Guide: Gaining Remote Control of your Home Server

by Charles Robinson on September 2, 2010 · 10 comments

in Guides

Every now and then when we are on safari either to the mall or friends house we have the need to get some data off of or otherwise gain remote access to our Home Server. It’s easy to get alerts from and see information about your Home Server by using Add-Ins such as Remote Notification or WHS Health, and you can gain access to the Server Console through the built in Remote Access features of Windows Home Server.

Though these can offer valuable information often you just need more control. In this guide I will cover a few different ways you can get to and control your server, starting with simpler methods assuming you already have access to the console and go through more complex methods that provide ever deeper access.

Ok first off why would we need or want remote control.

  1. If a service fails during startup you can see it.
  2. If there is a bootup error requiring “Press F1 to continue”
  3. The good old “Safe Mode” because a driver has failed.
  4. Being able to access your server when the console refuses to launch.
  5. Being able to run applications and check their status.
  6. One word Event Logs. (OK that’s two words)

To get started we should update you on some possibly unfamiliar terms that will be used throughout this article.

DNS (Dynamic Naming Service) gives your system a friendly name instead of a number.

RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) allows your computer to remote control another.

PORT For every IP address you can have between 1-65355 ports think of them sort of like phone extensions so a given application can use that extension to reach out to the world.

Option: 1  Home Server Console

Program Launcher is a very cool Add-In that allows you to run via the Server Console almost any application that exists on your Home Server. A good review of this Add-In can be found here at We Got Served.

Basically it is installed just like any other add-on and gives you very powerful access to system resources through your standard console connection. This would include Remote Desktop Control (RDP) without additional port forwarding required, or you can even launch custom applications or scripts.

Another popular alternative to this is Advanced Admin Console. Though I have not personally used this one it looks very comparable, perhaps even a little more polished. A full How-To article can be found here.

For those using the Vail or Aurora beta software, there is a version known as Remote Launcher.

Option: 2 Remote Desktop Connection

This is where we break away from your basic Home Server Console connection and explore more involved ways to remotely control your Home Server.

A lot of us are familiar with using RDP from inside our network, but you can also use it from outside your home network. A prerequisite for using this is you must have a way to find your system on the internet, either by knowing your external IP Address which is cumbersome, or more easily by a friendly name which is where Dynamic DNS comes into play. Fortunately Windows Home Server comes with a built-in Dynamic DNS service which you configure when you set up Remote Access on your server.

HP also includes an additional Dynamic DNS service with their partnership with TZO that is included with the MediaSmart Server and Data Vault products, which can also be set up during the configuration of Remote Access on your server. See our TZO.com and HP MediaSmart Server Wiki article for more on this feature.

You also have the option of registering with a free dynamic DNS service like DynDNS.org or no-ip.com just to name a few.

One of these three will work in most routers or directly on your HP MediaSmart server.

In order to connect to your Home Server via RDP you will need to open up the firewall port on your server as well. That info can be found in Nigel’s article on the Windows Home Server firewall settings.

Once you can ping your network via your new friendly name from the internet the next step is to make your server visible to the internet for RDP. On your router you will need to do a single port forward on Port 3389 from the outside to you WHS system IP address. Once this is done from anywhere on the internet you should be able to use the Remote Connection tool built into windows to access your WHS remotely.

There are even tools for use with various mobile devices such as the iPhone, one of which is Wyse Pocketcloud.

Option 3: True Remote Control

OK, for most that would be enough control. But what happens if you want even more control, say you want to be able to see your server reboot and perhaps interact with the bios as it’s booting up?

A prerequisite is that you must have keyboard/video/mouse access to your Home Server, and if you’re a MediaSmart Server, Data Vault, or Acer easyStore owner that means you’ll need a PS2/VGA debug cable such as those available from VOV Technology.

You will also need an IP-KVM device; I have tested several including the Avocent 1022/2010/2020 as well as the Belkin F1DE101G, either of which can usually be had off Ebay for less than $100. For ease of use and an overall smoother experience I prefer the Avocent models. No matter which model you get, just be certain the model you choose has the OBWI (on-board web interface) option, as several models do not have this feature and it can be misleading which do or don’t so be careful when selecting your model.

As you can see here I have two servers attached and can control both remotely.

So just as in the RDP section you will need to do a Port forward from the outside to the IP address of the web interface of the KVM,  for instance you could use port 8181 on the outside and forward that to 192.168.1.X port 80 on your network. By using port forwarding your standard Remote Access features of Windows Home Server will still work as normal.

