LOS ANGELES Microsoft Corp. has released more details on its plans to enable a new class of home servers starting this fall. The company disclosed the basic hardware requirements, demoed software features and announced partners who plan to roll out systems and supporting software.
The Windows Home Server is essentially a four-drive consumer array of hard disks. It aims to help home users backup, manage and remotely access storage over a home network.
The server can restore any drive on the network that fails. A management console lets users control access to various systems, files and features or access data or media stored on a remote system.
To save costs the system does not implement the RAID array popular in servers. Instead it uses technology developed by a small Microsoft incubator company that ensures all data on a home network is stored on at least two independent drives.
"If you lose one drive, there's no problem. If you lose two, you are probably OK," said a Microsoft developer demonstrating the software on the show floor at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) here.
The home server requires a gigahertz-class processor and what's seen as a fairly heady 512 Mbytes DRAM. It has four USB ports and a built-in Gbit Ethernet port for linking to a home network.
Microsoft wants the box act as a "headless" server and deliver media without glitches. Thus it forbids OEMs from building in Wi-Fi or any kind wireless communication. Microsoft also prohibits a keyboard, mouse, serial or parallel ports or an optical drive.
Microsoft initially wanted a USB controller for each of the systems four ports, but backed down in the face of OEM concerns about hitting the lowest possible cost for the systems. In terms of noise, the software giant has specified the systems should generate no more than 30 dB.
"A lot of folks are a little concerned about hitting that," said Scot Schulte, a senior director of corporate R&D in the consumer group at Inventec, a Taiwan-based systems maker who displayed on the show floor two versions of such servers geared for OEM buyers.
Inventec will supply versions of its systems using both AMD desktop and notebook processors to determine what mix of low cost, noise and power consumption is of most interest to OEMs. AMD is delivering a reference design named Churchill for the home server, courting a broad group of companies including small system integrators.
Some 60,000 people are already acting as testers for the software which is in a beta version 2 release. Microsoft first announced the concept of a Windows Home Server at the Consumer Electronics Show, saying it was working with Hewlett-Packard on the system.
At WinHEC, Microsoft revealed it is now working with as many as 40 additional partners on the home server including Gateway Inc., LaCie and Medion International. At least eight companies said they will deliver applications for the Windows Home Server.
The home server aims to complement features in Windows Vista that makes it easier to set up a home network. Microsoft is courting consumer electronics companies to get them to support its so-called Rally software in Vista to make it easier to recognize their systems on a PC home network.
Vista "is going to drive innovation in peripherals," said Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in a keynote here Tuesday (May 15). "As of last week we've sold 40 million copies of Vista since the release about 100 days ago. That's twice as fast as our last major release, XP," Gates said.