What Should You Look For?
You might think a home server would be an expensive, complicated piece of equipmentbut you’d be wrong. In reality, a home server is nothing more than a specialized desktop computer. Yes, it should have a fairly large hard drive, to store all your media files and backups, but that’s the only important difference.
To that end, several different manufacturers sell dedicated home servers. Computer manufacturers, such as Acer and ASUS, sell units that look like small desktop PCs for as little as $400 or so. You can spend more, of course; as always, additional storage raises the price.
As to what to look for in a home server, the hard drive is the main thing. You want no less than 1 terabyte (TB) of storage, more if you have a lot of digital media. You may even want to consider units that include multiple swappable hard drives; this lets the unit combine multiple hard drives into a single virtual drive and provide some drive redundancy (using RAID technology). A home server with multiple hard drives can also serve as its own backup (going from one hard drive to another) and enables you to quickly swap out one drive for another if one goes bad or you need to add more storage.
Obviously, your home server needs some sort of network connection. While some home servers offer wireless connection via WiFi, I prefer connecting a server via Ethernet; it’s faster and more reliable. So look for an Ethernet port when you’re shopping.
You’ll also want to consider what software comes with the home server. Some home servers offer their own backup software that will back up data from all connected PCs. Without such software, you’ll have to schedule backups on the individual machines.
You may have a choice as to which operating system you run on your home server. Since you’re not using the server the same way you use a traditional computeryou’re not opening and running programs, or even doing web browsingyou don’t need anything too fancy. That’s why many home servers run some variant of the Linux open source operating system; it’s fast and cheap and gets the job done with a minimum of fuss and muss.
Beyond that, Microsoft offers a version of its Windows operating system just for home servers. Windows Home Server (WHS), as it’s called, offers all the expected server and backup functionality, plus a bit more. The most important extra is one that enables other computers to run Windows Media Center from WHS, thus seamlessly streaming media files to all the Windows-based computers in your home. It’s a nice feature, and makes WHS one of the easiest-to-use home server operating systems available.