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 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.
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!
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!
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.
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?
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!
Yet again it has been some time since I’ve posted here… it has sat at the top of my todo list for some time, but other todo’s keep climbing over it. Anyway, enough with the poor excuses… where are we at? Well, in summary, we have made lots of progress on Drive Xtender and Drive Bender v3… let’s cover Drive Xtender to start!
First of all a big sorry to those users that have been waiting patiently for the first beta. That said, most of the features we were shooting for, have been completed… now I can hear the punters screaming, “where the hell is beta 1”? That is a good question and one that has much to do with the title of this post, and, I will get to that soon… but in short, we shifted focus from Drive Xtender to Drive Bender v3. So, where does that leave us with Drive Xtender? Well, for the moment, I don’t want to bang on about a product that is slow to be realized, but, as I said we are not far off. A major change is that we have thrown out the original web portal and are redeveloping this in a new framework. For those interested, we moving from Angular 1 (the prototype was started a number of years ago) to React. While this is now underway, it is going to add significant time to the project… so we have decided to release the first beta using the Cloud Xtender client interface to manage things. As for when… soon 😉
Next, on to Drive Bender, and to elaborate on what I said previously regarding the title of this post. Earlier this years we received a support request from a user that has been struck by some ransomware. This attack had encrypted a number of important files on his Drive Bender pool, that he was, sadly, unable to recover. As part of our Drive Bender v3 roadmap, we had ransomware protection atop of our feature list. Given that our Drive Bender user base is our largest, their file security is paramount, so the decision was made to switch focus and get Drive Bender v3 underway. As a result, the v3 development cycle is all but complete and is in final internal testing.
V3 bring a lot of new features and fixes, but there are a number of standouts that I want to discuss here today. The first we have termed, the “Pool Firewall”. This feature provides firewall like features to the pool’s file system. That is you can apply rules to which files can be modified, and what application can modify them. Like a network firewall, you specify cascading rules that are checked during file access, if a rule is found that meets the criteria, the rule’s access level is enforced. So for example, you may want all your word documents, to sit under a documents folder, to only be accessible by MS Word, this is possible (FYI – We may also include read access limiting, but this has not been decided as yet, if you have any thoughts, let us know). We’ll be posting a “how to” on this feature very soon.
The next feature is one we have called “Drive Idle”… over the years, a common concern with drive pooling is 1) power consumption and 2) drive wear and tear. Every time a pool is accessed, it can require many, if not all drives in the pool to spin up. In fact, this access is often a third-party app indexing the pool as a background task, again, often requiring the entire pool to spin up. Our Drive Idle technology is designed to prevent these spin ups, or, at the very least limit them. This feature should also improve pool performance and responsiveness.
Finally, the last feature we are going to briefly go over is “Sleep Mode”. This is a feature that will have many users rejoicing, and also help reduce the number of support requests we get with regards to users disconnecting drives arrays when not in use (as this causing other issues). Basically, Sleep Mode decouples the underlying drives from the mount points… while the mount point(s) still exists, all I/O is prevented from reaching the pooled drives.
As previously mention, all these features are complete and in final testing… all being well, the v3 beta is scheduled to be released before the end of July.
One final note, there is a change in pricing coming with the final v3 release, the details of which are still being finalized, but the cost of a Drive Bender lifetime license will be increasing, so if you’re after a license, get in now!
Well we have been going flat out here, and progress is good (as usual, not as fast as we would like… but never is). Our original beta plan had a release slated for late November, early December… this was to be a very raw beta that used a modified version of the existing Cloud Xtender client, and not the new Drive Xtender portal. The idea being, we could start to test the local Drive Xtender service etc. Well, the portal came together faster than expected, so we have ditched this idea, and are now going with a more complete initial beta. Here’s what to expect.
- Drive Xtender portal with limited pool management.
- Create a new local pool (there may be some limited cloud capability if time permits)
- Installation using the Drive Xtender portal.
- Pool “preview” mode. This can import existing Drive Bender pools. This will be non-destructive, and you can leave your existing Drive Bender pool in place (the same applies to DrivePool users).
Regarding the drop date… well beta 1 is close to being ready, and while I would love to push it out sooner rather than later, dropping a beta just before the holidays is a rookie move. To further complicate matters, I’m taking some time off over the coming weeks, so let’s say “soon” 🙂
One final word on Drive Xtender… we’ve had a few questions regarding how a public website (aka the Drive Xtender portal) is able to manage a service on a machine within a users network. Well, Drive Xtender uses some interesting technologies to accomplish this… but, for security reasons, it does require a user to visit the Drive Xtender portal from within their internal network, this is known as “direct” connect mode. That said, there is also a “limited” mode, which allows for some very minimum monitoring and management from outside of your network, however, this feature needs to be explicitly enabled by a user before it can be used.
