Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You’ve Been Served

How many computers do you have in your house? Are you like most people and never backup your stuff? Or are you like me and have copies of everything on three or four different machines between work and home? Yes I have that many copies of everything because I have had hard drive failures before and let me tell you, it can ruin your day quickly.

You owe it to yourself to look in to a home server. Now don’t let the word server scare you off. Microsoft makes a product called Windows Home Server and it is some pretty cool stuff. First it is so easy to use you will wonder how you got along without it. The best part is it doesn’t take a machine with a lot of horse power to run it. Any old PC you might have retired could be up to the task since system requirements are low. All you need is a 1GHZ CPU with 512RAM and 80gig drive, high speed internet and a router, which if you have two or more PCs sharing an high speed internet connection you already have. Old n Busted Old n Busted Admittedly that will not do you much good for backup so a 500gig drive and 1gig of RAM would make for a better unit. As your storage needs grow you simply plug in a new drive, run the Add a Hard Drive Wizard and presto, more space. Or you can simply buy one from the likes of HP or others. If you are the adventurous type you can build one like some of the systems Donavan builds at Home Server

I built my server out of an old PC I had laying around and upgraded the motherboard and CPU for a whopping 88 bucks including 1gig of RAM. Then just buy the software from some place like Newegg for cheap and you have a cheap Windows Home Server. I’ve got another whopping investment of $180 for more hard drive space. My system specs out now with a AMD64 2GHZ CPU, 3gig of RAM and 2.5TB of hard drive space. Once I decided this was worth more investment I even got a new home for the parts on Ebay cheap at 52 bucks.New Hotness What can you do with this system? Well first and most obvious is it backs up all the PCs you have in your network nightly with no muss and no fuss. Literality set it and forgot it. Did you delete a file you wish you still had? Open up one of the backup files on the server and drag it back to your desktop. Have you ever been some place and wish you had a file on your PC at home? Log in to your server from any computer connected to the web and go get it. Want to share photos, videos or whatever with family and friends? Give them a user account and they can up/download files until there hearts content. All using just a web browser on any web connected PC. Have a hard drive go bad and need your PC up NOW? Install the new drive, put the restore DVD in the drive and in about an hour your PC is just like it was before the hard drive failure, right down to your desktop. It’s like the hard drive failure never happen. I’ve played around with all of these great features and have as yet to be disappointed in what it can do. The server can even back up the server, how cool is that? There is only one thing you can’t do. You can not back up a PC that is not in your network. In other words no off site PC.

The are plenty of other things you can do with free Add Ins to your WHS. Tired of all those DVD movies taking up space? Rip them to your server using that free ripping software in the first of my software posts. Then you can stream them either with and extender like an XBox. Or if you are like me via S-Video cable out of the video card of your PC  to your TV, if you have that option. Of course with your sound system plugged into your PC you can have the full surround sound thing too. While I’m at work I stream music from my Home Server to my desktop at work then wirelessly to my sound system. I’m forever finding new things I can do with this system. This isn’t just a one trick pony either, Mac users can us it too.

Server's HomeServer Looks Right @ Home  Another one of the cool things about this system is it is headless, that is no monitor, keyboard or mouse. Once the system is up you can remove these items and put the server anywhere in your house that you can connect it wired to your router. After the system is up and you have the Connector software installed on your client system you control the server either with the connector software or by remote desktop connection. In fact the HP unit doesn’t even have a way to connect a monitor.

If any of this sounds interesting Microsoft will send you a trial copy that will run for 120 days so you can try it out for free and they even pay the shipping. Just fill out this form and it will show up in about a week. Or since you already know how to burn an ISO file from my other post you can download it and burn it to a DVD.

This is really a slick operating system. You owe it to yourself to check it out, if for no other reason for the backup power it has. It’s not just for home use either. This is perfect for a small business whether home based or a small office. As I said once you discover what all you can do with it you will wonder how you could get along with out it.


Update: I should add while no backup system is idiot proof this is the easiest and simplest way to help protect your digital life I have found. With WHS and off site backup locations or “cloud” storage services like you can really lower your risk of having a digital disaster day.


Motor-head Lady said...

Hmmmm...I never viewed you as a Geek Fasthair!
Great hair, rides a bike, knows his way around an engine, soda celeb, and even knows where to find sexy womens undies on Ebay...pretty multi-talented guy ;-)


Big Daddy said...

