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Review - Windows Home Server (WHS)

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Thread started 08 Jul 2008 (Tuesday) 06:25   
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Greg_C
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I've recently set up a Windows Home Server (WHS). Based on Small Business Server 2003 (still has some of the SBS badging during install:rolleyes:) it is targeted at the family that have several computers in the house and want a simple file share and backup functionality. A single WHS system allows you to connect 10 home PC's to it.

http://www.microsoft.c​om ...shomeserver/feature​s.mspxexternal link

I've been starting to outgrow my storage solution. My primary machine is my laptop and I have been keeping the images that no longer fit on the laptop on a series of external HD's, one of which is stored off site. My storage needs have been growing at by about 30% a year. I've been thinking about how best to solve the space issue, I was thinking about upgrading one of the family computers in the house or buying a NAS. A friend put me onto a newly released Microsoft product called Windows Home Server (WHS).

Install
On my brand new box it took about an hour to install. You then have to install the Console app onto each of the home PC's, this only takes a few minutes. In about a hour and a half I was up and running.

Backup
Automated nightly backups to the server from all PC's connected to it. These start at a time of your choosing (default 12pm) and image your PC to the server. Incremental changes are then saved on subsequent nights. You then choose to how long to keep the daily, weekly & monthly backups. It does a cleanup every Sunday and removes any older backup or ones you've flagged for deletion. I haven't had to test this out and hope I don't, but from my research on the web it's a simple process. You can restore a complete image or individual files and folders. It's smart enough to recognise that the OS and other files on multiple PC's don't need to be backed up individually so this saves a lot of space.

PC Recovery
This is very simple from the backup and a supplied recovery CD. The recovery CD is also stored on the server as a ISO so you can burn a copy. You could loose a HD in a machine, install a new one and then recover from your last backup without having to reinstall all of your apps. Obviously you miss out on any speed advantages you'd get from a clean install but it's quick and easy. You can even upgrade HD this way, ever wanted to replace a HD but didn't want to go through the pain of re-installing all your programs?

Drive Extender
This is a very cool part of WHS. WHS reserves 20Gb of the Primary partition for the OS, the remainder of this drive and all other drives become part of a pool. To all other machines on the network the server appears to only have one drive. You can plug in a new 500Gb HD, go to the admin console tell the server that the new drive is to be part of the pool and you now have 500Gb more storage. The server will then try to Balance the load on the drives in such a way that the Primary partition is used as little as possible. This Primary partition is called a landing zone and is the area where you copy your files to. This is quite a complicated area and is fully explained in the Technical Brief at the bottom of the page.

Duplication
One of the first things I did after switching on the server was to copy my photos to it. If you have two or more hard drives on your home server, WHS ensures files stored in shared folders are automatically duplicated to multiple hard drives. In my two 500Gb HD WHS system I have copies of the images on both HD's, but to the other networked PC's they appear only one. The thing I like about this is the are not encrypted in any way, I can remove the 2nd HD and plug it into another machine and all the files are there.

File Sharing
Share areas are created for the users you add on the server. I have my music on the server and this is shared to my son's XBox, which is in turn connected to the Home Theatre. The achieved digital photos are stored on the share area of the server and my Image Management DB IMatch has been repointed to look for them there. For now I've copied my IMatch DB and are running it as a test version. In this version I've re-mapped all of my normally offline to the share area on the server. Access time for jpgs is good over wireless to the laptop. Raws are a little slower. I wouldn't store the IMatch DB on the server until the Power Pack1 is released due to the Data bug (see below). The Power Pack also had a easy method to back up the WHS machine itself to external HD's. Currently I have a external HD that is my off site backup so this will slot in nicely to my workflow.

Remote Access
An area that I haven't explored is remote access. WHS can be configured to allow remote access via the net. Your files on the share would be available to you from anywhere in the world with a internet connection. You can also manage the WHS and connected PC's via a ActiveX control in IE7. I have been using Remote Desktop to get into the server also but for most things I can simply use the Console on my laptop to look at the server.

Webserver
Another area that I haven't explored yet. A basic Webserver is built in also. You can setup <domain>.homeserver.com in a couple of clicks.

Addins
There are a growing number of addins available for WHS. There is one that will automatically upload photos in a given folder to your Flickr account. Drop a new file into this folder and it loads to Flickr. Another adds missing mail server functionality. Others extend the Media sharing funtions such as TiVO, or add Torrent functions to the console.

