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HOW TO: Build the Ultimate WHS - Windows Home Server

MoneyIDontHave 351 137 July 28, 2011 at 11:29 AM More Newegg Deals
I have been asked by several people to put together a small tutorial on building and setting up a Windows Home Server (WHS). I will try to keep this up to date, I will try to include pictures when I can, and I would LOVE to hear suggestions on additional functionality.

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 Smilie. 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
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Pro...6817121405
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Pro...6811996022

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?
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Pro...6815124020
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Pro...6816132013
Need 8?
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Pro...6815121009


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:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Pro...6813157228

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)
http://www.2brightsparks.com/syncback/

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
https://www.dropbox.com

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
http://www.utorrent.com/returning-visitor

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:
http://jack.ukleja.com/utorrent-s...rver-2011/

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)
http://sabnzbd.org/download/

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
http://blueirissoftware.com/7.html

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

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62 Comments

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Joined Feb 2007
L4: Apprentice
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Original Poster
#3
Very nice writeup. A few comments -

1. Having the same username/password on all client pc's - this could be a security risk. It's no longer needed with WHS and IMO its better to login with a specific WHS password.

Answer: It is not necessary, you are right. However the same user name and password allow you ta access your server shares without having to log in a second set of credentials, making it much more user friendly. I ALWAYS include MYSELF as a user. That way my user account is restricted as I see fit. The Administrator login for the WHS is very complex and certainly not my user login. Alternativly you can store the Administrator credentials in Win7s credential manager, but then if you walk away while logged on a user may now have Administrative access

2. Assigning a specific IP and accessing WHS thru it - is this necessary? Using the machine name should be sufficient as the router will resolve the name.

Answer: It is not NEEDED. I do this to simplify and eliminate any networking errors and elemenate the change for a bad address resolution. I also find it makes other programs like syncback and my CCTV less prone to errors. If your WHS box looses power for a few days the router IP lease time may expire and the WHS may be assigned a different address. This just eliminates that possibility. I assign all Static addresses as 192.168.1.1XX while my router is set to give dynamic addresses in a range of 192.168.1.200-220

Is it not possible to suspend client pc backup for specific clients?

Answer: After WHS backs up each client I turn off the feature except my main PC for reasons stated. However now I have to remember each machines last backup and manuall initiate a backup when I want (always able to do that). With acronis I can set 1 machine to backup daily, another weekly, and another monthly. Once it is setup I dont have to think about it again.

All of these little things that don't sound like much add up, and make the user experience much more seamless. It took years for me to figure some of this stuff out. Thanks for the questions though! I will copy this to the thread I made to help other with similar questions
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"Capitalization is the difference between "I had to help my uncle Jack off a horse.." and "I had to help my uncle jack off a horse..""
#4
great article - thanks for taking time to write this up

here is some feedback based on my experience: I would not use any green drives or any non-enterprise/raid specific drive in a RAID array. I lost an entire RAID 5 array when 2 of my WD Green drives "fell" out of the array. Green drives do not have error recovery [wikipedia.org] which makes them poor candidates. I have since purchased the WD WD2002FYPS 2TB and I now have 5 of them running in a RAID6 array. You can find them new on eBay for $150 (5yr warranty) - no issues and running strong for 2+ years.
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#5
Very Nice and informative article.

Instead of WHS can we use Windows 2008 R2 to built the server and do the same?
Is it a better option than WHS?
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Joined Feb 2007
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#6
Quote from mels View Post :
great article - thanks for taking time to write this up

here is some feedback based on my experience: I would not use any green drives or any non-enterprise/raid specific drive in a RAID array. I lost an entire RAID 5 array when 2 of my WD Green drives "fell" out of the array. Green drives do not have error recovery [wikipedia.org] which makes them poor candidates. I have since purchased the WD WD2002FYPS 2TB and I now have 5 of them running in a RAID6 array. You can find them new on eBay for $150 (5yr warranty) - no issues and running strong for 2+ years.
Could not agree more. RAID is intended for enterprise drives, although many use commercial drives without problems. Most people dont (and should not) venture into RAID unless they have a pretty solid understanding of it. I do HIGHLY recoment the green drives for a WHS build however
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Joined Feb 2007
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#7
Quote from DealNovice View Post :
Very Nice and informative article.

