Sunday, January 3, 2010

Over the Holidays Home Network Makeover

Every year at this time I try to get my life organized so I can start the New Year off on a good foot. So, this year I decided to spend my holiday vacation revamping our home network.

As you can imagine, we have a lot of computers in our household, even after moving all of CisCom’s servers to a data center this past fall, I count no fewer than 7 desktops, laptops, and servers still in use at our home.

Our biggest organizational problem was that we had data files scattered all over the place and no catastrophic disaster recovery process in place. I had a Nephew whose camera was stolen with all the photos of his son’s first year of life. My policy before my re-org would be to periodically copy all our photos from one computer. Not very efficient way of maintain backups.

Knowing a little about Microsoft’s Windows Home Server (WHS), I decided it was perfect for the job and I decided to take the plunge. Because we are a Microsoft Partner, I had access to the software via a special plan with have with them. For normal folks, you need to purchase a dedicated box with WHS pre-installed on it. You can purchase one anywhere from $350 up depending on how much drive space you will need.

After several failed attempts of getting the software installed only to have it fail, I came to determine I had a bad 1TB hard drive that was causing all the problems. I reinstalled it onto a 750GB drive I had laying around and all was well.

After getting the server software loaded, it was all downhill. I had to use a connector CD to connect all of our computers to the server, setup users, create backup schedules. Then I moved and reorganized all of our data files to the new server. Once all of the data was on the WHS, I then installed our own CisCom remote backup software to back everything up to our remote data center.

Another addition to our home network is a media computer. While there are operating systems and devices out there dedicated for pushing media content to your television, I opted to use Windows XP Pro since it was already loaded on the computer I was planning to use. Our television has a lot of inputs for connecting devices including a standard VGA port.

All I had to do was connect the XP computer to the television using a standard VGA cable then hook a cable between the audio port output on the XP computer and an audio input on the television. I changed the TV input to use the VGA and voila, we had a home entertainment media pc. Of course, the computer had to be hooked up to the network in order for us to access Internet content and other media stored on the WHS. One last note, I had to hook up a wireless keyboard and mouse in order to use the PC from across the room. I found an iPhone app to allow a mouse to be used through my iPhone but it did not work reliably.

My favorite sites to use with the media computer?,, and also downloaded content and personal pictures, music, and videos. I guess we could use the DVD player on the computer if we did not already have a dedicated one. gets our highest praise as they have a large amount of content - TV shows and Movies, that can be streamed free of charge. They offset the cost of their site with limited advertising which is much less intrusive as typical TV advertising.

All in all, I am feeling very organized starting off the New Year. Not only is my data organized and is getting backed up offsite, we also have expanded our viewing options by adding the media pc.

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