Using Windows Home Server in a Small Business

by Alex Kuretz on September 9, 2009 · 57 comments

in Windows Home Server

windows-home-server1Computers have become a mandatory tool when it comes to running a business. The small business office can vary from a single PC used just for basic record keeping all the way up to several networked computers performing many different aspects of the business such as taking orders, providing customer support, software development, maintaining client lists, and more. The failure or loss of even one of these critical components can result in delayed or missed commitments, upset customers, and financial loss.

Managing these technology resources can be one of the more complicated aspects of running a small business, and many companies turn to IT Consulting providers such as Kevin Royalty of Total Care Computer Consulting. I assisted Kevin in a recent webcast titled “Business Opportunities with Windows Home Server”, where he advocates that Windows Home Server can be an excellent solution in small businesses that may not be a good fit for Small Business Server, as well as businesses that may need to use Windows Home Server as a complement to Small Business Server. The Windows Home Server Backup Software in particular provides what is arguably one of the most important IT tasks for the small business.

The company where I work, RealGo Inc., has 9 employees comprised mostly of software development engineers, with a SysAdmin to manage IT tasks, a graphic designer, and myself for testing and release management. All of our daily work is safely managed by Subversion for revision control, and our network shares are all on large RAID systems. However our daily workstations were not being backed up, so a corrupt OS or lost system disk would cost a developer at a minimum several hours to rebuild and more likely a day or more of lost productivity. I’d been advocating that we implement Windows Home Server in the office to back up all of our workstations, so when some time opened up in my schedule the boss gave me the go-ahead and I spent an afternoon getting Windows Home Server installed and configured.

The first step was to get the Windows Home Server installation software. This is easily acquired for a very reasonable cost (currently $95.00) from sites such as, but since we are Microsoft Action Pack subscribers, I used the media and license included in that package. Next I had to get the hardware lined up, and so our SysAdmin gave me a Virtual Machine running in VMware ESXi. The VM has a single processor, 1GB of RAM, and 1TB of disk space from the 4x1TB drive RAID5 array. The installation is straight forward, with the only trick being that in order to avoid a Blue Screen (BSOD) during the install I had to change the SCSI Controller Type to “BusLogicParallel” and load the storage driver from the vmscsi- image.

After installing Windows Home Server and all the subsequent updates, it was a simple matter of installing the Client Connector Software on all of my coworkers workstations and get them backed up. I was very interested to see how much storage space would be used, since we all have modern PCs with at least a 160GB hard drives. Fortunately due to the excellent single instance storage feature of the Windows Home Server backup software that only stores a single copy of duplicate files across all the backups, this resulted in a very small amount of consumed space due to the high amount of common files. Since all the developers use the same tools and source files, the majority of files are the same across all systems. The end result is about 200GB consumed for our client backups, consisting of 9 workstations.


Only the SysAdmin, myself, and our boss have access to the Server Console for management purposes, and so I’ve disabled the health notifications on all the other employees workstations. This results in near-silent operation for all the users and the administrators get notified in the event the Home Server needs our attention.


One annoyance is that since we aren’t using the network shares on Windows Home Server for storage, we don’t have any user accounts created and so every time a workstation is rebooted the user gets the following message after logging on. One workaround for this is to remove the shortcut from your Startup folder that launches WHSTrayApp.exe, which will prevent the Tray Application from loading.


So far we’ve not had the need to call on our Home Server Backups, as we’ve had no hard drive failures and most important files that might be deleted are also checked into Subversion. However we now are all more confident knowing that our systems are backed up and can easily be restored in a very short period of time, should the need arise.

Windows Home Server is obviously not a single-tool solution for all our needs, but the case is quite strong for it as an excellent backup solution that integrates very well into many small business environments. Are you using Windows Home Server in your small business, have you installed this for any of your clients or customers, or does this give you an idea on how to help a future customer?

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I'm Alex Kuretz, and I'm the founder of I was the Lead Test and Integration Engineer at HP for the MediaSmart Server until April 2008 when I moved on to other opportunities outside HP. I've kept active in the Windows Home Server community, creating several add-ins and helping users make the most of their Home Servers.


