Windows Server on WD Sentinel DS6100

Recently I have acquired a WD Sentinel DS6100 server and over the 2018 Christmas holidays I’ve been playing around with it and want to share my experiences over multiple blog posts.

Looking at online reviews for the WD Sentinel DS6100, it seems like this has been a lucky model, as it has lasted for over five years already, while others have reported failures of multiple devices in a short period of time.

Now it’s time to give it some software upgrade and re-purpose it as Hyper-V host and data storage device.

Latest and Greatest

Windows Server 2019 was announced as generally available a few months ago, thus I thought, why not just put the newest OS on this machine. Download the ISO, copy it to an USB stick, install and multiple hours later… It turns out that the custom software for the WD Sentinel was built around the Windows Server Essentials experience and Windows Server 2019 has gotten rid of it. Googling a bit more, it seems like it would still be possible to get the Essentials experience to work on Windows Server 2019, but it’s unofficial, thus can break with any update and I don’t really want to invest the time to get a working copy.

Side note: Obvious to most, but those who don’t know: If you don’t install the Windows Server Desktop Experience version, you’ll end up with just a command line window; even Ctrl+Alt+Del brings up a special command line window instead of the well-known login screen.

Renewing

Okay, if 2019 is out of the game for Essentials-based applications, then let me at least try Windows Server 2016, so I can use of Docker, get a “Windows 10”-based interface and all the other potential improvements. I opted for the Datacenter version of Windows Server 2016 which doesn’t come with the Essentials services, but you can install them as server role. Or at least that’s what all the tutorials and guides will tell you. After many hours of trial and error, digging through all the not really useful posts on Microsoft TechNet and the WD forum, I finally came across the awesome Unit34.co blog. The goal of the blog is to create short and beginner-friendly articles on the topic of Windows Server management. The reason that it’s especially useful here, is that their testing server is a WD Sentinel DS6100 as well and they have created multiple posts about the maintenance of the proprietary WD Sentinel software and hardware.

Following their great guide on how to get Windows Server 2016 to work on the DS6100, I realized why my earlier attempts never really worked. The storage disks run in a RAID 5 configuration and in order for Windows to properly see them as volume, the OS needs the WD RAID driver, which has to be injected into the Windows Server installation image. But even with the guide, I always ended up stuck at 89% of the Windows Essentials role installation with the error FATAL: InitializeStorage. The log was quite inconclusive about which error actually caused the failure, but I saw a few issues with accessing drives and even Windows listed one disk that didn’t exist.
Unrelated to all of this, during all the testing one of the RAID 5 storage drives somehow died (more on that in a later blog post).

Side note: In case you want to know the difference between Essentials, Standard and Datacenter Windows Server versions, here’s an excellent article.

Recovery

Accepting defeat and wondering whether there was something wrong with the boot drive, I followed Unit34’s guide on how to first backup the recovery image and then on how to fully restore the boot drive with the recovery image. A while ago one of the boot drives died and both were replaced with larger disks, unfortunately the RAID 1 partition is still only 280GB instead of the 750GB the disks provide and while I was hoping, a clean boot drive initialization would fix that, it did not. Which on the other hand gives me something to tinker with at a later point.

The restore of the recovery image was a success and the WD software and Essentials experience work fine, no stuck at 89% issues or similar. Sadly, I’m stuck on the ugly Windows 8 UI for now, but at least I was able to start populating the storage disks with data.

Conclusion

I didn’t succeed with getting a new OS onto this server for now, but I got to learn quite a lot about Windows Server in general and gotten very familiar with the WD custom tooling. There’s a high change that I’ll try and install Windows Server 2016 Essentials at one point or even retry Windows Server 2016 Datacenter, now that the boot drive has been setup freshly.

This is the first post about my experiences with the WD Sentinel DS6100, so stay tuned for more on this topic.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.