Emerging Solutions for the Server Space

Windows Home Server is Microsoft’s solution for the server space.  As the next tech-savvy generation gets older, they will be looking for was to store media and share their files across multiple systems.  There needs to be a unified way to store important files and documents as well as share content over standard web and terminal interfaces.  Yahoo and Google are  heavily investing in Cloud Computing–an approach to host these same services by employing server farms and massive storage facilities.  Cloud Computing will make all of this content accessible through standard internet channels for a fee.  This next generation will realize this need and will certainly find a solution in the form of a home server or cloud computing model.

If you are a student, Microsoft has a special incentive program to get the masses hooked in early to their products.  Dreamspark aims to give students free versions of Microsoft products with the hopes that they will use these products in the future.  If you have heard of Dreamspark, the odds are good that you will be employed in the future for some sort of technical job.  If Microsoft can get these techophilles keen or dependent on Microsoft products early, the odds are quite good that they will continue to use these products into their careers.  Dreamspark offers Visual Studio 2008, Windows Server 2003, Microsoft Expression Studio, and XNA Game Studio 2.0 for free if you can prove you are indeed a student.  WHS 2003 itself is a $200 dollar deal, and all of these versions are the full, real deal.

I had a chance to look at some of the features of WHS 2008 and peer into the setup and unification that Microsoft brings to the table for the server space.  There is a premium for Microsoft products, there always will be, but with this premium you get their ready-made, canned solution which provides ease of use, simplicity, and seamless integration.  This is what the price is for:  a full, integrated solution to a problem as Microsoft has identified.  They provide an easy, straight-forward method for which you do not even have to be a system administrator to deploy.  If your problem and project requirements take you outside of Microsoft’s default solution space, you are on your own.

For obvious problems, some canned things can just be easier.  Let me give an example for comparison.  I am an avid open-source fan.  I have enjoyed both desktop and server applications for their robustness and availability.  One particular application of importance to me is torrent sharing and downloading.  I was searching for a solution to administrate torrents remotely on my server and provide a clean way to throttle, remove, and automatically handle downloads.  The best solution I found in the Linux world was a little program called rTorrent.  rTorrent is a an extremely lightweight program stripped down to only the bare minimum of resources and presentation.  It is designed to be run in a terminal, so one can get all the administration glory from simple ssh sessions.  It had a wonderful feature that allowed torrents to be downloaded by directory, which means that I could upload a .torrent file, place it in a specific directory which rTorrent monitored, and rTorrent could handle the rest.  You could set any number of features for control like max number of peers, upload/download, what to do when torrent completes like move files to a new location, and many more.  This seemed like a good solution to my problem.  I could already ssh in and combined with screen inside of a terminal, I had clean way of organizing my ssh workspace.  These programs had a bit of a learning curve to use, but once setup and used a couple of times, it was easy enough to navigate and get things to behave properly.  The interface, because it was built for a simple terminal output, was as lightweight and streamlined as anything could be, which was more than sufficient with limited connection speeds.  Then came the derailing problem.  rTorrent had a very unique problem that would corrupt downloaded torrents upon completion.  It’s most basic and primitive ability had a glaring and disabling flaw.  After a few days of plowing through rTorrent forums and even reading a few posts by the creator of rTorrent himself, I came to realize that the corrupt files had something to do with the particular filesystem that I was using on my Linux machine.  Furthermore, even though this was brought to the attention of the rTorrent team, it was claimed that it could not be repeated, and therefore no nofix had been provided.  There was a considerable amount of time spent uncovering this solution and looking for an answer which had no active solution.

Windows Home Server on the other hand is geared for simplicity.  All of the basic features come either built-in or as drop-in solutions.  uTorrent comes as a special plugin for WHS which provides all of the remote administration I would need akin to rTorrents abilities.  The only downside for this added ease is the requisite to log into the WHS using Microsoft’s special Administrative Console which must be done on a Windows machine.  It makes sense for Microsoft to do this.  As a company, they are competitive with all the alternative OSes.  There is absolutely no incentive to provide server client tools for a windows machine or linux box.  If they can keep users locked into their OS, they will continue to feed the bread and butter which is their Operating System.  Again, the trade is ownership of the programs for ease of use.

I will be trying out a WHS install in the upcoming months.  I already have a working and ready solution in Linux which has been serving me quite well.  It provides RAIDed file storage, web services, and remote connectivity, but certainly requires constant care and continuing service.  I might not ever be satisfied with any one particular setup, but as with all things, one must simply weigh in the factors that matter most and make an informed decision.

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