Expert guide to Windows Home Server

It’s not often that an operating system emerges almost fully formed, but that’s what happened in January 2007 with Windows Home Server (WHS). Though work on codename “Q” or “Quattro” began in 2004, it was another three years before Bill Gates referred to it it in his CES keynote address.

Expert guide to Windows Home Server

Suddenly, we were presented with a domestic OS that promised not only to manage network storage, but also to automatically back up all of the data on all of our home PCs. Need more storage space? No problem, just add another hard drive to the storage pool. No fuss over drive letters or moving data from one disk to another – it’s handled automatically. What’s more, you could gain access to all your home files remotely via a web browser and even turn the device into a web server, hosting photo galleries for friends to view.

Now, less than a year after WHS first appeared on the radar, it’s ready to go. WHS will generally come pre-installed on a NAS-like device from an OEM manufacturer or system builder, but it’s also available to buy in a system builder version.

On a self-build WHS system, the installation of the server software itself is straightforward – far more like Vista’s hands-off approach than the complexities of Server 2003, and reasonably quick, too. In this feature, we’re going to explore the features and benefits of a completed WHS setup, and how to manage and set up the software for your home network.

Connector and console

Strictly speaking, WHS is a superset of Windows Server 2003, although wholesale changes have been made. New services, as well as a new front end, have been added to make it more suited to domestic use and, much to the chagrin of enthusiasts, many of the more complex elements have been removed, most notably Active Directory support. As far as the average user is concerned, though, he can forget all of that. All the arcane admin tools are safely hidden away, with practically everything you’ll need exposed in just two elements – the client-based Connector and the server-based Console.

Once it’s connected to the network, you’ll need to set up user accounts for each Windows user and then install the Home Server Connector on each client: the installer can be found on the server, or run from the bundled CD.

Once installed, the Connector administers scheduled backups and gives sundry warnings about network health, both on the PC itself and other basic issues on the network, such as a failed backup or disabled Windows firewall. It’s also how you get to the other main component – the Console.

For the most part, WHS runs as a headless device – no monitor, keyboard or mouse – and you won’t be able to connect these peripherals to most OEM devices. Instead, administration is carried out via the Home Server Console, either on a client machine or over a Remote Desktop connection to the server. The latter isn’t advised, however, for the simple reason that launching a Remote Desktop session brings up a warning as to the dangers of exploratory fiddling.

it_photo_17600 WHS offers all the NAS features you’d expect, plus a lot more you wouldn’t.

The first of the Console’s four tabs, Computers and Backup, lists the computers registered on the network, as well as their operating system (XP and Vista are supported) and their backup status. You can also view, start or administer manual and automatic system backups from here, or remove clients.

User Accounts provides control over creating new users, and their local and remote access credentials. Despite Microsoft’s fondness for such things, there’s no admin/restricted user paradigm, although there’s a guest account, which can be disabled.

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