GEEK ALERT: Installing Windows Home Server

server

Having just installed WHS for the first time over the weekend I figured I would share some thoughts. Beware, technical content.

My main reason for using WHS was the stupidly large collection of external and internal hard drives of varying sizes which were getting hard to manage using XP in a drive-by-drive basis. I literally ran out of drive letters after mapping various drives from other PC’s on the network. WHS lets me consolidate them all in to a single pool of storage and makes adding and removing drives from that pool easy as pie. 

My secondary requirement (and this will make some readers cringe) was the ability to run the WHS server as a second utility PC, for iTunes, playing video, music, uTorrent MSN Messenger, burning CD/DVD’s and other tasks previously taken care of by the same hardware running XP. Yes, I know you’re _supposed_ to run WHS headless but I’m currently treating it like I did the XP install, complete with dual monitors and fancy wallpaper, take that!

After some initial apprehension about whether WHS could handle being used as a regular desktop install, the only real workaround I had to do during install/config was download the msi install for Live Messenger (8.5) because it didn’t want to install from the .exe. I haven’t managed to get the newest version of Live Messenger running yet but I’m working on it.

The bottom line for installing and running apps on the desktop is that anything which will run on Windows Sever 2003 will run on WHS, this also applies to drivers for your hardware. I didn’t have a problem getting all the drivers running on a five year old socket 754 motherboard (Asus K8V SE Deluxe). I even managed to get my bluetooth keyboard/mouse and Logitech Z-10 speakers and LCD screen to work as they did in XP (using the XP drivers in compatibility mode).

As far as I understand it the Raid-lite system is really just a striped set with the addition of optional mirroring for nominated shares, all handled by the software and configured by the very easy to use console. There’s no limit to how much data you can set as redundant other than the amount of disk space you have (i.e. you need the same amount of free space as you are setting to be redundant, obviously).

I’m still not 100% sure what happens if a drive in the non-redundant pool dies suddenly but I’m assuming anything which was balance to that drive will be lost forever, but that’s really no different to my old system of individual hard drives and there’s the advantage that (hopefully) WHS will warn me ahead of time if a drive is going to die so I can remove it from the storage pool and the files on it will rebalance to the other drives before the target died (hopefully). Some automatic settings to make this happen without intervention would be nice.

From what I’ve read the system uses the boot drive as a scratch area while it balances to the bigger your install drive the better, so yes, use your 1.5Tb drive as the primary boot drive (I wish I’d known this BEFORE I installed mine on a 320Gb).

I promise, once I get another "utility" PC organised I’ll put my WHS server in a closet and stop using my WHS install as a desktop, maybe.

Final note, there is a site entirely dedicated to users of WHS with lots of great hints and tips and a pretty active forum, http://www.wegotserved.com/.

EDIT: The WHS console supports add-ins for supliment or add new features to the server, some useful ones I have found in my travels are:

  • Duplication Info – Gives you information on which files are duplicated where over your various hard drives, unfortunately doesn’t give you any control over where the files actually go.
  • uTorrent – Allows you to manage torrents from any PC on your network using the WHS console.
  • Windows Home Server Disk Management – Designed for users who need more detail about their server’s storage status than what the standard Windows Home Server Storage interface provides, with 3D wire-map diagrams!
  • My Movies – Metadata management for media files stores on the server.
  • WHS Task Viewer – Remotely monitor and manipulate tasks on the server.
  • Samsung Photo Frame Controller – A little specific but I have one of these frames running at home and this add-in lets you manage it from the console.
  • WHS DB Check – Checks for problems with the WHS backup database
  • Remote Notification – Send System Health notification emails from the server

Here’s a full list of add-ins or here, and a page of the most popular add-ins.