Windows Home Server

With the release of Power Pack 3 for Windows Home Server, I have been thinking about trying it out.  Having an MSDN subscription and a virtual machine host made this quite a bit easier, as I didn’t need to purchase any additional hardware to use it. 

Prior to installing WHS, I had a Windows 2008 virtual machine that I installed all my stuff on and had shares.  It definitely worked, but some of the cool features of WHS kept me wanting to move in that direction.  Things like automated backups of client machines, a console, better managed and accessible shares, and Media Center tie-ins (I have a Win7 virtual machine as a Media Center and an Xbox 360 as the extender).  All in all, I think it is definitely going to be a move in the right direction, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t issues getting there.  I am going to outline a bunch of them here in the hopes that others can find comfort in the work I have done to resolve them.

  1. Installation – As I mentioned before, I was installing it to a virtual machine.  No big deal right?  Wrong.  My virtual machine host does not have a keyboard, monitor, or mouse hooked up to it normally.  I just have it sitting in the closet chugging a long.  The downside to that is when I am building a new virtual machine, it had better not need the mouse until I can directly connect to the machine or install the integration drivers.  This is because in Hyper-V when you are using Remote Desktop to manage the host, until you are able to install the drivers, you have no mouse.  Well, sadly, with the MSDN version (not sure about pressed CDs), the tabs are not correct with the EULA Accept page.  There is no way for you to accept the EULA to progress through the installation.  Boo.  That means I had to drag a monitor, keyboard, and mouse into the closet to get things working.  It just seems silly that this is an issue for something that is meant to run headless anyways (obviously not during the installation, but still).
  2. Domain Membership – Do not add the WHS machine to a domain.  I know you want to if you are running a domain at home, but don’t, just don’t.  I really wanted to run it as a domain member too, but there are just too many issues, and tricks MS has done to make it not worth your while.  Things such as the machine powering down every 48 hours when it is a member (annoying at best), to the console crashing after adding domain members to the local windows home group manually.  While I know you can work around most of these things (except for the console crashing), what benefit are you really getting?  Just leave it as a member of a workgroup.
  3. Firewall Rules – Much like domain membership, the best answer here is just to turn off the Windows Firewall on the box.  I am not sure if it was because it updated to Windows 2003 SP2 which enabled it by default after the base install or what, but there was nothing but headaches with the Windows Firewall enabled.  Some of the more quality examples were:
    • The website you are supposed to access resides on ports 55000/56000.  That was not allowed in the rules by default.
    • When setting up the Media Center connector, it uses DCOM to connect.  DCOM typically uses a random list of high ports (1024-65535) to do its bidding.  Granted, you can change the ports to only use a few, neither of which is added into the firewall rules.

    Just silly stuff like that, which take awhile to troubleshoot, when they don’t need to.  Turn it off.

  4. Carbonite Online Backup – This is the current beast I am dealing with and it is a fun one.  Carbonite works exactly how I want it to, and I have been using it on my Windows 2008 machine to do online backups for over a year now.  It works.  It isn’t fast, but it works.  Moving it to WHS has been a fun test of intelligence.  In my setup I had 2 drives, one was 80GB (the minimum to get it setup because I just wanted to play at first) and one 800GB.  Everything works great, except for Carbonite.  For the time being, I just wanted to backup the data in some of the shares.  No problem, right?  Just point it to where the share is located on disk (D:sharessharename) and we are good to go.  Wrong!  WHS has a special drive configuration that allows you to simply add drives whenever and whatever size and it will automatically add that space to your shares.  It does this via junctions, tombstone files, and a service that manages where all the files are stored.  I won’t delve into it here, but you can read all about it yourself.  Basically the files in your share are elaborate shortcuts to the actual files, which are spread across all your drives, and then the files are managed by the service, and then could move every hour.  So, when you point Carbonite to D:sharessharename, you are effectively backing up the shortcuts.  Instead you need to point it to the junction point and all the files there (these are hidden system files) at C:fsDE.  As I mentioned, these files are always moving around though based on the service.  Therefore, the only way for Carbonite to work correctly on a WHS is if you have a single large drive, which is exactly what I am going to do.  As soon as you add another one, files could get moved, and your backups will not be complete.
  5. Protocol Mismatch – For the longest time I was receiving the following error whenever I was trying to install the connector on a client machine (Windows 2003, Windows 2008, Win 7)

    Protocol mismatch. This computer uses protocol version 6.0.2030.2, but partner computer [server] uses protocol version 6.0.2030.0. A connection cannot be established

    This was because the http://server:55000/enrollid/id.aspx webservice that the connector uses on the WHS machine was returning the incorrect version.  The only way to fix it that I found was by installing the final build of Power Pack 3.  The beta didn’t work, nor did downgrading to a previous PP.

Hopefully this little guide helps someone else out there.  As I tinker with it some more, I will probably add additional articles, but it is amazing how long it has taken me to get this silly machine up and running, especially when this is supposed to be an appliance.  I know that MS is learning a lot from this, but the polish is still a bit missing, and this is after 3 Service Packs (Power Packs).

6 thoughts on “Windows Home Server”

  1. Also note that much of the discussion in this article is also relevant for remote procedure call applications which use dynamic ports. This makes sense considering that the features mentioned below are really implemented in the RPC subsystem that DCOM leverages to communicate across the network.

  2. Nice summation.  I know that Nick has been loving WHS and I have another friend that has a good experience with it.  I’m not using it as I’m going your old path to accessing my data on the Xbox 360 (Windows 7 machine).  On the backup side of things I’m using S3 rather than Carbonite because of Carbonite’s current lack of external drive support.

  3. I would go broke if I used S3.  I have over 200GB out in the cloud.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still use Win7 Media Center with the xbox 360 as an extender.  I just house all of the data it streams on WHS instead.  Can’t beat Win7 MCE for streaming (and transcoding) to the Xbox.  As long as you can play it in MCE, you can now stream it to the 360.

  4. OUCH – yeah, I’ve only been using S3 for docs/photos for a total of about 12GB, so my monthly cost is ~$4.  I thought about Mozy but for the moment I’m standing pat until I shift the media into the ether.
    I usually go the streaming route, but the 360 will play most AVIs that you’ll grab off the web w/o any transcoding as of the codec update they did two years ago.
    My PS3 continues to collect dust with the exception of playing an occasional blu-ray disc from Netflix of if I want to pop in Star Trek.

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