Automating backups with Windows Home Server

Naturally another great feature of a home server especially if you’ve given it a bit of space is as a central repository for your backups – and not just your desktop PC but for every computer in the house. Windows Home Server makes it easy to not only back up all your computers but automate it for you as well. Here’s how.

(Note that we presume you’ve already installed Windows Home Server followed the Getting Started Tasks including ‘Set up Server Backup’ and the server has plenty of disk space to store data from all the computers on your network.)

The Windows Home Server dashboard.

Setting up the server

First make sure any extra drives you’ve installed have been initialised. If you only have one hard drive in the server feel free to skip to step 6 below.

1. Log in to the server launch the Dashboard and Windows Home Server will notify you via an alert in the top right corner of the Dashboard if you have new hard drives to format or haven’t formatted the spare drives already installed. Click on the alert.

2. Find any stating ‘One or more unformatted disks…’ and in the description of the alert you’ll see a ‘Tasks’ heading. Underneath this click ‘Format the hard disk’.

3. Now to put the drives to use. Click on ‘Server Folders and Hard Drives’ at the top then select the Hard Drives tab.

There are two ways you can use extra drives in your server: as storage for your files and folders (found under the ‘Server Folders’ tab) or to extend Windows Home Server’s own backup. You should already have at least one drive set aside for backup as WHS requires it – although this can be an externally connected drive if you wish.

Installed drives can be used for client backups or server backup.

Extending WHS’s backup is useful if you have a lot of data and the main backup drive’s running low but note that a drive allocated to server backup can’t be used to store new data. To allocate a drive as a backup drive simply right-click on it and select ‘Add to Server Backup’.

Alternatively if you have extra drives in the server beyond a backup drive you can use this to extend your storage space. This is also ideally the best option when it comes to backing up data from PCs on your network – this way the storage drive is separate from the operating system drive in the server.

4. To set up a drive this way you have to leave the Hard Drives tab and instead click on ‘Server Folders’. The first folder is ‘Client Computer Backups’ and by default will be on Windows Home Server’s main operating system drive.

5. To make use of your extra drive we need to move the directory it points to. Simply right-click on the folder and choose ‘Move the Folder’ then select the extra drive when you’re presented with options. If you already have data in the folder this may take a while as it’s physically copied across to the new destination.

Moving the client backup folder to a drive with more space.

6. Finally click on ‘Computers and Backup’ at the top and then in the right-hand pane click on ‘Additional client backup tasks’. This is where you specify when to back up and how many backups to keep. Make sure you’re happy both with the schedule and the retention policy keeping in mind the more PCs you back up and the longer you keep the data the more space you’ll need.

You can control the backup schedule and retention settings from the ‘Additional client backup tasks’ box.

And that’s it for the server now to set up the clients.

Setting up the clients

Windows Home Server helps make setting up clients quite straightforward.

1. On each computer you want to back up open a browser and type in http://[server name]/Connect where ‘server name’ is of course the title you gave your server. Alternatively if you know the IP address you can type that in and append ‘/Connect’.

2. A page will load identifying you’ve connected to the server with a button in the middle titled ‘Download Software for Windows’ as well as a link underneath to a Mac client for Macs. Download and install the software which supports Windows XP Vista and 7. Note that the PC may need to reboot and .NET will be installed if it’s not already present. Importantly make sure you have your server password handy!

3. You’ll be asked if you want WHS to wake up your PC in order to meet the schedule and back it up or alternatively to complete your backups only when the computer’s on. That’s a simple matter of preference but as the dialogue notes not all PCs can sleep and resume properly.

4. Once it finishes setting up you can log in to the server directly from your client PC and access the Server Dashboard directly from this PC. It should come as no surprise that looking at the Dashboard under ‘Computers and Backup’ your client PC should now be present.

5. Now it’s time to select which files and folders you want backed up. Click on the PC first and in the right-hand pane select ‘Customize backup for this computer’. By default this is the whole PC but you might not always want this – especially if doing so would involve a lot of space. Games can take up a lot for example and with services like Steam allowing you to re-download games you don’t necessarily need to back them up.

You can select which files and folders on the client you wish to back up.

And that’s it! As the Dashboard can be launched from the server or any of the client PCs you can change the schedule and set what files and folders to back up from any PC on your network.

Restoring files

While backups are initiated from the server restoring any lost or corrupted files can only be started from a client PC.

1. Launch the Dashboard from a client PC and jump to the ‘Computers and Backup’ section.

2. Select the client PC and on the right select ‘Restore files or folders…’. A list of available backups will be fetched from the server followed by a breakdown of the folders and files in your selected backup.

3. Simply select what you want restored and WHS will do the rest.

Recovering from a client disaster

But what happens if you can’t even boot a client PC to be able to launch the Dashboard? Windows Home Server has you covered here too:

1. First log in to the server directly and launch the Dashboard.

2. Click on ‘Computers and Backups’ and in the right-hand pane choose ‘Additional client backup tasks’.

3. Under the Tools tab you’ll find the ‘Computer recovery’ section. To get started click ‘Create key’.

4. Make sure you have a USB key of 512MB or more and click Next to create. This makes a bootable USB key that can connect to the server and start restoring a backup. Make sure the PC can boot from a USB key (you might need to enter the BIOS and change the boot order) and you’re done.

Triggering a manual backup

By default WHS will back up PCs based on a schedule but if you want to initiate a backup without waiting – and you should certainly do this the first time a client PC is added to the server – click on the ‘Computer and Backup’ section highlight the PC and in the right-hand pane click ‘Start a backup for this computer’.

Making light with the Launchpad

The Launchpad allows users to initiate backups by themselves.

The WHS client software also includes a neat utility called Launchpad. You can use Launchpad to more easily access WHS features without launching the full-blown Dashboard and – more importantly – Launchpad is a tool that the users on your network can use without requiring administrator login for the server.

First make sure a user account is present on the server (click Users and then ‘Add a user account’) and then under the Properties for the user set what can be accessed via Launchpad under the ‘Remote Web Access’ tab.

This can include shared folders on the server media remote web access the Dashboard if you grant privileges and of course backup – so users can trigger a manual backup if necessary.

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