With heavy hearts, we regretfully announce that Drive Bender will no longer be available for purchase, and the software division of Division-M has been closed. This change will also affect our other software products, including Anvil and Cyber Canary.
We remain committed to supporting our existing Drive Bender customers and have made available a self-service license management portal. For those who have recently purchased Drive Bender, our support team is available to assist you in obtaining a refund should you wish to do so. If you wish to download the latest version, click here
We extend our sincerest gratitude to the countless individuals who have purchased and championed Drive Bender over the past 12 years. We also want to express our deep appreciation to our forum moderators, CBers, and w3wilkes, who have tirelessly moderated the forums since the very beginning. Their dedication and commitment have been invaluable, and we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.
This is our mid year update… along with an Anvil article we posted on our support channel which dives into the pros of running Anvil along side third-party AV solutions, backups, and even Microsoft’s Controlled Folder Access. We are also offering a limited time, free Anvil Premium life time license give away… don’t miss out.
First out of the gate… a major update has been released for Cloud Xtender! v3 landed a few weeks ago and is a major update over v2… with most of the code base having been upgraded from our Drive Xtender development. If you havent upgraded, do so as there are many fixes and performance enhancments. There has also been a price rise, however, if you were trialling Cloud Xtender before the rise, drop a line to support and we’ll give you a discount.
Drive Bender v3.2 is in the works… for the most part, this is a bug fix release, along with some minor feature updates which will include better Anvil integration. We are looking at an August/September release… as usual, subject to change 😉
We’ve had a bunch of users ask about Drive Xtender’s progress. While we are still actively developing Drive Xtender (it formed the core of the latest Cloud Xtender release), there is still much to do. Over the coming months, we will have a better idea of its future and will post an update.
We have had some interesting feedback around Anvil… most notably, around the UI and getting Anvil up and running… of which, we have taken on board and made some major improvements (well, that’s the hope), along with constantly building on the documentation. We’ve also had many users ask what the benefit of running Anvil over Windows 10’s “Controlled Folder Access”, or other AV solutions? To answer that question (and others), I wrote an article in our support channel and thought I would share it here.
In addition, we have created and release a number of videos
First, what is Anvil’s purpose? Its primary purpose is to protect files from unwanted or unintended modification. The most obvious source of which is malware and ransomware. Anvil does this by providing a rules-based engine that is very binary in nature… that is we don’t rely on guessing who are the good and bad actors, we simply have rules that determine access for all.
Doesn’t normal AV software protect files? Generally no, while a number of AV solutions do have some form of file monitoring, it’s often an afterthought and offers little in the way of configuration. Anti-virus mostly relies on process filtering, to catch malware as it attacks or infects your system. So to answer the question, no, they generally won’t offer the explicit file protect Anvil can.
Won’t backups protect my files? Well yes… and no. You should always backup regardless, but backups can be a double-edged sword, if you have multiple backups in rotation, and you catch things quickly, you may be able to restore clean files… but in a lot of cases, you are left with backups of the very encrypted files you are trying to restore.
The exception as previously noted… how does Windows Defender differ? Windows Defender, under Windows 10 (1709 and above) has a feature called “Controlled Folder Access”, which, if configured correctly, can perform in a similar manner to Anvil… however, there are a number of caveats.
You must be running Windows 10, 1709 and later (duh).
You need to be running Windows Defender, if you run another AV solution, this feature is disabled.
You are relying on Windows Defender to determine which actors are good, and which actors are bad. Now, we would argue that, if such detection was robust, there would be no need for Controlled Folder Access in the first place. The key issue here is that a lot of malware can get through such detection either through Windows exploits, or trojan style attacks, for example, a malicious “signed” application (more on these later).
Lastly, and this biggest caveat is that an application, that has gained administrative rights, is able to programmatically “whitelist” itself, bypassing any scrutiny by Controlled Folder Access.
So in summary, AV solutions don’t offer explicit file protection, backups can be hit and miss, and all bets are off if running Controlled Folder Access and the malicious app bypasses detection or gains admin privileges… which can often be obtained through some form of social engineering (following a link in an email for example), so this is far easier than you might think.
Now, with regards to “signed” applications… unfortunately, signed applications are fast becoming an entry point for attacks. The number of major software vendors losing control of their certificates is growing at an alarming rate. Those users that have installed Anvil, and run the getting started wizard, would be aware that the default protection allows for “all” signed application… we do recommend locking access down to specific certificates, and we are working on improving this in future versions.
So this brings us to… why Anvil? Well, let’s start by saying, “prevention is better than a cure”… here is a rundown
Having explicit rules around folder access leaves no room for ambiguity
Rules cannot be changed even if the malicious app gains admin privileges
Rights to change folder access is determined “off machine”, that is, authentication occurs in the cloud, and not on the host machine. A token, with a limited life, is generated on the Anvil server and is required to modify any rules.