Pros
Ease of setup
Ease of backup & restore
Adding extra storage is a breeze

Cons
In the initial version there was a data corruption bug Knowledge Base articleexternal link. This was addressed in Power Pack 1.

Conclusion
I'm very impressed by the ease of use and features. It suits my current needs and has the ability to grow as my needs grow.

Further Reading
Microsoft Technical Libraryexternal link
We Got Servedexternal link An excellent resource for WHS information.

Microsoft Technical Briefs
These are well worth the read to get an insite into the technology behind WHS. The drive extender is very interesting.
Remote Accessexternal link
Media Sharingexternal link
Drive Extenderexternal link
Home Computer Backupexternal link
Home Networkingexternal link

Post #1, Jul 08, 2008 06:25:18


Greg
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coalcliff
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Cost???

Post #2, Jul 08, 2008 07:30:55


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NerdyNigel
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Good job Greg, glad it is running well.

Cost is $225AU

Post #3, Jul 08, 2008 07:33:12 as a reply to coalcliff's post 2 minutes earlier.


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tommykjensen
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Good work.

Greg_C wrote in post #5870874external link
Webserver
Another area that I haven't explored yet. A basic Webserver is built in also. You can setup <domain>.homeserver.com in a couple of clicks.

Thats a bad thing because this means even more badly run and maintained websites on the net.

Cons
Data corruption bug (fix coming in the Power Pack1, in beta testing now) Knowledge Base articleexternal link. When certain programs are used to edit or transfer files that are stored on a Windows Home Server-based computer that has more than one hard drive, the files may become corrupted. Microsoft is aware of only a very small percentage of users who have confirmed instances of this issue and believes that most users are unlikely to be affected. Microsoft has established that this issue may occur when one of the following programs is used to edit, transfer, and save files to the home server.

This is a biggie and is likely to scare people away, from my research it's possible to work around this issue until the Power Pack1 is released.

This is definately a bad thing too.

Post #4, Jul 08, 2008 07:45:13


EDITING OF MY PHOTOS IS NOT ALLOWED
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Greg_C
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coalcliff wrote in post #5871108external link
Cost???

My box cost about AU$1100 and this included the WHS ($225). WHS allows you to connect to 10 PC's.

On the We Got Served forum there seems to be a few people that have put one together on a old PC or stuff they have laying about.

In the US there seems to be a growing market for WHS boxes, HP seems to be the leader in this. I didn't look for a out of the box solution here in Oz but I don't think they are common.

Post #5, Jul 08, 2008 07:48:45


Greg
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coalcliff
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thanks for that.

Post #6, Jul 08, 2008 17:30:28


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jaykkub
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Does anyone know if there's a way to get WHS to backup a Mac computer on the network? Is their an add-on program that'll do that?

Post #7, Oct 29, 2008 18:00:46


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Matthew62024
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I got this from here http://forum.wegotserv​ed.co.uk/index.php?sho​wtopic=3339external link

"WHS will *only* back up NTFS basic partitions. So it will not backup up the OS X or bootcamp partition. At all. You can however use time machine to back up to a network share on the WHS."

We Got Served is a great site and has many answers for WHS questions. I searched around the forums for a bit and found that.

So it sounds like the simple answer is that it will, just not like it does Windows PCs. You need to use the apple program to backup the Mac to a shared drive on the WHS. This may be even better since then you could turn on duplication for that shared folder and duplicate your Mac backup. As far as I know you can't easily backup your Windows PC backups on WHS.

Post #8, Oct 29, 2008 18:31:24


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NorCalAl
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I ordered this from MS about three weeks ago. They offer a six month trial install. I have a decent extra machine to install it on and I'm patiently waiting for the install to arrive. I have a NAS unit (a Linksys NSLU2) with a 1.25gb on it, but it's pretty flaky. I'm hoping to get something more stable for backups. Asking for stability from MS is a crapshoot, I know, but I can hope!
So Greg, are you saying if there are multiple drives that it basically acts as a raid setup with the multiple copies of the directories? Can you pick and choose which directories it does this with or are you essentially going to only have half your drive space? I don't really mind that, but I'd like to know.
How does it show up on your network? Can you map drives to it or is the console install the only path to the box?

Post #9, Oct 29, 2008 18:51:21


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Matthew62024
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1. I currently have 2 x 1TB drives installed and the duplication option does duplicate the files meaning you have half the storage space. You can turn duplication on or off for each shared folder. I don't know if the space duplication takes up changes if you have more then 2 HDs, maybe someone else can answer that.

