How To: Set Up a Windows-Based Home Server
As technology evolves and multi-computer households become more and more popular, the process of sharing information between computers becomes more and more of an issue. For years, businesses and organizations have been using servers to store all of their information centrally. This is great in the sense that it allows for more simplistic collaboration, and simplified security. This also makes sense, because it means that if an employee’s workstation is to become damaged, their essential information is located on the companies server.
For residential use however, servers are just now beginning to catch on. Microsoft makes a software product called “Windows Home Server”, HP makes a standalone home-server console, and Apple recently unveiled a Mac Mini that ships with Snow Leopard Server (obviously intended for home use). Despite the great levels of simplicity in which they provide, many people see pre-packaged home servers as being “dummied down”. Because of this, this tutorial will show you how to take an existing computer and configure it to be a Windows server.
This tutorial assumes that your server will either be running Windows XP Professional or Windows Server 2003. Both of these products work well on home servers, simply because unlike newer versions of Windows, these versions are relatively small in footprint. This tutorial also assumes that your partition is NTFS, and that all of the computers in your home are connected via a router.
It is suggested that you do a clean-install of whichever version of Windows you are going to use, as this will ensure that your new server is as stable as possible. This tutorial also assumes that you have already configured all of the necessary network card drivers on your server (Ethernet is preferable).
- The first thing that we are going to do is enable Remote Desktop (also known as Terminal Services) on the server. This will allow us to leave our server idle without the need for a keyboard, mouse, or monitor. To enable Remote Desktop, log into your server from the console, and click “Start”, and then right-click “My Computer” and select “Properties”. Within the “Properties” dialog, select the “Remote” tab, and lastly check “Enable Remote Desktop on this computer” and click “Apply”.
- Once you have set up remote desktop on your server, access it using the Remote Desktop client built into Windows, or one of the clients available for Mac or Linux. From this point, you will be able to do the rest of the configuration remotely.
- The next step is to create Windows users for each of the people within your household that will be using your server. To do this, click “Start”, and right-click “My Computer” to select “Manage”. Within the computer manager, expand the “Local Users and Groups” link on the right-hand panel, and select “Users”.
- Within the main window of the user manager, right-click and select “New User”. Add a user for each person who will need access to the server.
- Windows XP only: Disable simple file sharing by opening a Windows Explorer window (e.g. “My Computer”), and selecting “Tools” and then “Folder Options” from the menu bar. In the “View” tab of “Folder Options”, scroll down to the bottom and un-check the “Use Simple File Sharing” checkbox.
- Now that you have created users for everyone in your household, you will want to create “shares”; containers which contain everyone’s data. These shares can either be created on a secondary disk or partition, or within the C:\ drive (If you do it within the C:\ drive, it is recommended that you create a C:\Shares folder, and then place all of your shares there). Right-click the partition or folder that will be considered your “root”, and select “Properties”. Within the “Properties” dialog, select the “Security” tab.
You will want to remove all groups from the “Security” dialog, except for “Administrators” and “SYSTEM”. Ensure that these users have full access by checking the “Full Control” checkbox under “Allow”.
- Once you have set the permissions at the root of your shares directory or partition, create sub-folders within that root that will be your shares. You can create a share for whatever you may need. For example, in my household I have shares for each of my users, as well as a “Media” share and a “Documents” share.
- Once you have all of your folders ready, right-click them, select “Properties”, and move to the “Security” tab. Click the “Add” button, and type in the names of the people that will need access to the given share. Separate the names using a cemi-colon and a space (e.g. “Mike” and “Debbie” would be expressed as “Mike; Debbie”).
- Once you have added the persons needing access to the share to the list, select the level of access they will need using the checkboxes below.
- Repeat the process for setting folder security as necessary for each of the shares you wish to create.
- Once you have created all the necessary folders, the last step in setting up your home server is to share the folders. Right-click the folder and select “Properties”. Move to the “Sharing” tab, and change the radio-box from “Do not share this folder” to “Share this folder”. Then click on the “Permissions” button underneath, and selecting the “Everyone” group, apply “Full Control”. (Note that giving full control under the sharing settings simply means that anyone who has permission from the “Security” tab can access the folder. Windows has both NTFS and share level security, and when using NTFS like we did, it is not necessary to apply specific settings at the share level). Click “OK”, and then “OK” again to close out of the sharing and the properties dialogs
- Repeat the sharing steps on each of the folders as necessary
At this point, your home server should be up and running. You can configure other things, such as IIS for website hosting, but we will not get into that in this tutorial. With an operating server, the last step is to connect all of the other computers within your home.
- On the computers that you want to hook up to your server, open “My Computer” (under Windows; OS X should show the server by default in Finder, and Linux methods vary from distro), and select “Map Network Drive” (this may be located under “Tools” in the menu bar depending on your version of Windows).
- For each share that you wish to connect (you may not wish to connect all shares on all computers), select a drive letter at which to mount, and the location of the folder in the form of \\SERVER\SHARE, where SERVER is the name of the computer (you should have set this during Windows installation), and SHARE is the name of the share that you created earlier.
If necessary (if your Windows username and password are different on your computer than on the server), enter your username and password that you set up on the server.
- Repeat this step for each share on each of your home computers.
Another option would be to create a shortcut on your desktop to \\SERVE R (again, replacing SERVER with the name of your server as specified during Windows setup). This would give you a list of all the shares on your server, and would allow you access to the ones in which you have access to.
If you find that you made an error or cannot get the setup to work, feel free to post your questions on the forums or in chat.