A couple of weeks back I started the upgrade from Windows Home Server to Windows Server 2012 Essentials. I never bothered moving to Windows Home Server 2011, the lack of Drive Extender was the deal breaker for me. But with WHSv1 falling out of support, it had to be done, that plus all the drives were almost full, which was having a noticeable impact on performance sometimes, so time to do something about it. Plus getting something a bit more modern was much desired!
For background I put together the current box from an Asus T3-P5G31 around 2008 or 2009, does the job nicely, small and compact. Only downside is there's only space for two 3.5 inch drives, I have a third in the 5 1/4 inch bay. I was running it with a 1TB, 1.5TB and 2TB drives.
First up Windows Server 2012 Essentials isn't cheap, it is insanely expensive to use as a home server, at around ten times the price of WHSv1. But as someone who has run a server at home since Windows 2000, hosting commercially successful websites from it, along with Small Business Server 2003, just so I could get push e-mail to my phone, it was more a returning to the norm. But undoubtedly the price is a deal breaker, the product is clearly aimed at the small business.
I ordered two Western Digital Red 3TB drives to go along with it. There was mixed opinion on the internet as to if the board with its ICH7 controller would support 3TB drives. So I ordered a Transcend PDC3 SATA board, to add 2 more SATA ports, and definite support for 3TB drives, if the on-board controller didn't. Also added 2 USB 3 ports, juicy bonus, or so I thought, more on that later.
Before doing the install, I backed up all the data onto one of the 3TB drives by plugging it into another machine and copying everything over the network. Data safe, ready to go to work.
I ended up installing the system on an old 500GB drive I had lying around, then using the two 3TB drives to mirror data on the server - I ran into a setback when Storage Spaces had to wipe the data from a drive to use it in a Storage Space - d'oh, so I had to copy the data to another drive, and then back again after creating the Storage Space - adding about 20 hours to the process.
I then used the 2TB and 1.5TB drives together in a simple volume to hold File History backups, and also image-based backups. So yes, I have two drives sticking out of the case, but I needed the storage. Alternatively you could run with USB drives in nice tidy enclosures, but I don't need tidy.
I had already tested it out in virtual machines so had few unexpected surprises. It installed without a hitch.
By default the connector software joins the client machines to the domain, I don't need this and run my home network as a workgroup, there is a workaround. Run the following on an elevated command prompt before installing the connector software:
reg add "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows Server\ClientDeployment" /v SkipDomainJoin /t REG_DWORD /d 1
Boom, joins the computer without messing with your local user profiles. It installs the Launchpad and Dashboard software, and away you go basically.
I however ran into some issues. The largest of which was the server becoming unresponsive after about 12 hours, upon closer inspection it seemed the Transcend SATA card's USB driver had a memory leak! Luckily I'm not using the USB ports, so I disabled the driver. This is something you should be aware of if you're using this card in a similar setup.
The following minor issue is the connector installation adds a service that periodically changes your DNS servers to your server, if you need to prevent this from happening you can disable the service (Windows Server LAN configuration).
Lastly clients seemed to forget their network credentials every session, this would prevent File History from running unless you accessed the server and entered them again - it seems the Launchpad software changes the credentials from permanent to session only. Disabling the Launchpad software resolves this - there seem to be no major side effects - backups still run normally, but you lose server alerts, or trigger backups manually from the client (you can still do it via the Dashboard) - no big deal in my opinion. Presumably this is a side effect of running as a workgroup rather than a domain.
All in all no major problems, just be aware it is way more expensive, and way more complicated to setup, well relative to Windows Home Server, certainly not compared to older versions of Windows Server. But alas it seems the Home Server market has been abandoned by Microsoft, however Windows 8 Pro does support Storage Spaces, so using Windows 8 on a home server isn't unreasonable, in fact it's very possible.
And yes my Terraria and Freelancer servers continue to operate normally from it!