All good things must come to an end!

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?

It’s a dogs life!

There is an old saying that is often used by companies to describe using their own products… that is “Eat your own dog food!”. I’m sure it’s hardly surprising to learn that we use our own products, however it is often tricky to actively use all the features, or utilize the products in all the different ways users do. For example, Drive Bender is used on a number of servers in our office mainly for file and machine backups. Personally I also used it on a WHS 2011 machine at home for movies, music and home backups. Over the years this has proved to be an excellent way to tune real world performance, and discover potential new features. However when it comes to Cloud Xtender, this is more difficult. In the past we have used a third party cloud backup service (CrashPlan as a matter of fact), but during the development of Cloud Xtender, we switched to it for our off site backups. Files are sync’d to a server running a Cloud Xtender drive, and these are then pushed to the cloud. This all works a treat, however used in this manner we really don’t interact with the Cloud Xtender drive as such, so things like real world performance are harder to gauge. So the challenge here is to use Cloud Xtender in a more extreme manner… so a couple of months ago I decided to go all out and install it on my primary development machine. It replaced my “files” drive which contains all work related documents, source code and a bunch or personal files… in all there are over 550,000 files! In addition, this drive is also used to build software against (including Cloud Xtender itself), which has allowed me to asses it’s real world performance, while also providing real time cloud backup. As you could imagine, performance is everything… for example when compiling there are over 12K files system requests a second, quite the load for a virtual drive. I would like to say it was all was peachy from the get go, but using it under these conditions did expose a number of performance issues and bugs. On the plus side however, it has allowed me to tweak the performance and iron out these bugs… all of which is the basis of the current v1.6 release. It’s is hard to imagine a more extreme environment, although I’m sure there is 😉

It’s been a long time since i rock n rolled!

Well rock and rolled may not be 100% accurate, but you get the idea… “it’s been a long time since I posted on the blog” just doesn’t really roll off the tongue. Anyway we have been busy with software releases and updates (and I did sneak off to France for a month). Here is where we are at.

First up, our initial Cloud Xtender release had some strange quirks with some users reporting files not syncing or not syncing reliably. We did release a number of updates to address these issues, however we were never able to replicate them, which made fixing them difficult at best. So after the v1.4.7.0 release, we decided to go back and develop a new version of the sync engine (code name “Transporter”). The “Transporter” engine improves, syncing, streaming and caching for remote files, and syncing for mirrored files, and was released in the v1.5 update. We highly recommend all users update to this version as it also contains a number of important bug fixes.

So what’s next for Cloud Xtender? In the very next release we are adding the ability to add cloud folders to an existing Windows drive (aka drive C). Currently you connect to cloud services by adding a “cloud drive” to your system, that is a new drive letter that shows the contents of your cloud services. With this new update, you can add a folder instead of the drive letter, and this folder can be mapped anywhere on your existing Windows drive (you can switch between either). Another new feature is an updated interface and a “getting started wizard”. In short this will allow new users to get up and going with a single cloud service in seconds, with minimal understanding… well that’s the theory anyway. We are expecting this version, flagged as v1.6, to be released later this month (FYI – we will be posting a minor update, v1.5.2.0 prior to this, it has some caching performance tweaks). Following on from that release, we are also working on an update which addresses the outstanding OneDrive performance issue… stay tuned!

Now on to Drive Bender news. We just released v2.3.9.0 which has many tweaks including a number of Windows 10 specific fixes. Following on from this we are working on another minor update that addresses a handful of smaller problems that have been reported by users, we expect this release to be out later in the month. Interestingly we have an increasing number of users using Drive Bender with SnapRAID, we are looking at adding a “SnapRAID mode” which would make using Drive Bender with SnapRAID a snap! (see what I did there!)… this may or may not make it into the next update, it really depends on how far we take such a feature. It would be great to hear from users to get their feedback, lets us know via support.

After this we will be moving forward with the rest of the outstanding v2 features (better late than never hey), first out of the gate will be cloud duplication. And to answer a commonly asked question, no you will not need a Cloud Xtender license to duplicate to the cloud… although you will need an internet connection 😉

Finally on to PoolHD… and yes, there is a Windows 10 compatible version coming. I know this is taking some time, and we’re super sorry, but we are getting there. In fact it is being working at this very moment (well not entirely true, I’m writing this at this very moment, anyway). All going well, the plan is to have a beta this month. This will be a short beta cycle as most of the underlying code is based on Drive Bender, so we know it will be rock solid! Will there be any new features? Well the short answer is… ahhhh, no. We want PoolHD to be a no fuss pooling solution, If uses want more bells and whistles, they really need to look at it’s big brother, Drive Bender.

