaded with installation options, I decided to download an ISO image, but I could as well install it right away;

Since I wanted a clean install, I had previously removed Vista. No joy, Win 8 could not see my system disk. So I had to reinstall Vista as before, then install Windows 8 Pro within Vista. That went flawlessly, except that, if I recall I had to get the NIC driver for my machine (sys191). When Win8 was installed, the eSata driver was also missing, a Marvell driver download site for the EX470 is linked in my "So you can install WS2012E on the EX470" thread.

That's it Windows 8 Pro is now installed on my EX470 and can access all the Pools, Spaces, Shares and Files I have done with WSE2012. In fact I have two system disks one with Win 8 the other with WSE2012, and I can swap them at will, and can read, write, modify the data with either system.

Now to build a server...

VJ

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 08, 2013 4:45 pm 
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Experiment 2: Headless functionality and remote desktop for Win 8 Server

This is done through 3 steps:
    Enable remote desktop on Win 8
    Access server remotely
    Create shutdown icons

1. Enable remote desktop
With your monitor and keyboard still connected to the server follow the steps in this guide:
http://www.guidingtech.com/13469/how-to-enable-remote-desktop-in-windows-8/
or the first part of this one http://winsupersite.com/windows-8/windows-8-tip-use-remote-desktop

2. Access your server remotely
Now it's time to unplug your monitor and keyboard if you wish. And use the remote desktop application as usual. If you're not familiar with this follow the second part of the last link of step 1.

3. Create shutdown icons
If you try to shutdown your sever (Win 8 ) remotely through the Charms bar, you will have the surprise of only one option "Disconnect" (see attachment 1: in English Déconnecter is "Disconnect"). You cannot shutdown or restart the server through there. Here is a guide to create commands' shortcuts:
http://www.techulator.com/resources/5103-how-create-shutdown-shortcut-windows.aspx
In the command, the author suggest "Shutdown.exe -s -t 00" I prefer "... -t 15" instead and I'll explain why.
I also pinned the resulting app to desktop (right click the shutdown app in Metro and choose Pin to desktop")

It will look like the image attached (attachement 2), where I created 3 icons on the desktop (from left to right):
    1. Shutdown.exe -a (to abort the Shutdown command)
    2. Shutdown.exe -s -t 15 (to shutdown the server)
    3. Shutdown.exe -r -t 15 (to restart the server)

The shutdown command doesn't present a messagebox "Are you sure...?" it just shuts down immediately. If you have hit the icon by error, there is no comming back. This is why I made these buttons with a timelag of 15 seconds, it is enough to hit the "A"bort icon. Also the "A"bort icon is the first to the left because this corner is the one to reach the Metro menu (attachement 3), and it is easy to hit the button by error while you want to access the Metro menu. So hitting an "A"bort button by error is less damageable than hitting the Shutdown button.

VJ


Attachments:
File comment: Attachment 1
Disconnect.png
Disconnect.png [ 58.79 KiB | Viewed 7033 times ]
File comment: Attachment 2
Shutdown icons.png
Shutdown icons.png [ 17.23 KiB | Viewed 7033 times ]
File comment: Attachment 3
Metro access.png
Metro access.png [ 10.89 KiB | Viewed 7033 times ]

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2013 10:41 am 
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Thanks for sharing your experiences, I look forward to reading more! :mss:

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2013 9:45 am 
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Thanks Alex for the interest! I'll try to continue over the week-end.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 13, 2013 2:38 pm 
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Experiment 3: Undertaking "Server connector" tasks on Windows 8 (1 of 2)

We've known WHS, WHS2011 and now WSE2012 server connectors. These connectors did a great job to undertake connecting tasks automatically.
    It would create an user account and its credentials on the server;
    It would define a user's personal share;
    It would automate and schedule the guest computer's backup;
    It would install a Launchpad on the guest computer;
    And perform other underlying connection tasks.

These need to be done manually on Windows 8 to act as a server. There are 4 steps I experienced:
    1. Define user accounts
    2. Organize Storage Spaces
    3. Create shared folders (Shares)
    4. Automate computers' backups

1. Users accounts
I tried the method explained in Terry Walsh's link posted in the first message of this thread. I followed instructions from page 1 to 4. I use only the Windows 8 server account that was created during install as administrator. I did not enabled a guest account in my configuration. Beware while adding other accounts, you as Administrator, have a certain degree of control over these accounts, but not as thourough as with a true server system; first of all, you can manage users accounts through the Control Panel, but you cannot change other accounts passwords, for example. To do this you probably have to log into Windows 8 server with the specific user account.

2. Organize Storage Spaces
Fortunately for me, I had already defined my SS setup in WSE2012. By changing the WSE system drive for the Windows 8 system drive, I was able to see all my SS in the server. You have to carefully plan your SS setup, because changing the setup afterwards is burdensome. Yes, if it's only a question of adding disks to a Pool, there is no problem, but if you have different types of Spaces, then it's another story.

