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Migrating to Windows Home Server 2011, Part 1: From Beta to RC

When Microsoft announced its plans to kill off Drive Extender in the next version of Windows Home Server, I was left in kind of a bind. The thing is, I was using the Beta version of Windows Home Server 2011, then still known as "Vail," for my real-world data. And with Vail not shipping in late 2010 as expected, there were a number of questions, both around what a Drive Extender-less WHS 2011 would be like, and the migration path.

Those questions have since been resolved: I've decided to continue ahead with Windows Home Server 2011 despite the absence of Drive Extender. And there is no migration path: Whether you're coming from the original Windows Home Server version, or from any pre-release version of WHS 2011, you're going to need to copy all the data off of the system and reformat (if you intend to use the same hardware, as I do). It's just a manual process.

Adding to the stress is that the Vail Beta I was using was scheduled to expire in January 2011, well after the originally anticipated final release of the product. But with Vail delayed some six months by the Drive Extender fiasco, that expiration date came suddenly and in a most unwelcome fashion. Microsoft issued a last-minute patch to extend that date, but only to March 15. And if you look down at that date in the corner of your Windows desktop, you can see we're there: It's March 15.

So. All my data--2.6 TB worth--needed to be moved off the home server and onto some form of temporary storage. I've chosen a USB 3.0-based external hard drive for this task, and beginning this past Sunday, I started copying off the data one share at a time: Software (183 GB), Documents (277 GB), Pictures  (which includes home movies, 228 GB), Music  (50 GB), and Videos  (1.64 TB). That's a lot of data. And since I was doing this over a USB 2.0 port (the USB 3.0 card was added as part of the reinstall), it took the better part of two full days.

But it's done. And with WHS 2011 literally counting down the hours to its expiration, I began a temporary heart transplant, reinstalling the server with the Windows Home Server 2011 Release Candidate (RC, which expires in August 2011) since the final release isn't yet ready. I was hoping, really hoping, to avoid this step and just move directly to the final release. But since that's not possible, I needed to get my data on something I can keep using, and get those server backups started.

The machine I'm using as a server is a Dell Optiplex 780 tower PC, outfitted with about 6.5 TB of storage currently, though I'll be upping that when the final WHS 2011 release hits. After copying off all the data and verifying that the copy matched the original (and making a second copy of some key shares, like Pictures), I shut down the server, took it apart, and added that USB 3.0 card. I then used compressed air to clear out some dust, put everything back together, and started the WHS 2011 RC install process.

Once this was complete and I arrived at the WHS 2011 desktop for the first time, I looked to see what the installer had done. The three 2 TB WD Caviar drives in the system were marked as DE (for "Drive Extender" disks), formatted for FAT32, and were showing 0 bytes free of a possible 32.7 MB (cute). So those would have to be reformatted.

But first, Device Manager.  There were two non-supported devices, the video adapter (which doesn't much matter) and that USB 3.0 controller. I was curious to see if the USB 3.0 card's bundled installer software would work on the server OS, but it worked it just fine, surprising me somewhat.

On to Windows Update, but nothing important there and no graphics card driver. The machine doesn't have a graphics card, it's just using the on-motherboard adapter. So looking up this particular system, I can see it's just a standard Intel part, so I headed over to the Intel web site (after temporarily disabling IE Enhanced Security Configuration in Server Manager) and grabbed the driver, installed it, and rebooted as required. Problem solved.

(In general, the Intel Driver Update Utility web site is a great resource for all Intel hardware drivers. This page kept crashing the IE tab on WHS 2011 RC for some reason, however, so I just found the driver manually.)

The next step was to bring that 6 TB of storage online. There are two obvious ways to reformat those drives: By using the Format utility from Explorer, or by bringing up Drive Management (which can be found in Computer Management). I was curious to see how the Windows Home Server 2011 Dashboard would handle this, but in this case they needed to be formatted externally before the Dashboard would understand what to do with them.

Format saw the disks for what they were (1.81 TB vs. 30 MB) so I just used that method, quick formatting them with the NTFS file system.

Returning the WHS Dashboard, it was time to move the relevant Server Folders, which in my case were Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos, each of which pointed to a location in G:\ServerFolders, the G: partition being the remaining space on the system disk (and with only about 89 GB of free space). As you may recall, WHS 2011 has a new Move a Folder wizard that can be used to accomplish this task.

I moved the Videos folder first, since it has a large storage requirement and will need one disk all to itself. I choose the second of the three 2 TB drives for this purpose (E:\) since D:\ will be used for my other server folders and F:\ will be used for server backup. Seeing that this worked fine, I then moved the other relevant server folders to E:\. This went very quickly because each was empty at the time.

As I write this, I'm in the process of copying the backed up data from the USB 3.0 external drive back to the server, using the new storage folder locations. Even at USB 3.0 speeds (~110 Mbps, according to Windows Explorer), this is going to take a while. The fingers are crossed.

Looking ahead, there are a couple of things I'll need to do before the final version of WHS 2011 arrives. Key among these is replacing the awful FIOS router (a non-UPnP Actiontec monstrosity) with a UPnP-compatible router that is WHS friendly. The reason for this is that WHS' excellent remote access features can't decipher the current router, and I've been meaning to remedy this for a long time. In the meantime, I'm using the excellent (but comparatively expensive) LogMeIn Pro to remotely access the server.

But that's for another day. Right now, my data is heading back to the server, where it belongs, and I can get back to work.

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