The Technology of WHS

Because WHS is a retooled version of Windows Server 2003, it's at times a sharp contrast to Vista, or even XP for that matter. Microsoft has attempted to put a lot of attention on WHS's headless operation mode, which allows a WHS server to run without a keyboard or monitor (but not a video card). For this purpose WHS is very much a server, as all administration tasks can be handled by the clients via a special Remote Desktop application while the server sits in a corner gathering dust. Microsoft even goes so far as discouraging use of the server directly both in the manual and on the warning dialog that pops up on the desktop of the server, in an effort to keep users inside the confines of the able but simple administrative client.

WHS also inherits Server 2003's low by modern standards system requirements, requiring as little as a 1ghz P3/Athlon processor and 512MB of RAM. Although systems shipping from computer vendors will be far more powerful, it's clear from the start that when it comes to the enthusiast market, Microsoft sees this as going on an old computer that's outlived its usefulness as a primary computer but is still well prepared for server tasks that will be limited by disk I/O and not CPU cycles or memory.

The final significant piece of technology to come over from Server 2003 is its security. By default WHS is locked down hard, bringing over the security enhancements that made Server 2003 harder to break into through a reduction in exposed services to attack. Microsoft is taking some liberties here in assuming that the server will be behind a naturally protected network with a NAT/firewall at the head. When properly configured, what is exposed to the internet (and not by default) is solely Internet Information Server 6.0, which has proven to be a hard target to break into (at least compared to the laughable IIS 5.0). Microsoft even goes so far as requiring strong passwords on any accounts that will be accessible from the internet (7 characters; uppercase, lowercase, and numeric characters required), which shows that some thought went into this.

Although Server 2003 predates Vista, the development team did manage to steal a handful of technologies from the fledgling operating system. Those tired of floppy disks will be ecstatic to find that Vista's far superior installation loader is used, allowing drivers to be loaded off of flash memory rather than floppy disks. The rest of the installer is still the traditional file-copy installer however, so WHS does not install quickly like Vista, although in Microsoft's defense users will ideally not be installing a server operating system as frequently.

Hardware and driver compatibility is something that needs to be mentioned as it's a natural result of using a server OS as the base. Simply put, a piece of hardware needs to be Server 2003 compatible to be WHS compatible. For critical components such as motherboards and video cards this shouldn't generally be a problem, although on the AMD side specifically there are some Athlon/Athlon-XP era boards that never got proper Server 2003 support. Many RAID controllers however aren't supported in spite of the availability of drivers due to WHS's unique method of handling disk drives.

Putting a new face on Server 2003 wouldn't be enough to make it capable of handling the duties of WHS in Microsoft's eyes, so among the new technologies in WHS and the one most paramount by far to its operation is what Microsoft is calling Windows Home Server Drive Extender (WHSDE). WHSDE is a new abstraction layer that sits between the various WHS services and the hardware, creating a common storage pool out of all of the available disks on the system, similar to the JBOD mode on some RAID controllers. This means that files & folders are no longer constrained by the size of any individual drive (from an end-user perspective you never even see things as drives, just folders) and instead WHSDE distributes files to drives based on how it believes space would best be allocated.

Furthermore, the storage pool is almost completely dynamic, in direct opposition to most JBOD/RAID setups. New drives can be added to the storage pool without disrupting the server, allowing the pool to be easily and continuously expanded to meet the data retention needs of the server. Drives can also be removed from the pool with a little more effort, as WHS can be informed to move all of the data off of a drive (assuming there's space elsewhere) so that the drive can be disconnected without interrupting the pool. While this isn't a completely new feature as various *nix systems have implemented similar features, this is the first we've seen it on Windows, and certainly in the running for the easiest to use implementation of such a feature.

Finally, WHSDE has a very interesting data protection feature that in many ways is a poor man's RAID 1, and yet smarter at the same time. By default WHSDE is constantly balancing all the drives so that no single drive is storing a larger percentage of data than another, so in the case of a drive failure the data lost will be an equal fraction of the data. More importantly however folders can be marked as needing additional protection (folder duplication), at which point WHSDE will make sure that the contents of that folder are on at least two separate drives when doing its balancing act. This is what makes WHSDE a poor man's RAID 1, as this balancing isn't done in real time and there's not immediately a copy of every single bit, but it's also smarter because this kind of protection is possible even among mismatched disks, disks on different controllers, external versus internal disks, etc. It offers slightly less protection than RAID 1, but as a tradeoff it's a lot more forgiving too.

