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• October 24, 2007 •

Windows Home Server Review (Part 2)

File Sharing

When people hear the name 'home server' they think file and media sharing. WHS offers this functionality via the Windows Home Server Connector software. As soon as you install the connector software, a shortcut named "Shared Folders on Server" will be placed on your desktop. Your home server is pre-configured with the following shared folders: Photos, Music, Videos, Public, and Software (Figure). WHS uses Samba to share these folders, so other platforms (not only Windows platforms) can access content on your WHS. From the WHS console you can specify the user permissions for these folders and create any number of new shared folders (Figure). As I mentioned above, if you have two or more hard drives in your WHS, any files stored in shared folders are duplicated across multiple drives, protecting you against loss if one hard drive should fail. You can manually configure duplication on a per shared folder from the HWS console.

Remote Access

Another strength of WHS is its remote access capabilities. In conjunction with the Windows Life service, Microsoft offers WHS users a free domain name (in the form of so you can access your home server from anywhere in the world (Figure). You can apply for a domain name during the WHS setup. The only problem you might encounter is that some Internet Service Providers (ISP's) don't allow you (and may actually block key ports) to run a server of any kind on your account. You should check with your ISP about their policies.

For some users WHS remote capabilities can be a convenient way to access shared files (Figure), or connect to other computers on their home network (Figure). I have used this functionality on two trips recently, and it worked flawlessly.

Remote access is available for computers running the following operating systems:

  • Windows XP Professional (SP2)
  • Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005
  • Windows XP Tablet Edition (SP2)
  • Windows Vista (Ultimate, Business or Enterprise)

You can also connect remotely to the WHS console, to check the health of your home network, or to add new users or shared folders to your server.

WHS includes a configuration wizard (Figure) that seems to work fine with the more recent routers (it uses UPnP 2.0), although manual configuration is also supported. And yes, you can also completely disable remote (Web) access (it is disabled by default; you have to specifically enable remote access).

PC Backup

Another main function of WHS is to provide a centralized backup solution for your entire network. WHS will act as the central backup unit for your connected devices: Windows Vista, Windows XP SP2, Media Center PCs (2004/2005 with SP2), and Tablet Edition (with SP2). Microsoft has been able to simplify the backup functions, so that once you have installed the connector software on the client machine, you only have to follow a simple configuration wizard to select which volumes you want to backup (and maybe which folders you want to exclude) (Figure), and WHS will backup your systems automatically (Figure).

Microsoft uses new patent-pending technologies to backup data. On the server, Microsoft is using its Single Instance Store (SIS) technologies from Windows Server 2003 to reduce the backup size (and time) needed. This means that only one file is backed up on the server, even if you have multiple copies of the file (even if on multiple computers). The file will still show in all backups, but only one physical copy will be stored on the WHS server.

Another technique employed by WHS backup is backing up at the cluster level (as opposed to the file level). When a file is changed, typically only a few clusters will change, and WHS will only need to store these new clusters, thus further reducing disk requirements.

You can restore individual files, folders or volumes, or restore an entire PC by using the restore CD supplied.

I have done a full restore on a laptop, and like the rest of WHS it couldn't be simpler. You just reboot the system and start from the Home Computer Restore CD, which will connect you to your server, and by following a simple wizard you can choose the backup you want to use to restore your system.

Of course you can also restore individual files or folders. When you have chosen a backup, WHS will provide you with a Windows Explorer window displaying all the files in that backup. You can just drag and drop files or folders from the backup to the location where you want them restored.

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