You’ll want a Windows Home Server. No, really, you will.

Over at ZDNet, I’ve just posted a review of Windows Home Server, which is now in beta. Here’s a snippet:

Microsoft hits a home run with Windows Home Server

Almost without exception, the first reaction when people hear that Microsoft is working on Windows Home Server is, “Why would I want that?” After they see it, the first reaction is much simpler: “I want that.”

So set aside that first skeptical reaction and take a close look at the image gallery I’ve assembled showing the most recent beta release of Windows Home Server in action. The April 2007 Community Technical Preview (CTP) was released to the public last week. I’ve been running it and its previous beta release for more than two months now. In this post, I’ll provide a high-level overview of why this new product has such potential for home Windows users who are drowning in digital media and typically unprepared for sudden data loss.

Go read the rest, and don’t miss the accompanying image gallery, which lets you see why I’m so excited about this product.

20 thoughts on “You’ll want a Windows Home Server. No, really, you will.

  1. I’ll hold final judgement, but from what I can see on your screenshots I’m already doing all of this using a Linux powered InFrant NAS device. Just without the fancy icons or Microsoft idiot popups.

    Shares, User Permissions, Quota’s, Automatic Backup’s, External USB devices…been doing it for over a year.

    Microsoft hasn’t had an original idea in over five years. If this blows you away you need to get out more.

  2. Ah, another charming ambassador from the Linux community. Is there something in the Open Source water that makes you obnoxious, or were you born that way?

    For the record, I’ve seen NAS devices, and this is better than any one I’ve seen. For one thing, I don’t have to install and configure the Retrospect backup software on each workstation. Not only that, but it’s $650 without a single hard drive. The terabyte version is over $1100. Gee, why did you leave that out?

    Bottom line is I could set this up for my Mom and have her up and running in about 15 minutes and be confident she could manage it. Can you say the same?

  3. Ed:
    I have been using the beta for several months and I agree it is a nifty thing. Although now that I’ve had it at home I’m considering installing SBS 2003 instead but I intend on trying to get my clients to consider it. However, I am always amazed at people’s resistance to things they haven’t tried. Of course when their system dies and it’s not backed up it is never their fault.

  4. The server sounds like a great idea. You mention in the article about using Ethernet, yet I can’t help wondering why you don’t try it with a wireless router, especially with the new N version.

    On the issue of backing up your folders at 12am to 6am, wouldn’t it be better to back up when your computer is actually on? I usually power off my computer when I don’t use them.

    The server should have additional uses when it’s not backing up data. How about a Digital Video Recorder? Users should remotely program shows they want to see and pull them for viewing from their remote computers. This way, their own computers can be freed from this task.

    As a follow-on, can the user run programs installed on the Server from their remote computer? You mention an add-in, but this sounds rather limiting.

  5. All I can say it the Linux NAS box has been running for a year 24/7 without a single hang-up or forced reboot…give me a call when anyone has spent enought time with the Microsofts Home Server to say it can do the same. What makes anyone think this will be any more stable then any other Microsoft Windows product…because it has Server in the name or you figure they must of got lucky this time?

    And what are you Ed but a charming ambassador from the Windows community…so don’t come off so high and mighty. I hope you’re ready for lots of calls from you Mom! 🙂

  6. Earl, I don’t know about you, but if Vista’s stability across both of my machines is any indication, it should be just fine.

  7. I have had something similar running with Windows 2000 Server for about five years, but it was quite a bit of work to set it all up. Windows Home Server definitely makes it easier. NAS should be competitive but they price it way too high.

    Putting on my analyst hat, I see Home Server being squeezed from two sides. Geeky guys like Earl are going to use Linux, and some Linux distro will cherry-pick its successful features. Conversely, novices won’t want the hassle of managing another computer in the house; that leaves an opportunity for a service that did this over a broadband connection.

  8. Thomas, wireless is not supported. This is designed to be connected directly at the same location as the broadband modem. Also, you can put your computers in a standby state. They’ll wake up to back up and then go back to sleep.

    Earl, Windows Server 2003 has been running here for two years without a single hangup or forced reboot. Same code base as this.