Phil September 13, 2009 at 5:21 am

Hey Alex,

Great article (I know, took me a while to read!). Funny that I hadn’t thought of running WHS in a vm before, but it sounds like a great way to set it up with the infrastructure you already have in place.

Obviously, i am a great fan of the WHS (HP MSS, in particular) and have been considering its applications in the SOHO market for a while. Thanks for the real-lofe example – and good job selling the idea to your own workplace.

Any recoveries done so far? I am curious to know if the recoveries (if any) have run smoothly?

Alex Kuretz September 14, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Hi Phil,

Thanks for reading, and I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

We’ve not had the need to restore a PC yet, but I’ve restored many PCs on other home servers during my time testing at HP, and have continued to occasionally restore for various testing activities for myself and Microsoft. I have tried the single file restore feature and it’s worked fine.

Let me know if you have any more questions!


Dave Kessler October 3, 2009 at 6:36 pm

I love WHS.

My family has a small business selling musical instruments and accessories. Our program used for our POS, Inventory, Rentals, etc… is a very simple VisualFoxPro system.

I use HP MSS for our main “File Server” as well as for the obvious image backups of our individual machines in the store. This has actually saved me a whole day as on my day off, our shipping workstation went out on us. I was able to walk an employee (with no computer knowledge) over the phone on how to use the client restore CD and restore the computer to a previous night’s backup. 20 minutes later, the system was back up and running without a problem.

For a small business environment, the WHS is a great, robust tool!

Alex Kuretz October 4, 2009 at 12:15 am

Dave, this is a great story, thanks for sharing!

Aditya October 22, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Quick question.. does SBS 2008 have the same Image Based Backup as Home Server? As in, can I use a Quick Restore CD to restore the complete OS image?? Like Dave did:

“I was able to walk an employee (with no computer knowledge) over the phone on how to use the client restore CD and restore the computer to a previous night’s backup. 20 minutes later, the system was back up and running without a problem.”

Does Small Business Server 2008 have similar functionality?

Alex Kuretz October 22, 2009 at 3:02 pm

No, the backup solution exists only in Windows Home Server, which is why many people recommend a WHS solution alongside the SBS solution.

Aditya October 22, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Thanks so much for your quick reply.. I’ve been trying to find these out all over the net, and it really wasn’t easy! I’ve been wondering whether to go with SBS 08 or WHS for my uncle’s small business network (6 computers), and based on this, WHS it is.. since he needs to be able to quickly restore machines with no professional IT help.

And good article. :)

Gary October 30, 2009 at 1:05 pm

I really wish they would combine more aspects of WHS and SBS. There are certain features SBS can use that WHS has and reverse. I would love to see WHS with an Exchange (lite?) support and would love it if SBS had the hard drive and backup features of WHS. Would be great to just have ONE server OS for home, SOHO and small biz that would allow you to select / pay for the features you need then at install.

Mike November 16, 2009 at 10:26 am

Dave, if you did a restore of a client PC in 20 minutes then your client PC must contain small amounts of data.

It took my ex495 well over a day (at gigabit speed) to backup a hard drive with approximately 750GB of data. I presume it would take at least that much time to reverse the process in the event the hard drive failed.

I think many small businesses would find the amount of downtime required to restore a crashed hard drive on the client PC unacceptable.

It’s a very nice product but I think the HOME in WHS is well taken.

Alex Kuretz November 16, 2009 at 10:34 am

In my office we restored a ~160GB PC in about an hour and a half just last week. Well over a day sounds very long, was the server doing a lot of other work such as migrating data moved to it, converting videos, or indexing media?

I’ll argue that many business PCs won’t be containing 750GB of data. I’ll also advocate that there’s probably a good reason to have stored much of that on the Server to minimize your backup size and time.

Dave Kessler November 16, 2009 at 10:35 am


I have actually had to do the network restore 2 times. One on the shipping work computer described above and another on my wife’s laptop at home.

I dont know the full technical process behind the restore, but while yes, the initial backup process is time consuming, the restore is no where near as long.

The work computer described above was a Win XP Pro install that has only a few programs installed on it (our POS software, a credit check program, anti virus, UPS software & MS Office). So it’s image file would obviously not be 750Gb. However, the restore took about 20 minutes over a wired 100mb ethernet, not gigabit.

