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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ease of setup
Ease of backup & restore
Adding extra storage is a breeze
In the initial version there was a data corruption bug Knowledge Base article. This was addressed in Power Pack 1.
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.
Microsoft Technical Library
We Got Served 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.
Home Computer Backup