June 30, 2011

My Windows Home Server Project

Filed under: Windows Home Server — Joe Casella @ 10:27 am

I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks because I decided to build a Windows Home Server and the project wound up consuming a lot of my free time. As I was researching the build I was disappointed to find how few people had written about their experiences with the 2011 version, so I decided to chronicle mine here.

My family has accumulated a lot of devices over time (cameras, mp3 players,eBook readers, computers, Xbox, a real server…) and our files are scattered among them all.  It became a challenge to keep track of what’s where and to make sure it’s all backed up. Creating shared folders and a Windows HomeGroup helped, but it didn’t make sense to leave all the household computers on just in case we need a file, especially since the gaming PC idles at about 145 watts.  Backups eventually involved manually connecting a portable drive to each and running windows backup each weekend.

Network-storage seemed like a natural solution. I’d started shopping a NAS when a friend told me about Windows Home Server. WHS offers all the features of a good NAS: centralized storage and backups, remote access, and streaming, along with a number of additional features such as web hosting and the ability to monitor the health of all the computers on the network.  It’s built off of the Windows Server 2008 r2 base, supports 3rd party plug-ins, and there’s an SDK available–giving me yet another excuse to tinker with PowerShell.  After reading the MS website and a few blogs and reviews, I was convinced that WHS was the way to go.

WHS 2011 is relatively new and there aren’t many pre-configured machines unavailable. The ones that are look like they’re built on previous-generation hardware that meet the system requirements but don’t seem to have much capacity future growth.  Once you add drives they also cost a little more than I wanted to spend, so I decided to build a system from scratch.  My goal was to keep the project as close to $500 as possible, a bit low for a desktop, but attainable for this build because I already had access to the WHS2011 software through TechNet, saving me the $100 cost of an OEM license.

(As an aside, if you build your own PCs, it’s really worth checking out TechNet. You get access to all the Microsoft Operating Systems, Office, and all of the Servers for a single annual fee. It’s been fantastic way to build a study/test environment at home that mirrors the one at work.  If you decide to sign up, make sure you Google around for a discount code!)

In my next post, I’ll describe the hardware I chose and my experience working with it.


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