November 2010 Archives

There’s a big dust-up about a mammoth breaking change that is coming in the successor to Windows Home Server 1.0.

This week, the Microsoft team announced that the Drive Extender technology was being removed from the planned Windows Home Server 2.0, codenamed “Vail.”

The announcement on the Windows Home Server Blog was updated yesterday, 2010-11-23.  I think this is going to go down as the Microsoft Turkey Day event thanks to the proximity to the US Thanksgiving holiday, right up there with the famous Halloween memos.

This appears to be a problem of serving too many masters by a one-size-fits-all search whose solution serves no one, or at least not those of us who bought WHS because it was WHS, and not something else.

Here’s the key declaration:

“When we first started designing Windows Home Sever code name “Vail” one of our initial focuses was to continue to provide effortless support for multiple internal and external hard drives. Drive Extender provided the ability to take the small hard drives many small businesses and households may have acquired, and pool them together in a simple volume. During our current testing period for our Windows Home Server code name “Vail” product, we have received feedback from partners and customers about how they use storage today and how they plan to use it moving forward. Today large hard drives of over 1TB are reasonably priced, and freely available. We are also seeing further expansion of hard drive sizes at a fast rate, where 2Tb drives and more are becoming easy accessible to small businesses.  Since customers looking to buy Windows Home Server solutons [sic] from OEM's will now have the ability to include larger drives, this will reduce the need for Drive Extender functionality.”

There’s a serious non sequitur here about the size of drives being tied to the need for Drive Extender functionality.  If this is the actual reasoning, it reveals the degree to which the team is immersed in their own Microsoft-inward-checking reality.  It is also apparently the case that the implementation of Drive Extender had been changed dramatically and that is leading to difficulties that have been frustrating testers, based on the comments on the Microsoft Connect site where a beta-test issue is being raised in objection to the elimination of Drive Extender from successors to WHS 1.  [Is it really necessary for every maturing software company to be morphed into IBM as some sort of technological-hubris curse?  It is easy to suspect, in the absence of better transparency, that what may have happened is that changes being made to Drive Extender in moving WHS onto a Windows Server 2008 base have been FUBARed and this is how the team is extricating itself.]

The non sequitur is important to understand.  The ability to pool several drives into a single volume is not just about being able to scavenge drives from an obsolete computer.  In fact, the capacity of lower-cost, power-efficient drives increases so fast that it is almost always affordable to add larger new drives to a WHS to expand its capacity.  The specific appeal of WHS is that this can be done by hot-swapping.  Because of folder duplication on the file-server (i.e., the Drive Extender) part of WHS storage, there will be no loss of data, assuming it is not the system drive that needs to be pulled out.  A new drive added under Drive Extender management will be automatically included in the distribution of duplicated content, with the Drive Extender pool appearing to be a single volume (found as \\WHS: on my configuration, for brevity of path name) with the configuration and use of the actual drives in the pool completely invisible.   This is superb for consumer-level usability.

Whatever the complexities of getting this right as a technical and technology problem, this is unbelievably sweet for home and SOHO users such as myself who have far more interesting things to do rather than become a qualified IT system administrator and user support.

It is amazing how the need for Drive Extender is being dismissed in the Microsoft Home Server Blog post.  Notice that none of the important functionality of Drive Extender and the convenience for home and SOHO users is acknowledged.  It is all about drive size.

At first, because it wasn’t being emphasized, I thought that the announcement was about something different than the way duplication is managed and kept self-healing with hot swapping of failed or old drives for bigger new ones.  That led to my comment among the hundreds now on the Microsoft Connect site.   Those don’t have permalinks, so here is my text:

Posted by orcmid on 11/23/2010 at 8:11 PM

Although I voted up the request, I have mixed feelings about this.

I suspect that RAID would ensure that the WHS itself is backed up, and so would the backups be.
At the same time, it is seriously cool that the duplicated storage (essentially the file-server part, not the backup part) can be grown, hot-swapped, etc.

