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Traditionally, servers have been the exclusive domain of offices or bearded men with overactive sweat glands. But times are changing -- HP is hoping to introduce servers to the home with its latest product, the Media Smart Server.
It's aimed at anyone with an abundance of multimedia files and a desire to share said files across multiple computers. It'll let you create backups, stream multimedia and access data from any PC whether you're on your home network or in an Internet cafe in Timbuktu. The HP Media Smart Server can be bought for around £500 from hp.co.uk.
The biggest selling point of the Media Smart Server is the fact it centralises your data, and lets you share it with other devices on your network. Sure, you could use the standard networking features of your operating system to link your laptop to your PC, but what happens when one of these machines lapses into sleep mode, crashes or is switched off? Access to this data is temporarily lost, and if you take your laptop out of the house, the network is basically redundant until you return.
That's where home servers like the Media Smart Server become a good idea. They can be fitted with multiple hard drives -- up to four in the case of the MSS -- and are permanently connected to the network. As a result, you can access your data inside or outside the home, share precious memories with family overseas, and the best part is that it's all done in a very user-friendly fashion.
The Media Smart Server has a lot in common with basic network-attached storage devices. You attach it to your router -- wired or wireless -- add it on your network and within a few minutes you can start using it as a giant dumping ground for your data. Where the Media Smart Server differs is its use of the Windows Home Server operating system. This specially-designed operating system sits on the Media Smart Server box and can be accessed via the Windows Home Server Console software, which you install on your PC. It's also possible to access it via a very user-friendly Web interface.
Usability can make or break a product of this kind, and thankfully the Media Smart Server isn't very difficult to set up. Once you've connected it to a router, plugged it into the mains and run the installation CD, you're basically up and running. HP provides a very user-friendly series of installation wizards to establish a domain name (smithfamily.homeserver.com for example). If this sounds daunting, fear not -- it basically involves hitting the 'next' button a few times and you can always consult the quick start manual if you get stuck.
Four tabs form the core of the Windows Home Server Console experience. The first lets you establish user permissions. If you don't want certain members of your family or friends accessing certain files, this is the section to tweak. If you don't care for passwords, you can simply set up a guest account, which gives access to everything, or a subset of files and services -- it's up to you.
The Computers and Backup tab lets you schedule data backups to the
server. This can create multiple backup images, giving you specific
restore points, or it can create one master image which it updates when new
data arrives or files have changed. This works across multiple
computers on your network, eliminating the need to have several large
images of individual XP or Vista installations.