Software

HP EX470 reviewBesides hardware which really suits to use as NAS, does Windows Home Server do the job? Windows Home Server (WHS) is based on Windows Server 2003 and added some features like Windows Home Server console, WHS add-on features, remote desktop for client, automatically client backup (up to 10 clients) and storage pool management. It might sound like you might consider using Windows Server 2003/2008 or even any Linux distro instead, but if you think WHS is just Windows Server with some GUI console and backup utility, you’d better read this to the end and reconsider again. Well, I was using Linux as my NAS before, I know that is great; WHS just offers a bit more comfortable in the right area for job like NAS in home.

Purchasing HP EX470, WHS is pre-installed; you don’t have to do anything yourself as expected and by the fact that it has no built-in CD, it’s almost impossible that HP would let you do that—too many hassles for them to take care all support side. As a result, it’s like you purchase NAS box with a bit more advanced feature, but basically all you need to do is turning on and off (if you ever want to do so) For the first time and first time only, you are required to install WHS connector to set some information on your server such as name, domain, username, password, bla bla bla. Once it’s all set; you can choose whether to use WHS connector. Moreover, WHS has a nice portal for easily downloading this too, what you have to know is server’s IP or name which you can look up in your router pretty easy. Then http://{server-name-or-IP}:55000, indicating port 55000, is the way to go =) Windows Home Server Connector Setup page will give a file/info you need to setup.

WHS server and client

whs-iconBy the fact that WHS just shares folder via SMB protocol which is the standard file sharing protocol for Windows. You don’t need to do anything special in order to use it. If you ever want to configure in the server, remote connection is the way to do so. However, there is a client named WHS connector which lets you have extra more features than just being a NAS—that’s why it’s called Windows Home Server. What you get is the following:-

  • Remote WHS console – only WHS console access<div>HP EX470 -- WHS console<div class="highslide-caption">HP EX470 – WHS console</div><div id="closebutton" class="highslide-overlay closebutton" onclick="return hs.close(this)" title="Close"></div></div>
  • Automatically backup via network – this is quite a unique feature I like very much back to WHS in beta stage; it also finally implements wake clients on LAN feature—one of the most requested feature back then.
  • WHS icon Network Health notification – I find this rather annoying than being useful since I don’t have any anti-virus on any system and always turn Windows Defender off.<div> HP EX470 -- WHS critical notification<div class="highslide-caption">HP EX470 – WHS critical notification</div>

</div> * Direct link to shared folder – yeah it might be good for someone, just not me.
* Restoring backup – you will see how good it is momentarily.

This is basically what you get from it; let’s say this way, automatically backup alone is worth already. If you care about more running processes, WHSConnector.exe wastes only a fraction of CPU usage and around 3MB of memory, so you won’t notice anything even when your system is backing up.

Backup & Restoring

This could be one of the best features WHS gives you. It’s truly automatic; I mean once you install WHS connector, it will wake your computer from sleep/hibernation, do the backup, and client will go back to sleep again. How cool is that? I might sound little fiction, but it can really do that. In case the client is still opening, it will show pop-up if you want to postpone or let it do the job as usual. This happens by your configuration [backup time interval; numbers of backup set] in WHS console or manually to do full backup set. Nothing to say much here. You’ve got to see in person, you will know how flawless whole process is. That reminds me of one of my friends when talking about how hard to set Windows Server & other OS; he asked, “It’s Windows. How hard could that be?” Although he didn’t mean to praise Microsoft by any mean [his computer has no Microsoft’s product], it showed that Windows might not have such a hype like Mac, but it does the job quite well. ha ha</p> Backup part is easy; you can expect to have the same experience with restoring part. There are 2 options to restore your file: like regular backup software, full restore & partial restore. In order to do full restore, you will have to burn ISO image inside ‘Software\Home PC Restore CD’ shared folder to make WHS bootable CD like you can expected from Norton Ghost or Acronis True Image or Vista backup & restore. Partial restore, however, is such a nice touch from Microsoft. You will have to get into WHS console, choose backup set and click ‘open.’ Around couple minutes waiting, you will see Z: drive (or the last letter available) containing all file like C: at the backup time. Drag-and-drop or copy & paste what you want. That would be all set. I really like how they implemented this.

HP EX470 -- backup HP EX470 -- backup HP EX470 -- virtual backup drive

HP EX470 -- virtual backup drive<div class="highslide-caption">HP EX470 – virtual backup drive</div>

As far as I know, WHS will not allow any client in different subnet which is not likely to be a problem with home network + regular people much. Remember folk, home server for home network :-P It should be pretty basic network.

Add-on features

This is the most wanted feature of many people since Microsoft never bundles anything in one package or wants to do on their own, so they let developers do. I used to be the ones who want to have only 1 24/7 computer doing all purposes such as NAS, Media Center, and Web server. I, however, found that this idea would never work properly. YMMV—choice is yours though. By the way, I highly recommend some add-on programs for WHS.

  • Disk Management HP EX470 -- virtual backup drive
  • PVConnect – I found it performs better than stock’s one. This add-on including in EX470 though.

