The Tranquil PC Home Server Challenge

Posted on September 7, 2011

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Further to my earlier blog on the great experience with Tranquil PC’s home server hardware, The Home Server Challenge, not all has been quiet such plain sailing with their latest hardware and supporting utility mix for WHS2011.

Since I was promoting this in my earlier blog I feel obliged to give a heads up to the non-techies’ of some road bumps that Tranquil PC are still sorting out, regrettably retrospectively since these units are commercially live in the wild!

With the release of WHS 2011 I was keen to upgrade and get the benefits of the new OS, so committed to the next generation of the Tranquil PC Home Server SQA-5H WHS v1 which is called the Leo HS4.

For a full well written review of the Tranquil PC Leo HS4 point your browser at usingwindowshomeserver.com

I cannot argue with the facts on the Leo HS4 hardware, great low profile and performance is fantastic with Intel i& chip and 8Gb RAM. The show stopper though is the very poor Data redundancy support Tranquil PC has adopted since WHS2011 deprecated the Drive Expander they had in the original WHS v1.

Tranquil PC has deployed a branded version of DriveBender calling it MonStor. It is proving to be a real ‘monster’! Far from delivering the reliability that Tranquil PC herald, and would no doubt like, it is buggy and presents a high risk strategy for non-IT literate users in its current state. It is still very much BETA, with significant flaws. Current issues as of writing I have experienced first-hand are  based on the current available version v1.1.7.9, v1.1.8.2 is due out shortly but even Tranquil PC support state many of these issue are still not fully resolved even in that. The current v1.1.7.9 show stoppers including:

1. Security Access controls on folders and files does not work in a Pooled drive.

2. Client Backup’s crash the backup service when running in a pooled drive.

3. Server Folders go ‘Missing’ and need to be restored in the console! Sometimes losing ALL data they contained!

WHS2011 Folder Missing Error

4. MonStor will not uninstall cleanly it fails with the following error:

DriveBender MonStor Unistall Error

Inspecting the system after this failure showed that the DriveBender services (x2) are still running but the Pool Management does not seem to be working through the WHS 2011 management dashboard. So it would appear there has been a partial uninstall but significant artefacts remain to cause problems with the system and prevent any alternative Drive Pooling solution to be installed.

5. Attempts to reinstall MonStor or repaired it prove futile (despite re-boots and disabling of the artefact services) following an uninstall error per 4 above, the following rollback dialogue message is all you will get:

DriveBender MonStor Repair Install Error

This all means that there is no functional drive pooling and the only resort I have found is to attempt to reinstall/re-set WHS 2011 to factor defaults.

As such any user expecting to get data security form their Tranquil PC Leo HS4 using the supplied MonStor drive pool  utility had better think again.

I am grateful I still have my SQA-5H WHS v1 box to revert back to for now, and have a very expensive unused ‘test’ WHS2011 Leo HS4 waiting for a stable Hard Drive pooling solution. Current options I am investigating are:

DriveBender –  Persisting with this as it is the one Tranquil PC are re-branding, but like any re-brand are likely to always be behind the version curve by at least x1 version so not a great feeling so far with this.

StableBit DrivePool – Still in BETA but with a much richer feature set to DriveBender and at least does not have the same range of fundamental issues as DriveBender/MonStor. Also as it is a vendor direct solution it is likely to be more available and up to date than the Tranquil PC MonStor. Having liaised with the vendor the price point is not likely to be much different either.

In my experience so far the StableBit DrivePool is the current most stable option, based on a comparison with the MonStor version of DriveBender which is at v1.1.7.9 as I do not have access to the latest closed BETA DriveBender v1.1.8.2

I will update once I get my hands on the next versions of these tools. For now if your needing to commit to WHS2011 the most stable solution in experience so far is the BETA M3 of StableBit DrivePool

As of writing I am now no longer able to reinstall WHS2011 or re-set it to factor defaults. After the install process goes through a lengthy Disk Formatting phase. The following error is all I get:

WHS2011 Recovery Process error Dialogue

Attempts to track this error down online prove somewhat elusive. The closes pointer seems to be hard drive failure or an OEM driver issue of some sort. As this unit is brand new I would discount the hard drive failure; but having put a monitor on the unit and watched the failure in progress it is clearly an issue with the Tranquil Optional 2 port eSATA expander (dual 2.5inch HD drive chassis running RAID 1) volume as a test with a single standard SATA drive does not reproduce the error below but successfully formats and installs WHS2011:

IMG_0161

It would appear that there is an issue with the OEM customisation of the WHS 2011 install. I have tried the install over 10 times from a variety of machines WinXP SP3 , WIn7 and Win 2003 with the same result as above.

Further experimentation has proven fruitful. I removed the second 2.5inch HD from the Optional 2 port eSATA expander chassis and ran the install routine. Voila installation completed with NO PROBLEMS!

On completion I removed the Optional 2 port eSATA expander and re-fitted the second 2.5inch HD into the chassis, loaded it in the server and crossed my fingers. WHS 2011 setup routine progressed as usual and all looks like it is getting back to a clean install of WHS 2011 with no Drive Pool utility installed.

The only unknown is whether the Optional 2 port eSATA expander  is actually doing what it is supposed to do and that is RAID 1 (Mirror) the main OS drive. Unfortunately the utility Tranquil supplied that is meant to manage this fails to install, it states it cannot find a JMicron Controller.

You are starting to see a trend here, another failed utility on a Tranquil system.  Well this could genuinely be a failed controller on the eSATA expander, which may account for the failed installation routine above; but them I would have expected the eSATA expander to have failed all together, but it clear is working with at least the first drive installed, and reinstalling the second does not cause any issues. It does not help having a system that does not provide any feedback as to the state of the eSATA expander. Far from a ‘Home’ user friendly experience so far, and I am now certainly lacking the confidence to commit to this hardware platform till I understand what is going on and Tranquil address these fundamental usability and technical issues.

Awaiting contact from Tranquil support, but just had an update from the Guys at DriveBender stating that the security issues should be fixed in the next release. That’s a start!

Watch this space…..

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