Windows Home Server Setup Experience and First Impressions

24 Comments

whs-consoleSo what does a true geek do over a three-day weekend? Install Microsoft (s MSFT) Windows Home Server, of course! I’ve only just set up the server and haven’t utilized it all that much yet. I also decided to install it on a beefier box than planned. Originally, I had planned to repurpose a Dell desktop that my son Tyler stopped using about a year ago. Then, I realized that he also had another system that he wasn’t using all that much. He tends to use my old MacBook Pro or my MSI Wind netbook these days, so I grabbed the system with better specs. It’s actually 4 years old, but should be plenty for my experimenting. It’s a system that I built and customized many moons ago in a series of posts illustrating how to build a high-definition WMCE system for under $1,000.

Overall, the installation process was relatively simple, straightforward, and took less than one hour. Essentially, when you’re installing Windows Home Server, you’re really installing Windows Server 2003, but with some additional customizations, user interface options and features. Given that, I expect the system to run rock-solid. So far, it does, although all I’ve done is kicked the tires.

While my old, circa-2005 desktop has plenty of oomph for WHS, I ran into a problem right after the installation: no network connectivity. I have the WHS hardwired into my home network router, but I couldn’t ping a single device on the network. A quick look at the Device Manager told me that the base Microsoft driver for my Intel networking hardware wouldn’t work with the network card. Without connectivity, there was no way to run Windows Update to get the proper driver files, so I simply used my MSI Wind and hit up the Gateway support site for my desktop. A quick download of the driver files onto a USB drive, one quick install, and I was good to go for networking on the WHS.

But my connectivity woes didn’t stop there, unfortunately. Once I had connectivity, I successfully grabbed two dozen updates from Microsoft, installed them, and rebooted. “I’m in business!” I thought. Well, sorta

The WHS was able to see my MSI Wind, which is running the release candidate of Windows 7. It was cool to see WHS tell me that I didn’t have any antivirus software on the netbook. Oops! I promptly added AVG Free to the Wind to make the WHS happy. I could connect to the server from my MacBook with no problems. There are at least two ways to do that, but I’ll get back to that. The problem was that the Remote Access to the WHS box wasn’t working. That means as long as I’m on my home network, I can use the server as needed. But when I’m out of the house, I can’t access the shared files on the WHS.

I still haven’t solved this problem, although I’ve spent at least four hours trying to resolve it. Microsoft offers a list of routers that support auto-configuration by the WHS and several tips on manual configuration. Unfortunately for me, none of this information has resolved the issue yet. I’m not pointing the finger at Microsoft on this one, because there are numerous ways to set up a home network and there are hundreds of routers on the market. However, it is frustrating, because one of my main purposes of setting up WHS is for remote access to my data. I’ve completely redone my network, but I’ve come up short.

My Verzion (s VZ) DSL service comes through a Westell 327W modem that also doubles as a wired and wireless router. I actually only use it as a modem for my connection, though. The modem then feeds my DSL connection to an Apple (s AAPL) AirPort Extreme. That didn’t work, so I modified the setup so the AirPort Extreme initiates the DSL PPoE connection through the Westell, but that didn’t work, either. Sadly, the Westell says it can be a UPnP device, which is what WHS looks for. It’s simply not working for me in that capacity. I’ve forwarded the appropriate ports that Microsoft suggests, modified the firewall settings, etc….to no avail. I will get it working, but I’m at a standstill now.

So, let’s circle back to connecting devices to the WHS. After I set up a user account for myself on the server, I installed the Windows Home Connector software on the Wind. The software was actually installed from the server to the device, which saved the need to download it or connect an optical drive to my netbook. Once installed, I could connect and control the server from the Wind, and I had access to the shared folders. While researching my network issues, I had copied 9GB of DRM-free MP3 files over my network to the Music folder of the server. All of the files appear on the Wind, of course, and I used Windows Media Player to listen to tunes without any issue.

As the music from the server was playing on my Wind, I decided to connect my MacBook, as well. You can connect to the server using Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Application, which is a free download. This creates a session on your Mac as if you were sitting at the server. Here’s a shot of WHS as I see it from my MacBook using the Remote Desktop. Uh oh — the WHS reports a critical issue because my Wind isn’t backed up!

rdc-from-mac

I decided to stream music from the server to my Mac, so I used the native Finder application. In it, I simply clicked Go, Connect to Server, and entered smb:// followed by the private IP address of my Windows Home Server. That mounts the shared folders and gives access to the server files as if they were local to the Mac.

mac-remote-whs

Just for kicks on the Mac, I started streaming the same music file that I was currently streaming on the Wind netbook. Of course, it played on the Mac without a hitch and with no impact to the Wind, as expected.

Given the network challenge, I’ve only scratched the surface of my “personal cloud” with WHS, but my focus going forward will be to get the remote access going. The mobile aspect is the most appealing to me with this solution, so without it, WHS is of limited value for me. For others, my system may be fine just the way it is. It enables centralized storage, backups for all PCs on the network and much, much more. Stay tuned, as I hope to have my remote connectivity issue resolved soon. Then I can really take her out for a test drive!

24 Comments

Everton

Hi

can someone please tell me or provide a link for how to install live sync on WHS. I’ve been searching all day and can’t find anyone who actually explains how to do it.

