The tech helper: Building your own backup server (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Feb 1, 2011, 2:06 GMT
Washington - Got an old or underused computer? Repurposing it as a backup or storage server to safeguard the data on the rest of the computers in your household is one of the smartest moves you can make, especially if you don't already back up every bit of critical data each day. There are several routes you can take, though, to getting a backup server up and running. Read on to learn about a few.
Q: Do I need a special operating system or software to convert an unused computer into a backup machine?
A: Probably not. If you'll be using the computer simply as a storage depot, you can use any version of Windows or another desktop operating system. Now, operating systems are not designed with the same requirements in mind as true server operating system, so they won't have features such as automated network backup or built-in file transfer protocol tools that allow you to retrieve files from the server over the internet, but you'll be able to replicate many of these features with open source add-on packages.
That said, if you can spend some money and you're running Windows machines throughout your home, you won't go wrong by buying an OEM copy of Windows Home Server (http://bit.ly/9n4sfH), which you can install on any recent-vintage PC. It retails for about 99 dollars online. Windows Home Server will automatically back up every PC in your home every night, and it contains features that allow you to log in to your home PCs over the internet and stream multimedia files to every computer that's connected to it. It's well worth the investment. You must, however, have a router to which the Windows Home Server machine will be connected by Ethernet cable. Most broadband routers supplied by your internet provider will work.
If you'd like a completely free operating system that's designed for serving and storing files and/or you are running in a household with both Windows and Mac machines, consider FreeNAS (http://freenas.org/FreeNAS). Among its features are built-in software RAID, which, assuming you have two or more drives in your old PC, will automatically create a duplicate copy of everything you store. You'll find detailed instructions for downloading and installing FreeNAS on its website, and you can watch a step-by-step installation video on YouTube as well (http://bit.ly/cQZD8n).
Q: What hardware does my computer need to become a backup server?
A: As a backup server, your computer's most important components will be its hard drive(s) and its network port. Processor power, memory, and graphics are generally of far less importance, assuming the machine meets the minimum specifications of whatever server operating system you decide to use. And once the machine is set up as a server, you won't even need a monitor, mouse, or keyboard attached to it.
Hard drive space, though, will be critical - especially if you'll be using the machine both as a backup device and to stream multimedia files to other computers. The good news: massive, 2 terabyte (TB) hard drives retail for as little as 80 dollars today. Make sure your old computer will support one, and upgrade, if you can.
Also, be sure that your old machine has a functioning Ethernet port. If not, you can pick up one up for relatively little money (5 - 30 dollars) online.
Q: Can I use an old notebook computer as a backup server?
A: Sure. The problem with most notebooks, however, is limited storage space. That said, notebook hard drives with capacities as high as 1 TB are now available for less than 100 dollars. So if you can replace your old notebook's hard drive with a newer, high-capacity unit, and if 1 terabyte gives you enough storage, you can use the unit just like a desktop storage server. Do note that large notebook hard drives invariably use the SATA (rather than IDE) drive interface. So if your notebook is older than a few years, check the type of interface it uses so that you can determine whether the unit's drive can be upgraded.
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