So what does a true geek do over a three-day weekend? Install Microsoft 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 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 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!
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.
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!