Now for a quick Drive Bender update… we are finalising features for Drive Bender v3, these include
- Application whitelisting, which allows only whitelisted apps to write to the pool (or specific folders).
- Improved licensing that will allow users to manage their own license keys (aka release from a machine etc)… yay!
- Improved startup performance.
- 2016 Server dashboard support.
Anyway, that’s it for the moment, have a wonderful and safe Christmas, and we’ll see you all in 2018!
Oh… forgot to post some screenshots
Installing the connector onto a machine
Managing a local pool
Managing drives within a pool
Adding a new service
Ok, let me start with some great new… it seems the Drive Xtender concept has sparked more than a bit of interest. In fact, we have secured some cash from the powers that be, to get it finished!
Before we get into too much detail about Drive Xtender, let’s recap…
Since we announced Drive Xtender earlier this year, we have received a heap of questions regarding Drive Xtender, including pricing and the future of both Cloud Xtender and Drive Bender. First, let me say that we have posted Cloud Xtender v2.3, this update addresses the Dropbox v1 API’s that will be deprecated, if you are using Dropbox, make sure you get this update. It also sorts out a number of bugs that, with the help of some dedicated users, we have squashed.
Next, let’s look at Drive Bender v2.7, this release fixes a long-running bug with file locking… that caused all sorts of annoying issues for a small number of punters! Again thanks to those users that have helped with the debugging and sorting of said issues… awesome!
Ok, to the question at hand, the “why”, “how” and “when” for Drive Xtender.
Well first up, the “why”, and some insight into my thoughts on Drive Bender and Cloud Xtender. First of all, let me set the stage. Drive Bender has been a wonderful product for Division-M! With its initial release, Drive Bender generated enough revenue in the first couple of days to not only pay for the development up to that point but to also cover off the following 12 months… so in all, it has more than paid its way. That said, it is a power users product, lots of buttons, lots of knobs, and lots ways for less experienced users to get into trouble. Cloud Xtender, while not intended to be a power users product, did, as a result of the UX, suffered a similar fate. So the first part of the “why” question is easy, KISS (keep it simple stupid).
The second part of the “why” question is performance related. Drive Bender, like other products of its type, including RAID, have a tightly coupled relationship with their underlying hard drives… which in short means that performance is only as good as the lowest performing drive. Now as anyone that has used computers for any length of time would know, hard drives are crap when it comes to reliability! I would post a picture of my hard drive graveyard, but it’s too depressing!! Lesson two, design a system that removes this dependency.
The third and final part of the “why” question is power consumption. Over the years, this has been a key point with many users that have large pools, spinning up drives that do not need to be spun up is costly in terms of energy, and wear and tear… lesson three, only access drives that are needed for the file operation being requested!
Next is the “how”, and what is going to happen with both Drive Bender and Cloud Xtender? Well first let’s lay out the Drive Xtender versions that will be available… Standard, Pro and Premium. Both Standard and Pro are basically the same as Cloud Xtender, offering cloud drive mapping and a bunch of newer features (I won’t go into these at the moment). However, Standard will be free and limited to mapping no more than two, free cloud service (aka the local folder/drive size is limited to the size of the “free” tier of the cloud service it is mapped too). Pro will be a paid for service, and there is no limitation on the number of cloud drives mapped or their size. Premium, will include all features in Pro, in addition to local drive pooling with cloud and local drive duplication (aka you can duplicate local drives to a cloud drive etc). Cloud Xtender as a standalone product will no longer be developed, and existing users will get a free, perpetual license to “Pro”. On the other hand, Drive Bender will continue to be developed alongside Drive Xtender… with users being offered a large cross-grade discount if they want to move to Drive Xtender Premium (we are also extending this to a limited number of competing products).
Finally, let us move onto the “when”. This was, until recently the tricky question, resources were limited and that meant Drive Xtender’s progress was slow… with development only being done when time permitted. With our recent injection of cash, we are now able to develop Drive Xtender at pace… so the answer is ASAP! As it stands we have a large portion of development done, so we are pushing to have a release ready early 2018. With that, we are opening beta registration on the 17th of October, 2017. If you wish to be a part of the beta program, you must register (URL will be posted on Twitter and the forum on the 17th). By registering you are also eligible for a further discount if you want to cross-grade (aka Drive Bender to Drive Xtender Premium).
