Windows Home Server as a backup server

In case you don’t know: [MS] Windows Home Server (WHS) has gone RTM a while ago. The problem is that you can’t find one in the store yet (unless you are located in New Zealand) , nor it appears in MSDN due to some odd decision. For now the only way to get it is through Connect where you can apply for RC version.

So, why would one bother with WHS? There are actually plenty of reasons, however I have to point out the most appealing one, at least to me: its backup system combined with RAID-like system.

  1. RAID like storage system
    This is kind of software RAID but not exactly. While RAID requires an array of disks of same type this isn’t true for WHS. Instead you can mount whatever disk you like (internal or external), as much disks as you can connect to your computer and WHS will add it to its storage system. You can add additional disks later. The failover functionality is achieved through balancing the data among more than one disk – data is always duplicated somewhere (you can decide which folders require duplication)- this is done automatically with “balancing” process that fires up now and then. If duplication can’t be achieved (perhaps due to limited disk space) then WHS will notify you that there is a problem. Perhaps balancing system is slower than RAID but the speed doesn’t really matter that much for backup/storage systems. The big plus here is that it is a lot easier to manage disks and you are more free in disk choice – just add whatever disk you want (RAID requires exactly same disks on the same bus – if disk fails after several years one has problems to get replacement).
  2. Backup system
    You install WHS client software (Connector) on target computer and that’s it. WHS will backup your entire disks (you can specify which disks) daily at predefined time on the server. If the target computer disk fails, replace it and restore the system. This would be very similar to features other backup software have, such as True Image from Acronis, if it wasn’t more intelligent and conservative with storage space used. It boasts a great feature – duplicated file doesn’t get stored twice. What does this mean: imagine you have two computers with same OS. If you run WHS backup on both, only one copy of same file (since the same file resides on both computers) will be actually stored. In plain words this feature greatly reduces the storage space required on the server. Needless to say that I love this feature. Ah, and it doesn’t suffer from thing like incremental files merging. It is also fast as one would imagine.
    So that’s all lovely, but there are some problems, too. Currently the client software won’t run on 64 bit OS (again, this shows how much are 64 bits really pushed). Proper client is supposed to arrive later.

Did I mention what WHS actually runs on the top of Windows 2003 OS? The logical questions is: will there be an add-in software for Windows 2003 that does both points mentioned above. I don’t see any “physical” problem. Political decisions…that’s another world.

Anyway, I am currently testing WHS on my Windows 2003 x64 server. How? Simply – I am using [VMWare] Server with a dedicated 750GB disk. A word of caution here: it happened that WHS storage system went FUBAR somehow, I am not sure how, but I think it was due to OS hibernation. It required WHS reinstallation, but luckily backup data survived (seems like only system partition got a problem). Note also that [VMWare] Server doesn’t officially support WHS yet. I bet they’ll soon add official support.
So, that’s it. I see WHS as a perfect backup system for my work/home network (WHS is a lot more, I just looked at it from backup server perspective). Flexible, powerful, yet easy to manage. I just miss the same feature within Windows 2003 and x64 client. Longhorn perhaps?

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