I installed Home Server this weekend. It was cool. At the risk of damaging my geek cred, I'll admit that I haven't had a dedicated server running at home for over 7 years now. I ran one once upon a time to act as a router for my home network to the internet, and so I could share a printer. It got replaced by various specialized devices that did the same tasks. I would occasionally enable ftp or web services on one of the home machines and when I had specific requirements, but for the most part, I didn't miss having a server at home. It always seemed a little wasteful to dedicate hardware and keep it on all the time to support occasional usage.
I've casually followed the development of Windows Home Server for early on, but always felt that, while interesting, I wasn't sure it held much value for me. I really got to see it in action during the keynote at IT Forum. It was the remote access stuff that got me interested, as well as the automatic backups. I decided to give it a look.
I wanted to build my server with as much existing hardware around the house as I could. Home Server has pretty modest hardware requirements, so I was pretty sure I had stuff in the garage that would fit the bill. I try to be energy conscious, so I was still concerned about leaving a machine on all the time, so I wanted something that would be quiet and stingy with its power consumption. I dug through some boxes in the garage and found this guy:
It's a 1GHz proc motherboard, with vga/tv-out/audio/nic/etc. all on board. I bought it a few years ago to build a DVR with. At the time, I went cheap with the tv capture card I bought, it didn't support PAL signals (I was living in PAL-land at the time) and the little 1gig processor wasn't quite speedy enough to do quality encoding. I wedged it in to one of these, and it got limited use as a DVD player in our bedroom, but it never got unpacked when we moved back to the US, except to occasionally scavenge components off of. I really liked the idea of using this MB, because it's got only one little fan on the cpu (I have a passive heat sync for it somewhere, but couldn't find it during my excavations this weekend). I don't know how much power it draws, but the power brick I have it connected to is a 60w adapter, so I know it's not more than that. That makes me feel better about my power consumption than if I hooked it up to a standard 400w PC power supply. I cannibalized a 512MB DIMM and DVD drive from another recently retired machine and I was nearly set.
An inventory of the unused hard drives around the house turned up nothing bigger than 80gb, and while I had a couple of those, I knew it wouldn't be enough to even hold backups of the home machines, so I ended up making one purchase, a 750gb drive at Frys. I really should have picked up a couple of them, but one should be enough for now, and Home Server does some clever volume extension stuff that makes it easy to add more storage later.
Installation was pretty painless - Home Server uses Small Business Server 2003 at its core. Once install completed, it had an impressive 27 updates available at Microsoft Update - just standard post SP1 patches for Windows Server 2003. It comes with a separate install CD to run on client machines, so after I ran that on a couple of the home machines, I unplugged the monitor, keyboard, and mouse from the home server and moved it to a shelf under one of the desks where the routers and things are. It's not in a case, just a tidy stack of DVD, hard drive, and motherboard. Eventually I'll move it to a shoebox or some other elegant yet ecologically conscious container.
I was a little disappointed to find that there's no x64 client for Home Server, which means half of the machines at home can't participate in the backups and other benefits of home server. It appears that one is on the way, hopefully soon. Configuring remote access wasn't simple -my home network is a little complex - the server sits behind a double NAT, which means that the auto-configuration for remote access failed. I eventually was able to find out what needs to be configured for remote access - it's just port forwarding for ports 80, 443, and 4125, but it took me half an hour of forum trawling before I finally found them. It's very clever to have auto configuring of routers available, but it should have been easier to find the manual config instructions (in fairness, right on the router config page, there's a link to the help file that tells you what you need to forward. I don't know why it wasn't obvious to me immediately). Backups schedule automatically to run between midnight and 6:00am, but I keep all the machines off at night, so I need to change that to lunch or dinner time.
Overall, I'm pleased with the ease of setup and config. I guess I'm the perfect target demographic for a product like this - multiple machines at home, but no desire to put a full server/domain infrastructure in place. Easy automatic backups and remote access to the network.
two thumbs up.