There are hundreds of threads on components to choose etc, so I will just post some quick info on my system and focus on the programs and services that can be used to get the most from your WHS PC. I found using a kill-a-watt meter that most computers >5 years old are just to inefficient to leave on all the time, but YMMV. I do love the idea of re-purposing an old computer first and foremost, but at the end of the day it has to make good financial sense.
Case- I chose a mid tower case with 6 exposed 5.25" bays as I like to use removable drive trays. With Modern HD sizes, a small form factor case (SFF) can be used by many with a small, micro-ATX board, as they have a small footprint and hold 3-4 HDs. This is determined by your expected storage needs of course, I anticipate needing more bays, so I went with a mid tower case that was left over from a previous slick-deal . I lined it with a extra sound proofing I had lying around. Remember, this is a server, so it is all about function, no gamer case needed here. If at all possible reusing a case would be ideal here.
HD trays - OPTIONAL - I chose: SUPERMICRO CSE-M35T-1B. I like removable HDs as it makes things a lot easier IMHO for the long haul, but it is an unnecessary expense. The supermicros are VERY well built and suited my needs perfect. The fan is insane loud, but it can be removed and with a little plastic shaving the 92mm fan can be replaced with a whisper quiet 120mm fan. They make an adapter, but it would not fit in my arrangement. I have used the single bays that you can slip a bare drive into, and have had mixed results. I have one in my main PC, monthly I insert a drive, backup, and take it to work. These however, are long, rather flimsy, and have questionable connections and no additional cooling. Five are also the same cost as the supermicro (near). I have found (as have others) that these are the best server grade trays, with solid connections, and built in alarms and cooling. Worth every penny IMHO. When you have to replace a drive in the server or add one, you will see why
HDs - At the time of this writing 2TB HDs can be found for $60. This is all about cost/size ratio. 3TB HDs are 3X the cost of 2TB making them overpriced, and 1TB is only a few dollars less than 2TB. This makes 2TB the perfect drive for cost/size at this time. No doubt it will change before I post this, but you get the idea. GREEN DRIVES ARE IDEAL. They cost less, run cooler, last longer. A low RPM large drive today is FASTER than a standard drive of just a few years ago due to platter density. Buying standard drives for a WHS makes absolutely NO SENSE
Need Additional Drives? - If your board does not support additional SATA connections it is an easy fix. This is where Motherboard choice can determine options. Because WHS does not support RAID I am not going to address it here, as I don't have all day, but a good hardware RAID5 is about as robust as one would need. However IMHO THE best feature of the DE replacements is the ability to mix drives of different sizes. RAID requires all similar/same drives. I prefer to use older drives rather than reselling and having to buy multiple drives at once and rebuilding an array. These cards can be used as RAID cards, or as simple SATA port add-on cards. I have NOT used any of these cards, and can not speak to their WHS integration (read reviews many people have). This is just to show available options fpr additional SATA drives.
Need 4 additional Ports?
Motherboard/CPU - Most people go with a dual core atom board right now for a good reason. They have plenty of power for WHS, are quiet, and use very little power. My first build used one of these and I was very happy..until. Fry's had a sale with a Gigabyte MoBo (GA-H55M-S2H) and an i3 for only a few dollars more. The i3 has significantly more power than the Atom and still uses very little electricity. The i3 with this MoBo also provides on board/chip video and HDMI out for future changes (nice). But there are other factors a s well. There are additional PCIe slots for RAID or SATA controller cards. I also wanted an i3 for some additional features I will describe later. The entire idea here is to keep power as low as possible while having ample computing power for the tasks needed. I went with the i3 when I decided to integrate the CCTV, as this may need more processing power with the additional features I am asking from my WHS
Something Like this is more than enough for basic server functions (no CCTV), and 4 SATA ports as well, just think ahead for future expandability:
RAM - The more the better, but 2-4GB is plenty here, reuse what you can
Assemble as per normal PC making sure to keep thing clean and tidy. This is not a powerhouse so buy the largest fans you can that will run at a low RPM. This will keep things cool while keeping the computer as quiet as possible. Nothing is worse than having to hear the server humming for 24 hrs. I have also implemented a fan controller, so I can get noise and airflow into the sweet spot. It matters a lot more than one thinks
Install the OS - This takes about an hour - I connected a temporary DVD for the install, and then removed it, as I should never need it again (create an ISO and mount it with virtual clone drive or similar if you must, or use an external for future DVD use). A DVD uses unnecessary power, and take up a bay. Like all installs, activate and update your new OS until it is all squared away.
