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Summary:

Regular readers know that I’m a web-client guy. I’d rather run web apps and store data remotely as opposed to locally because I generally have connectivity everywhere I go. Heck, I once lived in the browser for two months just to see if I could. (Yes, […]

windows-home-serverRegular readers know that I’m a web-client guy. I’d rather run web apps and store data remotely as opposed to locally because I generally have connectivity everywhere I go. Heck, I once lived in the browser for two months just to see if I could. (Yes, I could.) But not everyone is hunky-dory with third-party services having access to their data. I get that. That’s why I’m thinking of taking a closer look at Microsoft’s Windows Home Server. I gave it a cursory glance in the past, but never really gave it a fair shake.

The platform emerged in 2007 but has since matured with two power packs. I just happen to have a discarded desktop system that should work for testing. With a 2GHz Pentium 4 and limited hard drive storage, it’s not a cutting-edge system by any means. It ought to work for a testbed, though. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to see what I think are meager hardware requirements for WHS. More is generally better, but a desktop from 2005 ought to work in a pinch, for example.

So why look at WHS? It provides some of the “personal cloud” attributes I’ve been thinking about: remote access to home computers, centralized backup of data for PCs, file-sharing, media streaming to my Xbox 360 and more. Today I’m storing my digital music in two locations: locally and in the cloud. I use the cloud storage for streaming tunes and since my iPhone only has 8GB of storage capacity, this helps me “carry” more music than that. The local copies are simply for archive purposes. One WHS can essentially cover both features and provide me all of the same benefits.

That’s simply one example of why I’d even consider this. Ideally, I think I’d like to run apps from my “personal cloud” as well. I can’t do this with WHS, but I could to a limited extent with Tonido, so maybe that will come into play as well. This is more of a side project for me but since it offers a mobile aspect, I thought to share. I’m sure some of you are already using WHS, so if you have tips, comments or experiences to share, please don’t be shy!

  1. My biggest quibble with it is that the data integrity security on it is pretty lackluster. You get some sort of multiple copies functionality in it so you can spread your data around on multiple disks, but it seems pretty rudimentary as to how it maintains data integrity.

    It all depends on what the priority is, I guess. Personally I’ve set up a home server running OpenSolaris with the ZFS file system – it is obviously not remotely as plug and play, but the data is both stored in a RAID configuration plus that ZFS automatically does checksums on all files to make sure it keeps track of any silent data corruption tendencies. I had some serious hardware failures on my previous server and lost three out of six disks (two of which were mirrored boot disks) and had to reinstall the entire OS from scratch – and still recovered every bit of data off the three remaining RAID data drives I had with one simple command so I could transfer it to the new server I set up.

    But, of course, WHS is a great deal easier to get going out of the box, and getting something like OpenSolaris to become as useful for media sharing and all that takes a fair amount of heavy lifting still. For me, maintaining the integrity of the stored data on there is absolutely crucial so I’ll be steering clear of WHS; it’s certainly something to keep in mind if you plan on storing data on one, make sure you have a firm grasp of the backup situation.

    When you have one central location to which you back up everything, not backing up said central location too becomes pretty scary, and I think too many WHS users operate like that.

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  2. Thank you Kevin for asking looking further into WHS. I have a spare Dell SX280 mini form facotr PC that I just stuffed a 750 GB HD in with an external 750 GB HD and was looking into WHS. I primarily work with different flavors Windows Server, and having a Win 2008 server at home use was way too much hassle and overkill for the simple needs of my home. I eventually de-installed the server from my home network, but Windows Home Server has started to intrigue me. The system requirements allows my old Dell mini PC to become the perfect host for it. And with Mac compatibility, it should be much more useful and easier to deal with then a full blown Windows server for the home. I would love to see your take on WHS before I take the plunge.

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  3. I’ve been using the WHS since the early MSDN beta days and it really has come a long way in the areas of ease of use, redundancy and applications. I personally use the HP devices, since they are very small, powerful enough and offer four bays for storage, backup and spanning. While these are not typical RAID arrays, one can do either file backup easily, or drive copying easilly, based on your needs. Also, the HP suite of additional software for making nice photo sites, websites, streaming itunes libraries, backing up PC’s and MAC on the LAN/WAN are very easy. I really think this is a great easy platform. Deals on both the server SW and HW from vendors can be had, I have bought additional units for my home and business sub 250$ ready to go SW/HW included.

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  4. Does anyone know if WHS allows for Windows Sharepoint Services to be installed?

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  5. I’m probably going to follow you down the home server path, Kevin. I’m trying to manage five computers at home and would like to have better access to my “stuff” internally. Lots of media to organize, too.

    I’m not against cloud data, and in fact have really pushed it to many author friends. But sometimes, it’s just not the right solution.

    And there’s a old desktop computer that needs a job…

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  6. I’ve been using WHS since the betas, and it’s a great “turn it on and forget it” solution. The single instance storage makes for small backups, but they can’t easily be read in another machine.
    There is a great community at http://www.wegotserved.co.uk/ and add-ons for (almost) every purpose at http://www.whsplus.com/ . The biggest risk is that it’s still just one machine, and vunerable to fire / theft / whatever, but you can always backup the backups!

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  7. Would you list sites for cloud backup that are known to be good?

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  8. I’ve been running a WL700G for a couple of years now, and have been very pleased with it. Its a wifi and wired router with a built in hard drive, and usb ports to install back up drives (RAID mirroring) and printers. It also has a web server built in, and some other various stuff. You can attach a web cam apparently (I haven’t done this) and it also has an Itunes music server built in. Its like a Linux Home Server. I think asus has other similar products.

    Hans

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  9. I have a homemade WHS and it works great. I have used the backup/restore and it works great. I use mine as a central sync point so I can have all my data on the server and then sync it to my computers with synctoy or windows live sync. Just make sure when you install to install on a big drive as your system disk. You can’t change that later. If you put it on a small disk you may have issues later with copying large amounts of data. I put mine on a 40gb system drive the first time and if I tried to copy a large folder larger than what the system drive had free it would say it was out of space. Since the server copies to the system drive then moves the data to the other disks in the pool when it does its balancing thing. You really need twice as much storage as you want since it duplicates everything as its ways of backup.

    Other than that the server is great. I have had no problems with mine it just runs and takes care of itself. Kinda weird to say about a windows product, lol.

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  10. WHS is a great solution, especially with some of the new Windows + Mac options that have been enabled on the newer HP MediaSmart models.

    Plus, you can find some of the older EX47x for a real steal. I’ve recently picked up a couple (we use them a lot on client sites as backup servers) for as little as $429 CAD.

    I know it’s not fashionable to say MS is doing a good job but it’s been truly a no fuss, no muss product and is getting better all the time.

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