Drive Bender beta 2 update

It has been a busy time since the first beta was released, thanks to the testers in the interactive beta program, many bugs have been identified and sorted, not to mention some great suggestions on interface improvements, thanks all!.

Originally I had hoped to have the second beta out by now, however it was decided to release an interim version with many of the fixes and changes as reported, and to also include our next generation of Drive Bender driver. All this and the fact that a number of non Drive Bender related interruptions have happened, has meant we are not where we would like to be with regards to milestones… who would have thought such a thing could happen in software development!

Anyway we are finally back on track and are working towards an updated beta which should be available some time this week (week of the 18th).

Finally, again a big thanks to those that have been testing.

Drive Bender v2 beta 1… what’s it all about?

Well after a feverish development cycle, we got the first beta out, and we are very happy with the results! There are a bunch of changes, with many of them being “under the hood” so to speak, however the most obvious is the new client interface. Earlier this year we prototype’d a new “compact” interface (reference – http://forum.division-m.com/index.php?topic=1520.msg5074#msg5074), this was the basis of our re-design. The big change is that the old tabbed interface is gone, the v1 interface used a number of WPF controls, which while looking cool, could really bog down the loading times… in v2 there is now only a single view that is much nippier.

The new Drive Bender v2 interface under Windows
The new Drive Bender v2 interface under Windows

This new interface has also found its way to the WHS addin, doing away with the tab interface has also improved the load time of the dashboard.

Drive Bender under WHS 2011
Drive Bender under WHS 2011

This beta release also bring with it the ability to add networked drives to a pool, so you can effectively add any drive or device that you can reference using a UNC address.

Adding a networked drive to the pool
Adding a networked drive to the pool

Adding the networked drive is very straight forward, enter the UNC detail and then perform a test of the target address, if the test passes you can add the drive to the pool.

Finally the plan was to release the new “Landing Zone” feature with beta 1, however this was pulled at the last minute… so we will be releasing beta 1.1 in coming days with this new feature enabled.

If you would like to check out the beta for yourself, you can download it from http://www.drivebender.com/drive-bender-beta-downloads-sn

Stay tuned, there is heaps more to come!

Drive Bender v2 beta program

Over the years we have run an open beta program for each Drive Bender release… this has, and has not worked. Let me explain.

Drive Bender is a product that deals with one of your most precious resources, your data! To install a beta product to handle said files is a tough ask, and we understand this. However there are a number of users that have suitable redundancy, or specialized environment(s) that allow them to test beta versions of Drive Bender, and our plan is to harness and focus on these users during the beta development phase. So we have come up with the “interactive beta program”. The idea being that there will be a limited number of users that will have a dedicated forum, and more direct access to the lead developer on the project… err, me! So how do you get in?
1) Well first and foremost you need to ensure you are not installing the beta on the machine that contains the only copies of your family photos that go back 100 years! FYI – We do not release anything that we do not consider to be “file safe”, however this is still beta code.
2) Next you need to be happy to test specific areas of functionality and provide feedback.
3) Finally you need to be a little technical, although each beta release will come via an installer, there may be instances where we need to upgrade one or two components manually. This will simply involve copying files to a specific folder and starting the Drive Bender service.

Additionally we are encouraging these users to provide feedback on features and usability during the beta phase.
If you are keen, log a support ticket at http://support.drivebender.com and ensure you select “DBv2 beta programs” from the type of request list, also include the operating system you intend to test upon, and your full name in the description field.

As I mentioned, this is going to be limited to a small number of users, however for those that miss out or are not interested in taking part, don’t worry, the beta will still be made available to all users regardless.

So what is the release schedule? Beta 1 is set to be released on the 8nd of October and will have the following new features
1) A number of major internal upgrades with regards to file duplication and file system health monitoring.
2) The ability to add networked (UNC) drives into the pool.
3) Phase 1 of the new interface.
4) Landing zone, the ability to specify a drive that files get written to, then redistributed around the pool at a later time (this has been added after a number of requests). Note because of the late addition of this feature, it may not make it into beta 1.

Drive Bender v2

Well we are hard at work on Drive Bender v2, and are excited with the progress we have made to date. Our plan is to roll out a number of staged releases (i.e. v2.0, v2.1 etc) with beta milestones in between… so lets take a look at what is in the works.

VSS Support
I thought I would touch on this much requested feature first up. For those not familiar with VSS (aka shadow coping), let me point you to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadow_Copy. With v2 we have implemented VSS support and have this under internal testing. We are able to snapshot a pool, and access these individual snapshots independent of the pool itself. This all works great, however one of the key requirements is external application support for doing this, known as requestor support (the requestor is the calling application such as Windows Backup). Again we have this working, however during testing we have run up against a number of issues. The most notable is reliability, for some reason the VSS requestor (i.e. Windows Backup), cannot always successfully snapshot the pool, and the entire backup fails with an error. Also the success of this seems to be very machine dependent, and we have no idea why… unfortunately good technical documentation on VSS very limited to non-existent. I should also mention that the internet is filled with stories of VSS failures… this is one finicky beast!

