WHS 2011–Should I Upgrade and How to Plan the Migration

Apr 8, 2011 by

1Windows Home Server 2011 is almost upon the mainstream masses as Microsoft has now released the product to RTM.  The questions many people are asking are: should I upgrade, and how do I migrate my data? In this article I am going to give you the pros and cons of upgrading your Windows Home Server and the methods I took to plan out the storage situation without Drive Extender.

Why Should I Upgrade?

This is a question that many people, including myself, have been pondering.  Just because a new version of a product comes out, does not mean that the last generation immediately becomes obsolete. This way of thinking though has sadly been rammed into our heads by gadget makers over the past few years.  WHS V1 still has plenty of life left in it, and Microsoft will continue to support it via critical security patches over the next few years.  The biggest deterrent for people to stay away from WHS2011 is the loss of Drive Extender.  Drive Extender is the Microsoft technology in WHSV1  that allowed us to throw any hard drive we wanted into the system and it would automatically get added to the storage pool toward our overall capacity.  I myself was on the pitchfork bandwagon of wanting to petition Microsoft about removing this feature.  I suppose the reason for that was my initial foray into Windows Home Server with a mish mash of IDE and SATA Hard Drives thrown into a box that I had lying around.  All of a sudden extended life had been given to them with Drive Extender.  But now I look at my system and it is comprised of 1.5TB and 2TB drives, and is easily managed.  Once Microsoft showed their hand on WHS2011 and the drive backup feature I knew I could make it work.  In WHS2011 Microsoft allows you to select which hard drive your particular shared folder is located on and you can in turn decide which drive to duplicate that folder on.  No, it is not as simple as the automatic method in WHSV1, but it is not bad at all.

Let’s run down a list of pros and cons to switching to WHS2011

Pros

  • 64 Bit operating system – Finally we can satisfy our urge to buy 16GB, or at least more than 4GB, of ram and use it all.
  • Native Video Streaming – The ability to stream your video content through the web interface without a 3rd-party application.
  • Overall Faster OS – WHS2011 is just plain fast, in both boot-up times and normal running conditions.
  • Show Microsoft we are still here – Upgrading or buying new OEM hardware will show Microsoft that there is still a market and keep them developing products for us in the future.
  • Archived backups – The ability to archive your backups and not have them count against your 10 ongoing machine backups
  • Homegroup – WHS2011 will integrate nicely with Windows 7 and Homegroup,  making it seem like network drives are already on your PC.

Cons

  • WHSV1 just works – My machine sits there in my basement humming away day after day after day without a hitch.  Why should I even think about upgrading?
  • An abundance of Plug-ins – There are already a whole list of plug-ins available for WHSV1, some of which may not get ported over to 2011.
  • An OEM Box – If you have an OEM HP, Tranquil, or other OEM box, there is not going to be an upgrade path for you from the manufacturer to upgrade to the new OS.
  • Drive Extender – If you still have a bunch of randomly sized hard drives in your system then you might just want to stay with drive extender in order to keep using them.

My Decision to Upgrade

In the end I decided to upgrade to WHS2011.  The reasons being that the hard drives I have now will allow me to have the same duplication as I did in WHSV1. I don’t use a lot of plugins, and the ones I do are already ported to WHS2011.  And lastly, I want that 64-bit goodness with the Windows Server 2008 R2 backbone. I am going to be using all new hardware with the exception of storage hard drives for my new system.  This is due to the fact that I will be doing more than just WHS2011 on that box.  But that build will be for a later post.

Planning for the Upgrade

Depending on your current WHS setup, this is where things can get really tricky.  Some people have terabytes and terabytes of video files.  For these cases a raid setup or a 3rd party raid box would be the best way to go.  I consider myself an above average user for my home server as far as storage goes, but well under the hardcore users.

My current setup looks like this

drives folders

Redundancy Without  Drive Extender

WHS2011 does provide redundancy like I stated earlier.  In this case you have to manually set the folders and the locations for duplication.  This allows us to be fairly flexible and determine exactly how our space is mapped out.  For my scenario I threw everything in an Excel spreadsheet and laid out exactly how I would configure the new system.

FOLDER SIZE Current Hard Drives (Formatted)
Videos 1.86TB 1.36TB Music+Photos+Soft.+Rec. TV+TV+User®
Music 342GB 1.82TB Music+Photos+Soft.+Rec. TV+TV+User
Photos 10.5GB 1.82TB Movies 1.3TB
Recorded TV 235GB 1.82TB Movies®
Software 45GB
User 130GB
Videos = 1.3TB Movies + 300GB TV + 260GB MISC ® = Redundant
Music + Photos + Software + Recorded TV + User + TV = 1.1TB

As you can see above that leaves me with 1.3TB of movies, on one drive and those being duplicated to one more drive.  All of my other files total less than 1TB, which will fit on my remaining two drives with duplication.   This does not leave me with a lot of headroom for storage.  But, with WHS2011 you can point the same folder to multiple hard drive locations.  So I can have movies on two hard drives, yet they would show up in the same folder in my libraries.  Very similar to how Windows 7 Libraries acts now.

Conclusion

There is no predefined path for migrating to WHS2011, but I wanted to give everyone a summary of what I did for my own migration.  If you are going to be using the same hardware as you currently use in WHSv1 and you do not have an enormous amount of data (3TB or less), then I recommend buying a 3 terabyte drive, backing up all of your data to it and simply transfer it back onto your new OS build.  You can then repurpose that 3TB drive back into the system for additional storage.  Although, WHS2011 can see a 3 terabyte drive, it will partition it into a 2TB and a 1TB set.

