Have you considered buying/using a server at your home? Though you can buy a low-cost hardware server, actual server capabilities are provided by the software running on that server. The Windows Home Server (WHS) 2011 is one such moderately priced server software that can give a number of functionalities to your small home network having 2-10 users/computers.
Important uses of Windows Home Server (WHS):
- Store media (audio/video/multimedia) and files in a central location (on the server) which can be accessed from any computer connected to the home network. So, there is no need for a separate NAS box for centralized storage.
- Back-up files/data from all network connected PC’s either completely or selectively, every day. This back-up can be automated and hence there is no need for any manual intervention. Even the OS/data/applications on the server can be backed up.
- Movies/music and other multimedia files can be streamed to any PC on the network from the home server. Users need not always have to download media to their computer in order to see/listen to them. They can just open the file hosted on the server, and the file will be streamed (played) over the network without copying itself to individual PC’s. This eliminates the need for storing duplicate copies of media in multiple computers.
- Remote access to the files/media stored on the home server (in shared folders) from a remote computer over the Internet.
- Recover lost files on any of your computers, restore your PC to how it was on the previous day, previous week, etc in case of virus/software corruption. Even restore the OS/applications/data on the server to a different machine in case of fire/disaster.
- Monitor the performance/health of each of the connected PC’s (on the network).
- Centralized management dashboard/widget interface that makes all tasks easy and simple to accomplish.
- Windows Home Server 2011 add-ons extend the server functionality by providing additional services like online cloud storage/backup, suspending/waking-up the server when it is not working/needs to be up, etc. But most of these add-ons come at additional cost.
Advantages of Windows Home Server (WHS) 2011:
- Centralized storage/backup/recovery for operating systems, applications and data on the connected PC’s and on the server itself using an easy to use dashboard extending the familiar windows environment. A whole family can have a common collection of media files in shared folders and certain files can be kept private, if required.
- Streaming of media files to any connected PC and remote server access (over the Internet).
- The Windows Home Server 2011 software is based on the more popular/enterprise grade Windows Server 2008 R2 which is reliable and stable.
- The Windows Home Server 2011 is hardware independent. Provided the minimum hardware specifications are met, one can load it on a PC, micro-server or server hardware. Micro-servers/servers are preferable because they come with high performance/high reliability based technologies and most of them are optimized for 24 x 7 operation.
- Using the WHS, it is possible to set up two hard-drives in mirroring (or RAID 5) configuration. So, even if an individual disk fails data is not lost as can be rebuilt from other disk(s).
- WHS 2011 can do incremental backups. That means, same data from multiple computers are not stored again and again while performing a back-up but instead only a pointer to the already stored data is used. One can expect to save a lot of disk space due to this feature.
- It is possible to backup individual files or the whole PC (along with OS, applications and data) as a single image.
- It is possible to access data/files stored in Windows Home Server 2011 using a web-based client in a mobile phone (Windows Phone 7 client is natively supported).
- It’s a reasonably priced server software and is sufficient for limited user networks at home.
- WHS 2011 doesn’t have advanced networking features like DNS, DHCP and Active Directory found in advanced versions.
- It supports a maximum of 10 PC’s/users and all of them need to have Windows OS.
- It supports a maximum size of 2 TB for each hard disk attached to it.
- Backup’s don’t work with smaller portions of a larger drive. An entire hard drive is needed to configure backup.
- For remote access, it needs a PC with Windows7/Vista/XP (SP3) Pro or Ultimate versions.
Hardware configuration: Minimum system requirements: 1.4Ghz x64 processor (64 bit); 2 GB RAM (Max supported RAM – 8 GB); 160 GB Hard disk drive. For health monitoring to work, WHS connect software needs to be installed in each connected PC.
Many users consider a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device instead of Windows Home Server 2011 software + custom PC/server hardware. Considering the low cost and features offered by Windows Home Server 2011 for home users, it’s a steal if you already have a spare computer/server that can be used with the WHS 2011. The best option is perhaps to buy a Micro-server along with the Windows Home Server 2011. If you want to buy the Windows Home Server 2011 software in the United States, do check the best price offered by Amazon for WHS 2011.
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