Sunday, November 30, 2008


is the name of the latest addition to our home network. He's a fat bastard too, but that name was already taken[^].

You might remember I've been planning to set up a Windows Home Server machine here to handle data backups. Those plans came to fruition a month or six weeks ago, using the old PC Sonya used to have. A couple of 500 Gig drives for data, a 160 Gig drive to boot from and that old (four years old - yikes, how time flies) computer now sits headless under the desk. Sonya seems to think it's there to put her shoes on when she's not wearing em!

Naturally the price of the server software dropped a week or so after I bought it; it's now on egghead for a hundred bucks or so after I paid $140 for it. That's life.

As for the software itself, it just works, which is how I like it. I'm still wrestling with the IIS security model, to say nothing of getting SQL Server 2008 accessible across the network! I know why they're making it more secure (slammer anyone?) but do they have to make it so damned hard to configure? It's not like Joe Blow is about to run out and purchase SQL Server 2008 (or even download the free express edition).

Windows Home Server is, by contrast, a no-brainer to install and configure. Well that fits the target market, the aforesaid Joe Blow but it's fine by me. It does help my peace of mind that we're sitting behind a router. I've chosen not to use the remote access functionality built into the product, preferring to stick with my existing arrangements of non-standard ports assigned to each remotely accessible machine, forwarded by the router to each machine and using Windows Remote Desktop. If I ever *did* need remote access to GreedyBastard I can always remote to this machine and then use the WHS console.

For the rest, well they make it very easy indeed. Bring up the server and connect to the network. Download the 5 and a half million security updates. Once that's done enable remote admin on it so it can truly go headless and then, on each client machine, navigate to the shared software folder on the new machine. Install the WHSConnector software and you're almost done. By default the entire client machine is backed up save for a few places that really don't need backup, such as the internet cache, the swapfile and so on. If you're feeling brave you can add one or more exclusions - directories you don't want backed up.

Then just let it run and overnight it backs up each client. It spends a lot of time determining what's changed since the last backup. Interestingly, it seems to be doing some kind of checksumming of files. I added yet another new machine to the network yesterday; this one's a web server/development box with Visual Studio 2008 - total disk usage about 25 gigs when you factor in a complete install with SQL Server 2008 (ah, so *that's* why I've been struggling with network database access) and a bunch of other stuff. Extra disk usage on GreedyBastard? About 3 gigs. I attribute this to the fact that the new machine is essentially a clone of this machine (same development environment) and thus the new machine's backup can consist of a bunch of links to files already backed up.

The other nice thing about WHS is the way it handles file sharing. It sets up a bunch of 'known' directories for music, photos etc. You copy your files to there and anyone in the workgroup can read em. Yeah yeah, big deal. No really, it supports folder duplication for those folder - two copies spread across your storage space (and across different spindles if you have multiple drives). Sounds like RAID but a damn sight easier to set up. You just add a new drive, reboot the machine, it notices the new drive and asks what you want to do with it. Add it to the storage pool? Yup. A couple of hours and a *lot* of hard disk activity later, and it's redistributed your files so that they'll survive a hard disk failure. Well, that's the theory though I haven't yet put it to the test.

It's intelligent about external backup. We have a 250 Gig USB drive. The first time I backed the public folders up it took about 60 Gigs (mostly my music files). The second backup took about 250 Meg (the extra music I'd added in the intervening week). Viewing the backup sets I can see 60 Gigs or so in each set but I know the second set is linking to the files that *didn't* change, in the first set.

Do you reckon I can convince either Sonya or Andrew to use the public folders? Not on your life. 'It's backing up my machine' they say 'that's all I need'. Well, yes, but those backups are *not* part of the external backup set. I reckon they are, without even realising it, playing a numbers game. The system is resilient enough if only one machine fails at a time - but if one of theirs dies *and* GreedyBastard dies at the same time they'll be out of luck. I won't be - I'll have the external backup of *my* files. Of course, the house could burn down but if it does I reckon losing a bunch of symphonies will be the least of my worries.

No comments: