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Windows Home Server 2011 Discontinued - What Backup Alternatives Do You Recommend? RRS feed

  • Question

  • A few days ago I was trying to buy a copy of WHS 2011 for a customer, but I couldn't find anyone online that is selling the product anymore in the US.  (Other than used copies on Ebay.)  I see that someone else has run into a similar problem in Sweden.

    http://social.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/75436ee5-ae69-4e70-abe6-588abaec6981/buy-licence-keys-for-whs-2011?forum=whs2011

    Some time ago I read that Micrsoft would discontinue WHS, that WHS 2011 was the end of the line for Microsoft home servers, but I'm surprised to see it happen so soon.  Some people are saying that Microsoft Windows Server 2012 Essentials is the "replacement," but that sells for about $400 while WHS 2011 was about $50-$100.  $400 for software puts Essentials out of the reach of most home or small office customers.  I have never seen Essentials myself so I have no idea if it even has the easy to use backup capabilities that WHS 2011 had?  That may or may not be a problem in suggesting Essentials as an alternative to WHS?

    I'm wondering what other people have found as a replacement for WHS 2011?

    Here are the features that are most important to me.  Ideally I would like to all, or most, of these in a replacement product and more.

    a)  WHS 2011 could be installed on the home PC via a webpage.  Other backup tools often required multiple liscensed copies of their software that would have to be individually managed on each home PC.  There was no coordination by the software for backups from multiple PCs to a common target.  Also being able to backup up to 10 PCs was more than enough for most home or small office users, but a nuisance to have to buy and install 10 copies of some other backup software on each individual PC.

    b)  WHS 2011 did deduplication of files.  This helped conserve space when backing up multiple computers to a common target.

    c)  It would be helpful to have a backup solution that could handle both Windows (Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows XP) and Mac OS.  WHS originally advertised it could do this, but in my experience Mac backups were never a sure thing.  At times it seemed to work and then an upgrade to the Mac OS would break the backup process.

    I don't personally have a need for Linux backups, but a backup target that could handle Windows, Max OS, and Linux would be even better due to the flexibility.

    And with the advent of all the mobile computing, cell phones, tablets, etc, if a tool could also help with backup of those devices to a common, secure, location that would be fantastic.

    d)  WHS would automatically backup the computers.  In the past I tried adding a backup Hard Drive to my children's PCs, but it was nearly impossible to get them to use it.  Or to find any software that would easily backup to this secondary drive without my involvement.  Having WHS automatically take care of backups was a huge load off my home IT administration.

    e)  WHS 2011 just worked.  I can't recall ever having a problem which caused the system to crash.  I did occasionally run into some issues in which a particular backup seemed to take an abnormally long time to complete, but by leaving the computer on overnight that got around this problem.

    f)  WHS 2011 also had the benefit of having shared folders on the home network.  Making the sharing of pictures, music, and videos very convenient.

    g)  Restoring files from WHS 2011 was very easy.  I didn't have to do this often, but those times I did it didn't take long to get this done.  With online backup tools I can often be hung up for an usually long time waiting for something to happen before my one file starts to download.  I certainly would hate to see what happened if I had multiple files I needed to restore.

    Here are some alternatives I've considered, but some deficiences that make them undesirable.  Typically they lack one or more of the above listed desirable qualities for a home or small office to use for their backups.

    a)  Online (or remote off site backup) would be ideal.  There are a lot of companies that offer such a service.  In addition to having a backup you'd have the added advantage that a local disaster wouldn't cause you to lose all your data.  But for most people in the US you can't get an Internet connection with an upload speed greater than 5 Mbps.  In some testing I've done I'd estimate a home user would need a mininimum of 50 Mbps upload speed to try and keep a home (with several computers) continuously backed up offsite.  Unfortunately there are very few places in the US where you could get a connection this fast.

