[box type=”info”]Building a Windows 8 Home Server – Step by Step eBook

Building a Windows 8 Home Server – Step by Step is We Got Served’s essential guide to Microsoft’s “re-imagined” Windows operating system… with a twist! Whether you’re new to the world of home servers, thinking about upgrading from Windows Home Server or swapping your Network Attached Storage device for a real computer, this 360 page eBook will help you build, install and configure Windows 8 for home server use.

Buy Now from the WGS Store: £9.99

  1. Introduction
  2. Windows 8 Home Servers: Why and What?
  3. Home Server Hardware
  4. Building the Server
  5. Configuring Your UEFI Motherboard
  6. Installing Windows 8
  7. A Lap Around the Windows 8 Desktop. Erm, Desktops
  8. Storage and Storage Spaces [eBook Exclusive]
  9. Managing User Accounts and Family Safety
  10. Homegroups and Shared Folders
  11. File History, Backup and Data Recovery [eBook Exclusive]
  12. Windows 8 Media Streaming & Play To
  13. Remote Access, Remote Media Streaming and the SkyDrive Cloud [eBook Exclusive]
  14. Running Windows Home Server as a Virtual Machine in Windows 8 [eBook Exclusive]

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Before we dive into the Windows 8 software – yes, I’m eager to get stuck in too, but wait – we should spend a little time discussing the words “home server”. Or for that matter, “home hub”, “network storage”, “personal cloud”, “digital hub”, “media server” and any of the hundreds of similar terms that Marketing people the world over have concocted to sell us new hardware and software.

Throughout the series, I’ll be using the term “home server”, as it’s the one that’s most familiar to me – but let’s not forget, this kind of computer doesn’t have to be in the home and, when it comes to Windows 8, it’s most certainly not a Server, in the traditional sense.

So, for clarity, as this series is all about building a Windows 8-based home server, let’s agree what we mean by a “home server”. Just what is a home server?

The problem is the word “server” – it’s a term that most people use in a workplace context, perhaps without really clarifying what it really means. Ever said, “Oh sure, you can find the document on the server” or missed a deadline because “the server has gone down”? In the workplace (unless you’re an IT admin) the server is a mystical, unseen entity that stores our documents and we only really care about it when we can’t reach it.

Put simply, a server is just a computer that shares its resources with other computers on a network. It may look a little different to the desktop and mobile computers you know on the outside, but on the inside, it’s made up of the same components that comprise the computers you use to write your emails, browse websites, and play Call of Duty. It’s a computer with an operating system, processor, memory, storage and a network card.

The home server connects to your home network, and for most of us, works in the background to perform a number of really useful tasks. They include:

  • Storing and sharing files with other computers in the home, like your tablet, laptop, desktop PC and other devices like smartphones.
  • Streaming music, video and photos to connected devices like modern TVs, digital photo frames and networked media receivers
  • Protecting your data (think about all of those music, video and photo files you’ve collected over the years) by backing up all of your computers each night.

I often use the example of a heating system to bring the concept of home servers to life. You have radiators in each room, connected to a central boiler tucked away in a cupboard, which pumps hot water around pipes to the radiators, which in turn heats the house.

A home server works in exactly the same way with your home network and the computers around the home. The home server is like the boiler, tucked away out of site, which stores your data. Your home network, whether it’s wireless or wired, act as the “pipes” which bring your data to the PCs and other networked devices scattered around the home, just like your radiators.

You may decide to treat the PC you nominate as your “home server” a little differently than other devices in the home.  As it needs to store a lot of data, you may well want to find a chassis that can take two, four or more hard drives to provide a large centralised pool of storage for all of your data. If you just want to perform basic tasks, you may wish to go for low powered hardware (as they’ll be switched on 24 hours a day) and you won’t necessarily need a keyboard or a mouse to control them. You could manage the PC remotely – just like the boiler, once the home server is installed, you can shut it away in a (well ventilated) cupboard, and should only need to open it again from time to time.

Of course, running Windows 8 you can use the “home server” PC just like any other PC in the home – the freedom is yours!

 

So Why Do You Need a Home Server?

Over the past few years, when talking to people about Windows Home Server, I’d hear the following question regularly. “Okay, so I get what a home server is and what it does. But I already have a bunch of other computers around the house that can do a lot of that stuff. So why do I need a home server?”

It’s a great question. Actually, you don’t need a home server. Windows and Macs are now so well stuffed with features, that individual computers in your home can share files with each other, back themselves up, and stream music, video and photos to network devices around the home. They rock! Whilst Microsoft have dabbled with dedicated home server operating systems and their partners with dedicated home server hardware, they’ve realised that many of the features that consumers need – features that required a specialised home server operating system back in 2007 – can just as easily be built into a modern client operating system like Windows 8.

So, whilst the concept of a dedicated home server operating system may become outdated, that’s not to say you shouldn’t dedicate some hardware in your home to typical “home server” duties. Think about all of the data you have stored on computers and hard drives around the home – the thousands of documents, audio tracks, video files and photos. You probably have data scattered all over the place – work files on one PC, music on another (apart from those new tracks that you downloaded on your laptop), photos stored on an external hard drive that you move from PC to PC. It’s a mess.

Now think about the next five years, and imagine how much more data you’re going to collect. The music you’ll buy, photos you take, videos you shoot and work you complete. How are you going to organise it all? Where are you going to store it? What happens to that data if your PC’s hard drive fills up, the PC breaks, that external hard drive fails or you simply can’t remember where you saved it?

No-one needs a home server if they’re happy to work tirelessly across multiple computers and devices and live under the shadow of data loss. But imagine a large, centralised resource which is easy to expand, can organise and store that growing torrent of data, allow secure access to those files to the users you specify, backup and protect your data and effortlessly stream your music, video and photos to devices inside the home and indeed remotely, anywhere in the world.

If that sounds like the kind of device you want, then you can build or buy one with Windows 8 and configure it to your needs. The good news? I’m going to show you how!

 

The Perfect Home Server Feature Set

So what kind of features should we look for in decent home server software? In terms of the basics, we certainly need centralised file storage and sharing (including media streaming), user account controls, data backup, remote access and storage management features. Let’s take a look at some of those features in turn.

Centralised File Storage and Sharing

Probably the most important requirement for a home server platform is to serve as a centralised hub for your important data. The number of work documents, music, videos, photos and other types of data is exploding in the home. The home server is a perfect place to be able to store, protect and organise those files for use with various devices. Whether it’s on a mobile device such as a smartphone or notebook, tablet, desktop computer or media receiver, we’d expect to be able to access those files with ease on multiple devices running a variety of operating systems, stream entertainment around the home, read, write and copy data to and from the home server.

Included here is the ability to create and share folders with other devices, and in conjunction with the PCs user account controls (see below) quickly and easily configure secure access for family members and guests (if required). A bit obvious to mention (I will anyway) but let’s also ensure we have full file management features for data stored on the server from connected clients.