My wife’s computer was a Win Vista and had a LOT more data on it’s hard drive (many more programs, VISTA, office, pictures, music, etc…). The initial time to back it up was obviously much longer (but the subsequent backups are only a few minutes after that since it is done nightly). When I had to restore her computer, it was done over a my home 100mb ethernet. Took about 35 minutes.

So my ASSUMPTION is that the software compares the image of the hard drive in it’s broken state and only changes what it NEEDS to change in order to get back to the backup image state.

Maybe a WHS tech guru can explain it with the actual facts. In either case, I cannot begin to say how much I love WHS.

Dan November 25, 2009 at 7:07 am

Great article. I had not actually heard of WHS until yesterday. I work for a small company. We have about 20 employees. We are looking for a simple backup tool, and WHS sounds just like what we need. Only problem is that 10 user account limit. I looked at SBS as an option, but it’s much more than we need. Is there anyway to work around the 10 user account limit, or am I just going to have to look at some other software options? Thanks.

Alex Kuretz November 25, 2009 at 9:10 am

Hi Dan,

Thanks for your comments, unfortunately there is no workaround for the 10 client limit. Do you have 20 users, or 20 client computers that you’d want to back up? If you’ve got 20 PCs to back up, you can consider implementing two Home Servers, each backing up 10 clients. This would be especially easy if you’re using WHS in a virtual machine as I do at my job, simply create another VM for the second Home Server. The OEM software is only $99 at Newegg. Would that be feasible for you?

Dan November 25, 2009 at 9:29 am

I’m not very familiar with virtual machine. My only experience was setting up VMWare on a MAC so it could run Windows 7. Are you saying I could do the same sort of thing on a PC with WHS? I can install two VM instances of it on one PC? If so, what specs would you suggest on that PC? Thanks.

Alex Kuretz November 25, 2009 at 11:21 am

Hi Dan,

Yes, you can run multiple VMs at the same time on a given hardware, you’ll want to be able to dedicate a CPU core plus 1GB of RAM to each instance. I’m hesitant to go about recommending hardware as I just don’t have perspective into your needs, budget, etc. If you’re not comfortable or familiar with setting up the system you may want to chat with a small business technology consultant, there are several I know that are WHS enthusiasts and Microsoft MVPs that I can put you in touch with if interested, just send me a mail through the “Contact” page with your info and location.

David Underwood November 29, 2009 at 10:28 pm

This is a great article, I have a Small Accounting firm I do work for and they were using old computers, and had no implementation for backups. So I suggested to them WHS, the owner was curious, so I set it up to their needs. The only problem I had was Qucikbooks and the securities of the qbw, so I dedicated a extra drive just for Quickbooks. Problem solved! Quickbooks backs up to the extra drive and all 6 of there computers get backedup nightly, as well as a Antivirus scan by Avast having a WHS edition that works great with Avast Pro!

Alex Kuretz November 30, 2009 at 9:43 am

Thanks for sharing your story, David. I agree that WHS can be a great benefit to small businesses, and it’s nice to hear your workaround for the Quickbooks.

Dan Kelley December 14, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Ok… would it be feasible then to run let’s say 4 Virtual Machines of Windows Home Server so I could backup 40 Client Workstations?

Or is this a bad idea… I should look into Trueimage or some other network backup application for a larger network like this?

Just wondering.

Alex Kuretz December 14, 2009 at 1:29 pm

It’s certainly feasible, though I’m not sure if it’s the best solution. You’d need to weigh the cost of maintenance, etc versus another solution to see which would best meet your needs. There are no issues with running multiple WHS servers in the same network, however.

Adam December 31, 2009 at 4:36 pm

Great article. I completely agree that it is perfect for small businesses. As head of IT where I work, I manage 18 computers plus WHS. I’ve already used the restore feature five times and my boss loves it. I was looking into getting a second server up so I can backup the rest of the computers and had a questions about using virtual machines. So I would install VM server onto WHS and then run the vm inside of that. Or should install lunix or XP or something and run two vms of WHS inside? Also, if you could send me the contact info of a couple of your WHS enthusiasts I would really appreciate it.

