Windows Home Server Rocks!

It’s no secret that I’m a Mac lovin’ Windows hater, but man things are really turning around at Redmond as earlier this year I switched from TiVo to Vista Media Center and now this week I deployed my first Windows Home Server.

As a computer network profesional the idea of having a server at home has always apeal to me, but for many reasons I never persued it. But when I started to receive memory errors on the last XP box in my house that I use as a Home Automation controller, I once again considered running a server. I was delighted to learn that Windows Home Server is really just Windows Server 2003 with a few really cool utilities for the home and a resonable price. So not only could I run Mainlobby on the box, but I could also use it to backup and remotely access my Media Center and my wife’s Vaio laptop — no I still haven’t converted her.

For hardware I went with a MSI Wind PC from Newegg — thanks Warren, for the suggestion — which sells for an unbelievably low $139. To this I added a $21 2GB stick of ram and the original 250GB SATA HDD from the Series3 I sold to Tyler that was lying around. Add in another $94 for an OEM copy of WHS and I got myself a whole lot of utility for $254. To top it off, the small box will fit in my structured wiring cabinet which fits nicely into my plans to reclaim my closet from my electronics — more about that to come.

I was able to install WHS and all the agents on my two Windows computers in no time, and already feel better that the machines are being backed up. The only problem I have is that I can’t use the remote desktop application at work because port 4125 is blocked — man do I wish I could tunnel this over ssl — and I haven’t quite figured out how to get Time Machine to backup to a network drive — yes I tried iTimemachine. The most impressive thing so far though is the included dynamic DNS feature and the free trusted SSL certificate.

I’m not 100 percent migrated over from my old XP box yet, but I’m getting there. Hopefully this weekend I’ll have a chance to decommishion the old box once I get ML tested. Stay tunned.

19 Responses to “Windows Home Server Rocks!”

  1. David says:


    I must be living in a mirrored universe. I switched in September from 2 Tivo Series 3 units, to VMC. I now have a main VMC box and 3 extenders around my house. I, too, and in the process of setting up a WHS. In fact, I just installed a copy yesterday on a Pavilion desktop that I had sitting around. Funny that I have 6 Macs in my house, and two PCs – yet the two PCs seem to have the two most important jobs going – all my TV and media duties, and my backup. Weird. Anyway, I always enjoy your posts.

  2. Andy S says:

    When they dropped the price down to $99, I too took the plunge and set up a WHS box. Really like it so far. It’s already saved me once from a weird data loss. In a couple hours, I rolled my main box back two days before the trouble started.

    I think I’ve got about 2.5 TB of space on this machine. I’m gradually archiving my old DVD collection with plans to just store all the physical media out of the way somewhere.

    I’ve recently had a problem with my SSL certificate, though. It’s not loading anymore (although it did initially). Apparently this problem existed in Server 2003 but I’m unique in having it show up in WHS. I haven’t taken the time to investigate it yet.

    Still loving the simplicity once you’ve got everything set.

  3. Frankie Majowich says:

    Why didn’t you just install Windows 2003/2008 Server on the box instead of WHS?

  4. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    Windows 2003/2008 doesn’t come with any backup software to backup and restore the Windows clients. It also doesn’t include the cool web site which works with MS’s dynamic DNS and trusted SSL Certificate. This in addition to the RDP proxy is hard to beat for $100, while full blown server costs $800.

    Then there’s the real reason. This is MUCH easier to setup and I’m lazy.

  5. Tim P says:

    I was pretty excited for WHS when it first came out, but never picked up a box because it was too expensive.
    I just recently set up an Amahi box, running Fedora 9 Linux. I’ve got to say, it’s a great alternative. I’m running Galleon on it, so I can transfer shows to and from my series 3 Tivo. I’m also running pyTivo on it, so I can transfer just about any video format to my Tivo (hello latest Top Gear torrents!!).

    It also has built-in VPN server, so I can connect to it from work. I installed Ampache on it, and stream all my MP3s off it, even at work! Like I said, it’s a great setup, although I’m sure it was more work than WHS.

  6. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    That’s pretty cool, it’s been a long time since I had a Linux server at my house.

    Curious though, what are you using to backup and restore your computers. And do you have an easy way to leverage the VPN access for remote access to your other machines? Also, what kind of VPN is it; pptp, ipsec or over SSL?

  7. David says:


    My interest is piqued. I may just have to install Amahi – it looks like it has everything I need. I’m going to download it and run it in VMWare to try it out.

  8. Tim P says:

    Unfortunately, I really don’t have a good back-up strategy. Part of the reason is because my laptops are only on wi-fi, and backing up at least 15GB a night isn’t ideal (I’m a developer and do all my work in VirtualBox, so I should back up the whole image. Right now I just copy the images to my secondary HD on my laptop on a sporatic schedule). The other reason is that my wife doesn’t have a ton of data to back up on her laptop, so it hasn’t been an issue.

    When I do get around to setting up a backup system, I’d most likely just write a batch file using xcopy and copy everything to Amahi. Then, use the Windows scheduler to run it every night. I’d do something similar for my laptop, which runs Ubuntu. What can I say, I’m a bit of a geek and all I really need are my core files backed up. Of course, then I’d need a back-up strategy for my Amahi server, and ideally that have RAID as well.