2. Stability hasn't been an issue for me with my WHS. I have had it running for over a month now (I know thats not real long) and no problems yet. I don't use the WHS as a "PC" meaning I don't browse the net, listen to music, or play games on it. It sits in the corner or the room with no monitor, mouse, or keyboard. I only connect those items if I need to but haven't had the need to since getting everything set up. I think this is a good stable build and as long as you use it as a server and not a PC you shouldn't have a problem.

3. The shares can be mapped as drives. I have the default folders (Public, Photos, Music, and Videos) and my user folder. Each separate user has their own user folder for their personal items. The console install is to manage the server. You don't really use it to get to the share folders. You just use it to set up the share folders, manage backups, manage users, and such.

Overall WHS is a great option if it works for you. I love it and have a Buffalo Terastation that WHS is replacing. It is a "sever" which has more options then a simple NAS like the linksys or buffalo option. I built the PC and bought the OS for around $850 which was less then a new Buffalo Terastation with 2GB of storage so I think it is a better deal.

One thing to know is that their is no easy way to go from the trial to a full copy of WHS. The only option that I know of is to re-install the OS. This will not delete the share drives, but will remove all your settings and users you have set up. It works, but is not the best way it could of been done. I wish you could just enter the new key and be done with it. I decided to format my whole computer after my trial and start over new, share drives and all.

Hope that helps.

Edit: Also wanted to point out that the original post is a little old so I don't know if you will get a reply from Greg.

Post #10, Oct 29, 2008 19:44:20


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NorCalAl
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Thanks much Matt! I didn't know about the trial version to full copy issue. Go figure MS for that one. But the rest sounds promising. I may just order a full version and not wait for the trial to get here.

Post #11, Oct 29, 2008 19:58:11


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Matthew62024
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The trial is worth playing with, but I wouldn't take the time to transfer everything you have over to the server if you are going to want to start fresh with the full copy. Let us know what you think when you try it out.

Post #12, Oct 29, 2008 20:31:26


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Greg_C
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I went straight for the full version and skipped the trial. Mine has now been running happily for 4 months now. I don't have my server running 24/7 though. I usually turn the server on over the weekend when I do most of my shooting ie to backup what I have shot.

Effectively I have three copies of my photos on the server. I have duplication switched on for my photos and my recent photos are backed up up to the server also. Of course two copies of these are on the same physical drive.....

I'm going to add 1Tb disk to the system very soon.

Post #13, Oct 30, 2008 03:22:04


Greg
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Greg_C
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I added the 1Tb disk to the system today. Totally painless experience, the hardest part was move the internals aside to fit the new HD into the spare drive bay. Once I powered up the system first the first time after the new drive was installed I loaded the Console app from my Laptop and went to the server storage tab. The new drive had been recognised by the system and it asked me if I wanted to add it to the Pool. After about a minute I had 1Tb of extra space. As you can see in the first screen cap I still have three spare bays to add extra drives.

Here's a couple of screen caps
This is the console app that you run from your PC's
This is a Disk Management Add-in (free) that gives you a different view of your system storage.

IMAGE: http://www.steadyhands.net/share/manage.jpg

The Standard Storage Window, you can see the % of storage space used by Shares, Dup, and PC Backups etc.
IMAGE: http://www.steadyhands.net/share/storage.jpg

Post #14, Nov 08, 2008 01:17:28


Greg
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bphillips330
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Greg_C wrote in post #6646274external link
I added the 1Tb disk to the system today. Totally painless experience, the hardest part was move the internals aside to fit the new HD into the spare drive bay. Once I powered up the system first the first time after the new drive was installed I loaded the Console app from my Laptop and went to the server storage tab. The new drive had been recognised by the system and it asked me if I wanted to add it to the Pool. After about a minute I had 1Tb of extra space. As you can see in the first screen cap I still have three spare bays to add extra drives.

Here's a couple of screen caps
This is the console app that you run from your PC's
This is a Disk Management Add-in (free) that gives you a different view of your system storage.
QUOTED IMAGE

The Standard Storage Window, you can see the % of storage space used by Shares, Dup, and PC Backups etc.
QUOTED IMAGE

I have to look at this option! is there a way to use lightroom and have lightroom use teh datafiles from another computer?

Post #15, Nov 21, 2008 17:13:34


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