Instead of WHS can we use Windows 2008 R2 to built the server and do the same?
Is it a better option than WHS?
Server is a whole different OS than Windows 7/Vista/XPX/etc. There ar various roles that need to be assigned and configured as well as accounts and privileges. If you have never used or been thought it I would recommend against it strongly. If you have it on hand I would install it onto a VM (virtual Machine) and play around with it extensively before putting ANY data onto an unfamiliar OS
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Last edited by MoneyIDontHave July 29, 2011 at 01:46 PM
Joined Dec 2004
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#8
Wondering if WHS2011 runs on a Pentium D machine. I've read D's are able to handle 64bit but I want to be positive before I crack the seal (I ordered last week's deal) If not I'll pick up a cheap barebones but I have a tower that I'm about to retire.
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#9
LOL I was wondering that myself actually. I do all of my posting in the slick deals area, and have never even been to tech support prior to this. I browsed the forum and figured it was the correct place to post a how to. I sent a mod alert and asked if there was a more appropriate place to post a how to as I did not want ot to get scrapped after all of the writing. When I came back it was stickied. I feel kind of honored and proud, as weird as that may be. I have been a contributing member for quite a while and always go out of my way to help others, maybe that's why. Sorry if it bothers you, just trying to help out other users around here. This seems to be a topic a lot of people need help on and have questions about
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Joined Sep 2005
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#10
Quote from flea View Post :
No offense, but how'd you get them to sticky the thread? You've barely posted in Tech support so you don't have a reputation here, your post is only a few hours old so it hasn't been promoted to the mods by a bunch of users, and plenty of other good How To's have been created, but aren't sticky'd. I've skimmed through the thread, and it looks like it has plenty of good info, but I don't don't see how it got sticky'd so fast.
not only that but honestly, the information is fairly haphazard and some of it is basically wrong but fine for that specific user.
such as deleting the standard shared folders.
not actually a smart thing to do if you plan on using some of the more popular add-ons as many try to save or access these specific share names explicitly and are not set up to allow the user to customize their desired shares.
or that people need to install certain things or even do them a certain way which is again, user preference.


honestly, its a decent writeup but if you really want good information, either head over to wegotserved.com or mediasmartserver.net for much better information.

Quote from rip it View Post :
Wondering if WHS2011 runs on a Pentium D machine. I've read D's are able to handle 64bit but I want to be positive before I crack the seal (I ordered last week's deal) If not I'll pick up a cheap barebones but I have a tower that I'm about to retire.
depends on the specific processor
if your processor can handle a 64bit architecture, it will be noted on the information sheet for the proc.
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Last edited by R1Budha July 28, 2011 at 06:42 PM
all tech support threads will now be answered with possibly random and false information.
This is due to the retardedness of posters and answering posters in general.
thank you, have a nice day.
Joined Sep 2005
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#11
Quote from areicb View Post :
Server is a whole different OS than Windows. There ar various roles that need to be assigned and configured as well as accounts and privileges. If you have never used or been thought it I would recommend against it strongly. If you have it on hand I would install it onto a VM (virtual Machine) and play around with it extensively before putting ANY data onto an unfamiliar OS
WHS2011 is a limited version of Server 2008R2.
it uses the same kernel, the same basic tools and only lacks ways for people to get to certain tools and offers a simplified Remote Access Console login versus the standard RDP/console login.
which is why when you RDP into the console you can actually go in and play with many of the Server2008R2 tools you cannot see inside the WHS console.
Just as WHSv1 was a limited version of server 2003R2
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#12
Quote from R1Budha View Post :
WHS2011 is a limited version of Server 2008R2.
it uses the same kernel, the same basic tools and only lacks ways for people to get to certain tools and offers a simplified Remote Access Console login versus the standard RDP/console login.
which is why when you RDP into the console you can actually go in and play with many of the Server2008R2 tools you cannot see inside the WHS console.
Just as WHSv1 was a limited version of server 2003R2
I did not say it was different than server 2K8, I said it was different from windows. The original question was in regards to why a normal Windows user cant just fire up a server OS and go with it rather than use WHS, which is designed specifically so a normal Windows user CAN use a server OS
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Last edited by MoneyIDontHave July 28, 2011 at 07:24 PM
Joined Feb 2007
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#13
Quote from R1Budha View Post :
not only that but honestly, the information is fairly haphazard and some of it is basically wrong but fine for that specific user.
such as deleting the standard shared folders.
not actually a smart thing to do if you plan on using some of the more popular add-ons as many try to save or access these specific share names explicitly and are not set up to allow the user to customize their desired shares.
or that people need to install certain things or even do them a certain way which is again, user preference.


