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• October 24, 2007 •

Windows Home Server Review

Windows Home Server At the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas Microsoft showed a preview of Windows Home Server (WHS), a new server product aimed at the 'home user' market. Although WHS has been built on Windows Server 2003 (SP2) code, the user interface has been totally redesigned, and basically revolves around a simple web-based remote management console.

Microsoft is targeting WHS at (broadband) users with two or more PCs at home. Currently when you want to share files across your home network, or even make files remotely accessible, you have to be thinking of getting a Network-attached storage (NAS) device, or setting up a server (either Windows or Linux/Unix). Both of these solutions have their drawbacks in terms of user functionality (NAS) and complexity (server). Microsoft attempts to solve these problems with Windows Home Server.

WHS will primarily come preloaded on hardware like the recently announced HP MediaSmart Server, a small "headless" (no keyboard, mouse, or monitor) home server. Other PC manufacturers are likely to follow. Microsoft has recently released a system builder version, letting enthusiasts build their own solutions.

I beta tested WHS, and am currently running the release version of WHS, and I've been quite impressed by the product. It's not yet perfect: in my mind the single most important feature that's missing from the product right now is the ability for saving backups off-line. But I'm confident that this and other features will be added in future versions.

Let's have a closer look at Windows Home Server!


Simplicity is really the first word that comes to mind when I want to describe WHS. I does not matter whether you get WHS pre-installed with new hardware, or you decide to get the system builder version, and install/configure WHS yourself. If you (like me) choose to do the latter, there is one thing you should keep in mind: WHS is based on Windows Server 2003, so make sure that you have Windows 2003 drivers for the hardware you intend to use. The hardware itself doesn't need to be the latest & greatest. Microsoft says the minimum CPU is a 1 GHz Pentium 3 (or equivalent), although a Pentium 4, AMD x64 or newer processor is recommended (mainly because a Pentium 3 will mean that the rest of the hardware will be quite old, and finding Windows 2003 drivers might pose a problem). The memory requirements are also reasonable at 512MB. Hard drives are important, as they hold the shared files & backups. Get at least two drives (WHS will use duplication for shared folders when it detects two or more hard drives in the home server) to take advantage of folder duplication, i.e. saving two copies of a shared folder on separate hard drives to minimize the chance of data loss in case of a hard drive failure. Your WHS hardware needs to have a 100Mbps (or faster) Ethernet card to connect it to your broadband router/firewall device. You'll also need a DVD dive to install the software, and a monitor, mouse & keyboard.

WHS supports a maximum of 10 user accounts plus a Guest account (which is disabled by default).

I installed WHS on some older hardware I had laying around: A 2003 Asus P4B533-E motherboard with a 2.4GHz Pentium 4 processor and 1.5GB ram. I purchased an additional 400GB PATA drive, so I have a total of three drives in the system with a total storage capacity of 671GB.

I won't describe the WHS installation process, as it is incredibly easy & straight forward. After installing WHS, you'll be installing the Windows Home Server Connector software on the computers you want to connect to your WHS. The connector software ships on a separate CD.

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