Welcome to the New Year! The last few months have been very busy… just before Christmas, we posted Drive Bender v2.5, and Cloud Xtender v2.1, both of which now support the Windows 10 Anniversary edition. For some users, the latest version of Windows caused some headaches, as Redmond’s new driver signing model was fully enforced in this version of Windows (and Windows server 2016). If you tried to install Driver Bender or Cloud Xtender on a fresh Windows 10 Anniversary installation, neither product would work correctly because the driver is not able to load. For those interested in the technical aspect of our driver, it originally started life as a driver supplied by a third-party (www.eldos.com). However, at the time (in 2011) the basic driver lacked a number of required features, so we modified it to support what we needed and created a new driver called VHyperDrive. Fast forward to 2016, and the base Eldos driver now supports much of what we need, so the decision was made to use this driver moving forward for Windows 10 and beyond. As far as a user is concerned, this means little, however, for us, it means less work (yay!).
Speaking of work, in addition to Drive Bender and Cloud Xtender… we have been banging away at a new product called… wait for it (drum roll please…) “Drive Xtender” (yes a play on the original Windows Home Server’s pooling feature, Drive Extender). This is a hybrid of Drive Bender and Cloud Xtender in one neat package. Over the years we have learned a lot with regards to a) pool performance and b) product usability. This new product brings with it these years of experience, and
- Web-based interface, no more client application… config Drive Xtender from anywhere!
- A new pooling model that delivers very much improved performance, and no more hung Explorer due to slow performing drives.
- Lower complexity (which in turn improves reliability).
- Install-less configuration.
- Create a pool from either local drives or cloud drives, or a mixture of both.
- Designate which drives (local or cloud) will be used for duplication.
- Upgrade path from Drive Bender, Cloud Xtender and other competitors pooling products.
- And a whole bunch of other clever bits and bobs!
In short, Drive Xtender is a game changer for drive pooling and cloud storage.
Finally, we are also cranking away on Drive Bender v2.6… this version, while not too feature rich, does contain a lot of the code carried over from the new Drive Xtender project. This will results in improved reliability while also sorting a number of bugs. We are hoping to have a beta release of this version in February.
PS… I must also apologize to a number of our users regarding our tardy support response times. Over the past few months, we have experienced an unexpected rise in sales, which has also lead to more support requests… couple this with the constant Windows updates, and we are finding it hard to keep up. That said, we are working on ways we can better support users… and hopefully, things will return to normal soon!
Well, here we are some 7 or so months after we announced that “good things must coming to an end“… and still users are snapping up Drive Bender and Cloud Xtender, thanks! This all helps to keep the lights on. It has been a while between drinks, so I thought I would post on what I’ve been up too. Here’s a run down…
First of all, I have been busy with a new startup, heading the technical team and doing a bunch of web based development… different from my client/server and driver work, but still lots of fun. That said, when I’m not busy with my “day job”, I find some time to tweaking and bug fix both Drive Bender and Cloud Xtender (and answer the inevitable support question that comes my way). The end result is new versions of both apps, Drive Bender v2.5 and Cloud Xtender v2 (yes it is a big jump for Cloud Xtender, but we have a good reason… read on).
So Drive Bender v2.5, this is still in the works as there are a few bits and bobs yet to cover off, but we (aka me) are still working on it. Cloud Xtender, on the other hand, has been through the ringer. In working on a side project (more on this in a later post), I’ve discovered and fixed a bunch of stuff… all of which has taken CX v2 into a different realm, here are some of the highlights.
- We are now providing app keys for Google, OneDrive, Box and Dropbox. This means that you no longer need to register your own application keys to add a cloud drive, connect Cloud Xtender with your cloud drives with a simple click. FYI – I should note that we received a lot of questions as to why we required users to use their own keys… well it was based on how we thought users would use Cloud Xtender, turns out we missed the mark here, all this did was to make Cloud Xtender far more difficult to use than it needed to be, whoops! So we have sorted that and now it is lickety-split easy to connect to your cloud drive.
- Improved file encryption. Some users were reporting that encrypted files simply did not sync… a major issue for an app designed to sync files! Many bugs in this area have been fixed, and this problem should now be a thing of the past.
- Improved access to cloud services via updates API’s, this results in improved syncing and overall performance.
- A bunch of client fixes and improvements.
Bottom line, the biggest update to thus far for Cloud Xtender… you can get all the latest changes here.