honestly, its a decent writeup but if you really want good information, either head over to wegotserved.com or mediasmartserver.net for much better information.


depends on the specific processor
if your processor can handle a 64bit architecture, it will be noted on the information sheet for the proc.
I specifically address that WHSv1 had problems with folder deletion and I start the sentence off stating it is optional and for the user to beware. I simply states that I have not had any problems with this in WHS2011. It's no wonder people dont post how to articles here, seems like people read what they want and then flame the poster. Since you are ranked as "master" I would think you would actually read the post before criticizing. I simple stated at the beginning that this was a tutorial on how to get extra functionality from WHS. I only mention the fact that I deleted these folders because the folders made to replace them must be added to the library for media streaming.

I have read thousands of posts over several years and been with WHS from the beginning. I have read probably every single article on the wegotserved forums. However the Slickdeals community is clearly interested and has questions. This writeup is intended to help those people and to expose the fact that a WHS can do ALOT more than just serve files. How about you read and comment on what is actually written. If you have something to contribute then so be it.

Thanks for the helpful post though..based on your response to me and your signature it sounds like you already have all of the answers to everything. Maybe you should write a tutorial
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Last edited by MoneyIDontHave July 28, 2011 at 07:50 PM
#14
What an awesome post. I learned a lot from this and I thought I had a pretty good grasp of WHS... There's always room to learn.

TY for taking the time to type this up for everyone. I've bookmarked it.
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Joined Mar 2007
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#15
This is a pretty bizarre thread. The OP's post is chockfull of info, but there's so many items wrong, I don't know where to start. Then the OP replies to his own post with "Very nice writeup"? Confused

WHS 2011 = Windows Server 2008 R2 (restricted, as R1Budha said) + additional features for backup, media streaming and stuff.

Security: There is absolutely no risk to having the same user name and password on each machine, so long as the password is sufficiently complex. Truecrypt so otherss can't see shares/folders they can't get into anyway? Makes no sense whatsoever.

Deleting pre-shared folders: You didn't even cover the downsides to this and ended up re-creating a built-in folder! Roll

"Ghetto folder duplication"? You're better off putting non-green drives into a RAID 1 array.

You didn't cover server backup much at all, which is essential to keeping a proper backup and what you did cover said to use a USB drive. That's going to be freakishly slow! I got a trayless 5.25 bay adapter and stick a spare drive in for backups configured every morning. It still takes around 3-4 hours to mirror the server.

Shortcut or browse the network? Nono Start->Run->\\servername

"Folderized on individual drives"? Huh? Are you saying one folder per drive? Definitely not.

"Win7 has VPN capabilities" What's that got to do with anything? This is Server 2008 R2.

"WHS does not support RAID." Utterly false.

"RAID is designed for server drives". Eh, no.

"Why WHS"? Well, you turned off all the good features, so, yeah, it's hard to recommend it from your guide over plain Windows 7 or Server 2008 R2.


IMO, this thread should be unstickied until the OP can clean up all the incorrect items and misinformation and better weigh the pros and cons rather than recommending his own setup to everyone as a "guide".
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Last edited by redmaxx July 28, 2011 at 11:38 PM
Steve Gibson on password policies [grc.com]: I mean, I don't get this change it every eight weeks. ... It's not as if passwords are traveling by camel after they've been stolen, going to the bad guys, and so there's, like, some weird eight-week window, like, oh, we're going to change your password so that the stale password no longer works. ... And all this does is make IT people despised because users, who are not dumb, they think, why am I - why do I have to do this? What problem is this solving?
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