I'm a big fan of Windows Home Server I have run it since beta. I finally finished building and tweaking my configuration and it's time to blog it.
Why would I need WHS? I already had Windows Server 2003 machine in the basement that served as a "always-on" download machine and storage of movies, music, photos and other stuff that doesn't fit or belong on a laptop, so why bother with Windows Home Server?
Features that sold WHS:
- Dynamic disk management - add and remove drives easily and don't bother with leftover space on each drive - with WHS space on all drives is continuous,
- Easy data duplication over drives which is way simpler to do that real RAID - I lost one year of data because of disk failure, I'm don't want to experience that again. I had RAID configurations that were too small but too hard to expand. Not anymore with WHS.
- Automatic backups of all machines in our home.
Windows Home Server Software
There is a lot of talk about Windows Home Server on the web, but people almost exclusively run it on HP MediaSmart Home Server. Since I really don't need another machine and HP in my country doesn't even sale them, I bought an OEM version of Windows Home Server and build a server from old machines lying around our home.
Buying software was not easy. None of the MS Partners I talked too would sell me one without hardware (for now WHS only comes as OEM version!), even that some sales guy at Microsoft I talked to said they could.
I was in dead end so I bought it from eBay.de and paid ~130 EUR for German version. I downloaded English .ISO from Pirate Bay and used serial from my original German version and it works just fine.
I took apart couple of old machines, bought 2 new drives, stirred and shook and this is what I run at the moment. It looks and runs pretty good and so far 100% stable:
- AMD Athlon 2000+ processor,
- 768 MB of RAM,
- a bunch (~2 TB) of disks:
- 2 x new 500 GB Western Digital
- 2 x old 200 GB Western Digital (joined in RAID0 on FastTrack TX2000 controller)
- 2 x old 120 GB Western Digital (joined in RAID0 on FastTrack TX2000 controller)
- 1 x old 80 GB Western Digital,
- for good measure I also added external 300 GB Western Digital disk that serves as a "off-server" backup.
- 2 fans for extra cooling of the drives (not really needed, since it will run in the basement where is quite cold all the time).
To help me figure out the best disk arrangement I installed two WHS plugins - WHS Disk Management, Duplication Info.
Disk Management lets you create a cute diagram of your server's disks as you can see on a picture above. Duplication info add-in isn't very pretty or fun, it just shows on which disk you file physically is.
These are so far the only add-ins I run. I tried several other, but nothing that I would really need or like. Not even uTorrent add-in. If I need access to uTorrent I simply open remote desktop connection and do what needs to be done.
This is where the fun starts. WHS is a regular Windows Server 2003 machine so you can slap just about any software on it that runs on Windows. Here is a list of what I run.
uTorrent takes care of my P2P, podcast and other downloads. Bad news is that uTorrent kind of breaks Drive Extender from time to time. It writes to disk to fast and shadow copy service can't follow.
The trick is to have a separate drive that is not controlled by WHS and let uTorrent use that as a download location. That's why I have that extra 80 GB drive that is "not added" in first screenshot.
SyncBack backs up most important data to external USB drive. That drive will end up away from server for extra protection and I'll SyncBack-it manually.
I also sync some of my data on server with work machine. It works alright and quite fast over Hamachi VPN.
I joined home server, my laptop and work machine in VPN. I can access all my data easily and fast from work. I have tried more than a dozen solutions for WAN sharing, but Hamachi wins easily.
For data that I need synced all the time (shared documents, portable tools,..) I have been using FolderShare for couple of years now. It's fantastic and it just works.
I can't run it in console session, it complains that it can't create mutex (There was an error starting FolderShare (CreateMutex failed).). It runs ok in any remote session which is fine with me.
External drive is encrypted with TrueCrypt. I can grab it and run with my photos, music and so on. If I manage to loose the drive, my private data is safe from strangers.
It's just Windows Server 2003 so you can configure your router to allow RD and connect to it from anywhere. I do that all the time. It's fast and easy with mRemote.
WHS also has it's own remote access feature which I don't need/use at all. I host some simple web pages on IIS on separate Web Site (different host header or port).
I love my new server. It hums in the basement and it just works.
Wife likes is too (that's always a good sign, right?!), she feels safe with automatic backups and can easily access photos, video and music.
WHS is a great idea and I'm sure that it will be expanded and improved over time. For example, there is Ubuntu Home Server is in the making. That will push M'softies hard for their money. So we, consumers, win!
I would like a DVD / DivX player with USB + Ethernet connection that would know how to browse share photo, video and music collection. It has to be cheap, not ugly and silent. I haven't found anything like that yet. Any suggestions? Xbox360 came closest but WAF is super low at the moment.
One day I'll slap Filezilla FTP Server on there for easy file exchange with friends and such.
The word on the street is, that major update to WHS is in the making that will make it even better. Fine with me.