    At the moment these online backup options would work okay for documents, but for many home users they'll have a lot of pictures and videos they want to save (and more being added each month).  These files take up so much space it is currently impractical to try and keep them backed up online (when you've only got 5 Mbps to work with).

    Another disadvantage is that WHS backed up the whole hard drive.  Other tools typically have a select set of files they'll backup.  Backing up other files can be very cumbersome (if it can be done at all).  With their default tools you'll usually miss some files that are really important to you or you'll have backups of garbage files that you don't really care about (but they're chewing up your available online space).  For a home user I believe even if the online tool allowed them to backup "non-standard" files the home user may not be sophisticated enough to realize this needs to be done nor to realize how to get it done with the online tools?

    The best alternative would be to have both a local (onsite) backup and remote (offsite) backup.  WHS 2011 provided a good onsite backup and other tools made it possible to replicate this offsite.

    b)  I know that Windows 8 has File History and I could make an external drive (or another computer) the target for backups, but due to the significant GUI changes in Windows 8 some customers won't upgrade thei home PCs (at least not now).  So trying to offer File History as a replacement to WHS 2011 is not really feasible.  Not to mention that for those customers who have Windows 7 (or possibly even Windows XP) File History is not an option.  

    In addition WHS 2011 backed up the complete hard drive (minus anything you purposefully excluded).  By default File History seems to only backup documents and media.  For most people that might be enough, but it could leave you exposed to a failure and loss of some data you didn't realize was critical and no way to recover that data until it's too late (and you realize what youve lost)?

    I did not personally try this myself, but I believe it should have been possible to restore the whole computer software from WHS 2011 by using a USB stick and booting that on new home PC hardware?  If that worked it would have been a helpful feature to a home user.

    c)  Some have suggested that Windows 8 has all of the important functions (such as media sharing and storage spaces) that WHS 2011 had and for the most part I agree.  But how can I easily backup from Windows (8, 7, XP) and Mac OS to a Windows 8 backup target?  Seems like I have my original problems of manging software on multiple PCs, no deduplication, etc?

    Using Windows 8 would give home users, for the most part, the familiar Windows look and feel.  It also would have the other benefits that using Windows tools, applications, and products together offers.  If there was some simple "client" software that would run on all the home PCs (and even on Mac OS) then this might be an alternative for me.  But at the moment I haven't been able to locate anything like this.

    I know that CrashPlan does allow their software to be used for free for local backups.  But I'm not sure that has the flexibility I'd want in managing which files get backed up and which are exluded?  And how easy it is to recover a group of files?

    d)  I know there are various Linux NAS products.  One advantage of WHS 2011 was that it had a familiar Windows look and feel that was beneficial to a home user.  Plus using Windows meant they could install other software on the WHS 2011 server that they might find useful or use WHS 2011 in conjunction with other Microsoft software products or tools.

    My belief is that most home or small office users would find using Linux a daunting task?  So unless there were some very simple way to manage the Linux NAS from a webpage this doesn't seem like a reasonable alternative to WHS 2011?  Plus the Linux NAS would need a simple way to determine what got backed up, regularly schedule backups, easily restore files, etc.  In addition using Microsoft WHS 2011 allows the possibility of BitLocker encryption (by using other Microsoft products or tools). Linux does have some encryption alternatives.  But again my feeling is that they're more daunting for a home user than the familiar Windows look and feel.  Although certain Linux features, such as ZFS, do look appealing from the perspective of a home user.

    I would appreciate hearing from others as to what they're using to solve these type of backup needs.


    Theokrat

    Wednesday, June 4, 2014 4:23 PM

All replies

  • A very comprehensive assessment and I agree with almost everything you say. I have two WHS2011 servers which have served me well over the years and I have restored multiple PCs and moved others from HDDs to SSDs using WHS backups. WHS2011 is supported until 2016. Where will I go then? Server Essentials does effectively what WHS does plus more and can be managed in the same way via the Dashboard - you can download an evaluation copy to try it either in a VM or on spare hardware. The problem is of course price, but what value do you put on your data? I have not come across any other viable alternative that is as simple to use as WHS / Essentials You can still buy WHS2011 for $120 on Amazon .

