The Windows Home Server team (WHS) are celebrating as they have released Windows Home Server on schedule and on budget. As they mention on their blog, both the "evaluation version and system builder version will be heading to the distribution channels in the next couple of months".

I highly recommend watching Rory's Channel9 video with Charlie Kindel (GM for Windows Home Server) which gives an excellent overview of Windows Home Server. 

The thing that strikes me about the Windows Home Server is it's appeal to both consumers and enthusiasts who have multiple PCs at home. For consumers this is a box that they simply plug power and ethernet into and it will take care of centrally storing and backing up their pictures, music and media. In addition Home Server can back up their PC file systems (data and operating systems) and be accessed remotely so that they can show their content to friends and family.

I'm staggered to read that the Windows Home Server team blog receives in excess of a million hits per month! That suggests just how much interest there is from the enthusiast community. Enthusiasts can go crazy with Windows Home Server as it's based on Windows Server therefore it can host their own web services and be used for all kinds of things. Enthusiasts and ISVs can extend the functionality of the server in the same way as a regular PC as it's not based on some sort of embedded version of Windows. Charlie gave the example that it could be used for home automation and that the team would help ISVs to get existing applications working where possible.

Windows Home Server takes the form of an "appliance" in that it's a PC without a screen, mouse or keyboard. OEMs will ship dedicated boxes and the expection is that they'll cost around the same as a low end PC though pricing details are down to each vendor to determine. Administration takes place via the network from a Windows PC.

I need to verify this for the shipping product but the expectation is that enthusiasts will be able to build their own Home Server and customise it to their own requirements.

From a consumer perspective something that's really cool is that simply by plugging in an additional USB hard drive they can dynamically increase the available storage - the Windows Home Server will grow the storage pool accordingly without user intervention.

Once you plug a Home Server it it will make the necessary changes to your router to allow the appropriate incoming connections if your device is Universal Plug and Play (UPNP) compatible. Very cool.

My only concern is over the power consumption of a dedicated server running people's homes. I know modern machines are pretty good on their power consumption, particularly when running without a screen but plugging in multiple external hard drives could offset this. I suspect there's a market for a Home Server that's designed from the ground up to use a little power as possible and to make the most of "wake on LAN" capabilities and spinning down disks wherever possible. Use of hybrid storage technology could keep the disk(s) powered down much of the time and CPU power requirements should be low much of the time too.

Jason Burns (author of Philocast) hosts a technology agnostic blog named Philoking - he comments "I have been using Home Server for months and have been pretty impressed. It works great and would be a good fit for a consumer who needs central storage and backup."

Mary Jo Foley explains more in her post including details of announcements of OEMs who'll be shipping their own Home Servers as does Terry Walsh who cites Fujitusu-Siemens and Iomega.