Windows Home Server 2011, Windows Storage Server 2008R2, Windows Small Business Server 2011 - Which one is for me?

I was a huge advocate of the original Windows Home Server operating system that Microsoft released, I had it running in my VMWare VSphere environment as a virtual machine. The software worked very well and allowed me to share my audio/video libraries both internal on my network and external using remote access.

One thing I really thought made WHS stand out was its ability to pool all of your storage devices into one storage pool (Drive Extender), and the ability for you to ensure that data was backed up across physical devices. These features combined with de-duplication made WHS hard to beat. Unfortunately Microsoft decided to pull the drive pooling feature from all of the products because of bugs that couldn't be easily resolved.

There are several addins that are showing up claiming to take the place of Drive Extender, DriveBender and StableBit are two of the biggest. Performance and lack of a sleek UI were the only things holding WHS back for being what I thought the best media management/sharing software available.

Before the next generation of WHS was set to roll out Microsoft decided to make some huge changes to the product. First the new version was built on Windows Server 2008R2, it makes sense that Microsoft would release the server platform on the latest and greatest operating system. Next, they decided to expand the product line into 3 distinct options, WHS, WSS and WSBS.

First I installed Windows Home Server 2011, I was familiar with it and it seemed to make sense to use it, after using it for a while I started to wish that you could create more than just 10 user accounts for remote access. This is a huge limitation if you want to share media with friends and family, I also wanted to join my WHS machine to my domain which you cannot do with WHS.

The new 2011 interface is great, everything looks a lot cleaner than in the previous WHS versions and the UI is easy to navigate.

Next I decided I would install Windows Small Business Server 2011 because it offered so much functionality in a very compact package. WSBS includes most of the WHS functionality (minus the media streaming) and Microsoft Exchange Server, Sharepoint Foundation, SQL Server Express and a Domain Controller.

Joining to a domain was a huge plus and I really liked the fact that I could now create 25 user accounts. One thing I noticed right away with WSBS was it needed a lot of resources, I ran WSBS in a virtual machine with 6GB of RAM and 2 processors. The machine seemed to take forever to shut down and restart when I needed to because there were so many services running on this one machine.

Performance for external users was not great either, I was getting complaints that it would take over an hour for a 700MB file to download and the bottleneck was not my internet connection. There is no media streaming in WSBS, this doesn't make any sense to me as all three products share the same code base and WSBS should be a superset of functionality being the most expensive and functional product of the three.

In the end I opted to stop using WSBS and give the third and final product a try (WSS).

Windows Storage Server is in the middle for functionality as it allows you to join to a domain (not be a domain controller like WSBS) and you can still have 25 user accounts. Microsoft hasn't done a great job marketing this product, apparently they sell it as an appliance hardware/software and it can't be purchased separately. I downloaded it from MSDN so if you have an account this is what I would recommend.

The first thing I noticed about WSS was the media streaming option is enabled just like WHS. From what I can tell the addins for WHS, WSS and WSBS are interchangeable and work with all three servers. WSS is perfect for me, it is a lot more lightweight than WSBS and offers the media streaming and the 25 user accounts.

One thing I don't like about all three of the products is that you can't share a mapped (network) drive, this would be such a great feature for me. Now I have to create a virtual hard drive (vmdk) and present that drive to the virtual machine, copy files to this drive and then share the drive in the WSS interface. It would be nice if I didn't have to move my media files inside the vmdk drives in order to create shares in WSS.

Comparison between WSBS and WSS

Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials
Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials
Number of users supported
Server Solution
Integtrated & Pre-configured
Network Attached Storage Appliance
Cloud integration support
One-click setup
Remote Access
Integrated Remote Web Access
Integrated Remote Web Access
Identity Management
Pre-Configured Active Directory
Active Directory Join Only
Automated Wizard Driven
Plug and Play
Application Support
Yes, any
Only Storage Application Support
Supports Many
Storage Only
Memory Support
CPU Support
2 Sockets
1 Socket
All purchasing channels
OEM only

I will continue to evaluate the products as they evolve but for right now Windows Storage Server 2008R2 works best for me.

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