Windows Home Server vs unRaid (or similar)? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 14 Old 06-05-2010, 07:39 PM - Thread Starter
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Howdy all!

I've gotten to a point that it looks like I need to go down the Media Server route. I've got about 3TB worth of media, and my HTPC can't handle any more drives (well not internally anyway, it keeps crashing when I try!).

Since my wife has become fond of using the laptop in the bedroom to watch videos as well, I figure it makes sense to add a media server to my setup.

I've spent the last few hours going through the various threads regarding this as well as some DIY sites as well. As always, there is no one definitive answer out there! I looked at buying something pre-built, but where's the fun in that? (sure the wife would prefer it though!)

Anyway, a couple of questions in trying to decide on software. From what I have read, it seems that Windows Home Server and unRaid are both very good solutions. So any thoughts on what separates them?

If I understand correctly, both will present a single drive to the network, so you don't have to network and organize multiple drives. I've heard there have been some issues getting WHS to play nice with Windows 7 (which my HTPC is, but not the laptop, Vista), but I imagine those will eventually get ironed out.

Both seem to be able to add drives as you go or varying size, which is important to me. unRaid has this parity thing though, which I don't really get. If I read it correctly, parity some how backs up ALL your drives onto one drive, so if I have 5 2TB drivers, I have 8GB worth of storage space and somehow all 8GB gets backed up on the first 2TB drive, right?

Doesn't seem like WHS has anything like that, so that would be a big thing in favor of unRaid. I also like that unRaid is run off a flash drive (of which I have several laying around). On the other hand, I've never had good luck with OS programs (tried Ubuntu and never could get it to work with my wireless card, tried Media Portal and had all sorts of issues with Vista64), so it being Linux based makes me a bit hesitant. Also, though it seems most hardware incompatibilities have been worked out, that worries me still.

So what are the advantages of WHS over unRaid, and vice verse?

Also, it seems that unRaid will format any drive tossed in there, which is a pain, though not impossible to deal with, does WHS do that?

I suppose I can always try the free version of unRaid, see if I like it, then if I don't toss it and buy WHS, but would I need to reformat all the drives again as well?

Thanks for any help.
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post #2 of 14 Old 06-06-2010, 01:59 PM
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If all you need is a computer to serve media than I think unraid is the way to go. You lose only the largest disc to parity.

WHS is great if you want to tie it into windows media center, run things like torrents or music servers or any number of other windows programs. The down side is that it uses duplication on a share level. This means that if you want a folder to survive a disc failure it is stored on two different discs and so it takes up twice as much space. that does not sound like a big deal but when you start ripping blu rays and they go from 50 gb to 100 gb with duplication it can realy kill your storage.
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post #3 of 14 Old 06-08-2010, 12:58 PM
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If all you need is a computer to serve media than I think unraid is the way to go. You lose only the largest disc to parity.

Flexraid is very similar and is free.
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post #4 of 14 Old 06-08-2010, 02:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by uio View Post

Flexraid is very similar and is free.

You still need an OS though. That said, FlexRAID is a very good choice for large amounts of data that do not change, e.g. media files.
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post #5 of 14 Old 06-08-2010, 03:41 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Axel View Post

You still need an OS though. That said, FlexRAID is a very good choice for large amounts of data that do not change, e.g. media files.
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Flexraid runs on either Linux or Windows and has a nice www interface.
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post #6 of 14 Old 06-08-2010, 04:25 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the suggestion, I'll check it out.

Question though on this 'parity' thing. I get the basic concept that all the other drives are backed up onto a single drive, but I guess I don't understand how fault tolerance comes into play.

So, if you have four drives A (1TB), B (1.5TB), C (2 TB), and D (2 TB), with D as the parity drive.

If A fails, no problem, you just slap in another 1TB drive to replace it and you're good.

If B fails, again no problem, you just slap in another 1.5TB drive to replace it and you're good.

But if A AND B fail, you're hosed, right? Can you get data for either of them, but just not both? Or neither?

