Windows Home Server: At Home in the Office

Don’t let the name throw you. The new crop of Windows Home Server devices could be just what your business needs: Easy-to-set-up centralized storage and backup you can access from within your network or remotely via the Web.
Posted November 20, 2007
By

Jamie Bsales


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What’s in a name? In the case of Microsoft’s new Windows Home Server platform, it could be a whole lot of missed opportunities. With a name like that, the average business owner might not give such a device a second look. But call it “Centralized Storage and Automated Backup for Small Networks, with Remote Access to Files via the Web” and the relevance to your business becomes obvious.

The moniker notwithstanding, Windows Home Server deserves a look for anyone grappling with several PCs and who is tired of shuffling files around via a USB memory device. This special-purpose operating system was developed by Microsoft, and is available now in systems such as the HP MediaSmart Server and NetMagix HQ HomeServer from Velocity Micro, with more makers to follow.

Like other network-attached storage (NAS) devices, a Windows Home Server unit gives you expandable hard drive space that can be accessed by all the PCs on your network. And like a traditional NAS, you also get backup software to load on each PC, so you can make sure critical data is safe should an individual PC go down.


The HP MediaSmart Server
The HP MediaSmart Server, based on the Windows Home Server operating system delivers 500GB or 1TB of expandable backup and storage that you can access remotely.

But Microsoft claims its operating system does even more. For example, the system backs up not just files and folders, but applications and the operating system as well, so recovering an entire hard drive image is easy. Windows Home Server also provides built-in search capabilities to help you find stored files, and the backup process is automatic (just set and forget) and smart enough to back up only the data that hasn’t been backed up before. And instead of just storing the most recent version of a file, Windows Home Server lets you restore a file or folder from a given point in time.

Data Safety Net
These backup features are what originally excited Heather and Doug Jacobson about the Windows Home Server platform. Working out of their home in Fall City, Wash., Doug and Heather each run separate businesses. In 2001, Heather started Northwest Gift Company, which provides gift baskets for corporate clients, special occasions and events. Then in 2003, Doug turned his decade-long hobby into a full-time job with Steamboat Productions, a Web-, video- and graphic-design firm.

“We have five computers between us, but we had no comprehensive backup plan,” said Heather.

With the huge file sizes of Doug’s video projects, backing up was especially cumbersome. “I have several external hard drives for backups, but those would get full, so I would have to go back through the files and decide which didn’t need to get backed up,” said Doug. He would also have to keep track of which projects were on which drives—an inefficient use of time.

In February of 2007, help arrived. Heather and Doug were tapped by Microsoft to be beta testers for the Windows Home Server project. They already had a network in place (four machines connected via Ethernet to their router, and one laptop connected via Wi-Fi), so setting up the solution was easy. Doug plugged the Windows Home Server device into a free port on the router and installed the client software on each PC. The software initiated a backup on each machine, and from then on it's kept each machine’s back-up file up to date.

“I love the peace of mind of a daily backup,” said Heather, “and it’s already saved us on more than one occasion.”

Due to the nature of massive video-editing projects, files can be unstable. “If a project file becomes corrupted, I can lose weeks’ worth of work,” explained Doug. He recently had a file crash, but thanks to Windows Home Server’s continuous backups, he only lost about 30 minutes of work. “Not only didn’t I have to re-do all that work,” he said, “I also didn’t have to miss a deadline to my client.”

“And I didn’t have to listen to him complain,” offered Heather.


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