Router - I use DDWRT, but almost all routers have port-forwarding and Static Addressing capabilities. Go into your router and tell it to assign your WHS box the same IP every time. All routers are different but it is very easy. Find the MAC address of the WHS and give it a specific address, 192.168.1.XXX. This way the WHS is always at the same address on your network. This is important.
From here on out you can use remote desktop to access your WHS or the connector software to access the WHS Dashboard
To install WHS Connector go to HTTP:\\homeserver\connect\ (in Internet Explorer) from a PC
From the dashboard, you assign folder, users, and access restrictions. It is too easy for me to explain, and should be self explanatory. A few tips:
1. Each user should have the same name, and password an all machines. If this is not done you will need to provide additional credentials after login. Remember this is different from the Administrator password
2. Create a shortcut to the server on each users desktop (192.168.1.XXX) for easy access to folders, otherwise you have to use the launchpad every time or browse the network for server shares
3. Launchpad is fairly useless unless you want to do an impromptu backup, on the top right you can tell it not to auto launch, and DISABLE ALERTS (recommended for sanity)! Otherwise you will get multiple meaningless alerts every time it opens
OPTION - Information removed at the request of others to keep things simple
Now that the WHS is built and running, time to get the most from it. As of yet there is no DE (Drive Extender) replacement. I am using a Beta of Stablebit and anticipate its release. Until then everything must be folderized on individual drives. With large HDs this is not a problem for me yet.
NOTE - Servers are not designed to surf the web so it is a HUGE PITA to do so from the server. If you need to install any programs (below) to the server, download them from a Win machine, and then cut/paste them using Remote Desktop
Now Lets Get Down To Business
Backup - Backup on WHS is very easy to the point where no tutorial is needed. The default schedule will be fine for most all users and all commuters will be backed up nightly with the default settings. The user can select the items to be backed up selectively to include files / folders / drives the user wants with simple tick-boxes. Personally, I have WHS backup my primary computers C drive. I also have the server backup its own OS to a USB HD, and nothing else. I don't like the fact that all computers get backed up on the same schedule, as many of my PCs go days without use. I chose to install Acronis on the "client" PCs. This way each computer gets backed up on its own schedule as I see fit. There are free alternatives, and most will backup to a network location, I just am familiar with Acronis and after dozens of restores it has NEVER failed me. I simply created a share called "Acronis Backups" and gave read/write permissions. If you want to keep it simple just have WHS do all the backing up. It works great, just wasn't right for my needs. WHS now has a utility that formats and installs the recovery software onto a flash drive rather than CD. As with previous WHS the user can select the exact files/folder/drives to be backed up. My ONLY reason for not preferring this for backup it the lack of scheduling control the user has. Unless a manual backup is performed, all machines are backed up on the same schedule.
Media Streaming - First you have to enable media streaming on the Server Dashboard. If you keep movies in a lovation other than the VIDEOS folder you will need to add that folder into the videos library the same way you would on Windows7, otherwise it will not be available for streaming. Most of my movies are in MKV format which MS does not support (?). So I had to install a codec pack to stream them. I have used Divx, Shark007, and CCCP. All have worked, but opinions vary on each, so it is your decision. After this I was able to stream ALL movies to my blue ray player
Ghetto Folder Duplication - With DE gone and not yet replaced, I added an older 750GB HD to the mix and use it for folder duplication. Using Syncback, I created a Group that contains multiple profiles. A profile basically says to backup folder X to folder Y. Each profile is a folder I want duplicated onto a different drive. The 750GB drive only holds duplicated folders, So if any 1 drive fails, either the original, or the duplicate can be used to restore. I place all of these profiles into a group, and schedule the group to run on a schedule as I want (daily at 2100hrs). I also use syncback to daily sync (backup) all of my pictures, music, movies, and documents from the main PC to the server. It supports network targets, or you can map the folders as network drives (this can slow things down if the WHS is offline as Windows explorer will always look for them)
Install Dropbox - If you don't have dropbox, I don't know where to start, but if you are reading this, I am sure you do. RDP into the Server and install it, you will need it later. It also serves as a good local backup in case for some crazy reason you can't access any other way. I use it for automatic torrent and usenet downloading as described below
Torrent Machine - Install Utorrent as per normal. Go to: Options->preferences->directories.