The [concern] that I have is that the upgrade from a WHS1 to a WHS2 is now more costly in terms of not being able to reuse drives from WHS1 to WHS2. Since I just ordered a 1.5TB SATA drive (since they are so cheap) as my 4th drive, this has me sad.

I'm also not sure about the [exterrnal] drives that I have that are used and formatted for backing up of my folder storage, rotated off-site periodically, etc.

So, if the upgrade is going to be essentially a throw one out and put a different one in, what am I getting for this that I couldn't get from a 3rd party NAS/file server with backup software on the clients? I don't use the remote access capability or the media stuff. I have the WHS 1 for providing a sustained backup regimen and a replicated, recoverable file system. This is a home server in a SOHO and household setting.

What I would rather see is a WHS 2 that has the backing up of backups and of the WHS 2 itself handled in some smooth way, such as having a boot image on an alternative drive that could be swapped in were the system volume to fail, along with ways to back up and recover the system volume, for that matter.

Maybe that's too much added complexity and simply going to RAID is the answer. In that case, I will be holding onto my WHS1 for a very long time.

As I read more of the comments, it became clear that the entire Drive Extender technology is what provides for the automatic duplication of files in the extended volume and the automatic healing when a drive must be removed and replaced because of failures or the need for more capacity.

But here’s how the abandonment of this feature is adjudicated in the next paragraph of the Windows Home Server Blog post:

“When weighing up the future direction of storage in the consumer and SMB market, the team felt the Drive Extender technology was not meeting our customer needs.”

Considering that there is a “single consumer and SMB market” is a serious problem.  I am also not clear who Microsoft thinks is their customer in this matter.

  Perhaps WHS is a flop as a consumer product and WHS is being retreated up to the SMB (Small-Medium Business) level.  Even thinking of SMB as a single market is a stretch, unless Microsoft expects their OEM and services partners to rescue this product with provision of integration and services for those SMBs who find that affordable.

ZDNet columnist Mary Jo Foley has an useful recap of the situation in her 2010-11-23 All About Microsoft post, “Testers riled by Microsoft decision to pull Drive Extender storage from ‘Vail,’ ‘Aurora’ servers.”

This is my current plan, as announced on the Workaround tab of the Microsoft Connect issue on the removal of Drive Extender:

Posted by orcmid on 11/24/2010 at 12:28 PM

Yes, it looks like the thing to do is:

  1. At some point when they become very inexpensive, obtain a second WHS 1 server (with minimal investment in included drives) that can be used as a standby for when my main WHS finally fails.
  2. Come up with workarounds for backing up the WHS itself (that is, the System drive) and the backup sets which are currently not backed up.
  3. Find a better way to backup the Drive Extended volume content that don't tie up the WHS for so long, making those folders inaccessible (or making the backup fail because of files locked for writing). I use my Drive Extender volume as primary file storage for many files that I don't want kept on any one of my desktop systems for capacity as well as sharing (and desktop failure mitigation) reasons.
  4. For functions that don't work well on the Drive Extended volume, such as streaming, development web server, etc., look at how easy or hard it is to also have non-Drive Extended volumes for special purposes on different drives.
  5. Be prepared for the day when some version of Windows comes along for which there is no WHS 1 Connector support.

I am (belatedly) expanding my use of my HP MediaSmart Server as part of retiring my currently-dedicated web-development laptop, Compagno, and staging around other obsolescence of tools and machines.  I am counting on WHS as I refine my blog and web development and deployment technology. 

The lack of a future for that WHS is going to have me revisit my contingency planning for that migration and anticipate potential obsolescence of the WHS.

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Got SMRs?

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Whenever I write “SMRs” I think of smores, the Graham cracker, Hershey bar, and toasted-marshmallow confection that my family learned on my sister Carol’s return from a Girl Scout Brownie outing.  I think our mother already knew of them, but my recollection is that’s when they entered my experience.

