You know what you’ll find when you search the Internet for information about Microsoft Windows Home Server (WHS)? You’ll find lots of inconsistencies, half-truths, and totally false information. Now, don’t get me wrong: Top-notch sources of information—including Paul Thurrott’s WinInfo newsletter—do exist, offering valuable and accurate information about Microsoft’s latest server offering. But many other sites just aren’t getting it right. This month, I want to consider a few of the myths about WHS that I’ve seen on the Internet and try to uncover the truth.
Myth #1: WHS Is Available Only as an OEM (with Hardware) Product
It’s true that Microsoft originally considered offering WHS only to OEM vendors such as Dell, Gateway, and HP, but the company changed its mind many months ago. You can purchase an OEM version of the software from Newegg.com and Buy.com for $169.99 and $180.00, respectively. If you have an older PC sitting in the closet that meets the minimum requirements (i.e., 1GHz Pentium 3, 512MB of RAM, 80GB hard disk) and you like to customize your installations, this alternative might be cost effective for you.
Myth #2: WHS Is Just a Network Attached Storage (NAS) Device with Wi-Fi
Yes, WHS is a NAS device in that it lets you store your important files on a network storage device. However, it doesn’t have Wi-Fi, and as far as I know, Microsoft has no plans to add this capability in the future. WHS isn’t intended to replace your small office/home office (SOHO) router. On the contrary, WHS is designed to augment your existing network that already has a DSL or cable modem and a firewall/router.
Myth #3: A Linux Server Can Do the Same Thing as WHS
This myth is partially true. A few readers were vocal about Linux server functionality in the comments section of my first column. If you administer a network for a living, there’s no doubt that you could come up with a similar solution that mimics much of the functionality of a WHS server. The only problem is that not everyone is a network administrator, and even if you are a network administrator, you would probably welcome a turn-key solution for your home-network concerns. Personally, I work full time as a Windows administrator during the day, teach the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator program twice a week in the evenings, am working on my degree, and write articles for Windows IT Pro magazine. The last thing I want to do when I finally get home is troubleshoot why my Linux script isn’t backing up my PCs.
Myth #4: Providing Remote Access Is Dangerous and Stupid
I’ll admit that Microsoft hasn’t had the best record when it comes to security. But the company’s repeated embarrassments have taught the folks in Redmond that they can’t afford to ship products that resemble Swiss cheese. Therefore, when Microsoft developed WHS, it used technology that has repeatedly proven itself in the wild. WHS is built upon the success of the repeatedly proven Windows 2003 Server Small Business Server (SBS); many small businesses enjoy the security and stability that this mature OS brings. Because WHS is automatically installed on the retail version of HP’s WHS server, called a MediaSmart Server, you wouldn’t notice the SBS connection. But if you install WHS on a regular computer, you’ll notice right away that it’s a slimmed-down version of SBS with some added features built in.
Remember, however, that you have some responsibility when it comes to opening up your home network to outside access: Never give your username or password to people you don’t trust (including via email or IM programs). In addition, you should open only the ports on your SOHO firewall that Microsoft recommends in its article “Information about the automatic router configuration feature in Windows Home Server”. Rest assured, though, that Microsoft has released a very secure product that shouldn’t let you down.
Have You Tried WHS Yet?
WHS makes your life easier by automating your daily backups and gives you easy access to your PCs from anywhere in the world. You can also share photos and other files with your family members. Have you tried it yet?
On a side note, I’ll be speaking about WHS at Mark Minasi’s Forum Meeting in April. There will also be some terrific speakers in attendance, talking about Exchange Server 2007, Windows Server 2008, Windows Vista, and a whole host of other cool topics. You can find all the details at the MR&D Forum Meeting 2008 Home Page.