Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Windows Home Server

This may be of little interest to anyone, but the tech item I want to talk about today has been one of the best investments I have ever made.

About a year ago, Microsoft released a new operating system called Windows Home Server. They did so with little fanfare, which is really a shame, as it’s one of the best products they’ve ever released.

Windows Home Server (WHS) is designed to sit in a closet (although we have it in our office) and be a central location for your files, just like a normal server. But it offers many more features that are extremely helpful to the household with multiple computers or connected devices (such as a TiVo or XBox 360).

By far the best feature is the ability to automatically backup the systems in your house. When you install the client onto your other computers, it will prompt you to set up a schedule for backups. At night it will then backup any changes made to each system that day. The backups are bit-level, and are accessible through the server. It automatically keeps 3 daily backups, as well as 3 weekly and three monthly backups. I can easily restore individual files, or in the case of a complete meltdown, there’s a recovery disc I can use to connect to the server and restore the entire system from scratch.

WHS will also monitor the “health” of the systems on your network. If one hasn’t been backed up recently, or has a security configuration issue (no firewall turned on, hasn’t been updated with patches in a couple months, etc.) it will alert you – either through a client, or in the case of my server a little red light.

WHS also allows for remote connections. For me this is extremely valuable, as I often have need to retrieve data I have on the home server while on the road.

Another great use is the ability to have TiVo or an XBox 360 to connect to it. It’s nice to have one central store for my movies and music, as well as a central repository for all recorded TV shows.

The particular WHS that I have is the MediaSmart Home Server from HP. While it’s lacking in RAM (although that’s not a huge issue), it’s plug and play setup is a breeze. Plug in the server to a power outlet and then to your network. Install the software from the CD, which will detect the WHS and walk you through the configuration. Repeat the installation on the other systems on your network and you’re done. What’s also great about this little box is the hard drive bays are little drawers that you pull out to put the new drive in to – which you can do while the system is up and running.

It is a bit of an investment, but for the features and functionality it’s perfect for the person who has multiple PC’s on their network. And just as this video explains, some servers get to stay home and do fun stuff – which is what mine does.

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