Chances are you've got lots of digital media, but do you organise it carefully and regularly back it up? Learn how to set up a home backup and media server to streamline your digital life.
We're at an interesting point in the expansion of digital media. For the first time, thanks to more advanced still and video cameras and a proliferation of digital music and movies, non-power users are finding themselves needing a home server to store all their digital stuff and to backup all their data.
While a variety of options have been available to computer hobbyists and power users for years—I can recall friends running Linux-based home servers well over a decade before the average person would have even entertained the notion—none of them are particularly practical or easy to use for a person who hasn't made tinkering with computers a daily part of their lives and an enjoyable hobby. We appreciate the variety of options that are available, but for off-the-shelf ease of use for the millions of Windows-only households out there, it's nearly impossible to beat Windows Home Server.
Getting Your Hands on a Windows Home Server
The easiest way to get your hands on a Windows Home Server is to buy a commercial model. While the range of options in Australia is rather dwarfed by what's sold stateside, machines are available. With the off-the-shelf models setup is as simple as plugging it into your home network and configuring it with a web browser from another machine — but if you really want to know where servers come from, you'll have to check out Gizmodo's coverage of Microsoft's odd but entertaining Windows Home Server PR stunt.
If you want to take a more hands on approach you can build you own, we shared a truly excellent guide from MaximumPC on how to build and configure your own Windows Home Server. You'll definitely want to check it out if you're going to be building your own. I built mine because I wanted a lot of hard drive bays, I already had a case and motherboard/CPU laying around, and because I enjoy building my own computers.
(Click the images below for a closer look.)
Taking Advantage of Windows Home Server
Once you've got Windows Home Server hooked up to your network, you'll want to make sure to take full advantage of the available features. Install the Home Server Connector Software on every machine you want to backup — you can backup a maximum of 10 machines. The installation kit should have a separate disc for the software, but if not you can simple browse to the /Software/Home Server Connector Software/ share on your Windows Home Server and grab a copy. Once installed, you can specify which folders you want backed up and with what frequency. In addition to backup, the Connector software also allows you to remotely monitor the server and access the console for remote management—although once configured you'll rarely if ever need to connect back into the server.
When you add a drive to Windows Home Server it becomes part of a seamless pool of storage. This is a huge deal to people with a lot of media. If you've ever had to configure XBMC or another media extender and plug in the five different shares you had stuffed with music and movies, you'll appreciate the simplicity of all your movies and music simply residing in //WHS/Movies/ and //WHS//Music, respectively. The simplicity of the pooled storage was worth the entire cost of admission as far as I'm concerned.
You can easily configure Windows Home Server to allow remote access and set up guest accounts with limited access for friends and family. It's a handy feature if you want to be able to access your files when you're away from home or share files like family pictures and video with your relatives. The configuration process is extremely clear cut, so you won't accidentally end up sharing your personal documents and pictures along with the family reunion videos.
Enhancing the Console with Add-Ons
Windows Home Server handles things pretty well right out of the box — do any reading about it and you'll find more than a few people joking about how WHS is the "one thing Microsoft finally got right". Still, what computer system can't benefit from a little tweaking? You can find dozens of add-ons for Windows Home Server. Windows Home Server Disk Management, for example—seen in the screenshot above—monitors your disk usage; Lights Out, on the other hand, is a power management tool that makes it simple to schedule shut down times.
The Windows Home Server official site is a bit on the dry side. Since Windows Home Server was largely designed to be installed, configured and forgotten about—literally set and forget—the official site focuses mainly on that and doesn't provide a whole lot of additional information about add-ons and advanced use. Thankfully you'll find a ton of WHS-focused sites populated by people who really love Windows Home Server. Check out some of the following resources to learn more about everything from useful add-ons to how to use Windows Home Server to recover your laptop's now defunct hard drive:
Whether you want an easy to manage storage pool or an automated-backup system to keep your work and family photos safe, Windows Home Server is a simple solution that you can set and forget without having to invest the spare time you don't have into some of the more advanced and archaic server solutions available.
Have a WHS? An add-on you love? Some great tips for deals on hardware or fantastic server cases? Let's hear about it in the comments.