When Microsoft First announced that Drive Extender (DE) would be removed from what was then Windows Home Server Code Named “Vail”, I thought that a Drobo could be suitable replacement for that functionality that was now being lost. I first reviewed a 4 bay Drobo and the results of that review can be found at The Home Server Show site.
Now that Microsoft has released the newest version of Home Server, Windows Home Server 2011 RC, it’s time to take a look at it again, this time with the 5 Bay Drobo S. While this post focuses largely on the using the Drobo for storage, there are parts of it (especially at the end) where you could insert “storage larger than 2TB” and it would apply. So, read, don’t skip, all the way to the end.
The Drobo S connects via USB 3.0, eSATA or FireWire 800. By enabling the dual-drive redundancy option, you can protect your data from failure of up to two hard drives. This Drobo contains a “self-healing technology” that will continually examine the blocks and sectors on every drive, flagging questionable areas. This preemptive "scrubbing" helps ensure your data is being written only to the healthy areas of your drives, and that your data is always safe. Even if a drive fails, Drobo S keeps your data in the safest state possible, utilizing the available space on the remaining healthy drives.
For testing purposes, we are using a system that used the Gigabyte GA-H55M-USB3 board, a Core i3 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 320 GB System Drive
The Dashboard from the WHS 2001 RC before the Drobo.
Set up was very simple – Plug in power and USB3 cables, install the Drobo software and navigate to the Advanced Tools Option. USB3 functionality requires the latest Dashboard and Firmware.
[Click on any image to make it larger]
Installed the new version
With the latest numbers
Now that the software and firmware are updated, let’s load some drives! A lool at the Advanced Controls – Data Tab before we start.
Note: Drobo shipped me the unit with 3TB Drives. I took the drives out of the box and made no configuration changes to them.
First I need to create a volume on the Drobo. From my earlier Drobo Reviews, we know that the volume size created by the Drobo can be larger than the amount of storage space that is physically available.
I am going to choose the NTFS – Vista or Windows 2003 option and going to create a full 16TB Volume.
Choosing a drive – I named it Z: and Next and Format.
Confirm with Format
Once the format is complete, here is the Drobo Status
It handled the 3TB Drives without any special formatting or setting changes. SInce there is only one drive in the unit, the Drobo cannot currently protect the data against loss.
It then prompts you to add another drive. I will add the second 3TB drive.
If you want to see a video on loading or replacing drives in a Drobo, I have two to watch.
It took less than 20 minutes for the second drive to be completely added to the pool. I had complete access to the Drobo during this format and could move and copy files during the process
It transferred 4.07GB of data (the old Vail Beta install) from the DVD to the Drobo in about 5 minutes while the 2nd drive was being added to the pool. I then copied a copy of that folder (another 4.07GB back to the drive and the operation took less than 3 minutes. A serious improvement over the 4 bay Drobo on USB 2.
Like in the other reviews I have done, when a Drobo has just 2 drives loaded to it, BeyondRAID acts like RAID 1, mirroring the drives.
Back to the WHS Dashboard
From the dashboard, you can see that the drive is added to the list of available drives (Z: is this case). The WHS see the 16 TB Volume and the newly used space (from the 2 copies of Vail Beta that I copied to the drive).
We know that not all 16TB are available because the Drobo only has 2.7 or so available for storage after using some for data protection (incase of a drive failure) and overhead.
With the 2nd drive format complete, my data is now completely protected from a single drive failure. Let’s now load up the rest of the Drobo Bays.
WHS Drive Options
If I single click on the Drobo drive in the WHS Dashboard, I receive two options for the drive. View the Properties or add it as a Server Back up.
I will select properties and get two tabs. General and Shadow Copies.
Moving Folders to the Drobo
Now that the Drobo is fully loaded with drives, it’s time to start taking advantage of them.
Since Microsoft removed Drive Extender, I can no longer just add drives to the pool and expect them to be used automatically. I need to manually point the location of the folder to the drive I desire. In this case we are going to move all the shared folders to the Drobo.
They are currently all defaulted to the D: drive on my server. Since that was the space that was left over after the server install (I used a 320GB drive as my system drive) that space would fill up fairly quick. I am going to move them one at a time over to the Drobo. I will start at the bottom with the Videos Folder.
This begins the Move a Folder Wizard. First I will select Move the Folder and next.
Choose a new location
Selecting Z:\ServerFolders\Videos and Move Folder. I will get a warning that this new location is an external drive. I will select next.
The wizard prompts me to Open the Server Backup configuration to verity that the folder selected for back up. There are some issues when using a single drive for data that is larger than the back up volume and will address that later in the post. At the moment, I don’t even have a drive attached for Server backup.
Since I do not have a drive configured yet for Server Backup, the process fails. Closing the Move a folder Wizard. Here is the result of the move.