Would a virus also affect your esrver?

Anonymous said...

I've got to get me a copy of that for one of my PC's.

Thanks for the tips.

Ride on,

anarchy said...

great advice, fasthair. i'm definitely going to have to check into whs. i've had a hard drive crash before and didn't have a back up. i'm kicking myself for it because i really knew better... now i can actually do something worthwhile with that old 'puter my wife has been telling me to get rid of...

btw, any suggestions on hard drive recovery tools?? i'm contemplating taking it to one of these tech-shops. but if i can do it myself, and most likely cheaper, that's more gas money for the bike... ;-)

fasthair said...

Ms. MHL: That was supposed to be our little secret! What are you trying to do ruin my reputation as Bill Badass Biker or something? :) I love messing with computers. I’m always figuring out new things I can do with them. I’ll see something someone does and I wonder how they did that. So I set out to find out how to do it.

Big D: Great question. You sure can get a virus. Any computer, PC, Mac, Unix, even cell phones can get a virus. The thing is you have to take into account is how viruses spread. While there are endless ways for this to happen there are some common ways. Probably the most common ways are email attachments, rogue web sites (just fixed a friends PC caused by this) and file sharing software/sites and they spread via shares in your network too. Since you are not using email (but you can use WHS as an email server) and you are not using your server for cruising the webs red light districts and you don’t really have any shares on your WHS it does lower your chances considerably. Of course there is antivirus software to help protect your server too.

Say you do get a virus on one of your computers. WHS can be a real life saver then. Once you figure out when you got infected, and you can with some detective work, you simply restore your PC to a date before the infection and you’re good to go. Then you go into your WHS and delete all of the backups after that point so you don’t re-infect your system. Yes you might loose any data from that time forward but you don’t loose everything.

Viruses are a real pain in the ass! Maybe I should do a post on how to help protect you from getting infected.

Mr. Torch: I think you will find it really is a great thing to have if you want to keep your digital life safe. If you build a server I would like to know what you think of how the system works for you and what ways you use it.

Mr. Anarchy: I just fixed a friends PC a couple weeks ago from a hard drive crash. He “thought” he had a backup system in place since he has had a HDD failure before. So he learned to back things up. The only problem was the system he had in place didn’t work as easy or as well as he thought it did. Once I had his laptop back up and running he went to get his backups only to find the most important thing to him and his business wasn’t backed up, his email. He had years of archives gone.

For recovery software you really can’t beat a product from Gibson Research Center ( called SpinRite, and it’s pretty cheap. Plus Mr. Gibson’s site has a lot of useful information on it. If my friend ever brings his HDD back to me I will try a few tricks with this software to get his email folder off that drive. One of those tricks is to freeze the drive in your freeze and it might work long enough to grab the file. As long as the drive isn’t broken mechanically SpinRite works well at helping retrieve your data. About the only other way is to send the drive to a company that does this kind of service and pay big money to have them TRY to recover your data. It is never cheap either, sometimes costing a thousand dollars or more with no guarantees they can get the data.

Sounds like you have a perfect candidate for a WHS system in that old PC. Would like to hear what you end up building and how you are using it too.


FLHX_Dave said...

Thanks FastHair. I always have two backups. Good post.

Your a nerd brother...that must mean I'm a nerd.

Your giving bikers a bad name...we're not suppose to possess any sort of know how beyond drinking, fighting, pissing and eating pussy. LOL!

Keep these secrets to yourself or the squares are gonna find out we are just like them! Ride on tech-ho.

B.B. said...

Wow! I actually understood most of what you said. Either you put in in really easy terms, or Dave's nerdiness is rubbing off on me!

KT Did said...

I agree BB. We could become the chick geeks!

Mastercheif said...

Honestly, I don't know what the hell you are talking about here, but you say it so well. Cool pictures too. Enjoyed it.

RickNiekLikeBikes said...

I think computers should still have an early warning system built in.

Baron's Life said...

Very good and timely article. I was looking for a back up system for my computers at home and somehow Microsoft Home server had never crossed my mind...not sure why I had dissmissed it, but will cetainly look at it.
Thanks for a great post GEEK...!

TRT said...

