Windows Home Server is a great addition to many home networks. Scott Lowe gives you a peek at his home network—based on WHS—and how he uses it.
Steven Warren has written a couple of times recently explaining how to get Windows Home Server running under VMware and polling the TechRepublic crowd about their interest in Windows Home Server. I've been running Windows Home Server for just under a year now and thought I'd take a little time to explain my setup in detail and explain why I use this product when I could also simply build a Linux server to do many of the things handled by WHS.
Late last year, I bought an HP MediaSmart EX470 Windows Home Server for a project I was working on. Prior to buying the MediaSmart system, I had built a custom system with an evaluation copy of Windows Home Server provided by Microsoft, and gave it up in favor of the HP server. The HP MediaSmart systems ship with a paltry 512MB of RAM, but, with a little know-how, it's not all that hard to upgrade to 2GB of RAM, which is almost a must. Frankly, HP will probably have to address the RAM issue at some point and give customers the option of easily expanding the RAM without voiding the warranty. The EX470 ships with a single 500GB hard drive. In order to enjoy the full benefit of Windows Home Server, you really need multiple hard drives. Since installing my server, I've added three more 500GB drives for a total of 2TB capacity. While that sounds like a ton of space, due to the way that WHS uses disk space, it's actually less than it sounds like. This is not meant to be a negative point... just fact.
The MediaSmart server includes a gigabit Ethernet port and I've connected it, as well as my two primary workstations, to a gigabit Ethernet switch. I also use a wireless-N network at home to connect my wife's Windows desktop computer and my MacBook to the network. I run VMware Fusion on my MacBook so I can run Windows programs.
How I use WHS
I save almost everything to my Windows Home Server. I write a lot, so all of my work is stored there, as is my iTunes library, backups of my DVDs and a lot more. All of the computers in my house are automatically backed up to my server, too. I have personally used WHS' client restoration capability to restore a client computer and it's an absolutely fantastic and surprisingly easy to use procedure.
Although WHS Power Pack 1 now includes the ability to backup the Windows Home Server to an external hard drive, a feature that was missing from the OEM release, I've opted to use Windows Home Server Gold Plan ($199/year, but right now, $99/year special) to automatically back up mu Windows Home Server to KeepVault's servers. I've been using KeepVault for almost a year now and am very pleased. The only disadvantage to this method is that KeepVault won't back up files that are larger than 5GB in size, but KeepVault provides unlimited storage space. The only files I have that are larger than 5GB in size are generally ISO files and virtual machine images and, if I so desired, I could take steps to protect even these files. However, for performance reasons, I don't run my virtual machines from my server anyway, although I would give it a shot if WHS included a good way to handle iSCSI.
With the Power Pack 1 release, WHS is finally ready for prime time. Prior to this release, WHS suffered from a serious data corruption bug which, unfortunately, I feel victim to. The resulting damage was more of an annoyance as I had to work around it, but as I said, PP1 fixes this issue and adds some additional capability.
Windows Home Server includes very good remote access capability, too. When I'm on the road for business, I don't have to try to remember exactly which files I need to take with me. If I forget something, I can just browse to my server and get the file. Configuring this capability is a breeze, too, as long as you have a router that supports uPnP, which I do. Otherwise, it would take manual router configuration, making WHS less than desirable for the average home user.
Could I have replicated this functionality with Linux, other open source products and some scripts? Sure. Would it have worked. Well, probably not as seamlessly. Even something like WHS is a tool for me and I've gotten to a point where I just need stuff to work so that I can focus on getting a job done. My WHS system protects my files at two levels-locally in the event of a client failure, and remotely in the event of a server failure-and gives me an easy way to get to my information if necessary.
Although the market need is still somewhat questionable, WHS is aimed at users that lack the technical expertise to build computers from scratch or that want to focus on the end result of the product-a working, stable server. For those that enjoy the thrill of building something from scratch, WHS is probably not for you. For me, however, it's a perfect complement to my clients and perfectly fits my work style.