So what does this mean for VSS support? Well our original timeline had full VSS support in beta 1, and this was meant to be available mid August, however given the issues we have faced, this has not happened (obviously). At this stage we have decided to move on with the other stages of the v2 development and beta releases, while we continue to work on these VSS issues in the background. At the very least v2 will support pool snapshots, snapshot mounting and snapshot management. If requestor support continues to allude us, then we have a plan B (I will post on plan B when we come to a final decision).

New user interface
Drive Bender v2 will bring with it an entirely new interface, this is to improve usability and overall interface performance. With this we are also improving the notification engine and introducing client notification popups.

Network drive support
This new feature is straight forward, you can now add a network path to the pool, and it is treated just like a physical hard drive. With the addition of the “Drive specific duplication” feature (see below), you can specify if this drive is to be used for primary files, duplicate files or both primary and duplicate file storage.

Landing zone support (feature added after user demand)
This is the ability to set a specific drive to be used for all writes to the pool, then at a later time, these files are to be moved from the landing zone drive to the rest of the drives in the pool. The idea here is that a fast drive can be set as the landing zone to improve overall write speeds to the pool.

Pool to Pool replication
File replication (of primary files) between two or more pools on the same network is now supported. You simply point the Drive Bender replicator to another Drive Bender pool, and all files will then be mirrored between these pools.

Drive specific duplication
This feature allows a user to specify which drive or drives are to be used for primary file storage, or duplicate file storage. In addition we have introduced “lazy duplication”, which optional allows a file to be duplicated after the fact (as opposed to the current real time duplication).

Cloud specific duplication
Files duplicated in a pool can now be stored in the cloud using any number of cloud providers. Currently we support Google Drive, SkyDrive and DropBox (with more to come), all of which can be implemented on the same pool. The duplicated files is move to the cloud in an asynchronous manner (using the new “lazy duplication” feature) to ensure pool storage performance is not compromised. We are also looking at implementing file encryption for duplicate files moved to the cloud to ensure “End to End” file security.

File system health monitor improvements
The performance of the file system health monitor has been improved. We are also improving duplication issue detection (such as repeated failure of duplication creation etc) and general drive health.

Hard drive performance monitor
One of the key support issues we face is a pool stalling or locking up for extended periods. This is almost always the result of a hard drive either failing, or suffering some file system structural issue. The new Hard drive performance monitor will supervise and report on any drive not meeting the required performance targets.

Enhanced file balancing options
Yet another much asked for feature, we are improving the existing balancing option, as well as adding a number of new file balancing options.
Even Balancing: File are balanced evenly across all drives in the pool. This is very similar to the v1.x balancing feature, however we are making a number of changes to improved this modes performance.
Folder level balancing: With this option, files are balanced based on their parent folder to ensure that a specific folder’s contents are not scattered across a number of drives.
Cascade balancing: This option basically fills a single drive at a time, when the drive becomes full, files are stored on the next drive and so on.

Multilingual support
Yes that’s right, we are finally going multilingual! To start with we will be supporting the following languages – English, German, French and Spanish.

Under the hood
Under the hood Drive Bender v2 is a vastly different beast, we have been re-architecting most of the core application for some time, the result is a much faster, robust and scalable platform.

Whats next?
The next step is to get beta 1 out the door, all going well this should happen in late September. Lets us know what you think, and feel free to comment either here or on the forum.
I should point out that none of these features are “carved in stone” so to speak, and are subject to change… either via user requests, or we just change our minds ;-).

To strip or not to strip

We often get asked why Drive Bender does not have a “read striping” feature (as in reading the primary and duplicate files in parallel)… so I thought it was time to lay down the facts!

Ok the very first thing that needs to be understood is that RAID (the very technology the word “striping” is based on)  is entirely a different beast to NTFS and file duplication. RAID configured in a striping mode does a very specific thing (for the sake of this article we will assume 2 drives), and that is to write to the RAID device in split data chunks. So in laymen terms, if we had a file that was made up of “AAbbCCdd”, RAID would write on drive 1 as “AACC” and drive 2 as “bbdd”. Now the big advantage here is that when RAID needs to read this data, only 4 characters need to be read from each drive, and if read in parallel, there is most certainly a raw a speed increase. Another import aspect of this is the data is read in a continuous manner, in that neither drive skipping data… however I will get to this in a minute.

