The first thing you might be inclined to ask is “Why SBS?” Or maybe “Why not Server 2012 Essentials?” Both are good questions, and I’ll get to those in a bit. But the most important question here is “Why not stick with Windows Home Server v1?” That is really the most important question here. Especially for those that know me well. I’ve been a hardcore v1 supporter since the day it RTMed and I still love the product despite moving on from it.
Why I’m moving away from WHSv1
The fact that mainstream support ends for Windows Home Server in January 2013 doesn’t help. In fact, it’s kinda of unclear whether or not it will be getting Critical Security updates after that date. That’s kinda of a big gamble. Not to mention, there haven’t been any Home Server specific upgrades in more than a year. There are a number of big issues in the product still, but Microsoft seems to have completely abandoned any facade of actually supporting the product, especially since Windows Home Server 2011 came out. And since work has started on Windows Server 2012 Essentials, they seem to care even less.
Now, these aren’t good enough reasons alone to stop using WHSv1. But the fact that I was using my server as the heart of my network, running on nearly a decade old technology just didn’t make as much sense. I’ve been using my server as a Domain Controller since I figured out that I could. Also, because of this, I’ve been using WHS as the primary DNS server, and as the DHCP server for my network. This also allows me to us Windows Deployment Services, a PXE boot server, designed to install Windows, and allows me to use the Restore Disk as one of the boot options for it. Or any other WinPE based image, for that matter. But on the Server 2003 based OS’s there is very little support for IPv6, which is becoming increasingly important. Also, Server 2008R2 bases operating systems stagger their boot process which means the system is back up and running a lot faster. Combined with the fact that most of the roles and features have been at least slightly overhauled, and contain more options to configure.
But one of the biggest reasons I wanted to move away from WHSv1 was good, reliable backup solution. The built-in backup feature of Server 2008R2 allows for a full system image, which means incredibly easy backup and restore. WHSv1 doesn’t have any way to do this natively (took two Power Packs to add a feature to backup the shares), and imaging the server is never a good option as restores generally don’t work or have serious issues. Another reason I moved away from joining clients to the domain. Recovery would be a pain for the clients as the user accounts and computer accounts would no longer be the same (most likely).
Why Not Use Windows Home Server 2011?
The seemingly logical choice here would be to upgrade to Home Server 2011. And for most people, you’d be right. But I’ve been using my v1 Server as a domain controller for a while now and I absolutely love it. I have absolutely no desire to go back to just a “workgroup” configuration. Also, I downright despise the media streaming “features” that WHS 2011 has. It’s just horrible. Not only does it require the usage of silverlight, and therefore eliminates pretty much every mobile platform. Also, it is very picky about what files and codecs it supports, and even then it has some issues with playback and managing the library. And even if it did an okay job, I’d rather use Subsonic Media Server. It’s a great product that i’ve been using for a while and it even supports LDAP authentication (authenticating against the domain controller accounts). Not to mention, I’ve been using it for a while and I haven’t found anything better.
Also, the fact that that Windows Home Server 2011 only supports ten users and computers isn’t as appealing to me. I work on a lot of computers for friends and family, so more is definitely better. Also, I like being able to use Windows for all authentication when I can. Without Active Directory, it is a lot harder to have one, centralized user list. And Windows Home Server 2011 doesn’t really support that, at least not easily.
And lastly, while this is much more of a minor issue, I absolutely hate the green theme they forced you into with Home Server 2011. It’s ugly, and you cannot change it. I very much prefer the blue. Heck, myself and others even posted a bug about it. Shame they didn’t listen to me. Like when I bitched about removing Media Center, or Drive Extender. Because that turned out so well for Microsoft.
Why Not Use Windows Server 2012 Essentials?
There are a number of improvements that have been made to Windows Server 2012 Essentials (lets just call it WSE from now on, as Microsoft is horrible about names…) over previous versions, SBS 2011 Essentials specifically. Sad that Microsoft doesn’t admit that this is a previous version, so you are denied downgrade rights. Off to a great start with WSE, right?
So far, the only improvement I have really seen is the performance in the backup engine. Both of them. The main improvement to the “WHS” backup engine is the IO data chunk size, from what I’ve seen reported. And it makes a good deal of difference from what I’ve read. That’s a great thing, as backups happen much quicker. Which would be awesome if the schedule on my systems weren’t at night when nobody is using them, and finish fairly quick. And that most of the system folders for the domain accounts are actually “redirected” to the server (due to group policy). Most of my user files sit on the server, where they should be.
Also, server backups have been extended in size, because they finally removed the 2TB limit for VHD files. In fact, that’s the only improvement to it. Apparently, it still has the same “you must have the original backup drive attached” bug that’s been around since Server 2008. That’s more than four years with the same bug! Glad there has been some progress.
Also, I can’t stand the metro, or “Modern UI”. And it’s definitely in the Server OS too. I suspect that a lot of people will not be happy about this. I know I can’t stand it. And worse, the entire dashboard has been “Metro’ed” too! It just looks horrible.
Also, there aren’t any real improvements to the system. In fact, they have completely removed the WSUS role, and blocked its installation. I personally use WSUS mainly to optimize bandwidth, as I do use my internet connection aggressively. I download about 1TB of assorted data every month, and upload around 100GBs. So anything that lets me optimize bandwidth is a lifesaver. And being able to manage what updates I get is a blessing too!
The only reason I’d really consider using WSE is to upgrade to Windows Server 2012 Standard, so I could get more users and some of the other roles like HyperV. But then again, I really do like Virtual Box a lot more than HyperV. But I may be crazy. However, I really only use Virtual Machines for testing, and not for production, so up time isn’t really that important to me.
Oh, did I mention that they added the Media Streaming feature from WHS2011 to WSE? Because that isn’t a clusterfuck waiting to happen. Besides, what business would want it when they can just use Windows Storage Server Essentials.
My Experiences with Small Business Server 2011 Essentials
Now that you know why I have moved away from Windows Home Server v1 and why I haven’t picked Windows Home Server 2011 (or Windows Storage Server Essentials for that matter) or Windows Server 2012 Essentials, it’s time to go over why I picked SBS2011 Essentials, and why I’m very happy with that decision.
But because that will be a very long post itself, I’ll wait til later to finish that. But for now, lets just say that it fits my needs very well.
Till next time!