Finally, we are planning to up the price on both Cloud Xtender and Drive Bender. That said if you are testing either product and missed the current low price (it will be updated very soon), send us a DM via Twitter (@_divisionm_) and we’ll send you a discounted link.
Well first of all, a Happy New Year to everyone, 2015 was certainly exciting on a number of levels! Now we are in 2016, and there are a few updates in the pipeline.
The first of which has just been released, Cloud Xtender v1.7. This has a number of bug fixes and performance improvements, most notable is how background scanning is performed, and the load this can (or could) place on the host. We had a number of users reporting excessive CPU usage, which would cause system performance to suffer. You can download this update from http://www.division-m.com/downloads
Next is the pending Drive Bender update, most of which is contained in the patch available on the forum (http://community.division-m.com/index.php?/topic/5670-duplication-bug-patch/)… this fixes a small number of issues with duplication including a bug that was caused by the summer/winter time zone change that occurred in some regions. There are a number of additional changes and updates, including a new driver… all of which will be detailed in the change log. I’m hoping to have this out in the week of the 18th.
Finally we have had some unfortunate abuse of the new Cloud Xtender licensing model, with the discovery that a very small number of users have been redistributing licenses. As a result of this, we are changing the license from a freeware model to donation-ware model similar to Drive Bender… with the price to be $5 USD for a single machine license, or $10 USD for a 3 machine license. This ensures users are vetted by PayPal before licenses are sent, and will help us cover the cost of managing these licenses.
Anyways I’m looking forward to new challenges in 2016… stay tuned!
Well it has been a crazy two weeks since my last post, it seems I under estimated the community response, it’s just amazing… thanks everyone! As I mentioned in my original post, my hope was that all the products would continue on in some form or another. However there were a number of obstacles that needed to be sorted before I could happily allow them to go on.
So what was the end result? Given the level of user support, it seems I had no other choice other than allowing Drive Bender, PoolHD and Cloud Xtender to live on! As for my involvement, I’ve decided to remain involved as a hobbyist… that is I will remain active on the forum and play with the code when possible.
Now this leads us to how this is going to work. While I’m not comfortable selling a product that does not have dedicated support or development, we still need to generate some cash to keep the lights on. My original idea was to make all products freeware… however this does not help with the “cash” portion of my last statement. So I’m going with a super low $5 USD on Drive Bender (I’m actually calling this a donation), and freeware on Cloud Xtender. As for PoolHD, this will now use the Drive Bender license so users can use whatever platform they choose (if you are an existing PoolHD user, simply email support and you’ll get a Drive Bender license, this will be compatible with the next PoolHD update). When is this going to happen, well by the time you read this it should be all sorted.
Once again I would like to thank everyone for their kind words… it’s very much appreciated. See ya on the forums!
Well this is a personally sad post for me. I have made the difficult decision to move away from my fulltime position here at Division-M. Unfortunately slowing Drive Bender sales and sluggish Cloud Xtender numbers have meant that ongoing development at the current pace is just not financially possible. The slowing Drive Bender sales were anticipated, as Windows Storage Space’s had a big impact on this market, not to mention the cloud is also seeing users move from large local storage to much cheaper cloud solutions. Our strategy was to have Cloud Xtender pick up the slack, however this has not happened. While the initial Cloud Xtender numbers looked good, these have not been sustained.
So what happens next? Well for the most part, not too much… Belinda, our main support person will be staying on and servicing support requests as she has always done. Although I’m no longer working fulltime here, I will be helping with the more technical queries either via support or the forum. As for the future of Drive Bender, PoolHD and Cloud Xtender… at this point in time there has been no long term decisions made, but I’m confident that they will continue on, we just need to work out the details. Having said that, there are a couple of important points I would like to stress to existing users.
1) All valid licenses will continue to work now, and into the future. There are no plans to scrap the products.
2) As it stands we have pending updates for all products. There are a number of bug fixes with Drive Bender and Cloud Xtender, and a Windows 10 compatible version of PoolHD. These will be released over the coming weeks.
Finally I just want to say that this decision has not been an easy one, personally I have invested a huge amount of time and money into building this business, and developing its products… and for the most part, it has been very successful. However, as with any business it must be able to generate a sustainable revenue. I would like to say that from the get go, Drive Bender in particular has had a loyal following, and has chalked up 10’s of thousands of sales… and I thank everyone for their kind words and feedback over the years.
Ahh well, that’s about all I have for the moment. It has been a fun ride, but all good things must come to an end… now where did I put my CV?