Thinking about migrating to Windows Home Server (WHS) 2011? Using an HP MediaSmart Server (EX470 or EX475)? Not sure how where to start? – you may just want to read further…

Windows Home Server

I have had a Windows Home Server for several years and after reading many reviews decided to take the plunge and migrate my original server (an HP MediaSmart EX470) to WHS 2011. Now a simple task you might think. There are a number of things to consider:

- The MediaSmart EX470/475 servers come with an AMD 1.8Ghz Sempron 3400+processor which is 64 bit capable. Which means that the servers are capable (from a CPU stand point) of running Server 2008, which is the base OS for WHS 2011.

- The MediaSmart EX470/475 servers come with 512Mb of RAM which is not enough to run Server 2008. You will need to upgrade your memory to 2Gb at least. There is a good guide on doing so here on HomeServerHacks.com.

- Windows Home Server v1 is based on Server 2003 (x86) and so there is no upgrade path to WHS 2011 (Server 2008 x64). I.e. this is a clean install and unless you use different drives, you will not be able to go to your previous configuration easily.

- The MediaSmart EX470/475 servers do not have a graphics card so upgrading can be a little tricky… if you read on, I will tell you the easy way to do this.

By the way, in case you were not sure, the only difference between the two models is that the EX 470 came with a single 500Gb hard drive and the EX 475 came with two 500Gb hard drives. Other than that they are the same.

All this means to say that you can run WHS 2011 in a MediaSmart EX470/475. The question is then – why? The answer to this was simple for me – because I can and I wanted some of the extra functionality offered by the WHS 2011, including transcoding to DNLA devices built in and connectivity to my Windows Phone 7 device (this is covered in a future blog post).

You do lose one piece of functionality in that WHS 2011 does not come with the Drive Extender technology that came with the original version. Drive Extender allowed you to pool drives so that adding more capacity was a simple as adding the drive to server, and following the wizard in the Windows Home Server Console. Easy and no messing about. There are however alternatives from 3rd parties. I will cover these and my experiences in a follow up post.

So, here goes… having decided it was possible to upgrade and that it was worth while, this is what I did… by the way, I am not connected with the WHS server team and so these are my experiences only. I can also offer no guarantees as to your experiences and you should make up your own mind if migrating to WHS 2011 is something you really want to do…

I got many of my pointers from the following post on the DBA Resources Site, but my experiences were not as straight forward as suggested in the article.

For media, you can use either the DVD that comes in the box, or a Bootable USB key, each has it’s pros and cons:

- DVD Rom (though it will have dawned on you that the HP MediaSmart EX470/475 don’t come with a DVD drive and so you will need an external DVD drive if you take this path).

- Bootable USB Key, preferably with an answer (cfg.ini) file. I will describe how to do this shortly as it was my preferred method given that the USB install is much faster and the answer file takes away much of the guess work.

Step 1: Back Up Your Data: I cannot emphasize this enough.. If you do not, or are not in a position to, you should not attempt this. I spent the 2 days prior to doing the migration backing all of my data up on to two separate systems just in case and believe me, I needed it!

Step 2: Creating a USB boot key: I have seen lots of people post this description over the years, but here is the short version:

Open CMD and run diskpart (this may cause UAC to prompt you as it requires elevated privileges)

  1. list disk (this will show you the disks on your system. You will want to make sure you know which is your USB key - I typically look for drive size)
  2. select disk x (Where x is the disk  # of your USB key)
  3. clean
  4. create partition primary
  5. select partition 1
  6. active
  7. format fs=fat32
  8. assign
  9. exit

Now copy the contents of your WHS 2011 ISO or DVD to your new Bootable USB key. There is a really cool tool (Windows 7 USB/DVD download tool) on the MS Store site, but for some reason it did not work with my WHS 2011 ISO Image. If need be, you can extract your ISO file using a range of tools such as WinRAR or 7-Zip.

Step 3: Creating your answer file (cgf.ini):  This step is optional if you are not installing WHS 2011 in a headless environment (see step 4). If you are using a bootable USB key, you can use an answer file to remove all of the prompts you normally get when installing a new operating system, which is especially useful when you don’t have a screen… From the article I mentioned earlier, I used the following cfg.ini configuration:

[WinPE]
InstallSKU=SERVERHOMEPREMIUM
WindowsPartitionSize=61440
CheckReqs=0
ConfigDisk=1

[InitialConfiguration]
AcceptEula=true
ServerName=MyHomeServer
PlainTextPassword=HomeServer2011
PasswordHint=What am I installing
Settings=All

Note that I just used Notepad to create a new text document called ‘cfg.ini’ and saved this to the root of the USB key.

Step 4: Installing Windows Home Server 2011 on my HP MediaSmart EX470: Here is where I spent a few hours trying to follow the instructions from the article I mentioned earlier and gave up. The instructions may work for you, but not me. I found that the install process halted repeatedly and because I didn’t have a monitor on the server, I had no idea why, so here is what I did…

Take a spare machine (could be a spare laptop or desktop as long as you have either a SATA or eSATA connector). Remove the existing  hard drive(s) from the spare machine – if you don’t, the WHS installation process will delete all of the data from your desktop or laptop hard drive(s).

Connect the boot drive from the HP MediaSmart server via either SATA or eSATA. Keep in mind that not all external eSATA drive enclosures support large drives, so check that you can access the drive from a working machine if the installer is not correctly recognizing the drive.

Boot from the USB Key, typically by pressing F12 as the computer first starts (POST). The WHS 2011 installer will then load and if you did not do step 3, you will be prompted to select a clean install (default), so press Enter. You will then be prompted to accept that the installer will erase the primary disk (this is why you need to remove or disable your original hard drive from the spare machine). If you used an answer file (cfg.ini), the installer will simply partition the drives and install based on the answers you provided.

IMPORTANT: when the computer boots for the first time, you will need to turn the machine off, disconnect the drive and put the drive back in the HP MediaSmart Server in the bottom drive bay. This is so that the install is customized for the HP server and not the spare machine.

Turn the HP MediaSmart server on and let it boot / sit for at least 20 minutes. This will allow the installation process to complete. You will know it is done when you see on your network a machine with the name you entered in to the cfg.ini file (‘MyHomeServer’) or ‘Server’ if you did not (‘Server’ is the default name).

Step 5: Completing Installation:  Once you can see the server on the network, you can complete the installation / configuration by launching the Setup Wizard through your browser:

On your desktop or laptop, enter the server name or IP address of your MediaSmart Server (for example, this would be http://MyHomeServer/ if you used the answer file (cfg.ini) settings from step 3, or ‘http://Server/ if you did not). You should see a button to ‘Download and run the setup wizard’.

Setup Wizard

Click on the button to launch the setup wizard and it should open another web page displaying the progress of the final part of the installation. This will take a good while, 30 or 40 minutes and cause the server to reboot a couple of times.

Step 6: Connecting your first computer: You will need to install the WHS 2011 connector software on at least one machine, which will allow you access to the dashboard. This is the configuration tool that includes a number of common tasks etc to get your WHS 2011 fully up and running. You can do this by going to http://MyHomeServer/Connect (assuming you used the answer file) or http://Server/connect if you did not.

WHS2011 Dashboard

Congratulations! Your installation of Windows Home Server 2011 will now be complete. Keep in mind that you will still need to set up user accounts etc. You can do this either through ‘Remote Desktop Connection’, or through the Dashboard.

In the next post, I will discuss the process I went through for data migration.

Enjoy!