Windows Home Server for business

This article is targeted to those clients requiring a modest network server environment of 10 or less clients.

In over 24 years of supporting network platforms many clients have requested an affordable total cost of ownership (TCO) server setup. This is subjective to the size of the organization and needed infrastructure, however, I am specifically writing to businesses of fewer than 10 employees.

I will typically talk to these small business owners (this process is referred to as a network discovery) before creating an Request for Proposal (RFP) outlining cost. Creating an RFP for a server environment utilizing typical server software would  involve costs of thousands of dollars for the hardware and software plus the charge for setting up, installing, configuring the system, and training employees how to  access programs and files.

Even with the most modest server implementation, a complete system can cost over $6,000. This price point often shocks many micro business clients. Often these are 3-10 users in a small startup service or retail industry. They need to share an accounting system, payroll and database system,  plus use internet and maybe a proprietary software program. These clients typically have tight budgetary requirements because of startup or upgrade budgets.

Microsoft Windows Home Server (WHS). When I first discovered that WHS Server was intended for the home user, but was, however, built on the Microsoft NT line of server software that  utilizes the same security features  the US Department of Defense uses, I knew there was plenty of power on this seemingly modest offering.

By comparison, Microsoft Small Business Server is a package suite of server products that many small businesses use. This software package averages $2500 depending on the number of users. WHS software retails for $100 but can be purchased with discounts online for about $58 including shipping. It allows up to 10 simultaneous users and it is designed to be installed on workstation hardware that can easily be hundreds, if not thousands of dollars under a typical server install. No need for expensive server grade hardware. Even though Microsoft has discontinued development of this product, the availability and price make it an excellent value. The current version for purchase is a fantastic value, even when future upgrades will no longer be available. If the system configured for your environment works correctly, who needs to or why would you want to upgrade the operating system(OS)?The WHS OS can continue with your company for many years. When, or if you expand, you can easily migrate to a more powerful server configuration.

Windows Home Server installs in under an hour. It is a simple, straight forward installation. I typically use the default setup. Once installed WHS guides you through setting up all the server functionality. An install takes about 10 minutes for each of your client computers,  you run the connection software from the install CD, log onto the server, and then setup nightly automated backups to the server. The setup automatically  downloads  Windows updates not only for the server but for each client.

WHS backs up the operating systems of each computer, the drivers and the data. It has an intelligence that only backups up each file only once, even if that file shows up on many separate computers. This feature saves space on the server hard drive because typically many files are common to more than one system and/or user.

You then add users, which takes literally less than 1 minute per user. I then make a private folder for each user similar to what happens with individual profiles in a Windows Desktop OS. The server has by default a public folder, music folder, videos folder, pictures folder and software folders, automatically setup. I then set up a data file sub-folder in the public folder so all users can easily share files in one location.

Next you go through the 3 or 4 wizards that finalizes the server configuration.

The user settings offer to:

  • Turn on automatic updates
  • Push those updates to the client computers on the network so you only need download each update once and then share the update across your network
  • Configure your router to allow port forwarding to the WHS which will then offer additional services from outside your network
  • Provide a domain name for the server
  • Provide remote access files on the server
  • Allow me to remote tunnel into my own computer on the inside of the network

You can allow WHS to modify the port forward settings in your router. This is faster and easier using the WHS wizard than if you log into to the router and configure the port forwarding separately. You do not need to know the ports or services because the configuration is automatic.

With router ports forwarded, you now press one button to turn on remote access. You then run through another wizard that sets up the dynamic DNS required for the local hosting of your own site. All that was needed is a Hotmail or Live mail account. With this turned on I can now test to see if there is access from outside the network to both the files on the server and the files/programs on each of the computers in the network. It works great.

After it was completely set up, I plugged in a second hard drive. WHS instantly recognized the drive and asked if that drive was for duplication or to extend the size of the data drive. Wow, how intuitive could that be? I then simply setup a RAID mirror. During installation, if using one hard drive, WHS takes about 100 Gb of your drive for the C:/ partition and puts the operating system on that partition. The remainder of of the drive becomes D:/ for the data drive. If you add a second drive for expansion, it can run both drives as a “just a bunch of drives” (JBOD), unless you configure the two drives with a RAID configuration. Configured as JBOD, and if there were a drive failure, you would be unable to access your data. You would need to restore your data after replacing the failed drive. However, you can better protect your data by using 2 hard drives configures in a RAID 1 mirror configuration. If one drives fails, your data is protected until you replace the drive.  The system can protect your data (this is called fault tolerance) even better if you use 3 or more drives. If you have 3 or more hard drives, you can use a RAID 5 configuration, which is has better redundancy that RAID 1. RAID 5 with three or more dives is typically utilized in server configuration requiring a high level of fault tolerance. This type of fault tolerance is included with WHS!

In less than 2  hours of installation, what do you have accomplished?

  • a secure file server with Users and Shares
  • A personal webpage hosted with dynamic DNS service setup and running
  • A remote access point to all files on the network and to all the files authorized on the server
  • Access to remote desktop on any computer on the network
  • an automated backup setup for every computer system
  • shared printer(s) to all network computers
  • a  JBOD or RAID disk drive configuration on the server

In my experience, setting up a traditional Microsoft Windows server can take anywhere from 6-10 hrs. So this is an amazing financial savings for a small, or micro business.

Once setup is complete you unplug the keyboard, mouse and monitor and WHS sits by itself. The server is managed with the remote desktop service. In other words, you manage server functions from one of the client workstations instead of needing a dedicated monitor, mouse, and keyboard for the server.

In conclusion, WHS is a cost effective solution for a small business with budget concerns. Please contact Cost Computing, 561.452.6132 for further information.

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