First, define the kind of share folders you need. Usually (for backup; streaming and data repository) The Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos folders are already in the Libraries, you will probably need Users and Backup folders. Determine what resilience you need for each. In SS you can have:
    Simple: no resilience (you can use the whole disks space for data, but if a disk fails you loose it);
    Two-way mirror: a copy of each file on two disks (you can only use half the space you have over your two disks, but if a disk fails there is a copy on the other one);
    Three-way mirror: a copy of each file on three disks (you can only use a third of the space, but if two disks fails there is a copy of your files on the third disk);
    Parity: data and information spread over three disks (you have more space available than with the two preceding methods, but if a disk fails you can reconstruct the Storage Space with the two other disks and recover your files).

But Storage Space doesn't rebalance your data. This means that you will need identical disks size to use the disk space optimally. Furthermore, it means that there is no benefit of creating several types of Spaces in the same Pool. There are even risks of doing this. So the easier setup is if you only want one type of resiliency over your disks of the same size (beside you system disk...):
    Two disks of the same size (let's say 3TB): assemble one Pool for the two disks and create one Two-way mirror Storage Space. You'll put all your Shares in it.
    Three disks of the same size: assemble one Pool for the three disks and create one Three-way mirror or one Parity Storage Space.

If you have different sized disks then try to assemble them so they will use the least number of disks to acheive the resiliency you want:
    Three disks 1TB, 500GB, 500GB: one Pool with the three disks and a two-way mirror SS (files will be on the 1TB disk plus another copy on either of the two 500GB disks)

If, besides the preceding examples, you have spare disks, then assemble them into seperate pools and apply the type of resiliency you need. Give each Pool and each Storage Space a significant name.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 13, 2013 3:24 pm 
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Experiment 3: Undertaking "Server connector" tasks on Windows 8 (2 of 2)

3. Create shared folders (Shares)
First define your users folders as described in Terry Walsh guide from page 9 to 11 (of Chapter 9) mentioned in step 2 of the preceding message. Drag these folders into one of the Storage Spaces you have just setup.

Then look at this other Terry Walsh guide (Capter 10) for the other shared folders.

4. Automate computers backups
This is an important function of a server. And it is the one I got most of my problems with. The guides are fairly simple though: instead of pulling a backup from the server at the respective computers, you have to push the backup from the computers to the server. It means you have to configure the backups on each computer and set it up in order that it saves the backup file to one server share. In fact I created a different share for each computer to backup.

That didn't work on my Windows 7 machine. Searching on the web, there was mention of malware that could impair the backup, so I ran Malwarebytes and cleaned all the stuff it reported, than cleaned my machine so it had at least 10% space free, than I ran anti-virus to discover I had a Trojan Horse. Thought now it would be good. Well I could backup my data to the Windows 8 server, but the system image backup still reported errors. Searching again I ran "sfc /scannow" which reported errors that were corrected and checkdisk that also reported and corrected problems. Finally, tried again to create a system image, no joy. It seemed that the error was related to Windows 7 backup not able to save system files on a greater than 2TB drive with 4kb clusters. The workaround was to apply KB982018. Downloaded it, try to install it, but it was already installed. So now I'm trying to backup a system image of my Windows 7 computer to a residual partition from my system disk, outside a pool.

All this to say that theoretically, you can backup computers to a server. Practically, depending on your setup, it may be... surprizing. I will probably upgrade my Windows 7 computer to Windows 8 next week. And I will try the new backup feature of Win 8 and report back.

VJ

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 14, 2013 1:56 pm 
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VieuxJules wrote:
These exellent guides show how it is easy to build; but I found many issues they don't mention which have to be addressed, for example: if your server is headless, you can't Shutdown or Restart Windows 8 through RDP, the Shutdown icon only allows you to "disconnect" from Win8 session.



Alt+F4 while the RDP window is active will bring up a list to restart, shutdown, log-off, etc


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2013 5:50 pm 
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snoturtle wrote:
VieuxJules wrote:
These exellent guides show how it is easy to build; but I found many issues they don't mention which have to be addressed, for example: if your server is headless, you can't Shutdown or Restart Windows 8 through RDP, the Shutdown icon only allows you to "disconnect" from Win8 session.



Alt+F4 while the RDP window is active will bring up a list to restart, shutdown, log-off, etc



Alt+F4 is what I use also to bring up the list in a RDP of Win8!

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2013 10:45 am 
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Thanks guys for the Alt-F4 shortcut! I don't use shortcuts very much, but this one is very helpful.

Experiment 4: Emulating WSE2012 (well kind of!)

I didn't have time to report on my experiments lately. So I'll be brief (well kind of!)

