Windows Home Server 2011 For The Office

I am writing about the new server I set up with Windows Home Server 2011. I had been using a Synology DS210j for the last year, and it has been great. It is encrypted transparently, it serves up the files quickly, and I can access my files remotely. And with one gigabyte of mirrored storage, I can back up all of my computers (three desktops and a laptop) onto the little server.

However, I've been wanting more from my server. My Synology is quickly filling with space due to all the backups. The multiple copies of Windows 7 sure takes up a lot of space! I also have initiate backups from each computer, which gets old very fast. I read about Windows Home Server 2011 being able to take care of up to ten computers on a single network, so I decided to take the plunge when it went on sale for $45.

I bought an AMD based motherboard and processor combo, and reused some hard drives, RAM, and a case I had sitting around. I installed it from a USB key drive, which took a lot of work to get bootable. (You have to use these instructions to get anywhere.) However, installation itself was hands off, and once it was started, I just did other work while the server kept on rebooting itself during the installation process.

A lot has been made of the removal of Drive Extender from WHS2011, which had allowed users to add drives of different sizes to a virtual disk automatically managed by Windows. However, this wasn't a huge problem because setting up a mirrored array was simple as heck. I plugged in the two disks, then went into System Administration > Storage, clicked on one of the drives, then chose to make a mirrored volume. Done!

I then unplugged the keyboard, mouse, and display from the system, leaving it to run as a "headless" server in the corner of my office. I went to my desktop, then went over to http://myserver/connect to, well, connect to my server. I installed the software, and it started up the Dashboard.

From my desktop, I was able to use the Dashboard to configure WHS2011. I could set backups of all the computers from a central location, and I could see if a system was not up-to-date on a patch, then get it to install the updates—all from my desktop! But the backups took up way less space on the WHS2011 server because it doesn't save the same files repeatedly. In other words, I was only backing up one copy of Windows 7 Professional, not four.

I also set up a domain name so I could access my system remotely. That didn't work out too well. Remote Web Access wasn't working yet. However, I was able to access my computer remotely by using my DynDNS address. If only this worked!

As for administering the system, I used Remote Desktop Connection to log in to the server from another computer on my network. This allows the server to be tucked away out of sight without a keyboard, mouse, or display. At the moment, the server works just like the Synology in terms of sharing files but the backup feature is impressive. The backups take up much less space than they did on the Synology.


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