Understanding Windows Home Server
Dec 10, 2007, 11:52 GMT
Washington - The Windows Home Server operating system may be Microsoft's best-kept secret in years. Although it has been widely available for a couple of months now, chances are good that if you mentioned it to your colleagues or friends, you'd draw at best blank stares or questions. That's a shame, too, because with the growing number of network-connected households with multiple PCs, it has a lot to offer. Read on to learn more.
Q: What is Windows Home Server?
A: Windows Home Server, often abbreviated as WHS, is an operating system based upon Windows 2003 Server, which is geared primarily towards businesses. Windows Home Server, however, is aimed squarely at the home market - specifically those with two or more computers that are networked through a broadband modem or router.
Its goals in life are simple - yet important. Once connected to your home network, Windows Home Server can and will automatically back up, after hours, every PC in the household. And it will keep those backups current by copying any new files that are added to each PC. The operating system comes with a restore CD that can be used in the event that one of the backed up computers dies or otherwise must be rebuilt.
WHS has other tricks up its sleeve, too. I can create a large storage 'pool' of space from any drive you add to the computer on which it is installed. Those drives can include USB 2.0 external drives, as well.
It also uses that storage pool smartly, only backing up files once if they exist on several computer. If three of your computers run Windows XP Pro, for instance, then a lot of files that would be backed up multiple times with a traditional backup will only be stored once on WHS.
WHS will also provide remote access to your server and any computer attached to it through the network. This happens by means of a Web interface and a free domain that Microsoft provides to any purchases of the operating system. Thus if you're at work and forget some files that are stored on your server, you can use a Web browser to log on and fetch them.
Q: Do I need a new computer to run Windows Home Server?
A: Originally Windows Home Server was intended to be sold through PC makers as part of a ready-made server solution. But now you can buy what's called an OEM version of WHS and install it yourself on an old PC.
While the official line from Microsoft is that the hardware requirements for WHS are not steep and therefore an older computer will work just fine, in practice things are not so easy. When Windows Home Server actually starts backing up all the PCs in your house, updating those backups, and then 'balancing' the data - WHS's term for moving it around for effective use of storage - a slower, older machine will quickly be brought to a crawl.
It's therefore best to think of WHS as a demanding operating system that benefits from a fast, new machine with lots and lots of room for storage expansion.
Q: Can I use Windows Home Server as a desktop replacement for Windows XP?
A: You can install programs on WHS just as you can on any normal version of Windows, but the new operating system is not intended to be used as a desktop platform. Doing so, in fact, would not be practical, as some of the heavy disk-based activities performed by WHS would slow your normal work down to an unacceptable level.
Q: Can I back up a computer wirelessly to Windows Home Server?
A: Yes. The backup will probably take longer than if it were connected to your home network with a cable.
The computer on which Windows Home Server itself is installed, however, must be connected to your broadband modem or router with a standard Ethernet cable.
Q: How much storage space should I have in a Windows Home Server computer?
A: WHS stores backups in a proprietary, compressed format, but you should still go through the process of adding up the storage requirements for all of your computers and get at least the same amount of space that would be necessary to duplicate that data without compression.
That's because your storage requirements will grow, and in all likelihood you will want to use your server to store certain data in native, uncompressed format. Your photograph, video, and music collections, for instance, could be stored or backed up to a WHS computer.
Q: What happens if one of the drives in a Windows Home Server dies?
A: WHS has an optional feature called redundancy that will create a second copy of your data. That copy can be used to restore the data should one or more of the drives installed in your WHS computer die.
The downside to redundancy is that it requires twice as much disk space as would otherwise be the case. That's the price you pay, though, for security with the WHS system.
Q: How much does Windows Home Server cost, and where can I get more information?
A: The OEM version of WHS, which you can install on an extra computer at home, retails for around 169 dollars and is available at most good online computer stores - or locally. Computer makers such as HP are also rolling out ready-made units with Windows Home Server installed. HP's MediaSmart Server is one example.
To get more information, it's a good idea to check in at Microsoft's own Windows Home Server forum, where users of the operating system are querying Microsoft representatives about issues they encounter with the new software.
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