Archive | September 2013

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 ;-).