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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?

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.

Server Hardware

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).

HomeServer Server Storage  

Add-Ins

To help me figure out the best disk arrangement I installed two WHS plugins - WHS Disk Management, Duplication Info.

2

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.

Other Software

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.

image

uTorrent

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 Freeware

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.

Hamachi

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.

FolderShare

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.

image

TrueCrypt

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.

Remote Access

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).

Result

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!

Future?

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.

 

Posted on Saturday, February 02, 2008 12:41 AM | Filed under: Software System |

Feedback

# re: My Windows Home Server configuration and experience so far 2/3/2008 4:11 PM dejan
Wii + Orb for Wii?

# re: My Windows Home Server configuration and experience so far 2/4/2008 1:30 PM markvader
Re: 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.

I used my original Xbox (soft-modded) with XBMC to play all files from my WHS. worked a treat up until my demo licence for WHS ran out and i went on the look out for another free home server setup. dont know if anything will work so well as WHS but im up for trying anything once.

# re: My Windows Home Server configuration and experience so far 2/4/2008 2:02 PM David
@markvader: tnx for your input. When you find something interesting, please report back!

# re: My Windows Home Server configuration and experience so far 2/4/2008 5:27 PM John Miller
You told us, "uTorrent kind of breaks Drive Extender from time to time" because of WHS.

You talked about how Foldershare doesn't, "can't run it in console session" as well.

However, the biggest question is, if you are wanting to browse, share photos, videos and your music collection, why isn't WHS doing that for you, as you say, "I haven't found anything like that yet".

So what is WHS good for, unless for testing what actually works and needs to be fixed, like the DATA CORRUPTION serious flaw that haven't as yet since April 3, 2007 been resolved?

See: www.support.microsoft.com/kb/946676

What person in their right mind would want to subject themselves with their family photos, videos and financial data files to data corruption?

Why is Microsoft NOT fixing the data corruption flaw? Has this something to do with the WHS Drive Extender Technology which you have also noticed to cause problems with uTorrent?


# re: My Windows Home Server configuration and experience so far 2/4/2008 9:47 PM David
John, WHS is not in beta. It's RTM / GOLD or whatever you want to call it.

I believe it's FolderShare's fault it doesn't run in console session, since it hasn't been updated in ages. No one said you can install extra software on WHS, but I did it anyway so it's kind of a hack. But it still works for me, so it's not a real problem.

I didn't say WHS doesn't let me browser photos and so on. My DVD player doesn't know how to do that. WHS is a server not a media device you would connect to TV. It's not a media center!

About that bug - yes, it's scary that you can loose your data. But if you read the support article, you'll see that it happens only under very special currcumstances, and I haven't read that anyone actually lost data on WHS because of this bug. So don't really worry about that. Plus, there is a big bug fix + new features updated scheduled in couple of weeks that will fix this and some other glitches. It's 1.0 product and we all know Microsoft (and other companies too, lets be fair) needs couple of iterations before the product in rock solid stable. I'm a developer and I understand why and how that happens. It's the state of the industry and we all fight to change that. It's going to be a long and hard battle.

uTorrent (and other similar programs) stresses hard disk a lot. And because of Drive Extender you really shouldn't use direct accesss to local drives. If you use network access it works just fine, but adding extra drive is better, faster and cleaner solution. So again a hack. No worries.

# re: My Windows Home Server configuration and experience so far 2/8/2008 3:47 PM Brian King
Does it play nice with Mac and/or Linux machines connected?

# re: My Windows Home Server configuration and experience so far 2/8/2008 11:44 PM David
It's only a Windows share to them. I don't get backup features, though.

# re: My Windows Home Server configuration and experience so far 3/21/2008 6:24 PM Dan
I am using uTorrent and instead of setting my default download directory to a drive (i.e. D:\DE\Torrents) I set it to save to the default directory \\whs\Torrents and it works fine. I have not had an issue since I installed WHS when RTM was released.

# Does it play nice with Mac and/or Linux machines connected? 8/29/2008 3:09 PM Walter Wirl
I use an external USB-Drive connected to my Windows Home Server for Time Maschine Backups on my MacBook via WLAN.

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