I guess I just don't fundamentally understand how all these drives can get backed up onto a single drive.

Thanks.
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post #7 of 14 Old 06-08-2010, 07:16 PM
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This might help - How does Parity work?

Quote:
Originally Posted by ncarty97 View Post

Thanks for the suggestion, I'll check it out.

Question though on this 'parity' thing. I get the basic concept that all the other drives are backed up onto a single drive, but I guess I don't understand how fault tolerance comes into play.

So, if you have four drives A (1TB), B (1.5TB), C (2 TB), and D (2 TB), with D as the parity drive.

If A fails, no problem, you just slap in another 1TB drive to replace it and you're good.

If B fails, again no problem, you just slap in another 1.5TB drive to replace it and you're good.

But if A AND B fail, you're hosed, right? Can you get data for either of them, but just not both? Or neither?

I guess I just don't fundamentally understand how all these drives can get backed up onto a single drive.

Thanks.

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post #8 of 14 Old 06-08-2010, 07:18 PM
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With unraid it means if you loose one drive, any drive even parity, you can rebuild and not loose any data. If you loose 2 drives then you loose the data on those drives, the data on the other drives is still readable. If you loose the parity and another drive all the other drives are readable.

Which system you choose is as I'm sure you've found out is a matter of personal choice. I use unraid to store all my media, and WHS for backing up my other computers and a few other things. I consider Unraid's parity enough protection for my media. That decision is up to you though. If you consider the disks your backup you can use WHS without duplication and if you loose a disk just re-rip. That's basically what the choice comes down too. How much are you going to loose if a disk dies.

Now when it comes to building the actual box. I used ReneTHX's server recommendation from a couple years ago to build my Unraid server. You should be able to use the same hardware for either system. I'd recommend a good brand motherboard, couple gigs of ram, and a low power CPU. I'm using AMD. You can build a system cheaper and it will use almost as little power as Intel if you pick your parts right.

As for Unraid being linux, it's easy to install and run. I like playing around with things, but don't like the command line to much. To that extent, if you don't want to you shouldn't have to use the command line at all. You can do everything through the web interface. If you want to add to the default Unraid experience you might have to mess around with it a little, it depends on what you want to do. To finish that thought there is a lot more you can do with WHS than Unraid. Again it just comes down to personal choice.

My suggestion. Build the system try out Unraid see how you like it. If you have any problems post and we'll help you out. If you don't like it install WHS.
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post #9 of 14 Old 06-08-2010, 07:29 PM
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I'm at a very similar stage in a very similar project.

The solution i'm leaning to is WHS with flexRAID running on it. I've done a lot of reading on these boards and it seems this is quite a common approach for people that don't want a PC dedicated solely to file serving which is what unRAID is perfect for.

With WHS you can back-up important documents so they are stored on your local machine and also on the WHS machine, and with flexRAID running you can store all your media files with protection against one of the HDDs failing. And, if a second one fails you only loose the data on the failed drives as this scheme is not stripped accross several drives. There are loads of much better explanations on this forum that you should check as there is a bit more to it that what i've said. Again, im at the same stage as you so will likely have much more to say for and against this solution in a month or so.
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post #10 of 14 Old 06-08-2010, 08:42 PM
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With the newest version of FlexRAID they have implemented the new T2+ engine, or software RAID6. With this engine enabled you can lose any 2 drives and recover all your data from the failed drives and rebuild the array.

I like the use of FlexRAID since it is installed on top of a fully functional OS. Yes I know UnRAID is based on the linux platform but it is not a full OS. If I'm going to spend the money to build a media server I would like to be able to use it as a basic computer, at least.

For me I have a decent desktop computer with enough internal expansion for my FlexRAID array. This way all my computers have the same OS and are more compatible over the network. Not that you can't have a network between a linux, Windows, or Mac, but it has been my experience that it is best to network between computers running the same OS. Plus I have the most experience with Windows...I don't want to learn the basics of a new OS.