At the end of the day WHSDE is really what makes WHS work and more than just a cut-down version of Server 2003. Just having a common storage pool alone makes WHS far easier to use with large amounts of data that don't fit on a single drive, and the extremely dynamic/forgiving nature of how drives and replication are handled becomes the distinguishing factor. WHSDE makes WHS far superior to any other version of Windows for storing and protecting data, and this is what gives it the ability to be a great server for home use. For enthusiasts, we suspect it will be the most attractive feature of WHS, for use as a file server.

It's also worth noting that this is the reason that WHS has very limited RAID support. Since all disks are assimilated by WHS, any RAID setups requiring configuration in Windows will fail. Only RAID setups done completely at the BIOS level (which normally requires higher-end RAID controllers) will work under WHS, and even then Microsoft discourages the use of such RAID setups in favor of the protection offered by WHS natively. RAID 5 users may want to ignore Microsoft on this however, as WHS's protection isn't as efficient as RAID 5, and it's slower due to WHS needing to balance data.

Index The Interface of WHS
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  • n0nsense - Thursday, September 6, 2007 - link

    I really impressed by you responses.
    You might be right about set up mess and definitely right about need to read few pages in order to try something not microsoft.
    It is a free world when you choose your platform, but far away of being free when you choose proprietary one.
    while you talking, most of you did not try any *nix in last years.
    If my parents, cousins and the rest of close persons were able to use it without calling me twice a week each, for some kind of support as they did in XP time and not to reinstall XP once a year for each box, then it's really indicates user friendliness and stability of non MS OSes.
    And by the way, you can by preinstalled and configured Linux box from Dell, HP or Lenovo (not to mention other smaller OEM's) and not to waste your time on installation.
    As for the growing take next example:
    Online defragmentation

    Although the extent based nature of XFS and the delayed allocation strategy it used significantly improves the file system's resistance to fragmentation problems, XFS provides a filesystem defragmentation utility (xfs_fsr, short for XFS filesystem reorganizer) that can defragment a mounted and active XFS filesystem. Note that xfs_fsr is usually part of xfsdump package, not xfsprogs.

    Online resizing

    XFS provides the xfs_growfs utility to perform online resizing of XFS file systems. XFS filesystems can be grown provided there is remaining unallocated space on the device holding the filesystem. This feature is typically used in conjunction with volume management, as otherwise the partition holding the filesystem will need enlarging separately.
    read this to understand more:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File_systems">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File_systems

    there is no such thing as perfect software (OS is one of this). but there is definitely better and worse .
    "Computers are like air conditioners. They stop working when you open Windows." (c)
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    You are so wrong, it is geared towards everyone. The software it uses has been proven to be VERY reliable. As stated in the very article you are posting about. NTFS is also very reliable.

    Of coruse grandma won't care for it, but I already know many people who are getting it based on how easy it is to use. Even businesses are getting it i know of because of ease of backup it provides plus not having to hire outside help to set it up.

    The fact that you completely don't understand the HOME part of the server is mind boggling.
    Reply
  • n0nsense - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    I understand one thing.
    Can not find justification to pay for license when it can be done completely without cost.
    NTFS compared to journalized file systems is bad in term of data reliability, performance etc.
    Can not find reason to pay for new computer while very old one can do the job perfectly.
    (P 4, 1.5GHz, 1GB RDRAM, ~1.3TB storage perfectly doing the job of File, Backup, Mail, DNS, FTP, Net Boot server all in one with uptime of 6 month (every 6 month i clean the dust inside my computers) where the HD and SATA PCI cards are only things that i needed to buy. Just for the price of license, you can add at least 500 GB of additional storage.
    All you need is RTFM how to set up linux box. Easy way, binary distribution will take 2-5 hours to set up all this. Advanced way, source distribution (such as Gentoo) can take few days to compile (all done automatically and your attention needed not more then in ordinary installation) . took me 3 days to complete it on p2 400MHz laptop with 186 MB ram. which is now able to a nice balcony terminal with internet access and ability to view movies (that was impossible under very cut and optimized XP, maximum 6-10 fps for movies, and very close to impossible in binary linux. )etc.
    I don't tell to replace your desktop (since i have dual boot on main computer to be able play some very new games that not yet supported in linux), but if you want stable server, working without your attention, and you don't need to wonder what to do with slow downs, dirty regestry etc after year (not to mention viruses etc). Not to mention the easiness of move the system to new hardware (when you want it), transfer the disks and power up.
    I can continue and explain another 100 reasons why this WHS is useless, but the buttom line will be the Subject. This is another MS way to squeeze few mor bucks from you, and may be to grant need for MCSE and MCSA guys that will extra cost for your small business friends.
    As for the HOME part -- i spent 2 years of my life working at tech support of ADSL provider. I know exactly what is average HOME users with a lot of computers. They will call some technician to do the setup and to fix their problems. exactly what they doing when they need to reinstall OS or clean up the mess. For advanced users (like you if you spending your time on this site) will be much more cost, time, and performance effective not to use it.
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    What you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul. Reply
  • neogodless - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    What makes me sad is that I did actually read it all the way through.