That is, perhaps, my playing with the notion of Specific Measurable Results, the outcomes in reality of defined, actionable tasks.  SMRs as tasty morsels.  I did not realize how much the term has been taken over by business-coaching lingo.  I confess to first hearing the expression in 1993, from Landmark Forum Leader Linda Zraik, and it was already a catch-phrase in that setting.

The combination came up for me today when I realized that my nfoProjects Launch Sprint is too airy and lacks SMRs for me to chew on.  Consequently, it is easy to let days go buy without measurable results.  That was happening here:

Noticing that everything slips with no SMRs to produce each step of the way.

I noticed this because there were no simple actionable work items that led to SMRs, even basic, produce-this-today ones. 

Looking more closely, the labels on the stages that the boxes represent are conceptual.  It made sense for envisioning and looking at opportunities in the available time, but that isn’t concrete enough.

Today, I have been stepping back to create SMRs for the stages themselves, and then for those individual results that I will produce on the path to the SMR of the stage.  

Although it would be wise to start at the end point of the Sprint and work backwards, I will fudge and start by looking closely at the stages that I am managing over the current fortnight.  I won’t go long without filling the gap from the objective back to what’s next right now, but I am forcing in some small immediate activities to ground my effort in the meantime.

The tracking spreadsheet is not going to include all of that detail.  I will use my Personal Kanban board to manage them in a fluid way and also ensure that I provide supplemental envisioning, planning, and reflection on a weekly basis.

I’ve been looking at all of the projects that I have and the number of burners there are for my efforts.

In the past week, I realized that I needed a consolidated plan with defensible, risk-managed timelines for getting to where I want to be on New Years Day, 2011: Launching a family of interoperability-centered tutorial, test-fixture, and reference-implementation projects around document formats and their processing.  (Hmm, short enough for an elavator speech but not something I would be able to recite at gunpoint.  Needs work.)

I have gathered my envisioning into a spreadsheet that keeps my commitment and my management of it in a structure that holds my vision in existence.  Here is the finish line and, at the bottom, where I am standing right now:

2011 nfoProjects Launch Crunch tracking-document extract

This is a high-level perspective.  I blocked out the calendar weeks and arranged more-or-less week-sized chunks in which to make headway along four tracks.  Since I am a solo developer, this is enough for me to follow and use as an instrument for keeping my eye on critical setbacks and interdependencies that I must keep my attention on.  There’s an opportunity for some Personal Kanban  and Personal Software Process.

The OpenDocument Format continuation work is related to my current involvement on the OASIS ODF and OIC Technical Committees, as well as the ISO/IEC JTC1 SC34 WG6 working-group for ODF maintenance.   As ODF 1.2 moves toward ratification as an OASIS Standard in early 2011, there is a hiatus that allows me to devote more attention to Interoperability and Conformance and the alignment of the ISO/IEC and OASIS efforts. 

The blog, web, and development system (Centrale) efforts have been identified here in a piece-meal fashion.  This three-track view provides my first projection of a coherent feasible structure on those activities.  There will be many opportunities for adjustment and course-correction as progress is made and details of further steps are reviewed.

In simply arranging these activities, I found how to avoid a situation in which I was retiring Compagno and in a sudden-death gap on being able to move everything I needed to the Windows Home Server.  This was definitely sky-diving without a parachute.  What I had not seen until I placed the activities in this form, is that Quadro, my Tablet PC, can mirror Compagno perfectly and also assist in verifying how migration from FrontPage to Expression Web can be accomplished while preserving practices that serve me too well for them to be abandoned without a fight.

I have also noticed, already, how having my eye on New Years Day gets me out of bed in the morning, excited to make further headway on these activities.

I will be reporting results and updates here on the week-by-week progress.  And, for those playing along from home, here’s the tracking document  on-line:

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I am in serious anticipation of an upgrade to the development systems on Centrale, the SOHO Network which is the local hub for all things nfoCentrale.

