Review: Windows Home Server nearly ready for prime time

Currently in beta 2, the all-in-one backup, file-sharing and PC-monitoring device brings simplicity and automation to home networks.

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Ready to grow

Microsoft has done a great job of hiding the complexities of server management in Home Server. My test unit had two hard drives, a 60GB drive and a 120GB drive. In a standard PC or server, those drives would appear as separate drive letters, and files moved to the server would need to be explicitly placed on one or the other drive.

The Home Server uses a "drive extender" function that masks the complexity of multiple drives by simply extending the logical space when drives are added to the system. This makes the entire pool of disks appear as a single volume. The bottom line is that users simply place their files in folders without regard to what drive the folders are on.

Two drives appear as one.
 

Two drives appear as one.

(Click image to see larger view)

Microsoft says the server's drive capacity is expandable, and I was able to add a drive to my server by simply opening the box, attaching the cables and powering the server back on. The system automatically takes care of reformatting the drive and adding the new capacity to the pool.

When Home Server is shipped in appliance form, Microsoft wants users to be able to add drives without using tools or opening the box. For example, HP's MediaSmart Server is expected to be available with either one or two SATA drives installed, but with an additional two open drive bays accessible without opening the case. This means you can buy two drives and simply slide them into the available slots in order to add storage capacity. In addition, users will be able to add external drives via both USB and FireWire connections. It is expected that capacity approaching six terabytes can be added without the need to use any tools.

Beta 2: Nearly feature complete

Microsoft announced a relatively short list of features for WHS, including:

  • Automated backup
  • Centralized and expandable storage
  • Ability to access shared folders from anywhere
  • Easy to set up and configure

From my testing, all these features are well supported and function as advertised in beta 2. Microsoft says it expects to ship the final product through its partners with the full set of features intact. Eventual partners named include:

  • Hewlett-Packard Co.
  • Advanced Micro Devices Inc.
  • Inventec Corp.
  • Quanta Computer Inc.

Windows Home Server is slated to be available in "the second half of 2007." That leaves a lot of room for precise timing but definitely puts it into play before the holiday season. Unofficially, sources say they expect to see units on the shelf from HP by late summer. Pricing information isn't yet available, but expect the most significant price differences to reflect the amount of storage capacity in the server.

For my part, now that Home Server is installed on my network, it's not going to be unplugged.

Scott Koegler lives the digital lifestyle in the wilds of western North Carolina, where he writes about computers, computing, software and making them all work together. He can be reached at scott@koegler.net.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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