Anyway, there is someone standing next to me implying that writing a blog post is not really work… I beg to differ, this and after work beers at the pub are all nose to the grind stone activities 😉

Cloud Xtender walk through… getting started!

Ok, so now you have downloaded and installed the Cloud Xtender beta, now what? Well first you need to set-up your cloud accounts, the methods of doing this vary from one provider to another (if you run into issues, post of the community forum). So once you have a cloud storage account sorted, and you have app access to that account, you need to set up Cloud Xtender… let get started!

The first thing you are going to want to do is create a cloud drive. A cloud drive is simply a drive that will appear on your machine that will allow access to the cloud files. To do this, use the “Create a new cloud drive” option.

cloud_xtender_create_drive1

Here you simple need to select the drive letter you would like the new drive to have, and give the drive a name (this will be reflected in Windows Explorer). Once you have created the drive, it will appear on you machine just like any other drive on your system.

The next step is to connect this new drive to a cloud service, this involves setting up a “cloud connection”. Setting up a cloud connection involves specifying the required credentials.

cloud_xtender_add_cloud_connection1

Now before finishing with the cloud connection options, lets detour slightly and explain a little more about how Cloud Xtender connects and deals with local and cloud files. As previously explained, there are cloud connections, but there are also “File placement rules”. These rules determine how Cloud Xtender distributes files to more that one cloud service, and how the files are sync’d between your local machine and the cloud services (for more info on the different sync mode, check out my previous blog – http://blog.division-m.com/2014/11/19/cloud-xtender-some-detailed-info/)

So continuing on with the walk through, lets look at the rest of the cloud connection options. The final option here is the “Default sync mode”. As mentioned, cloud connections also need a file placement rule. When you add the first cloud connection, Cloud Xtender will create a default rule that applies to the entire cloud drive (you can later modify this, or add other rules). This final option allows you to pick the sync mode you would like for the default rule, in this case either Mirror (files exist on the local drive and cloud storage), or Remote (files exist on the cloud storage only, an ghost image is maintained locally).

cloud_xtender_default_rule1

Ok at this point you have a working Cloud Xtender solution… what next. Well that depends on what you want from Cloud Xtender, some users will simply have a single cloud connection, others will want to have many cloud connections, and rules to suit. (Tip – After you have created the first cloud connection, head to the File placement rule’s tab and check out the default rule that was automatically created). So lets check out the file placement rules in more detail. There are 3 key elements, 1) What cloud connections are to be used, 2) How the files are sync’d between the local drive and cloud storage provider(s) and 3) If you wish to monitor changes made to files on the cloud storage provider(s). Again more detailed info on these sections can be read on my previous blog – http://blog.division-m.com/2014/11/19/cloud-xtender-some-detailed-info/, I recommend you check it out.

With file placement rules, you can really dive in and chose where files go… at the moment you can have a rule covers the entire drive, or a specific folder (rules are cascading). To define a folder specific rule, you first create a rule, then under the File/Folder Management tab, you apply that rule to one or more folders (with the Windows Explorer plugin, you can do this directly from Windows Explorer).

file_folder_management1

There are no limits to the number of rules, or number of folders a specific rule can be assigned to.

Before I go, one question we have had often during the beta program is “what happens if I set up a number of cloud connections, and create a bunch of rules to suit, I don’t want to lose all that work if my machine dies“. Well we are working on a feature called “One touch config”… this will allow a user to save their entire Cloud Xtender configuration to the cloud, allowing them to config a new Cloud Xtender client, including the files and folders, in an instance.

Finally, the release date? Well there is still a bit of work to do, but we are confident that we can get it out mid April. So the big day is set for the 17th of April… stay tuned!

Cloud Xtender – some detailed info!

Ok, since releasing our last blog post, we have had a flood of emails regarding some of the features seen in the demo video. So I though I would take everyone through some of the screens seen in the demo, and detail what each feature does. I should also note that this post was written a while ago, and I’ve only just got around to publishing it… so some info may be a little out dated.

First we have the connection tab, this basically allows you to connect to a specific cloud service.

provider_screen

For the most part, the options here are provider specific, except :-

1) Cloud connection: This is the connection (or provider) that will be used for this connection.

2) Connection name: Simply a name you give this specific connection instance.

The next tab is the placement rule tab. This is where you can define how Cloud Xtender places files on the cloud services you have added.

rules_screen

The key options are :-

1)  Placement rule name: Simply a name you give this specific rule.

