Microsoft Partners Eagerly Awaiting Windows Home Server

Due to launch this fall, Windows Home Server connects multiple PCs in the same household, and stores, manages, backs up and protects digital audio, video and photos.

In addition to centralized storage and backup, Windows Home Server also lets users access their digital content remotely, and is built on the secure platform of Windows Server 2003, says Joel Sider, senior product manager in the Windows Home Server group at Microsoft.

Although Windows Home Server is designed to be easy to install and use, the software fits well into the toolbox of home integrators, who can wrap it into a smart home solution along with home automation and networking technologies, Sider noted.

David Stinner, president of US itek Group, a system builder in Buffalo, N.Y., expects Windows Home Server to attract more interest from business users than with consumers, at least initially.

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"I don't think it will have mass market appeal, because it's somewhat difficult to educate consumers on a product like this, just as it has been difficult to educate customers on Windows Media Center PCs," said Stinner.

However, "It's something I'd like to market to the business clients I serve because they can easily appreciate the value and they can afford the hardware that's needed to run it," Stinner added.

Chris Rue, CEO of Black Warrior Technology, a Northport, Ala.-based solution provider, says most of the interest he's seen has been from people who run home-based businesses. "Rather than going with a full blown Small Business Server with Exchange and management, people see this as a simpler and better integrated alternative," he said.

Windows Home Server's remote access capabilities allow users to set up a page through Windows Live and access Home Server content that's protected with strong authentication, said Sider.

"The ability to stream the media remotely is a fantastic feature. Many people have a lot of digital media in the home that's not adequately backed up or centralized, and this gives them a framework for utilizing that," said Rue.

Remote storage and backup would work well as an in-the-cloud service, to allow for disaster recovery if a home were to suffer a catastrophic data loss scenario such as a fire, added Rue.

Last week at Microsoft's annual financial analyst meeting, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer described Windows Home Server as "an interesting product" with "a reasonable amount of potential".

However, the normally effusive Ballmer seemed to downplay the local storage features of Windows Home Server, saying that he expects there will be an equal number of users seeking to store their data '"in the cloud" as a service.

"I have a pretty positive outlook -- a very positive outlook for Home Server -- and yet I think it's too early to give any kind of wild-eyed projections," said Ballmer.

OEM products based on Windows Home Server will be led by HP's Media Smart Server, which is slated for release later this year, followed by offerings from Fujitsu-Siemens, Gateway, Iomega, Lacie and Medion.

"You'll see a number of price points, design aesthetics, and capabilities, and Microsoft will also be delivering Windows Home Server through the system builder channel," said Sider.