I recently converted. I didn’t intend to switch allegiance but Fate, full of twists and turns, is by nature never predictable. It all started with Windows Home Server Version 2, codenamed “Vail”. Or, as most are calling it now, “Vail Fail”.
Windows Home Server “Vail Fail”
Windows Home Server v1 had gained quite a devoted following, encompassing as it did backup, file, and media server features in an affordable and extensible package. Many felt that the key technology for home users was its Drive Extender, a software storage technology that allowed one to plug in a hard drive of any type and size and add it effortlessly to a combined storage pool, a homogenous and seamless whole made up of heterogenous parts. This sum-of-its-parts feature was not a technology that could withstand the rigors of mission-critical enterprise data-storage demands, but was perfectly matched to the home market which has neither the cash nor the expertise to maintain RAID arrays of identically matched disks.
There was a comfy, DIY hobbyist feeling to WHS v1 which attracted tinkering technophile weekend warriors, but delivered enough utility to satisfy wives and girlfriends: “See honey? Now we can stream Glee to the bedroom and back up your iTunes bellydance playlists, on the same device!” (Tip: significant others, always on the alert against clutter, tend to fall hard for the “fewer devices are better” argument.)
When Microsoft announced it was working on WHS v2, the community happily fluttered and twittered (literally), plucking up with gusto every bit of news that came out on Vail’s progress, following that breadcrumb trail deep into the wood after the tantalizing promise of delicious server cake, when one day something happened, and we all came to in a dark forest, lost and hungry. With no cake. A distinct absence of cake, in fact, both now and in the future, for that day, November 23 2010, Microsoft proclaimed that Windows Home Server Version 2 “Vail” would abandon Drive Extender.
The news went over like a lead balloon. My own first reaction was incredulity: “What’s the point of WHS without Drive Extender?” This sentiment was echoed a thousandfold across the land. If you were in space you might have seen the myriad question marks popping up over the heads of puzzled WHS enthusiasts everywhere like mushrooms after a rain. And indeed, the answer to that question, following stages of denial, rage, bargaining, and sorrow, is the answer which brings bittersweet acceptance at last: there is no point. Days later, HP announced it was dumping its WHS line of products. Nothing to do with Vail Fail. They said. Yeaaahhhh.
Disillusioned WHS refugees began clogging the highways and biways in an internet diaspora, knowing not whither they might go, only sure they didn’t want to stay. I myself was among them, despondent, plodding aimlessly with all my digital possessions piled high on a hand-cart, when there appeared suddenly a beacon in the dark, a giant candle blazing forth atop a cake of prodigious size and flavour. Impossibly, forks were free. That cake was called “Amahi”.
Amahi Home Server
Amahi is an open-source home server built on Fedora Linux. Storage pooling technology is handled by Greyhole. Media streaming, file sharing, VPN, PC backups, a variety of one-click apps - it does everything I did with WHS, and more.
I installed Fedora and then Amahi on an older but robust PC. It took me most of a weekend to migrate data from WHS, and a couple of weeks following to tweak shares, get backups going, set up the apps I wanted and test them, get familiar with Linux, and most importantly, start trusting Amahi not to blow up. I turned off WHS after three weeks. After a month, when Crashplan had caught up with offsite backup (yes, Amahi has a one-click app for Crashplan), I dismantled the WHS server, one of the most satisfying hours I’ve ever spent with a screwdriver.
I won’t pretend I didn’t get stuck a few times while getting Amahi to do my bidding, or that the command line terminal isn’t a stark and lonely plateau to traverse alone. Fedora has a nice GUI, but once a problem crops up, you are sent scurrying to the command line where anything of any consequence must be done. That’s Linux for you: the level of control it gives you over your system is awe-inspiring and a little bit frightening. The Amahi forums helped. I learned a lot about Linux because I had to.
It is still possible to run Windows-dependent software if you need to. Amahi is just a layer on Fedora, so you can take full advantage of the operating system. WINE is a Windows emulator that runs within Linux, or you can install a virtualization product like (the open-source) VirtualBox which can host a Windows OS.
All in all, I highly recommend Amahi as a home server if you like to tinker and like a learning experience. There are quite a few of us huddled masses yearning to be free, late of Windows Home Server, swelling the ranks over there.