2) Placement selection: This determines how Cloud Xtender distributes files between the different connections. There are currently 4 options :-

  • Single connection: This simply writes all files to the specified provider (or when * is specified, the first provider)
  • Multiple connections, cascade (default mode): This writes to the first connection in the list (if * is specified in the list, then the order is based on when the connections were added). Once that connection’s usage reaches a pre-set level, the next connection is written too… and so on. It should be noted that some cloud services do not have a fixed storage size (aka Amazon S3 etc), in these cases Cloud Xtender allow you to set an arbitrary fixed size.
  • Multiple connections, free space: This writes to the connection with the most free space.
  • Multiple connections, percentage of free space: This writes to the connection with the highest percentage of free space.

3) Cloud connection: Here you can add/remove connections that are to be used by the placement selection (previous option). You can specific individual connections, and the order, or you can use a wildcard that will use all existing, and any new connections added in the future.

4) Connection sync method: This allow you to define how files are sync’d against the connection(s). The options are :-

  • Mirror: In this mode, Cloud Xtender monitors the local file and syncs any changes to the cloud connection. In the mode there is a local and remote file maintained, although any changes made against the remote files will not be detected.
  • Remote: In this mode, Cloud Xtender maintains a ghost image of the remote file, so there is no local file (Cloud Xtender caches some portion of the file for a period). If this file needs to be modified, then you can request this file to be pulled down (see the Mirror -> Remote mode) via File/Folder management. Simply find the file, right click and select “Cache locally for a limited time”
  • Bidirectional: In this mode, Cloud Xtender monitors the local file and remote files, and syncs between the local machine and the cloud connection. In the mode Cloud Xtender needs to monitor the cloud connect, and as such this mode can impose a network load (the frequency of the checking is determined by the next option).
  • Mirror -> Remote: In this mode, a files starts out in Mirror mode, then after a period, it is changed to Remote mode.

The final tab is the files/folder management tab. From here you are able to assign specific folders to specific placement rules, query a files to check it’s sync status, resync the file (in either direction) and you can even request a file to be cached locally for a period (for files sync’d using the backup mode). I should note that all this functionality is also available directly from Windows Explorer.

file_folder_mgr

Finally… we are close to the beta release. Our intended date slipped (surprise surprise) because of a number of bugs in one of the providers, however we have now got on top of these and are close to a beta release.

Oh… and we have unified our Twitter accounts, to get the latest news on Cloud Xtender, PoolHD or Drive Bender, follow us at @_divisionm_

Are we there yet?

We have been receiving heaps of mail regarding the Cloud Xtender beta release date, the continuation of Drive Bender v2 development and PoolHD v2. So I thought it best to touch base and give everyone the run down.

Cloud Xtender
The Cloud Xtender beta has been our core focus over the past few months, the interest in this product has been overwhelming… so we have been hammering away in an effort to get it out the door. We have a working version running in-house, and are now just fine tuning how Cloud Xtender interacts with different cloud providers. At this stage we are looking at mid November as the first beta release… and providing there are no show stoppers, the final release will happen shortly thereafter. Although we have cloud storage providers for AWS (Amazon) S3, Azure, DropBox, Google Drive and OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) we are planning on having only AWS S3 and Google Drive in the first beta. Reason being is that we really want to get the first beta out the door… as it stands we are well behind our initial release schedule (hmm who would have thought!), so in an effort to get the first beta out, we have decided to exclude the other providers for the first beta. To give taste of what is to come, I have posted a demo video of an earlier build, this shows the interface, and how we create and add cloud drives etc. You can check it out here.

Drive Bender v2
This leads me into Drive Bender v2’s cloud duplication support. We are planning to continue with the v2 development when Cloud Xtender is sorted, mainly because the cloud duplication feature uses much of the Cloud Xtender code. I will also mention VSS, we are getting a small number of users asking what happened to this feature in v2. As a refresher, here’s what I wrote about this in a blog post last year…

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).

We have revisited VSS a number of times since, only to run into the same lack of reliability… however we have not given up, and will keep plugging away when time permits.

PoolHD v2
Version 2 of PoolHD is also set to be released very soon. PoolHD v2, is based heavily on the Drive Bender v2 code (as v1 was), which is why we have been delaying… we had been chasing some odd permission issues in Drive Bender versions prior to v2.1.9.0, so we didn’t want to move forward with PoolHD v2 until these were sorted. Stay tuned!

Cloud Xtender, what, when, where and why?