For you information, add-on program is like regular program, but it will have an interface in WHS console instead of its own, so you can access from everywhere.

demigrator.exe

This is where all magic occurs in WHS in my opinion. You might not know it is existed since it works only in background. It works like XRAID from Netgear—that’s the only one comparable feature so far. If you know more, please let me know I would love to know if there is anything similar available on Linux. Basically, demigrator.exe is a process which takes care of load balancing between all drives in storage pool. demigrator is running all the time, trying to transfer data back and forth between drives. Practically it wants to have equal used space on each, not including system drive which is supposed to be free of data.

No RAID support! Duplication instead

HP EX470 -- duplicate file
HP EX470 -- duplicate file
HP EX470 -- duplicate file
HP EX470 -- duplicate file

This is the consequence (or the reason) of demigrator.exe; WHS will not allow to have any RAID in the system—actually you could do that in hardware RAID, but it’s not going to help anything and also get worse in term of performance due to redundancy process with demigrator. I don’t know if RAID could add/remove drive easily or not, but as far as I know, it’s damned hard to do so, unlike WHS. I would love to try out XRAID in Netgrear product too if it’s better or not. I think it’s quite similar to what WHS is for. Although it’s not the same thing, the outcome is the same.

What not the same is throughput; duplication like this doesn’t give any advantage over performance at all while RAID 5 could have had a better performance. Duplication here is more like RAID 1 although the system has 3+ drives.

demigrator will keep duplication in another disk. Thus in case you lose 1 drive. Data will be able to recover immediately. However, if the system drive, which contains all information about where files & duplication are, crashes, that’s going to be pretty severe problem because after finish recovering WHS, it needs to scan all block in the storage pool thoroughly and create file structure again. In my opinion, its protection is good enough here.

The problem and what we should concern, according to demigrator’s job, are a fragment of file. Things, like torrent or recording TV show, happens to confuse demigrator a lot. It will not break anything, but conversely demigrator will work continuously heavily. Therefore, the performance will decrease a lot. The way to work around this issue is leaving one drive out of the pool, so demigrator will not bother with all those little uncompleted files.

One thing WHS has been criticized a lot is security. Even though data reliability is up to par, there is no option to encrypt all data and stuffs at all. I guess Microsoft has defined the word ‘home’ as non-security & no real privacy at all as you can see from all products which contain ‘home’ word, there will be no ‘encryption’ feature seriously. I, nevertheless, am not kind of security thingy. Thus, I feel nothing missing this feature.

Performance

System 1 configuration is Thinkpad X61T

CPU Intel Core 2 Duo L7700 @ 1.8GHz
Operating System Vista Business 32-bit
Chipset Intel GM965 + ICH8-M
Memory 3GB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM
Network Intel 82566DM onboard gigabit
Hard drive 120GB 5400rpm 2.5" Hitachi

System 2 configuration is white box desktop

CPU Intel Pentium E2180 @ 2.00GHz
Operating System Vista Ultimate 32-bit
Mainboard XFX MG-63MI-7159
Chipset Geforce 7150 + nForce 630i
Memory 3GB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM
Network nVidia nForce 10/100/1000
Hard drive 500GB Seagate ST3500630AS 7200rpm 16MB Buffer

First we tested with iozone;

iozone -Rab .\ex470-1000.xls -i 0 -i 1 -+u -f z:\x.tmp -y 64k -q 64k -n 32M -g 2G –z

note: 64k record size is the typical record size that Windows use when transferring the file larger than 64kB

HP EX470 Write Performance over Gigabit network

HP EX470 Read Performance over Gigabit network

The throughputs which are over the theoretical limit are due to memory cache. I’m note quite sure why read performance over 2GB file size was dropped like that and the result with larger file, i.e. 4GB file size were similar. I suspected that Windows usually use larger record size when transferring much larger file like 2GB or more; that’s probably inappropriate record size for the job.

Then robust copy (built-in utility in Vista) came to play the role; we have tested 2 file size; 350M and 4.3GB; this was tested on system 1.

HP EX470 Performance over Gigabit network

The result from robocopy could answer the drop performance in previous test quite good; Windows must use different record size block to transfer very large file to get this result. Additionally, I include a test with ATTO disk benchmark too to see how it performs on smaller file size.

HP EX470 Performance over Gigabit network with ATTO disk benchmark

As you see, the performance we got from HP EX470 is quite good as you can expect from this specification. However, it could achieve a bit better over very large file by upgrading processor; at this point 2GB RAM have showed to be pretty worth upgrade. Stay tuned for Shuttle K45 test if Celeron dual core could eliminate the wall on very large file or not.

Summary

Although some might not like this MediaSmart server, I think it’s really worth buying considering the price I got—only about $260. It may be overprice if you talk about street price, but for your information, HP always gives such a nice coupon and promotion. Price, however, you can grab regularly is about $399 which is going to tough decision between homegrown NAS. This form factor, this beautiful one, is such a worth. In addition, by the fact that HP does offer plenty of expandable storage choice like eSATA and many USB ports on MediaSmart series, it could guarantee that this would be able to handle short-storage problem without a big investment in near future.

Pros:

  • very nice and attractive appearance
  • very flexibly expandable storage
  • backup/restore clients automatically
  • file duplication
  • good range of expansion choice

Cons:

  • noisy due to grilled perforated design
  • not very green
  • required complex password for remote access [I know it’s not very safe to use easy password, but I just hate typing long one]
  • RAID unsupported
  • no security solution for data