Then when accessing it from the internet you would type something like: http://www.My-servers-friendly-name.com:8181

Option 4: The Ultimate in remote control

WARNING: Geek Alert, Technophobes need not read further!

Enterprise servers have features such as iLO (integrated lights out), the PCI-X version known as RiLO, or IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface). They all offer similar functionality, which is to provide you remote access to directly control the server hardware. This little gem has its own IP address and can be used even if the server is completely powered off. Below is an example of the HP iLO interface running on my DIY Home Server.

A username and password are required to access the remote interface, making it nice and secure.

The interface provides access to all the information you could want.

You can even mount an ISO image and do a complete re-install remotely. I’m talking bare metal boys and girls! I just couldn’t find the kitchen sink.

It’s a thing of beauty.

Personally I like to have options and redundancy so I use all of the options to some degree or another. How do you access your Server Remotely, and are there any other mobile apps that you recommend?





Article by

After working 30yrs in the heart of Silicon valley, including stints with Stanford University, TiVo, HP and many others I'm happy to share what I can to help others. You can find me in the forums as "Chasrobin".


{ 10 comments }

Damian September 2, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Great writeup Charles. An alternative to access remotely via mobile would be LogMeIn – https://secure.logmein.com/US/welcome/iphone/?wt.ac=1-1

I haven’t tried this since I only own an iPod Touch (which means I basically only get wireless internet in my house and at that point I could just do the unthinkable and walk to my PC!), but do use LogMeIn Free and LogMeIn Hamachi with success.

Charles September 2, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Good thing it had nothing to do with SageTV.
You might be staring at a blank page.

Not to mention Alex is a very good editor.

Damian September 2, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Don’t worry, my first post Alex paid me a surprise visit in new york to edit!!!

Shane September 2, 2010 at 4:59 pm

SuperMicro server boards have IPMI View which is the same thing as iLO and DRAC. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve got myself out of a pinch with being able to directly connect to the server and get into the BIOS while out on road or at a friends house.

SuperMicro’s boards are pretty damn cheap considering their feature set and I’ve got one running my media server at home.

Mikael September 3, 2010 at 1:32 am

I use iRedesktop with my iPhone, it’s free and does get the job done. Wyse is not free, but maybe better but I have not tested so I can’t tell.

smarty September 3, 2010 at 10:24 am

on my iPhone, I use RDP Lite (free). Don’t use it often, but whenever I do, I am never disappointed.

Flhoston September 3, 2010 at 1:42 pm

I use logmein free. It allows to access at console level which RDP does not.
That’s a must have if you need to run some apps that do not support windows service like windows live sync

charles September 3, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Actually you can.
Check out this Microsoft How To.
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/278845

Christian September 4, 2010 at 11:53 am

I’ve recently tried out three different remote access solutions:
1. Asus P7F-M Mainboard with the ASMB4-iKVM option
2. Asus P7Q57-M DO as the Intel AMT 6.0 reference together with RealVNC ViewerPlus
3. Supermicro’s X7SPA-HF with the integrated IPMI together with IPMI View

The comparison in short:
ASMB4-iKVM is a solid but expensive solution that’s purely web based. It only works on a few ASUS mainboards. I installed different operating systems (Win 7, Ubuntu 10.04, FreeBSD) via the IDE redirection feature which worked quite well.
The AMT6.0 solution requires a certain combination of Chipset and CPU (Q57 and Core i5-6xx). It works quite well together with the RealVNC Viewer Plus but has a major drawback: I wasn’t able to install any operating system via the IDE redirection. It seems that the installer can’t get access to the installation medium.
At last I’ve built a small NAS based on the Supermicro board. In this case I did only the initial BIOS setup with keyboard and monitor connected. After that the NAS went far away from my desktop only needing network cable and power cord to let me do my testing. And I must say it works quite well… I’ve tried out DSS V6 lite, Openfiler and FreeNAS installations over IDE redirection and everything worked quite well. Only Openfiler wouldn’t work with the onboard NIC once it was installed which seems to be an Openfiler issue.
Finally I must say that I was mostly impressed with the Supermicro solution. The ASMB4 is a little to expensive and an exotic solution. Intel got it almost right with AMT6.0 but what’s the purpose of IDE redirection if you can’t use it to install an operating system. It seems that AMT6.0 is targeted at network based installations distributing prebuilt installation images.

Christian

Charles September 4, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Excellent thanks for the input.

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