Last April, Microsoft introduced the successor to Windows Home Server, simply named 2011. Is it worth upgrading to the latest version of Microsoft's NAS competitor?
Before we answer this question, let's refresh our knowledge of Windows Homes Server first. It's a version of Windows Server, modified for home use. The first version was based on Windows Server 2003, but the new edition has 2008 R2 as foundation. A primary function of the OS is that it creates an environment in which sharing files is very easy within the home network and where you can access those files via the internet. It also offers excellent back-up options for Windows systems, allowing you to easily recover data after a crash or upgrade. The Windows foundation makes it possible to use a lot of existing Windows applications, which in turn gives you a lot of customising freedom. This is a big advantage over even the most powerful and user-friendly Linux-based NAS. Additionally, there are many specially-developed add-ins available, expanding the range of features even more. In short, it's a very interesting environment if you're looking for a home server.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the original Windows Home Server is the integrated Drive Extender. As the name suggests, this lets you combine all your disks into one large storage volume. You begin with one disk and add more when the need arises. This is possible without complicated RAID conversions, and you no longer need to move folders from one disk to another because one disk is becoming clogged with data. This is great if you have a lot of data, or a steadily growing music, photo or film collection. If you want to safely store the data, then you can choose to duplicate folders. The folder is then saved twice, on different drives. Should something go wrong with one of them, you can always retrieve the folder from the other. Obviously this requires at least two disks in a Home Server. A drawback of Drive Extender is that it significantly slows the read and write speeds to about 25 MB/s in practice, whereas 80 MB/s is a speed that can quite easily be achieved nowadays.
Windows Home Server has managed to build a sizeable following, all of whom are yearning for the arrival of the latest version of Microsoft's NAS alternative. We could write an entire article about the pros and cons of a Home Server vs a NAS device, but the short version is: money. While you can find affordable NAS devices, the truly powerful NAS devices by QNAP and Synology are far from cheap. Especially if you are looking for a NAS that can house many disks, you must be willing to make a considerable investment. A Windows Home Server you can get for a relatively good price, especially if you build the system yourself. A motherboard with many SATA connections and even a dedicated controller isn't that expensive, and the same is true for a decent chassis with plenty of mounting options. You can make a Home Server as simple, powerful and affordable as you want.