Create a directory for torrents to go into, and a different one for them (on same drive for speed) to be move to when completed. ONLY share the completed directory, that way people aren't trying to open an incomplete file. At the bottom there is a section "Automatically download torrents from:" Point this to a location on your dropbox. Now wherever you are in the world, if you put a torrent file into your dropbox, your server will: Load the torrent, download it, assemble it, and move it once it is completed to an accessible folder of your choice. I can place a 1mb file into dropbox, and when I get home (or fro VPN remotely) I can access the complete downloaded file on my server, and Bobs my uncle
There is a way to make utorrent run as a service. This is ideal because it will allow utorrent to run when nobody is logged onto the server. If your Server reboots, you may not know why your torrents aren't downloading until you RDP into the server and sign in. I have not done this yet (doing it tomorrow) but the instructions are here:
Usenet - If you don't know what this is..then move on, if you do..read on. Install SabNZB onto the server. SabNZB installs as a service so you are good to go there. It runs through Internet explorer, and is running in the background after you close it. You configure your host and parameters in the webUI, and it is very straight forward. The beauty here is it can also load NZB files from a location. Just like utorrent, you assign a dropbox folder for it to watch. Once you drop the NZB ito the dropbox, the server will load it, download the file, assemble it, and put it into the directory of your choice. This way you can throw an NZB file into dropbox from work or wherever, and come home a few hrs later, and watch that LEGAL blue Ray rip. (Usenet is a protocol only and is only as legal or illegal as the material you download. I do not, nor do I condone, downloading copyrighted material, had to say it)
CCTV Security System - When I am away from home I like to be able to "look in" and make sure all of my blow-up dolls and electronics are safe. So I have a few IP cameras that connect to the router/switch. I recently (yesterday) installed the trial version of BlueIris after much research. It can sense motion and email me pictures and record video as I schedule it to. Installing the software on the server means it is always running. OH Yea, It runs as a service as well, so if the server is powered on, it will be working, no login required. If the criminal takes my server, I can specify that images/video be emailed or FTP'd to on offsite location. I have a few Pan/Tilt cameras that I can move and control remotely with the software. This is a new venture, but looks very promising
VPN - I currently run a VPN from my DDWRT router, but I know Win7 has the capabilities of acting as a VPN. This allows me to browse my server and home network wherever I am. I would imagine WHS (Server 2K8) will also have the same capabilities for those that want to have a VPN to access their server/shares while away from home. It also gives you safe internet browsing when away from home. If not there are 3rd party applications, and it would MAKE A GREAT ADD-IN
Stream to PCs without a login - I wanted my sons laptop to be able to stream movies and nothing else. He is 3, and we use it as a TV for him to watch movies on in the playroom. It is about 10 years old and has no login. I was able to circumvent this by adding my "movies" folder to a homegroup created on the server. Now this laptop can stream movies without a user logging in
Hidden Folders - I have a True Crypt file on one of my drives that holds all my finances and what-not. Unfortunatly all shares are Visible to all users, even if not accessible. The easy solution is to place it in a sub-folder of a folder restricted to me only, but then it still might be visible of my password is compromised. It is encrypted, but I fear deletion over alteration at this point. So I RDP into the server and created a folder named XXXX$. The $ makes the folder invisible to explorer. Now using normal sharing options (not in Dashboard, but explorer) I can share it with myself only. I have to know the path in order to access it now and it is not visible to the network. If you do the same with truecrypt, you can save the path as a "favorite" as well within truecrypt. The path will be similar to \\homeserver\hiddenfolder$\filename
I was able to do ALL of these same things from a Win7 install on the same machine, so why WHS. It is hard to explain, but it is worth every penny. The entire process is more streamlined and secure, and I was happy to pay the $50 for WHS over the already bought Win7. If you really need the $50, then all these suggestions can be applied to Win7 with a homegroup and multiple user accounts setup, I did it for a year. That being said I would never go back. Every aspect is easier and WHS is worth every penny IMHO
I will try to add to this and make it more informative as time goes on. Hope this helps someone out
Once a Thread Wiki is added to a thread, "Create Wiki" button will disappear. If you would like to learn more about Thread Wiki feature, click here.