HP MediaSmart Server

You know by now that I regularly preach the importance of backing up your photos and other important data. Lately I've been using the HP MediaSmart Server, and am going to be involved in a webinar on this device Thursday, July 17, 2008 at 10am PST.

You can register at: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/windowshomeserver/hpmediasmart.mspx

In the past I’ve written about various methods for backup, including DVDs, external hard drives, NAS (network attached storage) and RAID devices. Last fall I added Windows Home Server to the mix, and really liked how it worked and the features it gave me. Since then a few companies have come out with their own devices running Windows Home Server. These units combine Microsoft’s software with what is simply a low-powered computer and case containing one or more hard drives. I read about Hewlett-Packard’s entry, the HP MediaSmart Server in PC Magazine, and based on a very positive review decided to give it a try.

So far I’ve been very pleased. Aesthetically it’s well-designed and much smaller than you might imagine. It’s got space for four internal SATA hard drives (I’ve got four 500GB in it right now) as well as four USB ports and one eSATA for adding more storage. It has fans (thankfully), but they’re very quiet. Located five feet from me in the office, I can just barely hear it running.

Setup was simple. Being a “headless” unit, you don’t attach a keyboard or monitor. Instead, you load the HP and Microsoft software onto your Windows machine (in my case a Lenovo T61 running Vista Ultimate) and then control the server from that computer. The software was easy to load and the server showed up right away. Configuration was painless, as I set it to do daily backups of any changes on the T61.

There are two features I like best with this device. One, it does a complete computer backup. In other words, if my T61 were to have a catastrophic crash and I had to replace or re-format its hard drive, I could use this backup to completely rebuild the computer. Completely. System, applications, documents. The second most important feature is the ability to easily add more storage, using the internal bays or the external connections. It came with two 500GB drives, taking up two of the four available bays. A few days later I added two more 500GB drives. That took all of about five minutes. Without even turning it off, I popped out a drive holder, added the drive, slid it back in and then used the software on the T61 to enable the additional storage. Cool.

My next step will be to start using the USB ports to add additional storage. With these drives I’ll back up data to them and then move them off-site. And eventually I’ll connect an eSATA tower to it for even more space. My goal is to get the unit up to eight terabytes in the next year.

Beyond backing up my main Windows computer, it can also keep an eye on others on the network. For instance, I have an older Dell 8500 laptop that I use when working football and baseball games (if it gets lost/destroyed I won’t be lost/destroyed). It’s now completely backed up to the server.

The server also gives me remote access to any home computers (running most versions of Vista or XP) from anywhere with a web connection. Not only can I directly control a home computer from the road, but more importantly, I can access any data stored on them, or on the server, while traveling. That means that I’ll be able to upload my most important photos each day to my home server from anywhere in the world.

And not only upload photos, but give other people (editors, friends, family) access to any of those photos as well. That means that when I need to deliver large files to a client, I can set up a share for them and give them access to those files, to download whenever they want. No more messing with FTP sites or limits on email attachments.

There are more features, and in time, I’ll get to them. I’m particularly interested in the MediaSmart’s ability to be a media server, streaming a centralized collection of music and moves throughout the house.

Next? It’s getting a bit crowded in my office with all the computers, printers, hard drives and camera gear. My future plans are to move the MediaSmart and some of the other network storage devices I’ve got to the workshop, freeing up some space. Of course, that just means more space for other new gadgets…

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