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HP looks like they tweaked the user interface a bit and I like some of the changes. Gone is the redundant and confusing MediaSmart Control Center app. Instead, the WHS Connector installer places HP Data Vault and Shared Folders on Server shortcuts on your desktop. Clicking on the former takes you to the browser page shown in Figure 4.

Data Vault Home page

Figure 4: Data Vault Home page

Unfortunately, the top row of icons have links with an .ashx extension, which requires something to understand how to execute .NET. Firefox 3.5.6 was able to get the job done. But not without throwing up a What should Firefox do with this file? prompt for each link. I just left the Open with HPHomeClient (default) selected and the folder shortcuts properly opened.

I should also note that the Windows Home Server Connector install wouldn't run on my Vista SP1 NAS testbed system. But I purposely keep this system from downloading updates so that it maintains a known configuration. So there could have been a required .NET update or something that prevented the installer from running. So I just installed the Connector on an XP SP3 system and enabled public folder sharing and Guest accounts that were disabled by default.

The WHS Console also looks like it's been tweaked a bit (Figure 5). But the preponderance of Media-related options seems to run counter to the X510's positioning as a business NAS.

WHS Console
Click to enlarge image

Figure 5: WHS Console

I think HP should have done more work here and at least hidden the media options. Better yet, why not install some third party add-ins, most notably those for Backup, Disk Management and Log / Event viewing? The only Add-in bundled with the X510 is the McAfee Total Protection Service for virus protection. And the Add Software button just eventually takes you to an HP page with two disk defraggers (who runs those anymore?) and a "Coming Soon" where there should be a link under the heading of Online Backup for added peace of mind.

HP has apparently rethought its bundling of the add-in for Amazon S3 Web Services that came with the EX487. But given the foot-dragging of most NAS vendors in bundling online backup (except for NETGEAR and its ReadyNAS Vault service), I can't ding HP too much for this omission.

If you want a run-through of the other features, hit the EX487 review.

Storage Expansion and Backup

WHS-based systems don't use RAID to enhance data robustness. Instead, WHS copies folders (you select which ones) to alternate locations on its connected drives as a background task. You can't control when this task runs (at least not from the WHS Console). But you can track the status of this process by looking at the Status Bar at the bottom of the Console window. You'll see Balancing Storage if the duplication process is running or Storage Balanced on: with a date and time if it's not.

You can designate drives that you add to the system to be used to increase storage space or as backup space (Figure 6). WHS will copy files in folders marked for duplication to a different physical drive. But you can't control the target location, i.e. which drive when you enable duplication for folders. The default configuration of the dual-drive review system was that the second drive was not designated as backup storage.

Adding a drive

Figure 6: Adding a drive

This system may seem like it's not as robust as RAID. But actually, it has some advantages. First, WHS drives are formatted with NTFS, which means they can be moved to another Windows system and mounted in the event you need to manually recover files from a crashed system. And second, given that you designate external drives for backup, you get data security similar to backing up a RAID system to an external, attached drive.

The downside of the WHS system, however, is that it won't be easy to find the duplicated files. WHS keeps track of them in an internal database and not by mirroring the exact file and folder structure of the primary data store.

The other big WHS advantage vs. RAID is the ability to add storage incrementally, without undergoing a lengthy, one-drive-at-a-time RAID expansion process. Just plug in a drive, add it to the storage pool and you're done.

The main disadvantages of WHS are the inability to designate a drive for OS use only and control the rebalancing process. By default, WHS will take the largest drive and partition it for OS and Storage use. Figure 7 shows that 20 GB of the first 1 TB drive has been used as the SYS partition.

Drive partitions

Figure 7: Drive partitions

Note that, unlike many RAID systems, if Disk 0 goes down, the system just stops because the OS is gone. But if Disk 1 were to go belly-up, the system would keep running, with possible data loss, depending on whether it had been used for duplication or primary data storage.

The inability to control the rebalancing process may make a WHS system unusable for video streaming. WHS users have seen system throughput go south during rebalancing, resulting in unwatchable video streams.

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