I have recently become the proud owner of an HP MediaSmart Server, featuring Microsoft’s Windows Home Server product. The idea behind it is to offer consumers a somewhat convenient way to automatically backup all your home computers with a relatively easy admin panel for configuring backups, doing remote administration and accessing shared data. I use the modifiers “somewhat” and “relatively” because you do need to be technically savvy to successfully setup and configure the server, especially tweaking the network settings. But once you overcome those hurdles, actually using the Home Server is quite easy.
The most difficult part for me was configuring my wireless router to play nice with Home Server. If you do take the plunge and buy a Home Server, you should spend a little extra money to get a half-way decent router. I made the mistake of starting out with a cheapo Belkin router ($50), which caused me a few days of heartache. After switching to NetGear, it was pretty smooth sailing. Where the technological sophistication comes in is in setting up the router to reserve a specific IP address for the Home Server and then setting up port forwarding to enable remote administration over the Internet. This lets you see your Home Server from anywhere in the world, as well as remotely administer any machine on your home network (via Remote Desktop) â€“ there are also some extra steps required to configure machines on the network to accept remote connections.
Setting up the server provided me the necessary excuse to better organize our digital media assets, such as photos, music and home videos. After having done so, I realized that we have almost 10 years worth of pictures residing on hard drives. So the peace of mind in having those backed up redundantly is well worth the price of the server (about $600) and the time needed to configure it. If you plan to buy one, you might also want to check out some of the add-ins available. It’s running Windows Server 2003 (64 bits) under the hood, so it could conceivably run things like SharePoint and Exchange. Now all I need is a little more spare time. J