Have fun, and enjoy Windows Home Server 2011

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  • http://twitter.com/byobpodcast BYOB Podcast

    Great article Craig and good decision.

  • Pingback: Should you Upgrade to WHS2011()

  • http://twitter.com/JamesMontemagno James Montemagno

    So why no RAID? I have 4 2TB green drives with a $25 raid card for my WHS no good? I was just curious of your decision.

  • Anonymous

    Please guide us to where we can learn more about how to manually set shared folders for duplication.

  • Anonymous

    Please provide a link to where we can learn more about how to duplicate folders

  • http://twitter.com/CraigScholle Craig Scholle

    i will try to get a little tutorial up shortly on the duplication

  • http://twitter.com/CraigScholle Craig Scholle

    raid for a whs is an extreme niche in an already niche market. Raid is for advanced users only and this was supposed to be for the novice to power user crowd. IMO raid is only needed if you have an extreme amount of data that is too tedious to manage otherwise. I have nothing against raid and think it is really cool, but at the end of the day i like things to be simple.

  • Geoff Coupe

    You do realise that with that amount of data, you won’t be able to use the Backup facility in the WHS2011 Dashboard? It can’t handle more than 2TB of server backup. You’re going to have to delve into the underlying Windows Server 2008 R2 backup facilities to deal with it.

  • http://twitter.com/dheinle Dennis Heinle

    Won’t you get better performance from a standard drive and duplicating the folder over raid? I have a raid setup on my old box and the performance is horrible, but it works.

  • http://twitter.com/dheinle Dennis Heinle

    Great article. I am also looking at building a WHS 2011 box. I am interested in what you said about using Windows 7 and then XenServer on top of it. Xenserver is a bare metal hypervisor, just wondering how you are going to make that work. I was thinking of making 1 new box and virtualizing, WHS 2011, SageTV and some others. My only problem is I still have a pci-e tuner. BTW, we use Xenserver at work and I love it.

  • Anonymous

    WTF? How are you doing folder duplication? I can’t find the option anywhere. Are you using dynamic drives for this, or have I just completely missed the option?

  • http://twitter.com/CraigScholle Craig Scholle

    You are absolutely right and I never talked about doing a server backup. Just duplicating the drives themselves in local storage. The automated server backup is an animal all in itself, and one that Microsoft has not perfected yet even at launch. They should be able to recognize 3TB disks when they are not permanent storage, simply attached and they should allow you to break that up into multiple external drives. I see a PP1 in the near future per usual.

  • http://twitter.com/CraigScholle Craig Scholle

    Hey Dennis, you are right, said xenserver instead of VMware. I am actually still undecided on this. If you want cards and physical tuners to work correctly you should have windows 7 as the base with your other images Virtualized with VMware. If you don’t need that, then you can do it all with xenserver and it will split up the load nicely. I actually have not fully decided what I want to do yet. Trying to get my hardware ordered now.

  • http://profiles.google.com/prostor.ua Ivan Petrov

    I have installed WHS 2011 on Dual Xeon E5504 (8 cores in total) 16GB RAM.
    WHS can “see” only 1 CPU = 4 cores and only 8GB of RAM

  • Anonymous

    Still waiting on that tutorial!!

  • http://twitter.com/timekills17 timekills

    Not necessarily. RAID performance is based on type of RAID and whether you are reading or writing. A complete duplication of a drive is the same as RAID 1. I.E. your writes will be the same or a bit worse than a single drive setup, while reads *can* be faster. Most RAID 1 implementations will read from both drives if multiple files are requested, so reading from a RAID 1 can be faster than reading from a single drive implementation. I doubt if WHS2011 will read from both drives if you are using folder/drive duplication, but if it does, it would be the same as RAID 1.

    RAID5 is typically faster at reading AND writing than a single drive or RAID1/duplication setup, again because you are writing to and reading from multiple drives simultaneously. You lose some write speed due to overhead from the parity. This can really hurt you if the files are smaller than the stripe size because you have to write the parity for each file, so if you’re writing a bunch of 1KB files to a RAID5 with a 4KB stripe, it can be quite slow.

  • Richard Butler

    Folks, just got WHS 2011 for $59 from Newegg and am upgrading.  I migrated all of my shared folders off of the V1 drive pool to a new 2Tb drive, rebuilt the exisitng server to 2011.  I’d like some tips/suggestions on how to configure this under the new version.

    I will have a 250Gb System Drive
    2-500Gb data drives and 2-2Tb data drives.  These will be part of the internal storage.  I also have a 1.5Tb drive that I can have external for the ‘Server Backup’.

    Can I have the paired internal drives above duplicate each other?  So one 500Gb duplicates the other and one 2Tb duplicates its twin?  I’d like to use the 1.5Tb to be the Server backup knowing it’s smaller overall than the internal ones.  I don’t think I’d pick more than 1Tb to be backup up this way.

    Server backup items: documents(10Gb), pictures(20Gb), Home movies (50Gb), Music (350Gb), Some Videos (500Gb)

    Am I one the right track?  How do I set the internal drives to back up their same sized twins?  Thanks!

  • Marc Tooze

    You mention this…”But, with WHS2011 you can point the same folder to multiple hard drive locations.  So I can have movies on two hard drives, yet they would show up in the same folder in my libraries. ”  

    How is this done?

  • Anonymous

    Not sure about the last comment… I have WHS2011 and my 3TB was partioned into 850KB and 750KB which is about half of the actual drive!  No explanation on the web (been browsing)…