A few weeks ago, I decided to build myself a nice little home server. I came up with a couple of reasons to do this. First, if had a separate file server, then I wouldn't have to have the downstairs "family" computer on all the time, which would hopefully save some power since that machine has a dual core processor and a power-hungry graphics card. Second, since the downstairs computer was the only one with a wired connection to the router, it was the one I chose to run P2P applications on. I'd rather not have all of that P2P traffic traveling across the wireless network, especially since we stream a lot of video from our wireless computers. Unfortunately, whenever I would need to access the P2P applications, I would need to wait for a turn to use the family computer. By running P2P applications on a different machine with a wired connection to the router, I could use Remote Desktop to control the P2P applications without kicking off whoever is using the family computer at the time.
Since I had a 733 MHz Pentium 3, the accompanying DFI TA-64B motherboard, and 768 MB of SDRAM, I decided to go through with this project. Those three components don't make an entire system, so I tried putting the parts into the case of a broken Compaq computer and trying to salvage some parts from it. (It was my friend's computer, but the motherboard got fried somehow, so he just left it with me.) The Nvidia TNT2 video card and 100 Mbps network card from the broken system still worked fine, so I had enough to build a working system, but I knew that I would still have to buy a new case because this Compaq computer case had only one hard drive bay, and I was going to need at least five. I know there are brackets and things I could use to put hard drives into 5.25 inch drive bays, but this case had a special slide-in system that wouldn't work well with those brackets. Plus, the case is big and unsightly.
So, I hopped online and started shopping at Newegg. First, I looked for a cheap case. I ended up picking the Rosewill R909SL. It was cheap, had enough drive bays, and was a few inches smaller than the other cases with enough drive bays.
Second, I looked for a power supply. The case I chose came with a power supply, but I wanted one of those efficient 80 Plus power supplies in order to minimize the server's power consumption. So, I chose a 380W Antec Earthwatts power supply. At the time, it was the cheapest 80 Plus certified power supply, and it had more than enough connectors for all of the hard drives I planned to use.
Third, I looked for a PCI SATA controller card. One of the hard drives I wanted to use in the server was a SATA drive, and SATA wasn't even around when my motherboard was manufactured, so it obviously didn't have any SATA ports. I chose the Syba SD-SATA-4P because it was the cheapest card with more than two SATA ports. Even though I planned to use only one SATA hard drive, I wanted to get a card with more than two ports in case I ever want to add more hard drives in the future.
Finally, I also decided to look for a UPS for the server. I've never used a UPS on any of my PCs before, and I've somehow managed to avoid data loss throughout the years, but I decided to not take that chance with the server. I chose the Tripp Lite AVR550U because it was relatively inexpensive, seemed to have enough power for the server, and also had a USB port to communicate with the server. Having that USB port is important because the server can use it to monitor the battery and automatically shut down when it starts running out of power.
Once all of that stuff came in, I grabbed a bunch of hard drives from the other computers in the house and built the server. Since all of the hard drives had data on them already, this was a lot harder than it sounds. Three of the drives were set up to be one big spanned volume, and for whatever reason, Windows doesn't allow you to separate the drives from a spanned volume without deleting the entire volume first. That was simply not an option, so I had to change my plans a little. I wanted to use one of those drives to hold the operating system, but I couldn't remove it from the spanned volume, so I actually used an old notebook hard drive and adapter I had laying around.
After I got all of that sorted out, I installed Windows Server 2008 on the system. The brand new Server 2008 on such old hardware? I know, I know... Performance-wise, it seemed like a bad idea, but I got it for free from my school, so I really had nothing to lose. Surprisingly, it actually worked pretty well. It was a little slow, but not frustratingly slow. Server 2008 is actually quite stripped down out of the box, so its memory footprint isn't huge. I actually had it serving files, sharing printers, and running P2P applications perfectly for about a week.
Why only a week? Well, with Server 2008, the only option for combining several hard drives into one big volume is the same dreaded spanned volume option. I was no longer keen on the idea of never being able to remove a drive from the spanned volume, so I started looking for something else. Luckily, I found out about Windows Home Server. Windows Home Server is actually based on Windows Server 2003, but it has a lot of features that make it more useful on a home network. The main feature that caught my attention was the Drive Extender feature. It allows you to combine all of your drives into one big storage pool, much like using a spanned volume, but it allows you to remove drives without losing any data. I also liked the idea of automatic daily backups of the computers on the network.
Unfortunately, Windows Home Server is not available through the MSDNAA program at my school, so I had to actually order a copy. It's the first time in a while that I've paid for a Microsoft operating system, but I think it's worth it. It's a really nice operating system, and it works better on my hardware than Server 2008 did. Of course, in order to get rid of the spanned volume I had been using, I needed to backup the data from those drives. So, I also ordered a 500 GB Seagate Hard Drive from ChiefValue. They had a $3 off $75 coupon that I used to make it cheaper than the price at Newegg.
So, once those came in, I shifted all of the data from the spanned volume onto the new hard drive, wiped Server 2008, and removed the notebook hard drive because I didn't need it anymore. Then, I installed Windows Home Server and set it up to do everything I wanted it to do--file sharing, printer sharing, automatic backups, and even running Share and uTorrent.
Overall, I'm quite satisfied with my server. I was able to recycle some unused parts that were just laying around, and its performance is good enough. It meets both of my original goals and even does daily backups of the computers on the network. Unfortunately, it can't backup my computer yet because I'm running the 64-bit version of Windows Vista, but that will be fixed in WHS Power Pack 1.
The picture for this post is a screenshot of the Server Storage tab in the Windows Home Server console. The one hard drive that is not in the storage pool is being used as a Share cache and BitTorrent temporary download drive.