At the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft figurehead Bill Gates announced in his keynote speech a new Windows product, Windows Home Server. In retrospect that was a bad time to announce the product as it was in the critical period between Windows Vista having gone gold and being released at retail, so few people were interested in "that server product" as opposed to Microsoft's long-in-development successor to Windows XP. Since that point the Vista launch came and went, while there has been little noise from the Windows camp about Home Server.

If we had to sum up Windows Home Server in one word that word would be "strange." Even having gone gold and shipped to system builders and distributors, Microsoft has been strangely quiet about a product they're targeting for the consumer space - we still don't know quite when it will be for sale or at what price. The fact that it's even for sale unbundled with hardware, albeit only as OEM software, is itself strange as this was originally slated to be only sold as part of complete computers from the usual suspects among the computer vendors. Finally, as we'll see even as a product it's strange, and difficult to really come to terms with.

So what is Windows Home Server (WHS)? The name says it all and at the same time says nothing. At its core it's a server operating system designed for use in the home, a place that previously has not needed or been offered anything like a true server. That means that WHS really doesn't compare to any one thing; it's a backup suite, it's a file server, it's a network attached storage(NAS) device, it's a web server, it's a media hub, it's a computer health monitor, it's even a gateway for Window's Remote Desktop. In even trying to describe the product, we run into the same problem Microsoft does; it's one thing to describe a product as "X but better" but it's another thing entirely when we don't have anything to serve as a comparison.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand what WHS is, is understanding why it exists. Microsoft, never one to shy away from finding a way to sell another computer, has come to the conclusion that with the saturation of full computers and smaller smart devices in homes (where some households are reaching the point where they have two computers per person) that the time has come where not unlike a corporate environment households now need a server to keep everything in order.

But home users don't need the same kind of server that business users need. Home users won't be running or need to be running their own SQL server or email server, but what about centralizing the location of everyone's media files? Or a web server for letting the relatives see all your photos? Or a backup suite that actually backs files up somewhere else than to the hard drive of the machine in question? And how about something that doesn't require an MCSE certification to run? Over the last two years Microsoft has been once again retrofitting the Windows Server 2003 kernel (previously refit to serve as Windows XP Pro x64) to be the new server that can do all of the above.

The result of those two years of effort is a very interesting product that we'd consider the most interesting Windows product to come out of Microsoft since Windows 2000, and yet at the same time it comes with the quirks that are undeniably Microsoft. As we'll see WHS can offer a lot of value to the market Microsoft is shooting for, but can it overcome the difficulties of forging a new market, and fighting against its own deficiencies? Let's take a look under the hood of Windows Home Server and find out the answer.

The Technology of WHS
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  • leexgx - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    quote:

    let's say you have a 200gb, a 200gb and a 400gb drive and you put it in a raid, you're wasting half the capacity of the 400gb. With WHS you could store a full 400gb with duplication.


    i think you mean {with out duplication) as if you got 2x 200gb with it turnd on you only get 200gb any way

    i agree if raid fails it can be an problem some times getting the data off it
    With WHS just plug the disk into an other pc and goto disk manager and Give the disk an Letter or mount it as an drive folder and you see all the data on it
    Reply
  • tynopik - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    > i think you mean {with out duplication) as if you got 2x 200gb with it turnd on you only get 200gb any way

    no, if you were duplicating EVERYTHING (which most people won't want to do) you will have 400gb*. 1st copy on the 400gb and half 2nd copy on one 200gb and other half 2nd copy on other 200gb
    Reply
  • leexgx - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    darn miss read both posts i just read it like 200gb and 200gb a 400gb so assume last one was the 2 200gb put together to make 400gb

    ----other post
    i got you now on the 3 one if all 3 happend you lose data

    Reply
  • tynopik - Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - link

    the other thing i forgot to mention is selective duplication

    what if you have 500gb of files but only have 5gb that need duplication?

    WHS is much, much more efficient in such a scenario. Only duplicating what needs to be duplicated and merging the remaining space

    i can't wait for MS to include this feature in regular windows, it's freaking fantastic
    Reply
  • ATWindsor - Thursday, September 6, 2007 - link

    What if I want to have added protection on all my stuff? With raid 5 I loose 25% of the space, with WHS-duplication I loose 50% (and the performance is worse). Even people who wants an easy setup has diffrent needs. Reply
  • tynopik - Thursday, September 6, 2007 - link

    > What if I want to have added protection on all my stuff? With raid 5 I loose 25% of the space, with WHS-duplication I loose 50% (and the performance is worse).

    that is only true if
    1. you have 4 drives
    2. they are all equal size

    consider a scenario that i mentioned elsewhere where you have (2) 200GB drives and a 400GB drive

    with raid5 you would only be able to use 200GB of the 400GB drive wasting half it's space right off the bat. So you are left with essentially 3 200GB drives. Then parity data takes up another drive leaving you with 400gb of space. Which is the exact same amount that WHS gives you.

    but i will tell you this, RAID sucks, especially RAID5

    you mess up one thing and you lose the entire volume

    even with raid 1 i had more problems than it was worth

    raid is just going to cause more difficulties and support calls, the exact opposite of what you want for a 'black-box' like this

    and i'm not the only one who feels this way

    http://www.pugetsystems.com/articles?&id=29">http://www.pugetsystems.com/articles?&id=29

    [quote]
    However, at the agreement of our support staff, I estimate that anywhere from 25% to 30% of our customers with RAID will call us at some point in the first year to report a degraded RAID array or problem directly resulting from their RAID configuration.[/quote]

    that sort of problem rate is simply unacceptable

    and what if suddenly you decide that there is a bunch of stuff you DON'T need to duplicate? there is no graceful way to handle that with raid

    WHS if simple, flexible, powerful and reliable (in the sense it's not likely to cause problems like raid systems do)
    Reply
  • ATWindsor - Saturday, September 8, 2007 - link

    There is many ways to mess up a whole lot of dta, raid or non-raid, I'm pretty sure i can make the datapool disappear pretty easy in whs also. (it can be recovered of course, but so can i raid5-volume).

    If people use problem-prone onboard raid-options on mobos, I'm sure quite a few run in to trouble, that doesn't make raid5 a bad idea for everyone. Same with your example with diffrent-sized disks, i happen to have 4 diks of the same size. Thats the problem with lack of options, people with needs diffrent than the exactly the ones that happen to be included gets a worse product.

    AtW
    Reply
  • ATWindsor - Thursday, September 6, 2007 - link

    What if I want to have added protection on all my stuff? With raid 5 I loose 25% of the space, with WHS-duplication I loose 50% (and the performance is worse). Even people who wants an easy setup has diffrent needs. Reply
  • Gholam - Sunday, September 9, 2007 - link

    Performance of consumer-grade RAID5 controllers is EXTREMELY low. Sub-10mb/s typically, with a high CPU load, as they don't have a dedicated XOR engine. Server-grade RAID5 controllers will give you good performance, but they cost in the $600-1000+ range, and when you're using consumer-grade 7200rpm SATA drives, you can buy half a dozen extra drives for the cost of the controller. Reply
  • ATWindsor - Sunday, September 9, 2007 - link

    Software-raid has good read-performance if properly implmented, much better than a single drive. If you are going to have many drives, you must buy additional controllers anyway, so the price-difference isn't that big. Reply

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