Roon and Smooth Stream using Drive Bender

Recently we had a user ask how to improve pool performance when using Roon while connected to Drive Bender backed storage…. let’s take a look!

A Roon with a view

Roon is a high-end music management and streaming solution that can deliver music to many different audio platforms (see What is Roon). Personally, I’m a big fan of Roon (kudos to the dev team, IMHO very well engineered software), and have been running Roon using a Drive Bender pool as the storage endpoint for some time… so I thought I would share my experience.

The setup

The Roon platform is a powerful piece of kit, and, in my case, it streams upsampled content to my Devialet Expert Pro 220 (I’ve just ordered a Denafrips Terminator)… all transported over ethernet. The Roon server is a dedicated Linux machine, with the music files stored on a Drive Bender pool, sitting on an oldish Windows Home Server 2011 machine (out of interest, this is the old server we tested on back in the day). As anyone that has used Roon knows, it can be quite demanding on the hardware it interacts with, while the Roon server hardware is fine (Core i7 with plenty of RAM), the Drive Bender pool server is a rather old, bloated machine attached to 12 hard drives that are anywhere from 3 to 10 years old (I say bloated as it has never been rebuilt). The music pool itself contains some 10,000 music files, consisting of lossless WMA and WAV files (Roon does not support WMA). Most of these files are lossless rips of my CD collection, however, there are quite a few 192/24 and DSD hi-res files.

In operation

During playback, Roon pulls the files from the Drive Bender pool over ethernet, processes it, then sends it on to the Devialet, resulting in some magically musically experiences right? Well, not always… when I first set everything up, I would get the odd stutter every few tracks, which was very annoying, to say the least. After eliminating the Roon server hardware as the cause, I started to look at the pool and discovered a couple of the hard drives, while still healthy, had less than stellar performance, which is a Roon no-no. Luckily I know a thing or two about hard drives, and decided to do some testing and connected these same drives directly to Roon via USB, no real improvement… bugger! Now I’m not privy to how the Roon team go about pulling data from the assigned storage and didn’t have the time to investigate. So it seemed to me the only solution was to replace these otherwise healthy drives with new, faster ones… but wait, I hadn’t tried Smooth Stream, a feature that has been part of Drive Bender since v1 (yes I know, you would have thought this would have been my first go to fix… but hey, forest for the trees blah blah blah). I enabled Smooth Stream, and boom, I’ve never heard a single stutter since!

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Hindsight is 20 20

This was the very same problem experienced by our Drive Bender user recently… and thanks to my own experience, I suggested he enable Smooth Stream, and bingo… all was golden!

Safety first

Re my old drives… I’ve spent many years building my ripped library, I can’t imagine how many hours have been consumed ensuring rips are error-free, and all metadata was in place (pre Roon). For those reading this and concerned over the age of some of the drives in my music pool… fear not, I run duplication on my music folder, so I’m happy that nothing will be lost.

Final thoughts

Being a Roon fan, and a fan of cloud storage, the next logical step is to combine the two. While Roon does support Dropbox, I prefer a local storage endpoint, or to clarify, an endpoint that appears to be local. Using a modded version of the Smooth Stream code, and some other cloud components I had laying around, I’ve been doing some prototyping on a solution and will be using the Denafrips Terminator to test the results. In my view, having Roon stream your own collection directly from the cloud is a no brainer, and Smooth Stream may well be the key. Let me know what you think, and is this something other users would be interested in?

Drive Bender v3, arrived… and 2019!

First up, welcome to 2019. It’s been a busy year for us here at Division-M, as we’ve also been involved in a number of side projects that have impacted our 2018 schedule… but, such is the software business, onwards we go into 2019!

We have just released v3 of Drive Bender. This particular release, while having a long beta cycle, does bring with it a number of security-focused features. The first of which is the “Pool Firewall”. This world first feature allows a user to lock down access to a specific folder, by only granting access to pre-approved applications. This protects files from ransomware and other malicious application wanting to alter files without authorization. This is achieved using rules that allow a user to lock down access to folders for specific “approved” applications. For example, you can specify an “Office” folder (and subfolders) that only allow “Word”, “Excel” etc to write to the “Office” folder(s). We have posted a short tutorial on the Pool Firewall here.

The next security based feature we have included is “Side Channel Protection”. This is a technology that has been requested for some time and protects the individual drives that make up the pool from being modified outside of the pool itself. So, even if a drive letter has been mapped to any of the physical drives, any attempts to write to these drives will be blocked… once again ensuring file integrity. The last feature I want to mention is “Drive Idle”… this is more of a performance/eco feature. While it is included in the v3 release, it is disabled by default due to some ongoing issues experienced by some users… we will circle back to this in the new year and work towards sorting the bugs. FYI – The Drive Idle feature was the cause of the lengthy beta cycle, in the end, we decided to push v3 with this disabled, just to get it out the door.

A couple of final Drive Bender notes… first I’d like to give a shout out to all the users that helped with the v3 beta, we have a lot of users involved in this version, so thanks to all! Finally, there is a price increase coming before the end of January… so spread the word.