Anvil was developed with a security-first ethos, not a “safe default” mindset. We are working on a support channel article that will detail the security framework Anvil employs… I’ll post a link here when it is complete.
In addition, Anvil is a file system platform that allows us to bolt on features such as folder level file encryption, file duplication and cloud drive support.
The future ahead? The Anvil roadmap has a number of features which are locked in to version releases.
v1.3 – Folder level encryption. This feature allows you to specify a folder, and encrypt all content that is written to it. The encryption is TNO (trust no one) and is only accessable by the user. When accessing a folder protected by encryption for the first time, the user will be prompted for the passphase (certificates are coming), and how long the access will persist (i.e. just for the file/application instance, for the login session etc).
v1.4 – Enterprise support. These include, deploying and managing readonly configurations to clients (no Anvil account required, all is managed from a single user). Deploying and managing base configuration to existing Anvil users.
v1.5 – Folder level duplication. This feature is taken directly from Drive Bender, you can have a file duplicated, in realtime, to another location.
V1.?? – There are a number of other feature we are looking at, including cloud access (using technology taken straight out of Drive Xtender), and an “events” engine, that can fire based on file system access… plus a bunch of other features.
Finally… we have a number of free Anvil Premium lifetime licenses to give away. To get yours, simply create an Anvil account, install Anvil and send your first impression to support (good or bad) along with the email address used to create the Anvil account… we’ll then apply a lifetime license to your account, simple as that.
Ok, thats all for the moment… leave a comment, and lets us know what you think!
Anvil File Security has landed… with a thud, albiet, a later than planned thud! We had a false start on the initial day of release but got there in the end. So… what’s what?
What is Anvil? Anvil is ransomware and malware file protection technology built around the premise of locking down folder access. Ransomware and malware is a significant issue with attacks becoming more sophisticated in how they are infecting targets. While there are any number of products to protect against infection, they generally rely on heuristic analysis to block malware, most often, the malicious application is missed, or discovered after files have been damaged. Anvil changes all that with a clever rules-based engine that gives full control over access to any folder on your system. I regularly listen to Security Now podcast with Steve Gibson, and he said it best… “In my opinion, this is the biggest concern that exists now is the threat from software that encrypts” (episode 696, 8th of January, this year). Well, Steve… I couldn’t agree more!
The primary and most basic feature is Anvil’s rule-based technology. This is modelled on an old school firewall, using cascading rules to either allow or deny access to a target folder, for a given application or applications. That said, who wants to be working out a bunch of rules… well I would, but most others have little interest in such things, so we have a nice web-based interface that creates and manages the rules for you. Before we take a look at that, let’s talk rules!
Rule break down
Here we are going to get a little nerdy and break down what a rule is, and how they work. First, a rule is made up of 3 key components
the target folder (or folders)
the target application (or applications)
the type of access… can write, cannot write, can read, cannot read etc. These are expressed as W+ to allow write, W- deny write, R+ allow read etc.
Each rule is evaluated, and if a match is found, access as per the matching rule is granted. If no match is found, the next rule is evaluated and so on. Consider the following example –
Rule 1 Folders: "\My Text Files", Applications: "Notepad.exe" Access:L+R+W+ Comment: Allow write access for Notepad
If no match, move on to the next rule
Rule 2 Folders: "\My Text Files", Applications: "*" Access:L+R+W- Comment: Block write access for all applications
If no match, move on to the next rule
Rule 3 Folders: "*", Applications: "*" Access:L+R+W+ Comment: Allow full access for all folders and applications
So if you save a file into the folder “My Text Files”, using Notepad, rule 1 is a match, and write access is allowed (because of the W+). Rule 2 is a blocking rule and is in place to catch any application accessing the “My Text Files” folder (notice the W-). Basically, rules 1 and 2 combined, only allow Notepad to write to the folder. The final rule, rule 3, is a default rule created for each drive that allows full access. Obvious blocking an entire drive would not be a great idea, so if access is not matched by any other rule, then we allow full access. I should point out that while it is possible to modify this default rule, we do not recommend doing so.
Other than basic access rules (i.e. + for access, – for deny), Anvil also has a number of feature-based rules.
Request mode (W?) – So instead of a flat out “-” for deny, we can have a “?” for “request access”. When the rule is matched, Anvil displays a dialogue asking you how to process.
Immutable mode (W1) – An immutable folder, or vault as we’ve called it, is a folder that allows full access, but no modification. That mean you can save a file there, but once written, it cannot be modified.
Encrypted mode (W*) – A folder where files are encrypted on the fly using TNO (trust no one) encryption. Note, this rule type is disable in the first releases.
