Windows Home Server rocks!

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23 January 2009

One of my kid’s machines just died – hard drive crash. In the past, this has been a pain, because I’d have to reinstall the OS (including finding and installing all the drivers) and he’d have to reinstall all his games, find the keys, all that stuff. It could literally take days or weeks to get the computer back to normal.

However, a few months ago I picked up the HP Windows Home Server appliance. It does regular (at least weekly, if not daily) automatic image backups of all the machines in my house. I bought it because a couple colleagues of mine had machines crash and they were singing the praises of WHS in terms of getting themselves back online quickly and easily.

I am now officially joining the chorus!

Here’s what I did: Pop out the bad hard drive, and put in an empty new one. Boot off the system rescue CD, walk through a simple wizard, wait 90 minutes for the restore and that’s it – he’s totally up and running as though nothing happened. Better actually, because this new hard drive is 3x bigger than the original – WHS simply restored to the new, bigger, drive without a complaint.

I guess it can be a little more complex with nonstandard network or hard drive drivers (How to restore a PC from a WHS after hard drive fails), but even that doesn’t look too bad. But in my case, WHS found the hard drive and network card automatically, so it was a total no-brainer.

The thing is, I’m not used to computers acting like or being like an appliance. But the HP WHS box really is an appliance – the kind of thing a regular home user could install. The machine comes with a fold-out instruction poster. 6 steps to install (things like “plug in power”, “plug in network”, “push on button”, etc). And it does these automatic backups, in a way where it deals with increasing volumes of data by warning you BEFORE the server runs out of space (unlike Vista’s built-in backup, which is terrible).

Start running out of space? Just pop in a new hard drive – without even shutting down the server. I’ve added two since I got the box. All PCs should work this way!!

The backups appear to be very smart. I’m backing up numerous machines, and the total backups are using less space than if you add all the backed up content together. I assume they are using compression, but I also think they are doing smart things like not backing up Windows XP and Vista each time, because those are the same across numerous machines. As are many of the games played by I and my kids.

What’s even better, is that WHS does video and audio streaming. I’ve been putting all our media on the box, and watching it from the xbox or media PC in other rooms.

There are more features, but I don’t want to sound like a spec sheet.

The point is that I’ve been entirely impressed by the simplicity and consumer-friendliness of this product since I took it out of the box (did I mention it is a really nice-looking mini-tower?). The fact that the computer restore feature works exactly as advertised is just further confirmation that it was a great purchase.

I seriously think that every home that has one or more computers with any data that shouldn’t be lost needs a WHS. Yes, that probably means you! ;)