The whole objective of these experiments was to emulate a WSE2012 server without the cost. The idea is to install a WHS2011 virtually over Windows 8. I can tell you it worked, and very well, but there is a cost in terms of money, time and performance.

Minimum specs is:
    - X64 processor
    - 4 GB RAM
    - Windows 8 installed
    - VMWare Player, VirtualBox, or Hyper-V
    - WHS2011

If you have none of these (EX47x with Sempron processor and 512MB of RAM), you're probably better of with a DIY machine. But if you already own most, then it's worth a try. In fact, this system would be a StableBit or DriveBender or sorts, kind of competitor, but with some added possibilities.

1. Install Win 8
We've covered that, and lots of guides on the web. I installed it on my system: EX47x, BE2350 (X64) 2.1GHz processor, 4GB memory. You can buy Win 8 for cheap from Microsoft now (before January 31st) and install it later.

2. Install your virtualization product of choice
The choice will depend on your system.
If you have a recent processor, then you can use Hyper-V already built in Windows 8 (Pro or Enterprise versions). This virtualization system is more sturdy but apparently more challenging to configure.

Virtualbox or VMWare Player are quite easy to install. It seems that Virtualbox has an advantage over VMPlayer, it can create 3TB+ disks, while VMPlayer is limited to 2TB. But I could not install WHS2011 on VBox it would always BSOD. Maybe my system has someting, mabe I oversaw some configuration wiz, but I couldn't but know others were able to.

So I have VMPlayer on my system (and VBox is there also, if I can find a way eventually to install WHS2011 on it). My older processor doesn't support Hyper-V (you can search on Microsoft's pages, there is a utility to verify if your processor supports it).

3. Install a virtual WHS2011
This guide will help you install WHS2011 (codename Vail) on the VirtualBox. VMPlayer will use the same settings, but presented differently (even more easy, in my opinion).

But as mentioned before, on VBox, the installation went right up to the point of configuration (just after a brief preview of the WHS2011 desktop). It BSODs sometimes after this (tried it several times). So I reverted to VMPlayer and it went like a breeze. So WHS got installed over Win8.

4. Create the virtual machine disks
This is also quite easy. But you have several choices.
    - Dynamic (it will take less space at start, can grow, but less performant) or Fixed disk (it will take a long time to setup, but more performant)
    - Virtual (it will install a folder of the virtual disk on the physical disk, you can access the disk with the underlying Windows 8 ) or Physical disk (it will take the whole physical disk or a partition on it, it won't be accessible by the underlying windows 8 )

The interesting point here is that a StorageSpace is considered a physical disk by VMPlayer. So if you have configured your SS adequately, then you can have a WHS2011 with Storage Spaces.

5. Configure and test the machine
Most of the useful stuff for home serving that Windows Server Essentials 2012 has is taken from WHS2011 (and Sever 2008 it is based on). Computers back-up, Server back-up, Media streaming, Dashboard, etc. There are many configurations you can make:
    - Use WHS2011 as a home server without bodering with the underlying Windows 8
    - Use a combination of WHS2011 and Windows 8 functions (streaming media with Windows 8, doing back-ups with WHS2011), depending on your memory capacity, you may have to shut down the virtual machine in order for Windows 8 to recall its resources (if you have only 4GB RAM, you have in fact only around 3.5GB usable - 2GB for WHS2011 and the rest for Windows 8; but with 8GB you would have no problem; same for the processor, if you have two cores, you have split them between the 2 operating systems, if you have 4 or more cores, you're in business).

I don't have much time to verify performance of the system, so I decided to only test the media streaming (the backups being done during the night, it is not that much an issue).
I have 2 PS3s one wired and one over my WiFi network. I have a test movie (Hugo) which I converted into PS3 compatible format. And I decided to test it over my WiFi. Well, with Windows 8 (virtual machine being off) it was streaming like a breeze. No cuts, no stutter. With WHS2011 as a virtual machine, it was almost the same experience no stutter and only one cut (not a skip, but a fraction of a second cut) during the first 3 minutes.

So that is good performance in my opinion. I'm not an expert in movie streaming, but I was satisfied. This is about it, it performs mostly like my other server which is a HP N40L (1.5Ghz and 8GB RAM). So the possibilities are there. It will be others' experiences that can confirm or infirm my tests. Hope some will jump in.

My personal setup

In conclusion, since I have two servers, the preceding setup won't probably be my personal choice. I will continue with this configuration for a while, and then I will keep my N40L with WHS2011 (for general management and backups) and my EX47x with Windows 8 for streaming purposes (with 3 x 3TB drives in parity mode, plus the system disk), this only because the BE-2350 processor (2.1GHz) is superior to the N40L processor (1.5GHz).

VJ

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HP-EX470 4GB Athlon-X2-BE-2350-(Stepping G1) Windows 8 (server build)


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