    As far as VPN goes, Amahi uses OpenVPN. It’s preconfigured on the server, and all you need to do is open a port on your router. Read here for more info on Amahi’s VPN. I’ve never used the windows client to connect to my system from work, but I think it pushes down the Amahi server as a secondary or tertiary DNS server (since Amahi runs as a DNS server for your home network). You can then have aliases set up for your other machines, and should be able to just ping them like any other box.

    Sorry for the long-winded response. As you might be able to tell, I’m really happy with my Amahi server, and don’t mind spreading the word.

  9. Josh S says:

    Are you running a DD-WRT router or any router that supports SSH connections?

    I SSH into my DD-WRT router, then tunnel RDP over the tunnel.

    so what I do is do some port mapping, I run WHS box via port 4444 so when i run the RDP client i put in and my putty client takes that connection and points it to my static IP of my WHS box.

    Same goes for the rest of my pc’s, 4445, 4446, ect…

    Another thing I do is I run Hamachi on my WHS box,

    which gets my sudo vpn access directly to my WHS box as well.

    My WHS NEVER gets direct connection to the internet, don’t want it to.

    Finally if you are looking for MAC backups, look at the new line of HP media smart home server pc’s they have a MAC based back up that works with time machine.

    – Josh

  10. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    No, I use the Actiontec router provided by Verizon FiOS, which unlike many, I really like.

    Besides, my company blocks SSH as well. They use a layer 7 firewall that pretty much blocks all RDP and VPN, but not SSL because it would block business sites.

    I haven’t tried Logmein since the new proxy was installed, but that’s a good sugggestion.

    I read about the new HP, but I haven’t looked into how it does it and if it is something I can do without buying a HP Media Smart Server.

  11. Josh S says:

    Also have you just thought about port forwarding?

    So port 4125 on your lan side is forwarded to 443 on your wan side?

    or something like that?

    – Josh

  12. Josh S says:

    Tim P,
    the great thing about WHS is that it doesn’t do a complete image backup every night, I have two laptops of G wifi and they get backed up every night just like every hard wired PC on my network does.

    WHS does a file based backup, that is then incremented each night, so new files or changed files are only backed up, but system files, or anything that didn’t change, don’t get backed up. Also WHS looks and compairs files, so if 7 pc’s that are getting backed up all have the same file, only one copy of that file is backed up, then mirrored to multiple hard drives in your WHS box.

    Then when it is time to re-install you have a WHS recovery boot cd like you get with norton ghost, and then it reinstalls windows off of that boot cd.

    best backup system I have seen in a long time.

    – Josh

  13. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    Believe me, I tried it, but my work uses a layer 7 firewall that can tell it isn’t SSL traffic. If it was tunneled via SSL then the payload would be encrypted and they wouldn’t be able to tell. Unless of course they turned out SSL packet inspection, but that is a big privacy issue, so I don’t see it happening.

  14. Henry says:

    I posted this suggestion over in the Green Button, but I’m reprating because I’d really like your feedback:

    Do you think there’s any chance that Microsoft will port the CableCard supprot from Win7 to the next version of WHS (even if only on an OEM build)? One could use the WHS tuner to provide live HD digital cable to every Media Center extender and/or WHS-connected pc in the house.

  15. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    I have to believe that they’ve thought of this, since it seems to be such a sought after feature.

    Sadly I doubt it will happen since WHS is built on Windows 2003 Server and Media Center is built on Vista. I suppose Windows 7 and Server 2008 might be close enough to make it a reality, but again MS would have to have the desire to do such a thing.

    The other problem I see if you’d only be able to access the content via extenders, because lord knows softsled will never happen.

  16. Henry says:

    I fear you’re right about Softsled – sigh. But perhaps limiting support to WHS-connected local PCs might make a difference. Or not.

    I believe the 2.0 version of WHS is based on a Server 2008/Win7 core, so perhaps there’s still hope.

  17. Andy S says:

    Tim P, one of the benefits of WHS backups is that the size isn’t huge on the incremental backups. So some nights even over wifi, mine are very fast. Only the monthly are full backups IIRC.

  18. Neil says:

    For your tunnel and to get the remote access to work with a slick tool, you might try using Hamachi. It’s a software based, open source VPN tunnel. I haven’t tried to run it directly on my WHS, and have just started tinkering with WHS, but I have used it for peer to peer very successfully. I think it will work even better with the WHS environment.

  19. Steve Hurley says:

    Great discussion.

    Does anybody know if the Sprint CDMA (3G) data network explicitly blocks port 4125 (RDP Proxy) needed for Windows Home Server Remote Access?

    My Cradlepoint 3G router shows it as open, as does my HomeServer firewall, but the Gibson Research Corporation “shields up” test utility shows the port as closed!

    Any suggestions?

    As an aside, I know that Sprint blocks port 80 because they don’t want you serving up webpages on that port, and I was able to port-forward that to port 85 on my router, software firewall, and also in Internet Information Services running in Homeserver.
    With this done, I just need to tack on”:85″ after the domain address when browsing.

    But, 4125 is more difficult to deal with. I read somewhere that this is a “hard wired” port meaning that if your ISP blocks it, you are out of business.

    Any comments?