Anyways, both UnRAID and FlexRAID are great solutions. I personally would go with FlexRAID since it has no hard drive limitations (can only have 21 on UnRAID), it can be installed on top of Windows, linux...even WHS!
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post #11 of 14 Old 06-08-2010, 09:20 PM
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I've never tried flexraid, so I can't comment on that. I've been running unRAID and WHS for over a year. As someone else already said, I use WHS for backups of my other boxes and unRAID for all of my media. While WHS is a windows product and you expect to not have issues from a company with that many developers and money, I've found unRAID to be rock solid.

I've had two issues with WHS, and none with unRAID. The two issues - one was fixed in software with SP1, but before that it corrupted some of my media. That was a long time ago, but I got burned and so I remember.

2nd, I had a hard drive start to fail in the WHS. I didn't find out until I tried to recover when I had an issue on another machine and tried to recover. That's when it told me it had bad sectors trying to recover. And that's not when you want to find out about a problem. And since it moves data back and forth between drives to "balance", the bad sectors were moved around. I like that once you put the data on unRAID, it doesn't move around. If you have bad sectors on a drive, they don't propagate to other files.

Another consideration with WHS - I'd recommend waiting for WHS 2. You won't be able to upgrade a WHS machine to WHS 2, it looks like you will need to have separate boxes running WHS 1 and 2 and copy the media from one to the other. I'm not sure you will be able to copy the backups.

On the other hand, for backups I haven't found anything close to the ease of WHS, so even though I've had trouble, I still run it. But I've found unRAID to be very reliable for my media.

Brett
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post #12 of 14 Old 06-09-2010, 10:32 AM
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I'm an unRaid user and absolutely love it. I've actually begun the process of moving all my torrenting over to it with use the use of a cache drive and the rtorrent/rutorrent package that is available over at the lime-tech forums. Slowly but surely I'm bringing myself down to 1x 24/7 box.

The reason I really enjoy unRaid is due to the real time parity protection... aka you're always parity protected for a single drive failure in real time (excluding data on a cache drive prior to it moving over). The ability to have 2 parity drives is supposedly coming in the future which will ensure protection in the event of 2 simultaneous failures.

FlexRAID however is snap shot based which means it updates its parity protection each day (not real time). This is all fine and dandy except that when you move some data over and then have a failure prior to the parity update... you lose that data. I prefer ongoing protection for my data so this wasn't a viable solution for me (others may have different requirements so this is fine for them). This and FlexRAID needs to run on top of another OS which I'm not too keen on either.

Bottom line, it all comes down to the user.
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post #13 of 14 Old 06-16-2010, 08:03 AM
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FlexRAID however is snap shot based which means it updates its parity protection each day (not real time). This is all fine and dandy except that when you move some data over and then have a failure prior to the parity update...

In which case you only lose the files you moved over, not the whole drive. Because it's file-based and not sector-based, adding files does not inhibit your ability to completely recover other drives before a parity update. However, deleting files on a drive will leave you not able to completely recover other drives if they fail before a parity update. I looked and I delete files from my array only about 1% of the time.

Most people just keep a copy of the files until the parity has updated successfully, negating the problem.

For those that don't have a separate box to run unRAID and $100 for the software, flexRAID is a good choice.
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post #14 of 14 Old 06-16-2010, 08:30 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by uio View Post

Most people just keep a copy of the files until the parity has updated successfully, negating the problem.

Isn't the purpose of these systems to do things automatically? So I have to remember each time I copy files to the array to keep a copy for a while, and then delete it? That doesn't seem to be a good solution.

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For those that don't have a separate box to run unRAID and $100 for the software, flexRAID is a good choice.

Keep in mind that $100 is almost nothing when you consider how much it'll cost to buy the DVD/BRs you rip. A 2TB drive will hold ~ 80 BRs which at a cost of $20 each = $1600. Sure, one should make sure their money is well spent, but $100 is almost meaningless when you'd have to buy over $3.2K of media before you'd have to buy an unraid license.
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