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

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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About the author

Craig Scholle