Now this is possible to do with file duplication, simply by reading half the request data from one drive, and the other half of the data from the other drive… however there are a serious “gotchas” with this idea. Lets consider the RAID example of the “AAbbCCdd” file. As mentioned there are two key benefits with this
1) Each drive only needs to read half of the amount of data required.
2) The data being read is done so in a streaming manner.

Performing striping with file duplication get us the advantage of point one, however it does not give us the performance advantage of point two. So we end up with drive one performing a read like “AA” -> seek to “CC”, and drive two reading like “bb” -> seek to “dd”. The big killer here is the “seek” to the next block of data, this seek is very expensive in terms of performance, and ultimate lowers the data throughput.

As you can see, this type of reading effectively fragments the data, which as we all know is a performance killer. Bottom line, to get the best performance, find the data on the fast drive and pull straight from that!

Drive Bender v1.7 has arrived!

​Drive Bender v1.7 has just been released. This version carries with it some major milestones… most notably is our new S.M.A.R.T. engine powered by Hard Disk Sentinel. Hard Disk Sentinel is the benchmark by which all other S.M.A.R.T. monitoring apps are measured. And licensed users of Drive Bender are able to get a 25% discount off a professional edition of Hard Disk Sentinel using the in app link (in the Drive Bender Manager, Drives tab, then view the S.M.A.R.T. status).

That said I’m sure many users are asking why the version number jump? Well besides the obvious new features, there has been a number of “under the hood” changes to facilitate support for some low level API’s.

​So what’s next? Well v2.0 is already in the works and is the next planned major release… this is going to bring with it VSS support, multilingual support and our new compact view interface, in addition to some other great features.

Finally a big thanks to those that have helped with beta testing… again you have helped us release a product that we can be proud of.

​All Drive Bender users can download the new version from here.

Drive Bender is getting “S.M.A.R.T.er”

With the arrival of 2013 (which strangely was never meant to happen with the end of the world and all), we have already had a number of releases which contained both bug fixes and new features. That said, the next release has a few surprises… some of which I won’t go into here, but there is one that we are very excited about.

Late last year we introduced S.M.A.R.T. monitoring, this new feature has added an extra dimension to Drive Bender’s capabilities, giving the user real-time feedback on the health of their hard drives. The downside to such a feature is that is requires a great deal of targeted development, and given the plans we have for 2013, I had some concerns with how we could devote the time needed to really polish this feature.

During the initial development phase, we needed a reference S.M.A.R.T. application that we could use to verify our own S.M.A.R.T. data, for this we used what many consider to be the best S.M.A.R.T. app in the business, Hard Disk Sentinel… and as it turned out, so did many of our beta testers. Well that got me thinking, why re-invent the wheel? So we approached the people at Hard Disk Sentinel… the end result is that the next release of Drive Bender will have its S.M.A.R.T. feature powered by the Hard Disk Sentinel engine, bring the best in class pooling and S.M.A.R.T. applications together. Furthermore we will also be offering a 25% discount to licensed Drive Bender users wanting to upgrade to the full version of Hard Disk Sentinel Professional. For more information on Hard Disk Sentinel, head to www.hdsentinel.com.

When is all this happening I hear you ask? Well we have been working on this since late last year so we have most of the technical stuff sorted… the initial beta using the Hard Disk Sentinel engine is scheduled for the first week in February, and given that we are not expecting a long beta cycle, the full release should hit soon after.

Windows 8 and software RAID

Well having spent a number of weeks with Windows 8 RTM… my first question is, WTF? This is design gone mad. The constant switching between the desktop and the “Windows 8 start menu” i.e. Metro start menu, is incredibly jarring. So much so that I relented and came up with a start button hack. I wonder if anyone at Microsoft has tried this 😉

Some good news though regarding Windows 8’s Storage Spaces (at least we think its good news), our testing shows that Drive Bender is still king when it comes to performance. Again we see software RAID falling in a heap, why companies persist with this is mind boggling… were Microsoft paying attention when Data Core’s Drive Harmony hit users? On a test machine here, it used 1GB of RAM (not joking) and had the performance of a wet sock! Anyway, point being that it did not get much further than the initial beta test. Why? Because software RAID is slow, and if it breaks you cannot simply mount a drive and take a peek at the contents.

Now… some would argue that file duplication is inefficient with regards to storage usage, however in a world where storage is cheap and performance is not, this in our minds is the smarter trade off. And judging by the emails we are getting about Drive Bender’s compatibility with Windows 8 (you can read more on that here), I’m guessing we are not alone.

Finally though I would like to say “congrates” to Microsoft on their efforts with Server 2012… this is an excellent piece of software (Storage Spaces aside). The server management stuff is absolute brilliant, and it boots straight into the desktop… what a novel concept!