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Configure Microsoft Windows Home Server to allow remote access


Remote access

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Windows Home Server (WHS) is an upcoming product from Microsoft that will bring a host of features currently only available in corporate networks to home users. Among the features is the ability to remotely access your home network. This is not just limited to remote desktop access to your PCs, but also to your network shares (set up on Home Server).

Setup and configure

The first step in remotely accessing your network is to set up Windows Home Server. Once this is done, you will need to create a user account on the home server. Microsoft recommends that you use the same username and password that you use on your local PCs. This will help when you access shares on the Home Server from your desktop PC.

When you create a user, you need to make the decision whether or not to allow this user to access the system remotely. To grant remote access permission (Figure A), check the box "Enable Remote Access for this user".

Figure A

If you change your mind later, you can edit the properties of this user by right clicking on the user in the Windows Home Server Console, and selecting properties. Once this user is created, you can see the status of the user in the Windows Home Server Console (Figure B). This status will include the current state of the users remote access permissions (allowed or denied).

Figure B

The next thing you will need to do is to configure your desktop PCs to accept remote access connections. The steps are very similar for Windows XP SP 2, Vista Business, Vista Enterprise, or Vista Ultimate (the only operating systems supporting this feature).

First, you will need to allow Remote Access to your computer. On Vista this is done by right clicking on Computer and selecting Remote Settings (Figure C). You will need to select the option "Allow connections from computers running any version of Remote Desktop (less secure)".

Figure C

On Windows XP you will need to go the remote tab of system properties (accessible by right clicking on My Computer and going to properties), and select "Allow users to connect remotely to this computer". You will also need to select the users that have access. This is done by going to the Select Remote Users tab, and selecting the user that will have access.

You will also need to allow the Remote Desktop client to pass through the Windows Firewall (or any other local firewall you are using). To change settings in the Windows Firewall, go into Control Panel and select Windows Firewall (Figure D). You will need to go to the exceptions tab an allow Remote Desktop. If you use a third-party firewall, you will need to allow port 3389. You will find instructions on how to do this in the manual for your firewall.

Figure D

The next thing you will need to do is to configure your hardware firewall to allow access to your Home Server. How you accomplish this task will vary based on which router you use. You must allow TCP traffic on ports 443 and 4125 to pass through your router to your Home Server. Optionally, you can also allow port-80 traffic, as the server will automatically redirect you to the secure site. This is typically done in a Network Address Translation (NAT) selection on your router.  

The last thing you will want to do is to set up a dynamic IP address. This can be done from your desktop PC. This service allows you to access your home computer by an Internet name (such as https://mypc.no-ip.net) versus using an IP address. You can find details on setting up dynamic DNS here.

Gaining access

Once you have completed this set up you can access your Windows Home Server from anywhere with an Internet connection. Windows Home Server does require you to use Internet Explorer as your browser to access all of the functionality however. You can access your home server by typing in your dynamic DNS name or your routers WAN IP address into your Web browser, using the HTTPS:// prefix.

You will be prompted with a certificate error, but you can safely ignore this as you know that you are connecting to your Home Server. Unfortunately, at this time Microsoft has not release a fix for this yet. You will be greeted with a welcome screen, and a prompted to log in. You must log in with a user account granted remote access privileges.

From here you select the Computers tab to remote into any PC in your home network (Figure E). You will see all your PCs listed, and whether they are available for remote connections.

Figure E

By default, the remote access will place you in full screen mode. If you wish to change the screen mode, go to Connection Options (beneath the computers). From here you can change the resolution of your terminal sessions, and the features you wish to enable. If you connect at anything less than full screen mode, the remote session will appear in your browser window (Figure F).

Figure F

If you just wish to access your shared files, simply click the shared folders tab. You will be presented with a window showing all of the folders that user account has access to. From here you can select which folder has the files you wish to have (Figure G).

Figure G

After selecting the directory you will be given a list of files. You can click any of the files to begin downloading them to your computer. If there are multiple files, you can select their respective checkboxes, and then click the download button to download them all simultaneously (Figure H). If you wish to upload a file to your Home Server, press the upload button. This will bring up a typical Web-based file browser. From here select the file you wish to upload, choose whether you wish to overwrite files with the same name, and press upload.

Figure H

Access anywhere

As you can see Windows Home Server will give home users access to their home environments in a manner that has previously been available only in corporate environments. This product will be a great addition for anyone with needs to access their home data from anywhere in the world, but who does not have their own IT staff to set it up for them.

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