The next piece of news revolves around Drive Xtender, and what is happening with its progress. All was on track until we switched gears and decided to work on Drive Bender v3, and it’s Pool Firewall feature (you can read why here)… we are expecting to resume moving forward with Drive Xtender early 2019.

Finally… we have some exciting news about a new product that has been developed in parallel with our Drive Bender v3 and Drive Xtender work, but first, some background. During the Drive Bender v3 development phase, the idea of a Pool Firewall raised a lot of interest… so much so that one of the most commonly asked questions was, “can we create a single pool drive (i.e. basically mapping an existing drive via a Drive Bender mount point) and use this new feature to protect files and documents on this drive”?  Well, you could, but that is a lot of overhead given you are not using Drive Bender for its primary intended purpose, pooling!

So, late in 2018, we decided to release a new product called “FolderWALL”. FYI – This was the internal name given to the Pool Firewall technology used in Drive Bender. This is a standalone product designed to protect files sitting on non pooled drives, and again, it works by allowing access to folders for given processes. Now, as users running v3 of Drive Bender will note, the configuration of these rules can be a little complex… so we have gone to great lengths to make FolderWALL easy to set up and maintain. The FolderWALL interface is based on our Drive Xtender interface technology, and is web-based, requiring very minimal effort to install and get up and running. Here is a brief list of features (* denotes premium features, ** not implemented, will depend on feedback):-

  • File write restrictions to designated folders
  • File read and list restrictions on designated folders
  • A request option, file write restrictions based on a prompts to the user (failing to respond results in access denied)
  • Learning mode, instead of defining rules, simply run in learning mode and allow FolderWALL to build the rules for you
  • An immutable file system, files can be written to the folder but once written, can never be changed
  • Command line interface, if your keen, you can go old school and go to the console
  • Encrypted writes, files are written using TNO (trust no one) encryption, only you hold the keys to decrypt files*
  • Action based file system changes, all file-based changes trigger actions that can perform external tasks*
  • Cloud services access, use Drive Xtender cloud components to sync to cloud services**

Now, when is FolderWALL going to made available? Well… it has been in development for some time and is all but ready to go. The “early release” version is set to drop on the 1st of February 2019… this is not a beta, but a full release, minus some incomplete features, this release will be limited to a small number of users, you can secure your license by registering at portal.folderwall.com. While you can sign up, you cannot install FolderWALL until the 1st of February, however, as I’ve noted, we are limiting the number of initial users, so if you are interested, get in quick!

The wrap-up… we are excited about FolderWALL, and given the rise in ransomware attacks, FolderWALL offers “world first”, rule-based file protection against such attacks. In the coming days, I will post further details of FolderWALL, including pricing, stay tuned!

Update – The early access release date has been changed to the 14th of February

Drive Bender ER1

We are moving ever closer to the release of Drive Bender ER1. That said, we are getting a lot of questions around this ER1 release, and what this means for the full featured Drive Bender v2 release.

Well for those that may not already know, ER1 stands for “Early Release 1”, and is basically a production release of the new v2 code, but with some of the features yet to be added.  At the start of 2014 we looked at our timelines for the Drive Bender v2 release, and the number of fixes and updates made to the v2 code over and above v1… in view of this, it was decided that we should feature lock the v2 code, test and refine what was in place to the point that we could release a v2 version that would replace the current v1 release.

Why… why not wait until all features are in place? Well there are two main reasons, 1) The feedback on the new interface has been incredibly strong, and we wanted to get this out to our users ASAP, and 2) The new code base offers much more in the way of speed and reliability over v1, not to mention a the few niggling v1 bugs had been quashed!

So whats next? We are in the final stages of ER1 testing and bug fixing, and we now have a great platform to bolt on the balance of the v2 features. Here’s a list on the new features coming in ER1.

Drive Bender v2 ER1 (release soon)

New user interface
Drive Bender v2 brings 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.
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T
he new Server 2012 R2 server addin interface

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T
he new Windows interface

Under the hood
Under the hood Drive Bender v2 is a vastly different beast, we have re-architect most of the core application, the result is a much faster, robust and scalable platform. Features such as NFS support, pool GPT partitioning and better handling of drive disconnection are just some of the new features of this new code.

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

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.

Landing zone support
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.

Changes to file balancing (more to come)
We have improved the “even balancing” method and have add limited “cascade balancing” support (if you disable balancing, Drive Bender now reverts to cascade balancing).

Post ER1 release

Obviously the are a number of major v2 features still to come (you can see a list of v2 features here), and we’ll be working on these as fast as our little fingers will carry us. We are hoping to delivery a number of these in the first post ER1 beta. Finally I can hear you asking “what is happening with VSS support”? Well this is proving to be quite the challenge to say the least. The VSS framework put in place by MS is, well, to be kind, poorly documented and mostly held together with gaffer tape… however our intention is to deliver this after v2 ships providing we can get it to work reliably.

Finally I’d like to make a shout out to the users that have helped with beta testing, your feedback has been invaluable, thanks!