    Also... I don't understand why people argue so violently against some things.

    I was able to try out the RC, others can download a 120 trial when it is available... you can find out for yourself. And you can also download Linux and try it. See which one is easier to set up.

    Personally, I consider myself pretty advanced, and I tried Ubuntu 7.04 and still felt pretty lost when I wanted to do things. Yes, I'm sure I could learn it but time is valuable... I can spend half an hour setting up WHS... like I did, and just forget about it... nothing to learn, no need to tear my hair out!
    Reply
  • leexgx - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    i agree that was an big rant i my self fix pcs all day and it takes me more then an hr ot day to do things on linux that should only take 6 clicks or some command line tool to do it as well

    linux software makers do not think to much about useablty for any one who is not an linux guru

    try and play an Mp3 or an stream, tell me how long that takes you to play it (i hate to try and play an xvid file)

    i tryed to use it lots of times my self just get stuck at simple things that should be simple that it i should not have to type {chmod 2883 -d -w -u \file\sfd} (made up as i cant find any help for setting the securty of files for that command any more)
    Reply
  • n0nsense - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    I understand one thing.
    Can not find justification to pay for license when it can be done completely without cost.
    NTFS compared to journalized file systems is bad in term of data reliability, performance etc.
    Can not find reason to pay for new computer while very old one can do the job perfectly.
    (P 4, 1.5GHz, 1GB RDRAM, ~1.3TB storage perfectly doing the job of File, Backup, Mail, DNS, FTP, Net Boot server all in one with uptime of 6 month (every 6 month i clean the dust inside my computers) where the HD and SATA PCI cards are only things that i needed to buy. Just for the price of license, you can add at least 500 GB of additional storage.
    All you need is RTFM how to set up linux box. Easy way, binary distribution will take 2-5 hours to set up all this. Advanced way, source distribution (such as Gentoo) can take few days to compile (all done automatically and your attention needed not more then in ordinary installation) . took me 3 days to complete it on p2 400MHz laptop with 186 MB ram. which is now able to a nice balcony terminal with internet access and ability to view movies (that was impossible under very cut and optimized XP, maximum 6-10 fps for movies, and very close to impossible in binary linux. )etc.
    I don't tell to replace your desktop (since i have dual boot on main computer to be able play some very new games that not yet supported in linux), but if you want stable server, working without your attention, and you don't need to wonder what to do with slow downs, dirty regestry etc after year (not to mention viruses etc). Not to mention the easiness of move the system to new hardware (when you want it), transfer the disks and power up.
    I can continue and explain another 100 reasons why this WHS is useless, but the buttom line will be the Subject. This is another MS way to squeeze few mor bucks from you, and may be to grant need for MCSE and MCSA guys that will extra cost for your small business friends.
    As for the HOME part -- i spent 2 years of my life working at tech support of ADSL provider. I know exactly what is average HOME users with a lot of computers. They will call some technician to do the setup and to fix their problems. exactly what they doing when they need to reinstall OS or clean up the mess. For advanced users (like you if you spending your time on this site) will be much more cost, time, and performance effective not to use it.
    Reply
  • Gholam - Sunday, September 9, 2007 - link

    How long does it take to set up a "without cost" system? Now multiply that by $50/hour which I bill. And you still won't have single instance storage. Reply
  • tynopik - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    > Can not find justification to pay for license when it can be done completely without cost.

    oh really?

    please tell me where i can find a backup system as flexible and powerful as this at no cost

    - autocombine all physical disks into 1 volume
    - disks can be any size
    - disks can be added or removed at will
    - yet still have physical redundancy of files on different drives
    - automatically save single instance of identical files/blocks to reduce space wastage
    - automatically preserve previous versions
    - do live imaging of windows systems that can then be restored from bare metal with just a boot cd and a network connection

    sure parts of it can be duplicated for free, but do tell how you would setup something that does ALL that
    Reply
  • wrong - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    WHS lacks the drivers to run tuner cards and other media center paraphernalia, so it can't act as a media center. However, its hardware requirements are quite standard - disk and
    network card - so it should be feasible to run it under virtualization on your MCE box.

    Ideally, you'd want to give it its own disks, rather than having the virtual machine's disks map to files on the host machine, but that wouldn't be mandatory.
    Reply

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