Thanks

EB

billbiko

I purchased one of the Acer easyStore H340’s all pre-configured rather than going through the process of using an older PC and it is working great.
I finally configured the remote access last night and had a few hiccups, but now I can even access photo’s off of my Blackberry, which is kind of geeky, but handy as well!
The aspect I liked the most was being able to stream our music and photo’s through to the Xbox. I am sure if one of my systems crash the quick recovery and reinstall abilities will become my favorite, but for now it’s great having my music available throughout the house.
I put together some information as well about Windows Home Server and why I went with it, it is available here, http://www.squidoo.com/windows-home-server-info
Hopefully it helps others make some informed decisions!

Tony P

I want to install a server but I want to have my website or actually my church’s website on it. I know how to set up a private home server and how to make the website but dont where to put the web page in the server and how to make it available to the public with out opening access to my other machines. if someone can point me in the right direction I would appreciated.

JeffGr

The timing on that one is definitely funny! I posted that comment yesterday afternoon and the above mentioned update auto-installed last night. :)

JeffGr

I have one of the HP WHS boxes and generally am very happy with it. The backups have rescued me on several occasions and I’ve also found that it works well as an streaming server for music.

I don’t use the built-in remote access features very often, but they are nice to have when I do need them. I have set up Windows Live Sync (you can find instructions online for setting it up under WHS as a service), which is great for syncing up a few key directories. In particular, I love being able to copy photos to my laptop while on vacation and have them automatically sync back to the WHS box at home. It does have a few quirks, though, including giving constant warnings about “locked files” as well as a pretty kludgy install/configuration process. I really think Microsoft should seriously considering incorporating Live Sync into WHS in the next Power Pack.

My only really big complaint about WHS is that the console is too big for a 1024×600 screen and isn’t resizable or scrollable. This makes administration from a netbook something of a pain. You can get around it by using Remote Desktop (like on a Mac), but it still is something Microsoft should correct.

Michael Jones

Kevin,

Even though I have a ‘static’ external IP on my DSL connection, I had problems getting to my server until I registered a free domain using the Wizard inside the WHS console. You’ll get a free ‘redirect’ URL at myhomeservername.homeserver.com.

Once that was in place, it all came together.

Luscious

This was a really good read Kevin! I’m looking to get a similar system set up sometime in the future for remote connectivity. Do share with us how you manage to get it done!

Greg

My WHS just saved me today. My tx2000 took a dump after a windows update. It corrupted my nt kernel, stupid thing. An hour or so later and my whole computer is back to normal, thank you home server.

Jhall

Kevin, Have you updated to service pack 2? It is suppose to tell you were to look for problems. As you have mentioned, you may need a upnp router? Good luck this site is getting interesting. I like living through your and James geekery.

JHall

Kevin C. Tofel

Yup, once I got the Intel networking driver installed, I went through all updates which included power packs 1 and 2.

GoodThings2Life

Indeed… Verizon and many ISP’s block that type of traffic intentionally. It is entirely possible that everything you’ve tried has actually worked on its own merits and you’re being denied by Verizon.

Kevin C. Tofel

There is a utility offered on the HP-branded WHS boxes that works with Time Machine if I recall. But natively, no. :(

Jake

Can you browse to the server’s website on your local network? Try entering the IP address in IE on your Wind to see if you can connect.

Kevin C. Tofel

Yup. I could always do that: connect directly through the IP address from the Wind or the Mac to see the local Home Server site. Locally, everything’s fine. Remotely… not so much.

Jake

Perhaps you could try setting up a simple web server on another PC, redirect port 80 to that on the network and then try to access it remotely. That might help you determine whether the issue is on the server or the router.

Kevin C. Tofel

Definitely the router / network connection, i.e.: port blocking by my ISP. My *intent* is to configure IIS to run the site on a different port. More to follow… ;)

Peter Norman

Hi Kevin!

I’ve had an HP MediaSmart EX475 Windows Home Server for a year and I love it; the client software for Windows backups works very well – especially for Wifi-based laptops: waking up my Toshiba Portege M700 TabletPC anytime between 2-5 am to back it up and then putting it back to sleep is magic! I’m looking forward to Time Machine support from an update promised by HP (due in autumn).

I haven’t used ANY of the Media Centre-type features – it just takes care of backing up my Windows-based computers (all of which are laptops).

The HomeServerHacks article was very helpful in configuring Airport Extreme for use with WHS. Perhaps its detailed steps will help:
http://www.homeserverhacks.com/2007/12/configuring-apple-airport-extreme-for.html

Given that you are connecting to your WHS using Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Connection for Mac, you may have already read this article – but just in case other readers haven’t:
http://blogs.technet.com/homeserver/archive/2009/04/29/running-the-windows-home-server-console-on-a-mac.aspx

Rock on!
peter

eTomm

Is the airport acting as a DMZ or catch-all server for the modem?

The modem should fordward all ports to the airport and the airpost should redirect them to the servers behind itself.

The upnp service needed is the airport one.

Orihara

Verizon blocks port 80. Best you can do is redirect another port, such as 8008 or 8080 on the internet facing side, to port 80 on your WHS box. I’ve got the same problem, with roughly the same solution. It’s unfortunate, but it works.

John

You need to put the modem back in front of the airport like you had it and configure upnp on the airport. Homeserverhacks has a great writeup on how to do this manually. Good luck!

Kevin C. Tofel

Thanks John. That’s actually the first thing I tried: modem in front of AirPort and configure NAT/Port Forwarding with ports 80, 443, and 4125 on the AirPort. No dice for me… :(

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