Now, all the data that I save to the Video Folder will be physically stored on the Drobo. Protected by the BeyondRAID features native to the Drobo.
To complete the process, I will move all the other folders in the same fashion. Here it is complete.
I can also create a folder and point it to the Drobo. Going to do that with a folder called Software. From the Dashboard, select Add a folder.
From the Add a Folder Wizard, select Browse. I will navigate to the Drobo Drive and find the ServerFolders
Select Make New Folder and name it software. Under Name, type Software and Next. There will be a warning about using and external drive, select next.
There is an option about user rights. I am selecting Everyone (full access)
The folder is added and select Close.
I now have a folder called Software
To test this, I am going to move some files that I created earlier in the review to the software folder. Moving about 8.15GB in about 8 minutes. Here is a shot from the server.
The WHS is now ready to work with the Drobo and the data is now full protected by the Drobo’s BeyondRAID. With the Drobo FS, I could lose up to two individual drives from the unit and still not lose any data. With that kind of protection, who need Drive Extender? That was so 2010!
Server Backup and Issues with a Drobo
This could be a problem for any large drive where the data drive is larger than the Server backup, so this isn’t a Drobo issue. Let me illustrate.
From the WHS Dashboard, I will start the Set up Backup for the server wizard.
Since no drives are connected to the server for backup, I will install a 2TB USB external drive to act as one.
Going to Refresh the List
I am selecting the newly found drive (if you follow the show, I am using the 2TB drive that Tim Daleo gave me at CES) and next.
Of course it will! Select Yes and Label the drive
It prompts for a schedule. For now, I am going to take the defaults. Next, next and apply settings. Now this is where it get sticky. I get the option to back up either the D: drive on the local disk or the Z: Drobo drive. I am going to select the Drobo check mark.
I get a system message that the selected drive (the Drobo) is larger than 2TB and cannot be included in the in the Server Backup.
It asks me to consider dividing the hard disk into smaller drives? Isn’t that why I went with a Drobo and a single drive?
Since there is a well documented and discussed 2TB limit for backing up drives on the WHS 2011, I have to really think in advance about my configuration options BEFORE I set up a large storage array.
So what are my options then? I see three different ones.
Using the Drobo (or storage larger than 2TB) as the Backup Only – Build the WHS with your data on internal or external drives (2TB or smaller) and use the Drobo as the Server backup drive. This would give the best of all words in guaranteeing that access to your music and videos would be at the best possible speeds while having max protection of your data. The major drawback of course would be in cost. You would have the cost of the WHS with drives as well as the Drobo and it’s drives. Cloud based backup would provide extra off site protection.
Create Multiple 2TB Volumes on the Drobo (or storage larger than 2TB) – Build the WHS with just one physical drive for the system (or 2 drives in RAID 1) and create multiple 2TB volumes on the Drobo (the exact number would depend on the amount of space on the Drobo). If you had two 2TB volumes as an example, you could use one for data and the other for Server backup. The Drobo’s data protection features would protect you from a drive failure and the server backup would protect against user error. Additional external drives could also be used to carry backups offsite for extra disaster recovery options. Transfer speeds would be at the normal Drobo limits but this would provide max data protection. Paired with a cloud based backup solution, costs could be less than #1 but carries a drawback of possibly having many 2TB volumes to manage with the WHS.
- Create the max 16TB Volume on the Drobo - If simplicity and size is all that matters, create the max volume (greater than 2TB) and let the Drobo do the rest. Back up of the Drobo files beyond the unit would need to be done using a tool other than the WHS. Files could be synced to an external drive via Sync Toy or RoboCopy and carried off site. Data could be moved to the cloud using one of many cloud based backup solutions. Drawbacks come in the complexity of the Server backup and potential lack of automatic schedules for backups.
A Note About Disaster Recovery Option with the Drobo
Since I started this Drobo Review, one of the questions I get asked the most is, “What if the Drobo hardware fails? What happens to my data then?” I pinged Mario Blandini over at Drobo with that question and here is his response.
Thanks Mario. Saved me a bunch of writing.
The Drobo would be a very suitable Drive Extender replacement for the WHS 2011. Because of the changes that Microsoft made to WHS 2011, mainly the 2TB limit placed on Backup drives, there is now an element of preplanning that needs to go into a system that is going to use large storage pools larger than 2TB.
The USB3 option with the Drobo S is an definite upgrade from it’s 4 bay brother on USB2. Performance and transfer speed were greatly improved over the older model.
If future posts we will look breaking down the storage options list above, as well as streaming audio and video from the WSH 2011 using the Drobo as backend storage.
Watch the Drobo Review page for additional posts and updates. Drobo and Windows Home Server
Full Disclosure – Drobo provided an evaluation unit with drives for this review.