Alex Kuretz December 31, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Hi Adam, good to hear how WHS is working out for you! I suggest running VMWare or similar (we use ESXi at work) on dedicated hardware and then run your WHS VM’s inside that.

I’m not sure what contact info you’re asking for, feel free to contact me if you’ve got specific questions.

Adam January 7, 2010 at 3:06 pm

I think I’ve pretty much got it figured out. I think I’m going to install win7 or XP, install VMware Server on that, and then run my WHS virtual machines. That way XP or 7 will act as my host. This is important because I might want to add more WHS virtual machines later, and WHS is only in 32bit, and I may need to use more the 3.5gigs or RAM. Does VMware Server do a good job of allocating memory?

Alex Kuretz January 7, 2010 at 3:45 pm

I would instead recommend running the WHS VM’s inside of ESXi rather than installing VMWare inside of Windows, the performance will be better and that will be a more robust implementation, IMHO.

Adam January 7, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Also, just thought of this, what will client computers see on the network? By that I mean, will they see the XP system, or will both servers appear. This is important since the server will have files that need to be accessed by everyone. Thanks.

Adam January 7, 2010 at 6:38 pm

I wasn’t aware that ESXi was free, or I would’ve looked into that from the beginning. My question still stands about what client computers will see on the network. Will it show up as two separate computers? Like, for accessing the public folders, are there any issues. Thanks for all your help!

Alex Kuretz January 7, 2010 at 9:22 pm

A client can be joined with a single server at a time, which means it can only back up to a single server, run the console for one server, etc. You can map drives to both, and both servers will appear in Network Neighborhood.

Jack Choi January 13, 2010 at 2:59 pm

I am sorry to post this question here, but I cannot seem to get an answer on how to set up a second MSS, despite Google searches of the internet or forums. I bought two EX475s in 6/08, one of which I had used for two years and is currently on WHS PP3, named HTFMserver. The other one is presumably as it was when bought. I want to add the second server to my network. I plugged it in and turned it on, and it appears on the network as HPserver. However, since I cannot just plug in the original connector installation CD to configure it, how do I get the existing WHS Console (Windows Home Server Console: 6.0.2423.0) to recognize it? I know the console can only connect to one MSS at one time, but how to switch?

Sorry that I must be missing the obvious.

Alex Kuretz January 13, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Hi Jack,

You can try running c:\program files\windows home server\discovery.exe on the client as that is what “joins” the PC to the server, but I’m not positive how it will handle the old version and if it will work correctly for the initial setup. You’re probably best off uninstalling the Windows Home Server Connector and HP MediaSmart Server software from the PC and re-installing from the CD.

After the new server is set up and fully updated you can switch back and forth by running Discovery.exe.

Jack Choi January 13, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Thank you. Indeed tryign to connect using the newer connector to the older WHS did crash the connecting PC. I guess I can install the older connector software to another PC that has no connector software, and admisnister the second MSS from that machine? That way the versions are correct when we start, and I don’t have to switch on the current PC.

Thanks for your help.

Jack Choi January 17, 2010 at 9:35 am

Just an update for anyone reading.

I decided to set up the ‘new’ MSS using a computer on the network that was previously did not have connector. It was not easy setting up an old MSS using original disks. It crashed a couple of times, and required a reinstall from factory state. It gets finished with all installs, then hangs on updating, and then the MSS is not accessable anymore unless reinstalled.

Now I have two MSSs running on the network, each controlled by a different computer. Next: try to install Sync Toy so the second server can be a backup for the first, which is all I wanted in the first place.

Alex Kuretz January 17, 2010 at 10:18 am

It can take a very long time to get all the updates downloaded for the EX47x servers, usually leaving it for a few hours will allow things to finish on their own. I’m glad to hear you got it working!

Adam January 29, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Hello again, my boss recently had his hd on his home computer crash with some business documents on it. So that got me thinking, is there a way that WHS can do backups outside the LAN. I did a little research and it seems this is possible. There are two methods, one by using OpenVPN and the other creating a VPN on the server. Creating the VPN on the server, using the built in MS software, seems like the easiest, but I have no experience with VPNs. Will the VPN connection stay open on the client computer when it restarts or loses and gets the connections back? I know with OpenVPN this is possible but apparently there is some scripting that would need to be done. The two methods I’m referring to can be found here.