    Dave, thanks for an excellent summary of the market. I agree completely. I’ve been doing the same thing here with Windows Server 2003 and a mix of software clients, but it’s a lot of work.

  9. Ed Bott wrote “Thomas, wireless is not supported.” I believe this should be clarified to “wireless clients can be supported but the server must be wired”. However, the initial wireless backup may tie up your wireless network until finished.

  10. Richard, you’re right. Thanks for clarifying. In addition, it should be noted that restoring a backup over a wireless connection is not supported or recommended.

  11. Adding in response to Dave’s comment about “an opportunity for a service that did this over a broadband connection.”

    There are already online backup services. However, upload speeds from home PCs via broadband are still way too slow to make full system backups practical. It would take weeks to back up a full system and days to restore it. I’m not sure that reasonable speeds will be achieved even in the next five years.

  12. Is there a reason why using wireless for the restore isn’t a hot idea? I can think of two off the top of my head: 1) interruptions of service and 2) security.

    As far as online backup services go, I actually looked at a few of them not long ago and I concur about it taking way too long to make full system backups practical. User data is one thing, but a full system image is at least an order of magnitude larger if not more so. It’s just far less hassle to do it locally.

  13. Serdar, you need a reliable connection to do a full restore, and wireless just doesn’t cut it. Plus you need to have drivers that will load from a Windows PE environment. WPA security on a wireless connection would add an additional hurdle

  14. I’m disappointed that wireless isn’t offered as an option because that is where the technology is going. There is absolutely no reason to not offer a more secure or reliable wireless connection especially for a “home server”.

    In most homes, they are not modernized with wired connections. At least this is true at my home. I have a pretty good broadband service with my cable company and I share my files between computers (1 desktop and 1 laptop) with a wireless-g router. I would like to see a “home server” have the same set-up, but it sounds like perhaps it would be better to buy a third party solution.

    As for Restore, what’s the difficulty. Shouldn’t the program ensure the files are copied first before starting restore? In this way, problems with sending the files would be reduced. With most home users, lost files can be restored easily. Only with the worst cases would you think a wired connection is necessary such as the full restore.

  15. There are already online backup services. However, upload speeds from home PCs via broadband are still way too slow to make full system backups practical. It would take weeks to back up a full system and days to restore it.

    On the backup/upload side, there will be thousands of users backing up their identical system and application files. The service can handle that by doing a hash on the file and seeing if it’s already stored, and only sending the file if it’s not there. That just leaves unique data and program files to upload.

    For download/restore, there are two scenarios. One is where you just want to grab a few files that got lost or clobbered; you can do that through a web interface. The other is where you lost a drive and need to do a restore; for that situation you have them fedex a stack of DVDs, a removable drive, or (even better) a non-removable drive that you just drop in to replace the dead one.

    I don’t see anyone doing this service the right way yet.

  16. “wireless clients can be supported but the server must be wired”. However, the initial wireless backup may tie up your wireless network until finished.

    How does this make sense? The server is supposed to serve clients. Broadband support to the internet doesn’t add much unless you’re talking about online backups, which doesn’t make sense either.

  17. Dave, see the recent case involving network DVRs for the explanation of why no one has done what you suggest yet.

    I see some online backup services, but they are expensive and are just not ready for this type of application yet. And I will predict that they will not be ready for at least five years and probably longer. Especially given the rate at which disk storage cost is decreasing compared to the rate at which online speeds are increasing.

  18. Thomas, here’s the final word, from Microsoft:

    “You must use an Ethernet cable to connect your server to your broadband router or switch. Wirelessly connecting your server to your broadband router or switch is not supported.

    “After you connect your server to your home network, home computers that are wirelessly connected to your home network can connect to your server.”

  19. On line backup services are potential trouble for many users. Most SMB and residential users have asymmetrical internet connections with much faster download than upload speed. Backups are constrained by the slower upload speed. Additionally, many ISPs will revoke an account they deem to over-use the service. Backups/restores may trigger revocation.

  20. This Home Server sounds pretty good. I wonder if I could run the beta with an old AMD Duron Processor? But only got one computer it would work on. May just keep researching and read about it. I have a decent backup working now. I don’t have time for the extra work of another machine.

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