Well, we are getting close to our first Cloud Xtender beta release. We have had a lot of interest in Cloud Xtender, and have received many questions about the product features and when it will be released. So I thought I would throw up a quick post to answer some of these questions. First up the features… well, while I do not want to give to much away, what I will do is lay out some of the prominent features and give a basic overview of how Cloud Xtender works.

Cloud Xtender allows a users to create a local drive on their machine that points to one or more cloud drives. The number and type of cloud providers is not limited, and you specify rules that determine file placement. For example, a user could create a drive that points to 10 different free Google drives accounts, giving a total of 150 GB of free cloud space (of course you can add more accounts later). The user then specifies a rule that define where files are stored, which might be either an “even” rule (cloud drives are filled evenly), or “cascading” rule (cloud drives are filled one after the other). Now let’s say the same user want to store a photo on an Amazon S3 Glacier drive, he then creates folder in his Cloud Xtender drive, then creates a rule for that folder that points directly to the S3 drive!

One of the most commonly asked questions about this is “Are the files stored locally and sync’d to the cloud, or are they just in the cloud”. Well the short answer is, you can have either. Files can be a) stored in the cloud only (no local copy), b) stored locally and sync’d bidirectionally. One of the key issues with cloud only storage is performance, parsing the cloud every time you browse the file system is a performance killer, we have solved this with some very clever caching technology. Browsing a Cloud Xtender file system is as fast as browsing your other local drives.

And finally, the question that is most often asked, when is this going to be ready? Well soon is the plan… we have most of the technology in place now, as a lot of the Cloud Xtender code is shared with Drive Bender’s new cloud duplication technology. From here we will be releasing a beta, taking feedback and suggestions, then moving pretty quickly on to a release.

Finally I just want to mention the Drive Bender v2 release… so far, so good. We have had some excellent feedback (everyone seems to love the new UI), and we must have done something right because sales are the best they have been this year! There are a couple of minor issues we are sorting, and plan to post an update in the next day or so.

Drive Bender v2 ER1 release date, and Cloud Xtender news

We now have a date for the release of Drive Bender v2 ER1. Providing all goes to plan (i.e. there are no show stopping bugs), we will be releasing the official version of ER1 on Friday the 30th of May. If you have not purchased a license at the discounted rate, you need to do so now as this discount will end the moment we post the new version.

Further exciting news… Cloud Xtender, our pooling product for the cloud, is set to see its first beta very soon. This beta will support a number of cloud services including Amazon S3, Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft Azure and SkyDrive.  If you want to be a part of the official Cloud Xtender beta team, send a support request via http://support.division-m.com. Make sure you select Cloud Xtender as the product and the request type to beta. If you want to be kept upto date with Cloud Xtender development, make sure you follow Cloud Xtender on Twitter https://twitter.com/cloudxtender

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.
dark_server_2012
T
he new Server 2012 R2 server addin interface

dark_win_81
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!

The road ahead in 2014

Well 2014 has arrived, and straight out of the gate we have been flat out. Over the Xmas and new years period, development has been forging ahead with the first beta of the year being released a week or so ago. On the surface there may not look to be many changes, other than the manager and server addin, however under the hood approximately 80% of the entire code base has been either updated, or entirely rewritten… our experience with v1 over the past couple of years has given us a good insight into what we need to change for v2, and what we need in place for future development.

While talking about v2, we have been receiving many requests regarding the release date, while I would love to cement a date, the world of software development makes hard deadlines difficult to hit (for those wanting to know how hard, read a book called “Dreaming in Code”). However there are many fixes, updates and additions to the current v2 beta, so we are planning on releasing “Drive Bender v2 ER1”. ER1 (standing for Early Release 1), is a production ready snapshot of v2 that will become our release version while the rest of the v2 features are being bolted on. I should also make mention of Cloud Xtender, this is also under development and we are hoping to get a beta out when Drive Bender v2 is close to being sort.

In other exciting news, we have just acquired another pooling product called PoolHD (www.poolhd.com). For those not aware of PoolHD, it is a pooling product very similar to Drive Bender, except it’s target market is more desktop focused. I can hear the punters asking “why do you want another pooling product”? Well under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t be high on our list of things to do, however PoolHD is close to our heart… the app started life as a custom solution for a company to pool proprietary file systems and databases, from here they modified it was branded it as PoolHD. However over the past 12 months, this proved to be difficult for them to maintain… so we landed it for the right price!

So what happens next? We will be working on getting v2 ER1 out the door, and continuing with the v2 final. With regards to PoolHD, because it shares a large portion of its code base with Drive Bender, we will be releasing PoolHD v2 soon thereafter… onward and upwards!