Alex Kuretz January 29, 2010 at 1:57 pm

It’s definitely possible, however I’ve not done it myself. I believe some forum members have done this with the Hamachi VPN software, I’ll suggest you do a search in the forums and then post there if you have further questions.

Jason February 8, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Can Windows Home Server be used in a business environment without purchasing a business license for the application? Considering how WHS is a slimmed down version of Windows Server 2003, I can’t see Microsoft letting people enjoy the perks of WS2K3 at a fraction of it’s operational or selling cost …

Alex Kuretz February 9, 2010 at 8:46 am

Many of the perks of Server 2003 are disabled or prohibited in the EULA, but other than that there’s no limitations on who can buy or use WHS. As long as you use the product as it is licensed and intended, you’re good to go.

Gary February 9, 2010 at 9:44 am

I agree, but I also hope that future releases of SBS include some of the great features found in WHS. It would be so easy to sell a version of SBS that had the PC image backup and Drive Extender technology!

Jackson February 23, 2010 at 10:31 pm



I read your article, It was very interested for me because I just starting in the network career. I Would like to know, if I can install a WHS in my small business that run 10 PCs include the XP Professional running as a serve as a database store and keeping up the workstations with two medical software running and sharing folder between their. Can you give me an advice to what to do?, and what is the best and economy solution for my business?

I really appreciate your help.


Jackson Atehortua

Alex Kuretz February 24, 2010 at 1:18 am

@Jackson – You can definitely back up the 10 workstations, and the system running the database should back up just fine. I also know of no issues around backing up the systems running the medical software. You will want to make sure you meet any privacy/security regulations for your area, of course.

Paul March 11, 2010 at 5:58 pm

What is the best way to backup of OS/Programs and restore for disk crashes.

Alex Kuretz March 11, 2010 at 8:34 pm

Paul, are you asking for the server, or for the client PCs? The home server will back up all the PCs and can restore them as a full OS image in the event of a disk crash.

Adam March 24, 2010 at 12:12 pm

With msoft cutting support for xp in 2012 and all our computers running xp i have started to look into upgrading. i came across windows multipoint server 2010. it looks like a great way to cut IT costs as well as energy. however it seems that hp is the only vendor selling it, and you can’t obtain an oem disk. is this typical of msoft to not sell os seperate right away (it was released about a month ago)? also what do you guys think of it. in some ways it reminds me of whs in that it’s designed so that anyone can use it.

Nigel Wilks March 24, 2010 at 1:29 pm

From what I saw of the demo we had, there were limitations in the number of clients you could have connected as well (I think it was 10, if you had sufficient power in the server) and there was also no domain joining.

I was under the impression that this was aimed at the education sector rather than small business and as such is sold though either the OEM channels or via Volume Licensing Academic programmes, so you are fairly restricted on where you can buy it from. They did mention Wyse and HP were having offerings for this space but I must admit I struggled to see where it would fit into a business over either VDI or a traditional PC.

Adam March 24, 2010 at 2:09 pm

the number of clients isn’t a problem as this would be replacing our “cubefarm” set of 8 computers. i had read about the no domain join limitiation, but i’m a little confused about it. domain join is a feature only found in win7 pro and ultimate. however, when i bring my laptop into work with win7 home i can connect to our company network fine. so does the no domain join really mean anything? like would i still be able to see all other comptuers on the network? since im running whs at the office already all i really need is the internet to connect to it. thanks for the info.

Nigel Wilks March 24, 2010 at 2:41 pm

The domain join part is an issue if you have Active Directory installed anywhere; which it sounds like you don’t. Ultimately multipoint will allow you to use one server with additional keyboards, mice and video running to what is essentially a dumb terminal.

I’m sure there is a place for this; I just struggled with the concept as it’s a little smaller than I’m used to.

Adam March 24, 2010 at 3:13 pm

yeah, our business is a little different in that all we need our computers to do is run word, excel, powerpoint and have internet access. since you seem to be pretty knowledgable of the product i have a couple other questions. first is that can i hook up printers to the server for everyone to use, the clients directly on the server and those not directly connected. secondly, since you create and manage the user profiles on the server, will they remain “active” when not logged in. by that i mean, will they show up in the network map when not logged in, or only when logged in. thanks so much for your help. info is pretty thin right now on it so you’ve been a big help.