I am not ready to retire Scampo, the current workhorse desktop system.

Meanwhile, I need someplace to park my upgrade hunger.  So, I named the next system.

Astraendo Is Its Name

Photo by pennstatelive via Flickr
Astraendo is the the name I appropriate from Italian to stand for “abstraction” or “abstracting.”  What had me think of it here is that it comes from “astra,” which is about stars or the heavens.  Since abstraction is a key aspect of my examinations into fundamentals of computing, and Astraendo will be the equivalent of a digital spaceship for my computational explorations, I figure it is a keeper, even if no one can pronounce it (including myself).  [You can decide how much the sense of “taking away,” the origin of abstraction, applies here.  This computer exists entirely in my dreams at the moment.]

Having chosen a name for the computer, I now have a blog category for it too.  This is where I park my anticipation of this new system. 

The Search Space

I am, by habit and inclination, a frugal acquirer of digital toys.  I have one system, Compagno, still running that was acquired in 1998.  Centro, my 1999 Windows 98 box was retired in 2008 or thereabouts.  There are no smart phones here, and we drive a 1996-model vehicle.  I confess that I am on my second Tablet PC computer, Quadro, and being an early adopter there provided mixed results (with my first Tablet PC cratering unrecoverably within days of its warranty expiration, an experience I have never had apart from that single off-brand purchase).  Scampo was acquired in September 2005 as an emergency solution.  I handle computer emergencies at Office Depot, which is where I confirm street prices for consumer-grade computer systems.

So you will now see why this is daunting as I look at moving far out onto the bleeding edge:

  • Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit platform that will last to Windows 8 and beyond
  • Full hardware Virtual Machine support
  • Quad core performance if not Hex core
  • Memory performance and capacities to go with this (say 12GB DDR3 tri-channeled)
  • High-performance graphics adapter capable of supporting multi-monitors and 30” high-resolution combos
  • Expansion capability for my current PCI-adapted peripherals
  • Power supply and cooling that supports everything I can throw at it, with headroom to spare

Targets of Opportunity

I am watching price curves and the move toward commoditization at the current higher-end of home-/developer-system performance.  At the moment, I am watching two systems that tend to be best-of-breed but not at the sweet spot for consumer computer upgrades:  maxing out a Dell XPS 9100 or an Alienware Aurora.  I have essentially the same configurations of each, with the pricier Alienware box noted for its greater capacity, liquid cooling, and durability.

These plus high-performance graphics adapters such as the ATI Radeon HD5970 command premiums and I don’t like that so much. 

These are all borderline budget busters, but I have been careful in saving up for a new system and I hope to accomplish that before the end of 2010.

Speaking of budget busters, I have also been watching high-end monitors.  The common “large” is 27 inches (I have 24 now), but my eye is on 30-inch monitors.  It appears that products like the Dell U3011 with their Energy Star compliance and low wattage (e.g., not much over 100W) are coming within range of my net if not my pocketbook.  I have assumed that actual display upgrade will wait while I figure out what to do with the 24” monitor I have or whether I can go dual-monitor.

Setbacks and Prerequisites

I have a personal goal to ramping up a development project to create reference implementations, test suites, and impressive documentation in areas important to me.  The winding down of my extensive commitment during the development of OASIS ODF 1.2 specifications should provide the relief for turning this new page.

Meanwhile, there are significant prerequisites that I need to have dealt with in the time between now, the first of November 2010, and January 2011 when I will be laying out my work on reference implementations and accompanying collateral efforts, especially around testing, integration, and deployment lifecycle management.  I expect to have a great deal of fun and also have the hardware/software fixtures that I need to support me in that.

Because the nfoCentrale sites and blogs are instruments of this future effort, I am dedicated to finally completing the revival of the nfoCentrale sites and their related blogs.

Astraendo is the carrot, preparing the sites is the stick.  Wish me luck.


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This page is an archive of entries from November 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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