The Home Server Challenge

Posted on August 3, 2011

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There is hardly ever a meeting now that I go into where discussions at breakouts do not digress into personal computing subjects. Popular ones being security, social media, mobile devices and home user data storage.

Herewith a personal angle on the Home Server / data storage discussion.

Oh yes, I have been asked why not use the cloud DropBox, Box.net, SkyDrive amongst other more enterprise solutions available out there. For consumers it is cost and bandwidth. I have many Terabytes of photos and home videos, to put this on Cloud Storage would cost a fortune, not to mention make them un-usable trying to pull them across my 1.5Mb DSL (a 10Mb Broadband package that actually averages out at 1.5mb, the cost of living in the country).

For the benefit of a few clients and to give me something to point future clients at for my own efficiency, herewith some shared personal experience. Please note this is just one solution to a problem that can be solved with more permutations than stars in the constellations so I do not profess to it being definitive by any means.

For me home data storage has been about:

1. Redundancy – making sure my data is not dependent on a single hard drive failure.

2. Secure – providing trusted levels of access controls, not that I don’t trust my family I want to have an environment I can open up to visitors and share photos and family movies etc.

3. Client Backup – Have a convenient backup solution that will back up my entire home PC estate (x9) and Mac’s just point their Time Machine at a shared backup location so voila!

4. Convenience – having a solution that is easy and self-managing to a large extent, allowing family users to self-serve. With a simple backup restoration process as essential.

5. Remote access – I want to be able to get access to my data safely whilst away from home. This is an extension of point 2 above.

6. Support for Windows and MAC.

7. Extensible – An Operating System I can extend easily.

8. Unobtrusive – A unit that is small and quiet!

The selection of operating system was down to a single choice Microsoft Windows Home Server. It delivered on ALL accounts and more. The backup and restore being an example of how simple it should be, and the ease of network sharing with the end user management for password synchronisation removed the age old ‘family sys.admin’ support role.

Originally based on Windows 2003 under WHS v1, the latest version WHS 2011 is based on Windows 2008 R2. So as you can guest you get all the enterprise tried and tested security and stability of such a mature underlying technology. Furthermore any Windows program can run, so extending the functionality with various streaming media solutions makes it a natural fit for most other home media network units such as XBox, Western Digital, PlayStation etc.

The biggest challenge in all of the above was Point 8. After testing many devices I committed to a UK based start-up called Tranquil PC with their original SQA-5H WHS v1 solution and up to 10Tb of storage (reduced with Data duplication for redundancy enabled). It proved a great success and is still whirring away happily three years later, with only one hard drive failure and painless hot swap out!

That having been said not all is perfect in the Tranquil PC camp with their latest Windows Home Server Hardware and supporting utility mix for WHS2011.

UPDATE – 7th September 2011

See my follow-up post The Tranquil PC Home Server Challenge for a bit of a health warning till things are sorted out on the recently release Tranquil PC hardware and issues with the supporting utilities.

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