From the Oct. 2007 Issue
It was with some flair that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates introduced Windows
Home Server to the mass of attendees at this year’s Consumer Electronics
Show in Las Vegas last January. Since I was there, I suppose that was my first
look. After the introduction, the product was demonstrated on the floor of the
show. It’s an interesting attempt by Microsoft to address some real concerns
for home users (and maybe small accounting firm users), hence the name Windows
Home Server. Those concerns are storage, backup and remote access. I finally
got my hands on the release candidate software last week and have had a chance
to load and test it, hence my second look albeit a much more in-depth experience.
My impressions: Charlie Kindel and his team have done a pretty good job with
this one. As near as I can tell, this product is some sort of hybrid taking
the technologies from several other Microsoft products and bringing them together
in a package. It looks to me like Small Business Server with a foundation of
Windows Server 2003 and some nifty wizards for setting up users and shares,
with some Storage Server and Data Protection Manager thrown in perhaps. A stated
design goal was to keep these setup wizards so basic that even Mom could handle
Perhaps they added some of the Windows Storage Server technologies allowing
for adding storage ‘on-the-fly’ when existing drive(s) fill up.
I tested this by connecting both an external USB drive and an internal IDE drive.
In both cases, the Windows Home Server saw the drive and gave me the option
to add it to my existing drive. After adding the drive, the total space on the
original drive (C:) was larger by the size of the drive I added. Pretty nifty!
When I run out of space, which it seems I always do, I just add more storage
and the software technologies (referred to as Drive Extender) expand my single
drive. No more remembering which drive a particular file or folder is on. This
physical drive spanning makes the whole process much easier for the end user.
Design goal achieved.
I noted that adding a drive like this didn’t seem to provide protection
against a drive failure; rather, it appeared that if a drive failed I would
lose the data on that drive. I did, however, have the option of duplicating
folders, which, when selected, put a copy of the folder and its contents on
both drives. This process would provide protection against a failed drive, but
it would require twice as much space for protected folders. Windows Home Server
also employs the Volume Shadow Copy technologies introduced in Windows Server
2003. If a file is changed or deleted, it can be recovered using the Previous
Versions Client — good stuff. For backup, there must be components of
Windows Data Protection Server in there, particularly the Single Instance Store
(SIS) technology that reduces the size of these ‘snapshots.’ I tested
this feature by executing a manual backup of a connected machine. I was impressed
at the speed of the backup and also tested a restore after completely wiping
the drive of my test machine. I booted the machine from the Windows Home Server
recovery CD and then walked through the restore wizard. The restore went fairly
quickly and put the connected machine right back to the state it was in. This
is all pretty good stuff, as well.
Windows Home Server is designed to run ‘headless,’ meaning you
plug it in and configure it by connecting to it remotely. This process worked
well, although I did have to connect a keyboard, mouse and monitor to the machine
to accomplish the installation. The final design goal was that of remote access.
This must have also come from Small Business Server’s Remote Web Workplace.
I connected an old Linksys router to the Internet and walked through the wizard
included in Windows Home Server for configuring my router for remote access.
The wizard did its job, and the router was configured to forward traffic to
the Windows Home Server. I tested this by typing the IP address in a web browser
and got the logon page (see Figure 1). After logging on, I had a page that gave
me the option to view content of shared folders or connect to computers as shown
in Figure 2.
I also had the option of registering a domain-like name with the Windows Live
service. This is a pretty amazing free service that uses Dynamic Domain Name
Service (DDNS) to funnel traffic to my Windows Home Server without having to
remember its IP address. So I type in a friendly name and get to my home server.
If you want to look into this go to http://domains.live.com and check it out.
As part of my testing, I used this remote interface to upload and download some
files, and the process worked seamlessly.
Finally, the Windows Home Server monitors the health of your connected machines,
including the health of the hard drives. If the connected machine is running
Windows Vista, it will report the complete status of the Security Center. The
biggest challenge for those of you who are intrigued by this new product may
be getting your hands on one. Initially, Microsoft announced that the product
would only be available through original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), which
means you can’t purchase the software only and load it on an existing
or new piece of hardware. But, as you know, Microsoft has been known to change
its mind, and I would be surprised if there isn’t a retail release of
the software in the future.