News, Windows

Building a Windows 8 Home Server: Why and What?

[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.

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Terry Walsh is the founder of We Got Served. He started the community in February 2007 with a mission to help families, tech enthusiasts everywhere figure out the technology needed to run the modern home and small business. He's the author of a number of guides to Windows, Windows Server and OS X Server and runs his own successful publishing business. Born and raised in Liverpool, England, Terry has been awarded Microsoft's prestigious Most Valuable Professional Award each year since 2008 for his work on We Got Served.
  • What about sharing you foto’s through a remote website? That is a great feature my parents (in law) really enjoy as part of the WHS.

    • We’ll cover this feature courtesy of Windows 8 photo synchronisation with Microsoft SkyDrive…

  • Ray Knapp

    Is there really going to be a windows 8 home server software? Does that mean that windows home server 2011 is being replaced? Thanks Ray

    • No Windows 8 Home Server software has been announced. This series is about using the Windows 8 client OS to support home server-style features.

      • boggy4062

        Actually, MS did announce that NO Home Server would be coming our way. It truly #sucks. I’m still on WHS v 1, and love it. It saved my bacon few times already, and I’m fine. It backs up my Windows 7 and XP machines, so I have no reason to upgrade.
        I believe that sites like your, should start insisting on bringing WHS back or start boycotting any MS products. No testing, no evaluation at all. MS suits need to get the message – no screwing with the users.

      • Hugo

        So WHS v1 backs up Windows 7 clients. Will it also backup Windows 8 clients. If not will WHS 2011 do so?

  • Eric

    Will this really work out?

    • Heh – that depends on your definition of “work out” – can we get all of the core features in place. Most likely. Will it all be provided by Windows 8 alone? Nope.

  • Ben

    I thought about doing this even with a Windows 7 machine and two things steered me towards WHS proper. 1. The reliability of the MS server software itself seems to be better (ie the box doesn’t re-boot itself after applying updates automatically) and 2. The $50 for WHS versus more than twice that for Windows 7 – even consumer grade.

    • Agreed – it’s a phenomenal price. The $40 Windows 8 upgrade price balances that one out, but get the point on WU restarts. It seems that every new version of Windows seems to promise less restarts – not sure if that ever happens!

  • Greg

    Terry, this looks like it will be a great set of articles to follow and am very likely to go down this route.

    In the past I had WHS v1 and loved it. At some point I stopped using it, and had planned to use v.2, but that didn’t end up happening. With Windows 8 there is a very good chance that I will go back to a centralised Server set up of some sort.

    Is there any way you can add media centre into the mix of things you are looking at? I realise that the playing field for MC will change, but it would be great if you could add a section for it.

    Either way, looking forward to the articles to come.

    • Sure – the Media Center thing is pretty straightforward, and (as long as you’re on Windows 8 Pro with the Media Center app on board) is one of the great reasons to utilise Windows 8 as your “home server”

  • Jason Herrick

    I too have loved the home server and have added email through smarter mail free which ties in and could also be run from windows 8. I have recently added a virtual apple time machine to back up a hackintosh. I have home server 2011 but held off updating due to drive extender being missing and the problem of backing up several TB of data!
    I am looking forward to the rest of your guide as I will not want to spend the sum to purchase server 2012.
    Thanks for your support and website which has been invaluable over the years.
    One other thought is that iTunes would also be easier to install and run as a service to stream to my Apple TV’s!

  • towergrove

    You mention storage of music and photos but what about video purchases? I need something that backups my digital movies I purchase like those coming as a common file format Ultraviolet. I need system backup for those. While windows 8 support DNLA?

    • spivonious

      Windows has supported DLNA since XP.

  • boggy4062

    From what I read, the client backup is NOT included in the new breed of Microsoft Servers. Am I wrong?

    I cannot find ANY reference to client backup features on MS websites. Is this just your wishful thinking, or have you actually used/seen/tested it?

    Also, $425 just for the license is just stupid. I find the newest pricing announcement so arrogant, I can’t stand it.

  • howad0

    Thanks for starting this series Terry. I’m very interested in this approach. One other approach that is often overlooked is the use of NAS boxes that seem to be increasing in intelligence, flexibility and consumer-focus. I have been mulling over buying a QNAP 1u box for a while to extend the storage on my WHS 2011 but soon realised that the vast majority of the features I’m looking for are proviided by the QNAP box itself. Would this be something you would consider sitting alongside a WIndows 8-based server I wonder?

    • Hi!

      The QNAP and the Win 8 “server” would be performing similar roles, so I’d say it was one or the other (to keep your costs down) unless a. you wanted to dedicate them to specific roles – e.g. put a mass of videos on one as a media server and use the other as more general purpose and/or b. use one to backup the other and vice versa,

      But if simplicity is the order of the day, then it’s probably one of them.

  • Tech Enthusiast

    One of the key features of WHS is full image client backup. While redirecting files to the hub is great, there is still a place for the full backup. It frustrates me when folks talk about a replacement for WHS, such as Windows 8, this seems to be overlooked and not even mentioned. Unless I missed that section, I wonder why it’s just ignored. Is there a 3rd party app that does this in a smooth fashion?

    • Full image backup and bare metal restore is going to be a major weakness of Windows 8 Client vs Windows Home Server/Server Essentials 2012 – apps like Acronis True Image and Norton Ghost offer this feature, but more advanced (read, expensive) versions are required to support multiple clients.

  • With all the data files that we collect and collaborate everyday, I think its deem proper that we have our own server system that we can always count on to backup our files in case something unexpected catastrophe happens.

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