Pulling the Plug on my WHS v1

I’ve been (mostly) happily running Windows Home Server for a long time. Not Windows Home Server 2011 or some other fancy version – literally, Windows Home Server, a.k.a. WHS v1. Yeah, the server based on Windows Server 2003.

12TB of server storage

It has served my family well (pun?) over many, many years of service. Indeed, we’ve got nearly 12TB of data living on this box – most of it media, such as photos and home movies.

The PC backup service saved our butts more than once and generally proved to very reliable. If WHSv1 suffered from one major problem it was this – it basically worked. As such, it was hard to argue in favor of upgrading. It just worked.

It worked most of the time, at least. But when it failed, it was usually pretty dramatic and generally meant I was going to lose a day or two of freedom. Many things in our home are dependent upon WHS these days, and when WHS goes down, our smart home becomes extremely dumb.

But perhaps the biggest issued we faced was the fact that Windows Server 2003-based products cannot handle disks larger than 2TB and do not work well with Advanced Format disks. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find either 2TB disks or ones that are not Advanced Format. Even the AF disks which would let you disable AF via a jumper are becoming rare. And the final straw was when I again was facing a low disk space situation but with no place to stick another disk.

Original mini-tower server
I built the server myself, a mini-tower with 4 hot-swap bays, quad-gigabit Ethernet and one in a history of dual-processor machines I had built after a dual-proc obsession began in 1997. The first two bays were populated with 1TB drives mainly because that’s what was available when I built the machine and I wanted to make use of the redundant storage features of WHS. This ultimately became a big issue for two reasons. First, as one of those drives was the WHS System drive, it was not easily to replace. So I was essentially stuck with two bays with a meager 1TB capacity each. Worse, when the system drive did start to fail, it was not easy task to find an equivalent replacement disk. I eventually did (at some cost) and was able to use Clonezilla to bring my WHS back to life after a couple of days of downtime.

External SATA bay

Clearly, at 12TB, I’ve got more than just 4 disks. I added a SATA expansion chassis, which let me add another 4 disks over time. It’s not hot swappable and doesn’t have cool drive trays, but it gets the job done. Here I stuck to 2TB drives, which permitted me to maximize my additional storage. But the universal law of disk space hit us hard – it doesn’t matter how much storage you add, you’ll find a way to fill it up. I just didn’t think we’d do it so quickly. I only added the last 2TB a few months ago, and we were down to 30GB free recently. I had to judiciously delete some files to give us a little bit of breathing room.

So where are all of these bits coming from? Well, I’m also a Windows Media Center fan. Every TV in our house is either connected to an Xbox or a Ceton extender. We record a fair number of shows, and due to the way Media Center records, those shows take up a lot of space. I never did find a good solution for compressing the file sizes down while maintaining the full media center experience, but that’s another story.

Oh and if you are thinking that our WHS looks like a physical mess – wires everywhere, dust, etc. – you’d be correct. We had an emergency networking issue not so long ago, and I’ve never gotten around to making everything tidy.

Which brings us to today.

I’ve got a WHS v1 which is running on (essentially) a 11-year old operating system. Although the server hardware is impressive (dual Xeons, quad-Ethernet, etc.), it predates SLAT and therefore isn’t 100% Hyper-V friendly. It also only has 4GB of RAM. To add more disks, I’d need to purchase a second drive chassis. It’s starting to fail with some degree of regularity. And my networking closet is a mess.

As such, given the cost and effort it would take to make my WHS v1 server “whole” again, I’ve decided to retire it. The Massachusetts Sales Tax Free weekend pushed that decision over the edge. Stay tuned for the details on my server build and the transition from WHS to our new world. And much like the character Spock from the original Star Trek was so complex that The Next Generation essentially replaced this one character with an ensemble cast (Spoke = Deanna + Data + Riker), I fully anticipate that what ultimately replaces my WHS v1 will not be a single “thing” but a whole host of interacting servers and services. No doubt I’ll shed a tear when the last file is moved off of WHS, but we’ve got miles to walk before we hit the milestone.