A cheap, effective home server — using Windows 8

Woody Leonhard

Windows 8 has taken it on the chin for all sorts of transgressions — both real and imagined — but for one application, it’s an excellent option.

As a home or small-office server, it might be just the excuse you need to take advantage of Microsoft’s discounted Win8 pricing.

Why an average PC user might want a server

First, a bit of history on Windows-based home servers. Released in 2007, Microsoft’s Windows Home Server (WHS) was a product that never got its due from most PC users. However, I liked it so much I wrote a Windows Secrets article and a book extolling its many virtues. My admiration for the product has only grown with time.

Unfortunately, I was part of a small minority of PC users who used WHS — and our number is dwindling rapidly. WHS never sold well, and Microsoft earlier this year put a nail in its coffin (along with Small Business Server), announcing that henceforth Windows Server 2012 was its small-office server product — with a starting price of U.S. $450, just for the software. I don’t know about you, but $450 sounds reasonable for a home-server price — with hardware included.

That change pushed me to look at Windows 8 as a possible home-server platform. Windows Home Server had many features you can’t duplicate with Windows 8. But Win8 does provide what matters most to me — simple, cheap, fully redundant, and easily extended storage. And it does so quite well via Windows 8 Storage Spaces, which lets you set up a bunch of hard drives as one big drive. (I wrote about Storage Spaces in the Jan. 12 Woody’s Windows.) You can, for example, have three, four, or five separate, physical discs and access them all as a single D: drive.

Somewhat similar to RAID 5, Win8 keeps redundant copies of everything. If one drive dies, all files are automatically preserved and available without a hiccup. If you run out of space on that virtual D: drive, just install another hard drive (internal or external) and Windows 8 absorbs the additional space in the D: drive.

For backup, Win7 Pro, Vista Home Premium, Vista Business, and all versions of WinXP can automatically archive files to a network drive. (You use the File History applet to back up a Win8 workstation PC to a network drive.) To back up those systems to a Win8 server, simply point them to the server and specify a backup schedule.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2012-09-20:

Woody Leonhard

About Woody Leonhard

Woody Leonhard is a Windows Secrets senior editor and a senior contributing editor at InfoWorld. His latest book, the comprehensive 1,080-page Windows 8 All-In-One For Dummies, delves into all the Win8 nooks and crannies. His many writings tell it like it is — whether Microsoft likes it or not.