EV-DO and UMTS are about to change the way we think about data. Along with a crash-course in what a Home Server is, we’ll tell you why broadband high-speed wireless will change your common conventions about the limitations of a Home Server, as well as why and how you may want to set one up.
The Home Server: You Have To See It For Yourself
The Home Server has been this pipe dream for years that has dodged the mobile sure. First, let’s address what really is a Home Server. The idea of a home server is a dedicated computer in your house that houses all your files that you would want to access from any system you own.
For example, media, TV, movies, pictures, in order to be accessible from any system in the house would be stored on a home server which supports serving to all systems in your house, as well as advanced devices such as Media Center Extenders (such as the Xbox 360) to TVs and other platforms such as PDAs. With Gigabit Ethernet, this concept is even more simplified, as virtually all bandwidth constraints are eliminated. Most programs, and even HDTV stream with zero difficulty through the house. With 802.11n about to become mainstream, laptops are not excluded either. You can make a document on one system, edit it on another, and print it on the road, all without any of those three systems actually storing or swapping the file.
However, there is one major exception. The problem stems when you actually leave the house (which, some of you may actually do once in awhile). Then, access to files is limited to where you have a fast enough internet connection to house them. While hotspots are nice, having to tell a client you need to run to one to get a presentation can be a disaster. Thankfully, EV-DO has already started to change this.
With a downlink at DSL speeds, it’s time for users to embrace the Home Server. EV-DO (as well as UMTS) allows for file access from anywhere coverage permits, and, in a pinch, can fall back to 1xRTT (GPRS/EDGE for GSM/UMTS) for nationwide coverage.
So, with the ability to access all your files at home, work, and on every system “out there”, the Home Server has now finally entered the digital age that it actually makes sense for the average savvy user to set one up. It may surprise you, but, you may actually already be using a Home Server system. Companies like Orb serve select types of media using web servers. And, there are also systems such as Apple’s iDisk, FTP, and even web hosting, that can serve as centralized storage. However, the Home Server is a system that provides access to all your data, and virtually unlimited storage by adding additional hard drives.
Probably the second best thing going for the Home Server next to EV-DO, and even UMTS, is the cost. With Black Friday PC prices dropping to $150, the investment in even trying out a Home Server is at all-time lows. All you need to do is upgrade the OS from Windows XP Home Edition (which, in case you don’t notice below is not mentioned at all, HE is extremely poor as a Home Server, the best suggestion we have is to wipe the hard drive).
Like all things in the computer world, there are three options; Apple, Linux, and Microsoft. The Microsoft path is the most murky. Microsoft currently suggests either Windows XP Professional/Media Center, or, Windows Server 2003 for Small Business Systems. At the PCS Intel command center, we use 2003 SBS SP1 for serving needs around the office, and I personally use MCE 2005 at home. Each has their advantages and disadvantages. 2003 SBS is more robust, and faster at centralized serving, however, it lacks media. Without MCE 2005, serving TV, pictures, and video requires shadow copying. So, the real choice is if you want either media, or, performance.
With Apple, the question becomes cost. Mac OS X can offer FTP, Web, Windows, AFP, and built-in Unix standards such as SSH. With minimal modification, WebDAV and other services can also be turned on. Mac OS X server offers added controls, and less setup time for robust services. In the end, we suggest not stepping up to Server for Home Server uses unless you want easy-to-maintain WebDAV.
Linux is cheap, that’s the best thing going for it. Unfortunately it also is too modularized for us to suggest to the standard PCS Intel reader. That’s not to say that there aren’t going to be tons of commentary about how easy Linux is, for a large part of our viewership (ourselves included), it’s extremely easy. However, for the average savvy user, we suggest you stick back to the Apple vs Microsoft situation.
Printing is an essential feature of Home Servers, we suggest a printer that supports Bonjour and Windows printing services. Why Bonjour? Thanks to iTunes, its install base is growing by leaps and bounds, and with wide-area Bonjour, it is already the easiest print-anywhere-without-paying system available.
We’ll give you a basic detail our our two home server configurations.
“The Office” Home Server
eMachines T3406 PC
2.93 Celeron D Processor
Windows Server 2003 SBS SP1
512 MB DDR333 Dual-Channel RAM
80 GB ATA HD + 500 GB Serial ATA Hard Drives
No-IP Dynamic IP Configuration Software
HP Photosmart 2610v (Supports Windows Printing and Bonjour)
Total Cost: $299 (Yes, with printer, and some RAM laying around)
“The Home” Home Server
Dell Dimension 4700
2.8 GHz Pentium 4 Processor
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005
1 GB DDR2 RAM
500 GB Serial ATA Hard Drives
No-IP + Orb
Total Cost: $499
As you can tell, there are some significant similarities between the two systems. They have the same processor speed (about), as well as the same hard drive space (the T3406 uses the 80 GB for the OS). These two systems are good spec-sheets for deciding what you need for what you want to do, if you’re into media, you really want to go with Media Center Edition, it allows for streaming TV when combined with Orb to just about anywhere EV-DO will take you.
Yes, as we touched on there are some technical protocols you have to configure, based on how you want to access your data. We suggest four to get started; Web, FTP, WebDAV, and Orb. Orb really isn’t a protocol, however, it makes it easy to access media even from your phone (provided it isn’t a Verizon phone, which blocks most content). Web is the easiest, on all options it’s just click and go. FTP is the same, just make sure you have FTP clients on your systems.
WebDAV is the most robust procol, as we mentioned, it is what powers iDisk. But, WebDAV will allow you to access your whole hard drive as if it’s attached to your computer, it will mount in either My Computer on Windows, or, on the desktop in Mac OS X. If you want to make a Home Server easy to access, WebDAV is the only way to go, it works at home, and on the road. Of course, you may want to suppliement WebDAV with local filesharing protocols depending on the OS you chose (Windows/Samba, or Apple File Protocol depending on your OS).
The protocols isn’t just about technology either. By running a Home Server, you have to change your security protocol as well. Firewalls, antivirus, and keeping your system up-to-date are extremely crucial. Servers are even more attractive to attack than a standard system, keep your system safe and please, back it up.
We are a bit ahead of the curve on the Home Server idea, but, we think you’ll have as much success as we have had with it. Both Microsoft and Apple are planning Home Server components as part of their next OSes, and this should make it even easier to make any standard PC with broadband a Home Server. However, that’s no reason to wait until those systems are completed, the technologies behind Home Server are done and ready to go for you to use now.
Sprint’s post-merger business moniker is “With Sprint Business, you can make just about any place a workplace”. With emerging tools, as well as new ones on the horizon such as Google Video’s advanced adaption of VideoLAN, your Home Server can make just about any system, your system. Yes, you will have to go through some time setting it up, but, Home Servers will let you take your files anywhere, regardless of where you are, and regardless of what system you are on.