The Interface of WHS

Although we'll touch on specific points of the GUI of WHS as we come to the various functions of the OS, we'll still spend a bit of time with the WHS interface since it's one of the other critical components that separates WHS from other server products and makes it work. Because WHS needs to be usable by a subset of users that are only partially computer literate, several special considerations had to go into making an interface for the OS. Furthermore the entire thing needs to be able to run headless once a WHS server is set up.

Microsoft has opted to go with a single application to control all of the functionality of WHS, the simply-titled Windows Home Server Console. As we alluded to earlier, the console actually runs on the server, and via a specialized RDP client is controlled from the clients. For clients that install the full connector suite (used for enabling backups) the specialized client is installed, which initiates the console on a remote computer and then transparently uses RDP to display it on the client as a local application. Because this is done via RDP, other clients from other OSs connect to and control the server via normal RDP; in this case they'll get the entire desktop of the server. At this point Microsoft is seriously entertaining the idea of pushing WHS onto non-Windows households, the Mac platform especially since an official RDP client is available.

The console effectively breaks up administration into 6 tasks: backups, user accounts, shared folders, server storage/drive management, network status, and WHS settings. As far as all of these interfaces go, Microsoft isn't working with any new human-computer interaction memes, rather everything is scaled down to be as simple as possible without losing effectiveness. This means that there's little we can say that's remarkable about the interface; it looks like Windows and there's a lack of buttons to push or things to break.

We're not completely sold on the effectiveness of the interface, but torn as to why. We don't think Microsoft could have made the interface any simpler without taking out features, but that doesn't preclude making it better. The interface is effectively a listing of a bunch of things to do, with help menus available that explain what each and every last thing does. It gets the job done, but a certain degree of computer literacy is required to understand what's going on. We'd say MS has done better with simplifying complex interfaces with Vista MCE, which manages to break complex issues such as storing recordings into a simple manner very well.

To that extent organizations like Geek Squad will probably get a good amount of business out of setting WHS up; it's not by any means hard, but there will be a sizable minority of potential customers that will lack the literacy required to do it themselves. However once set up WHS is by all indications plenty capable of continuing on indefinitely on its own; even its automatic update function has been revised for headless operation so that it can install any and all updates without human intervention (which is not the case today with XP or Vista). This is the reason we're torn, since most WHS servers probably won't need administration for 99.9% of their lives. The interface, especially for backups and user accounts, is good enough that once the server is set up it should be possible for more or less anyone to handle what little administrative duties remain.

On the whole Microsoft could have done a better job on making the interface accessible for everyone, but it's good enough for now.

The Technology of WHS WHS As A Backup Suite
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  • Iketh - Sunday, September 16, 2007 - link

    My current computer will be my file server/backup device in the future. My question is will WHS take advantage of 2gb of ram or should i make use of it in my new system and just throw a 512 or 1024 single channel stick in this one?
  • FrankM - Thursday, September 6, 2007 - link

    Had this idea for a time, posted it at various forums, and now I see it implemented - glad to see that this feature made it to implementation.
  • LoneWolf15 - Thursday, September 6, 2007 - link


    Many RAID controllers however aren't supported in spite of the availability of drivers due to WHS's unique method of handling disk drives.

    I found this out testing the Beta and RC. Using a Foxconn nForce 6150-chipset board, even with BIOS support for RAID 5 and drivers, I couldn't get it working. MS blamed it on the drivers, but essentially said "Why would you want to run RAID 5 when Windows Home server does (yada yada yada...)?"

    I know darn well why I want to run RAID 5...because some of my media files are important enough that I don't want to lose them, and RAID 5 is a far more secure way than WHS' methods. I really wish MS had worked harder on this part, because it makes deciding between purchasing WHS and staying with my 25-CAL copy of Win2k3 Server Enterprise (gotten at an MS conference) a much harder decision.

    I want Windows Home Server, eventually. I'm just not sure I want the first version.
  • tynopik - Thursday, September 6, 2007 - link

    > RAID 5 is a far more secure way than WHS' methods

    how so?

    i believe in the real world you will find this is not the case (unless you're using truly enterprise level hardware everywhere, and no nForce RAID is NOT enterprise level)
  • n0nsense - Thursday, September 6, 2007 - link

    nForce (i'm not sure, but i think there is intel's chipset based MoBos with raid 5) raid still better in terms of stability, redundancy and performance then any soft raid.
    think what will happen if your WHS will crush unrecoverably.
    how will you restore your data ?
  • tynopik - Thursday, September 6, 2007 - link

    > think what will happen if your WHS will crush unrecoverably.
    how will you restore your data ?

    pull the drive out
    stick it another system
    copy files off

    what will happen if your raid5 gets corrupted? how will you recover data?

    pull out all drives
    send to data recovery specialists
    pay $$$$$
  • ATWindsor - Sunday, September 9, 2007 - link

    If one drive die, you just replace it, other problems can mostly be fixed by the controller/software rebuidling the stuff, and if not, raid5 has a more or less standard way to be implmented, so you can easily use recovery tools. If that fails, you can always fall back to your backup.

    That beeing said, I do agree that onboard-raids are crap, I would much rather use a "pure" software-implementation, like mdadm or win2k3s implementation. Mobo-raids have had a horrible track-record data-security-wise.
  • Gholam - Sunday, September 9, 2007 - link

    Win2K3S costs about $750 OEM with 5 CALs, is considerably more difficult to administer than WHS, and does not include the backup client developed specifically for WHS.

    No linux-based implementation will give you SIS (Single Instance Storage) which will, in a typical home usage scenario, save you far more space than RAID5 over RAID1 could ever hope to.
  • ATWindsor - Sunday, September 9, 2007 - link

    Yes, win2k3 is an entirely diffrent product, but I don't see why that makes the need for software-raid5 in WHS any less. If anything you are arguing for implmenting software-raid5 in WHS. It's built on win2k3 and should be able to make a raid the same way w2k3 can.
  • Gholam - Sunday, September 9, 2007 - link

    As an example, you can look at Intel SS4000-E NAS. It runs Linux kernel 2.6 with software RAID5 as one of the options on an Intel IOP80219 processor clocked at 600MHz. Read performance on a 4-drive RAID5 caps out at 12MB/s on large files at 6MB/s on small files; write performance is approximately 7MB/s and 1.5MB/s respectively.

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