Good info. We just backed up all my wife's photos b/c a friend lost all theirs due to a virus. This is an interesting alternative. Thanks

fasthair said...

Mr. FLHX: Sorry I let the cat out of the bag. Good to hear you have two copies of every thing. That is one way to keep your valuable files. Two questions for you. When was the last time you backed up your email address book or even your bookmarks? You do keep these copies on different hard drives right and not on the same drive as your OS?

Ms. Ann: It could be that some of Dave is rubbing off on you, which doesn't appear to be a bad thing either. I won't say I tried to dummy down this post after leaving everyone with glazed eyes with my other PC posts. But I kept it in mind when typing this post. I wanted to talk about how the system works more then what makes it work.

Ms. KT: Geek chicks are sexy too. Then you add in the fact you're a chickonabike and I think you're the complete package! Want to move to Iowa? :)

Mr. Masterchief: Sorry you didn't understand what I said. More or less this is a simple easy to use backup system and a file server.

Mr. Rick: Computers kind of do come with a early warning system. Most all hard drives today have a built in check system called SMART. It's job it to check the disc surface for bad sectors and mark that part of the drive as bad so it can't be written to. Unfortunately this system works very poorly and rarely warns you when it detects the drive is failing. Once a drive starts to have bad sectors it is time to replace the drive because it is about to fail. The other warning system is when you boot your PC it displays "no operating system found" which happens pretty early in the boot up. :) Serious though that program I referenced earlier, SpinRite, is what you run on the drive to check its health. Once every six months is when I run it. I run it at night because it takes a long time to check large drives. But it is the best software if its type out there bar none.

Mr. Baron: Windows Home Server gets no love. In fact I hadn't really heard about it until about six or eight months ago. I had known of it but didn't really know what was or how it worked. Once I learned more about it I knew it was something I had to try for myself. As I said in the post. I have never seen a simpler more complete backup system then WHS. Then all of the other things you can do with the system is just a plus. These are the things that no other backup system can offer. If you follow the links in the post you can see just what you can do with WHS. Be interested to know if you employ WHS and how well it works out for you.

Mr. TRT: And I bet your friend is still bitching about all of the things that they lost. Also think about this. While loosing irreplaceable photos is one thing and it's important to back them up. How did you back them up? CD/DVD are a good way but they do fail too so you better have two copies of them. Hard drives fail too so it's not a fool proof system either so if you just made a copy of them in another folder on the same drive you are still risking loosing them. This is another thing that WHS does so well. If you have more then one hard drive in your WHS system there is a feature called " folder duplication." It will make copies of the folders on the server you tell it to and make these copies on a different hard drive so if (I should say when not if) one drive does fail you still have your copies on another drive. Even if the system drive fails in your WHS the OS has a way to rebuild itself once a new drive is installed. Think about this too. As I asked Dave when was the last time you backed up your email or bookmarks or the files in My Documents? When I lost my first hard drive I didn't have my Outlook backed up and since I use the calendar in it for work I had no idea for two weeks what I had coming in the door, talk about a bitch. Once you think about what all it is you can loose this system becomes a no brainer to me. Another thing that you can use WHS to do. Say you want to install a bigger hard drive. It's always a pain to reload the OS, apply all the patches, drivers ect then copy all of your files and set the machine back up the way you had it. With WHS you would install the drive, put the Restore DVD in the drive and let the server reload your system just like it was before you installed the new drive. The server doesn't have to be massive either like mine. That link to Donavan's site shows how to build several small, quite, low power systems fairly cheap.


"Joker" said...

This is great. I had to read it two or three times to really get it, but it looks like something I should do here. I've lost a lot of stuff on two different hard drive crashes in the last 10 years and I'm sick of that shit. My fault of course, but maybe now I can prevent #3. Thanks.

FLHX_Dave said...

Hey! Now you have gone too far brother. My bookmarks and email contacts are n'un yah...yah hear!

LOL, all kidding aside. OK, without getting all technical, I basically mirror the entire drive from a server machine. Then I have another 500 gig drive that I plug in that does a complete backup of everything on the drive, (except critical system files that are in use.) Knoppix can boot the system from a CD and let copy those files if you have the time.

Is that a RAID setup?