Learning mode (W>) – This is more of a temporary rule, and when used, Anvil monitors and records all applications that access the target folder. When learning mode is disabled, the rule access if changed to W- and the applications that were recorded are added to the “allow” rule for future access.
A friendly face
Enough of the techie stuff, let’s talk interface. Having built a number of client/server style applications over the years, one of the killer issues is the UI/UX and maintaining client compatibility with every changing server code. In addition… building great looking clients is no walk in the park, and often, the best tools to do this may cause other issues. For example, the Drive Bender manager is built using .NET, while it looks great, the baggage that needs to be installed to make it work is not.
When designing Anvil, we wanted 1) Clean, easy to use and easy to maintain interface… 2) Minimum dependencies, the smallest number of files to install, which means all native code. So we decided on a web client, and any machine side code had to be native… you can literally dump the Anvil files anywhere and Anvil will run.
There are some additional client tools such as a taskbar application for notifications, and a command line tool, so users can go old school and manage rules with cryptic commands.
Anvil File Security, a new Division-M product, is a ransomware and malware file protection technology. This article is a brief technical overview of why this technology is needed, and how it works.
… but first a quick note on the name. Those reading our previous post, Drive Bender v3, arrived… and 2019! would note the name changed from FolderWall to Anvil. After feedback from the community, we decided to change the name.
First the why… ransom/malware is a significant issue with attacks becoming more sophisticated in how they are infecting targets. While there are any number of products to protect against infection, they generally rely on heuristic analysis to block malware. For the most part, this works for common variants, however, as WannaCry and Locky (an example of some ransomware variants) have demonstrated, infection prevention is not 100% assured.
We looked at this issue in late 2016 and decided to add some form of file protection to our pooling product, Drive Bender, in its v3 roadmap. This development work was brought forward after a Drive Bender user’s pool became infected, and as a result, lost a large percentage of files.
Our approach and thinking around this issue was a little different… while protecting from infection is important, the only certain way to protect files is to control access to those files. Anvil is the technology we developed to be included with Drive Bender v3, and now we are releasing a standalone version of the same name.
How does Anvil work?
Well, the idea is simple (which is often the best): you create rules that dictate file access. So for example, a folder containing your Microsoft Office files, say a bunch of Word and Excel files (prime ransomware targets), is protected by a rule that only allows the Word and Excel processes to write to this folder. To prevent binary spoofing (i.e. a fake Word.exe process), Anvil validates the calling process during the initial rule processing, ensuring the binary in question is who it claims to be.
Now, that is a basic example… and while creating rules may work for advanced and enterprise users, for most, this is not a realistic option. So we have added a rule generating wizard to help with this (you can modify the underlying rules if you like). One of these wizards is a “Learning mode”, which allows you to interact with a folder (or folders) and Anvil dynamically builds the rules based on this interaction. Another mode we have is “Request mode”, whereby the user is prompted if an application wants to write to a folder (you can optionally remember the confirmation).
Here are the highlights shipping in the early access
File write restrictions to designated folders. This means that you get to specify the applications that can write to a folder.
File read and list restrictions on designated folders. In addition, to write restrictions, you can also limit what applications can read a file, or even list the contents of a folder.
A request option, file write restrictions based on a prompts to the user (failing to respond results in access denied). This allows you to selectively allow an application that wants to write to a folder at the time of access.
Learning mode captures what applications you use in a selected folder, then builds the rules to only allow those applications in the future.
An immutable folder allows any application to write to the folder, but once written, a file can never be modified.
Command line interface, if you’re keen, you can go old school and go to the console
Some premium features that are in the works, or being investigated
Encrypted folder, any writes to this folder are encrypted using TNO (trust no one) encryption, only you know the keys to decrypt files
Canary files… create any number of files named whatever you like, and if any of these files are ever accessed, you’ll know you have been compromised.
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
What’s it all worth?
Given the work that will be required to ensure Anvil remains secure, we are licensing Anvil File Security as a subscription-only model, here is a breakdown of pricing (billed annually)
Cost is per a single machine, each additional machine, add $0.50/month
Note – The final Premium features are yet to be finalized, we do know encryption and canary files will be included… but other than that, we are still working on features and cost. We are also building an enterprise version, allowing an enterprise to protect files sitting on employee machines.
When’s it going to be available?
The early access version is scheduled for Valentine’s Day (the 14th of February)we are a little delayed, had to resolve a bug that was found on the day of release. As of the 6th of March, the bug has been sorted, we are now testing to ensure all is 100% before releasing. In the meantime, check out the “Request” mode demo video.
Finally, early access spots are limited, and we have had quite a number of registrations already (so much so that we released an extra batch), so register at https://portal.anvil-fs.com to secure your early access spot.
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 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!
Update – The early access release date has been changed to the 14th of February
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!
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).
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!