24 Feb 2009

Windows Home Server: an easy and cool way to forget about backups

Since Windows Home Server saw the light back in 2007 I’ve been trying to justify the investment. Now that I’m totally on my own it’s time to rethink it again.

Computers at home

At the moment I have a total of 4 PCs with the following roles and operating systems:

* PC running Windows 2003 Server. Subversion repositories, file server, FTP Server , SQL Server… you name it.
* PC running Windows Vista. This is my development workstation
* Laptop running Windows 7 and Windows XP on a second partition. This laptop must be always up-to-date as it is my mobile development machine.
* Laptop running Windows Vista. This is my wife’s laptop.

There are several virtual machines that I’ve not included and that are not backed up.

How I backup all these machines

Short answer: I don’t. Well, that’s not completely true. The server is setup as a RAID 1. This RAID 1 holds most of my critical files: repositories and business documents (accounting, customer’s info…). These folders are automatically copied to another hard drive using SyncBack. This hard drive also contains other important files like family photos, music library, etc.

I have no image backups of my machines.

Also, when the moon aligns with Mars I back up parts of this hard drives to DVD’s.

In summary, my backup strategy SUCKS, and I’ll have to face a disaster sooner or later

Windows Home Server to the rescue

Just in case you haven’t heard of Microsoft Windows Home Server, it’s an operating system which its main goal is to backup your PC’s. It doesn’t just backup your data, it backups your full PC so if your hard drive breaks (and it will break) you just need to put a new one and be up and running in minutes.  It can do a lot more like file sharing, remote access, etc. More info.

This operating system runs in small headless computers. You just connect the network cable and the power cord and you’re done. To manage the server simply navigate to the server’s web page.

Choosing the hardware

Not too many options. You can build your own server or buy it from HP or TranquilPC (it seems that there are other vendors like VIA and Fujitsu-Siemens but they’re not available yet).

I discarded the DIY option because I really don’t have time for it. So my options were HP MediaSmart EX470 and TranquilPC SH5-10.

HP EX470 MediaSmart Serve TranquilPC SQA-5H

I went directly to the HP website to find that the EX470/475 was no longer available (at least in Spain). I also read rumors that HP could discontinue the product in Europe. So I started looking for other vendors.

Then I found TranquilPC and their SH5-10 “Squash” Home Server. A really cool machine with 5 hard drive bays instead of 4 and with very good reviews. The only downside was the price: 620 € tax and shipping costs included, but the HP costs 650 € last time I saw it so…

When I was about to purchase the Squash, my wife asked me if I have called HP to be sure that the EX470 was indeed discontinued. So I called and… They still had EX470 in stock, although no EX475. Also there’s no estimated date to get the newer versions EX485/487. Anyway, after getting advantage of some discounts (thanks to my wife’s company)… I got a final price of 481 € shipped!.

I really liked the TranquilPC, but the price difference is just too much.

So I expect to receive my shinny new home server this week.

UPDATE (25/02/09): It’s already here. HP has managed to deliver the product in less than 24 hours. Awesome!