One more thing while I'm thinking about it. Is your internet connection a dedicated IP or is it Dynamic. (I'm still using 2000, go ahead and laugh) I'm asking because if it is dynamic how is remote access working for yah. I hear the technology is much better now...I was thinking about maybe trying it. I'm afraid of hackers erasing all my porn so I stopped hosting from the house!

fasthair said...

Mr. FLHX: Sure sounds like some sort of a RAID1 set up. I've never played with RAID before and to be honest, short of you, I don't think any of my other readers could set up a RAID array. Just another thing that makes WHS such a simple and easy thing to use. There is not a shadow of a doubt that anyone of my readers could set up and use WHS to great extent with only the smallest of learning curves. It truly is easy to use and a complete automatic backup system. Are there things that could be improved? Sure. But WHS does just what is was designed to do simply, easily and reliably. I don't think Microsoft had any idea of how creative people would be and think of different thing to do with WHS. I'm sure we will see some of these creative ideas put in the next version of WHS.

As far as my IP, it is dynamic but this doesn't present a problem. On my LAN I use Static IPs which really helped a great deal with IP conflicts. During set up WHS asks you if you want to create a custom domain name like It does this for free and MS has set up something with GoDaddy to issue a server certificate or something like that. With this and WHS updating the IP number to it your server can always be found on the 'net, if it is on.

You bring up good point about ISPs. Some block port 80 for remote connection to prevent home users hosting a server. There is a work around for this but is worth a mention. Most home broadband ISPs have a restriction of no server hosting for home users, mine included. But as long as you don't have a massive spike in upload bandwidth they will never notice the usage. After all it isn't much different then using off site file storage places like Live Drive.

For the other readers I know this was a bit techie. Don't let that mislead you. None of this has anything to do with the basic setup, use or function of WHS. Simply follow along in the install information and setup and I promise, almost without exception, you will have the system up and running in less then a rainy Saturday afternoon. Then sit back with a cold one and admire your new found knowledge and confidence that you have taken a huge step into avoiding a digital disaster day.


fasthair said...

Mr. Joker: Glad you found this helpful. I think if you check it out you will find it really is as I say. Hard drive crashes suck! You thinking of building or buying a WHS? Of all of the builds on the HSH site I like the little Eees box he built. I can see where a guy could turn that into a protable WHS to take back and forth to work to backup those PCs too since it is the size of a small book. That would fit my needs at work perfect. Like I said I'm always coming up with others ways to use WHS. This is how much I think WHS rocks!


irondad said...

I'm done with servers for now. I just helped set up a Microsoft Small Business Server for our corporation. Nobody had Microsoft Exchange accounts set for e-mail. Then they would put that as their primary account. Then complain because e-mails disappeared into a black hole. AAARGH! Try to explain that the new system just allows backup of e-mails in the background in case their laptop hard drives crash.

Would be interested in any prevention and optimization tips you care to share.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Fasthair:

I have membranes that cover my eyes and ears when I am in deep water. I am now breathing through a tube.

Fondest regards,
Jack Riepe
Twisted Roads

fasthair said...

Mr. IronDad: You mean MS isn't a valid email address? But but but... Thanks for the vote on the prevention post. I'm sure I'll raise more then one eyebrow when I post about how I do it.

On the upside I've got the bike out for the season with the last phone picture. Only been a couple of days I haven't ridden since then because of a quick little snow we had.

Dear Jack: Sorry pal but the battered baby seal deal isn't going to work on me. Bit too much rum before posting this?


Baron's Life said...

Thanks man, I'm going to follow your advice on this one and try it... You're certainly the group's geek.... Sorry I meant the Chief IT Officer.
I think you got a point if you can also give some cooking advice...I'll be really impressed...! lol...
Cheers and keep well

Ann said...

Just wondering if everything is ok. You haven't posted in a while. We miss you!

Motor-head Lady said...

Ditto that Ann.
Hope all is well with you Mr. Fasthair

fasthair said...

Mr. Baron: Cooking advice? Pre-heat the oven to 375, remove pizza from the box an plastic rap, cook for 12 to 15 minutes or until cheese is melted. Enjoy. Let me know how the WHS works out for you and what you think of it.

Ms. Ann & MHL: Everything is just ducky in my world. Got a bunch of new hot rod PC parts for my desktop so I’ve been playing with it seeing how fast I can make it go. No smoke rolling out of it so far so it must be ok :)