Bob April 2, 2010 at 7:35 pm

I have a least one client that could really use a 25 client version. She does not need the AD features or the setup/configuration costs of SBS 2008. Nor Exchange email. Some of the client computers run XP Home. She does need the large storage and client computer backup. All machines need to access some of the data, so multiple WHS machines is not a good option.

Actually, that raises a question: is there a ten user limit just for file access to the shared folders? I could forgo some of the client backup if all 25 could access a couple of folders.

Adam April 2, 2010 at 10:19 pm

The 10 client limit only applies only to backup. You can still access all the data on the server by entering login credentials.

However, if she wants the backup, why not consider using VMware ESXi and running 3 instances of the server. Since it is so light on resources, the server wouldn’t need to be that beefy and it costs less than $100 per copy of WHS.

Bob April 3, 2010 at 12:29 am

Interesting suggestion. So there is no limit on the number of connections to the shared folder, unlike what happens when one uses XP Pro as a file server.

I support an IBM ESX server and have worked with the free server product that runs under Windows. Did not know about ESXi. Thanks. Obviously could not use the nice HP hardware packaged, but that is of little consequence for the client I am thinking of. ESXi means I could also run another VM of XP or Win 7 as an app server.

Adam April 3, 2010 at 11:32 am

As far as I know there is no limit, I’ve never counted but I’m 99% sure we have had more than 10 connected to the shared folders at the same time. The only thing is that obviously you won’t be able to create different login credentials for everyone, only 10 sets can be made. A simple solution is that we have one employee account that all employees use, and then an admin account.

Bob April 3, 2010 at 7:13 pm

I will play with ESXi on an old machine, but one thought I had just after my last reply: to fully use WHS backup, one needs two physical drives to enable folder duplication. Off the top of my head, I do not see how to do that with VMs. Without duplication, one can backup client computers and share data, but one does not have redundant copies of shared data.

Alex Kuretz April 3, 2010 at 7:31 pm

If you’re just using it to backup the clients, you don’t need multiple physical disks as the WHS backups aren’t duplicated (unless you do the registry hack or use my BDBB Add-In to do it for you). Also, since the backups are the “backup” and the client is the original, you already have redundancy. This is how we do it at work, though esxi storage is on a RAID5 array.

Bob April 4, 2010 at 1:43 pm

My interest is in dealing with hard failure of the WHS drives. Folder duplication seems to insure that data in the shared folders are on more than one drive, but the client computer backups are not. Your add-in would seem to deal with this. There does not seem to be a simple bare-metal restore of the WHS boot partition if the primary drive fails. Or have I missed something?

Do you know of something that describes what happens when there are more than two drives in the data pool?

Alex Kuretz April 5, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Server Recovery is the means to re-install the OS if the system drive dies. Though if you are virtualizing, I don’t see how this helps you. Perhaps you describe your intended config more and we can come up with some ideas to get you what you want.

For full info on how Drive Extender works, see the Windows Home Server Technical Briefs.

Bob April 6, 2010 at 11:44 am

Virutalizing was someone else’s suggestion. I currently have an EX485 installed with a client (replacing a Buffalo single drive NAS). I convinced the client that the WHS was a better bet than the Buffalo because of the backups and the ability to recover from a drive failure. That got me to thinking about the ways the EX485 could fail. I installed a 1.5T drive in bay 1, so there is folder backup happening. I just installed your add-in to ensure the client computers would be recoverable. That leaves the question of recovering the server itself. Boot partition corruption seems to be covered by Server Recovery, but not hard failure of the boot drive.

Alex Kuretz April 6, 2010 at 11:52 am

Ah, gotcha. As long as you have duplication enabled, any data resident on the system drive will be preserved and recoverable by Server Recovery.

Brian Page October 28, 2010 at 7:19 pm

I am considering down grading from SBS server 2003 to WHS. Can I backup my SBS and selectively restore to WHS?

Alex Kuretz October 29, 2010 at 11:01 am

Brian, I’ve not personally done this but it seems you can, check out this article for more details.

Comments are closed, visit the forums to continue the discussion.

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