    Phil P.S. If you find my comment helpful or if it answers your question, please mark it as such.


    Wednesday, June 4, 2014 9:55 PM
  • Phil,

    I re-read some early reviews of Windows Essentials 2012.  I see it does have all the features I liked about the WHS 2011 for backups.

    But for a home user the price will be a real hinderance.  It's not that backing things up isn't important to them, but I think most will be forced into looking at some other alternative?  I'm not sure why Microsoft couldn't simply have made another version and limited it to 10 users and sold it for much less than Essentials?  It seems to me that nowdays the software installed is really the same for all versions and it is the key you purchase that determines what features are available to you?  If so I wouldn't think it should be that difficult for Microsoft to have a home server version?

    It seems to me they're just throwing away money on capturing the low end of the market?  Microsoft has already developed a product that could be attractive to the home user, but priced it out of their reach?  I can't evnision many home users being willing to spend $400 on the software alone.  They'll still have to double or triple that amount for the hardware.

    I'm sure WHS and WHS 2011 sales weren't what Microsoft wanted.  Probably just a "rouding error" in their overall profits.  But my feeling is they were a bit ahead of the game.  I think the need for a home user to store large amounts of data has grown significantly over the past few years and will continue to grow.

    If my ISP would significantly increase my bandwidth (especially for uploads) and kept the price down then SkyDrive, Azure, and other online services could be an attractive alternative for a home server backup.  (There would still be some risk in trusting someone else to keep my data safe.  You might not know there was a problem until after your own disaster occurred?)  But I expect it to take years before the ISPs would ever have upgraded their networks enough for a large portion of the US to be able to look at online backups?

    The other thing that will be a bit of a detriment is that Essentials has to be installed as a Domain rather than a Workgroup (is my understanding).  That'll be more complex for a home user to handle supporting themselves.

    I did see WHS 2011 on Amazon, but the four sellers looked like they might be individuals and I'm reluctant to purchase something for someone else when I am uncertain about the reliability of the source.

    But even if these are all legitimate, unused, copies of WHS 2011.  The fact that these small locations are the only sellers I can find selling WHS 2011 at all tells me that WHS 2011 is at a dead end for new purchases.  Thus I'm forced into looking for alternatives.

    Sounds like you "bit the bullet" and paid the extra price for Essentials?  If you can afford it I'm sure you won't be disappointed with the results.  And Essentials probably has some features that weren't available in WHS 2011?  I see that Essentials has a 180 day trial copy I can run.  I started working on that last night and will see for myself how much a nuisance (or not) running a Domain might be for the average home user.

    Thanks for the suggestions.


    Theokrat


    • Edited by WindOfChange Thursday, June 5, 2014 2:41 PM Typo
    Thursday, June 5, 2014 2:40 PM
  • No, I have not moved to Essentials - no need to until 2016!Whilst Essentials is a Domain Controller, you can choose not to have your Clients join the Domain when you install the Connector - undoubtedly more complicated but once set up it works fine. You can also back up the Server to the cloud using Azure.

    The copies of WHS2011 I saw on Amazon were sold by third parties but fulfilled by Amazon which should give you a level of comfort!


    Phil P.S. If you find my comment helpful or if it answers your question, please mark it as such.

    Thursday, June 5, 2014 10:25 PM
  • I'm still hoping for a response to my initial question.

    I have been working with Windows Essentials 2012 R2.  It does have the backup features I loved from Windows Home Server 2011.

    But I believe the $400 price tag is going to price this out of the potential market for a home user.  In addition the requirement to set this up as a Domain (rather than a Workgroup) will be problematic for both a small business and home user.  It can be done, but I think they'll both find this awkward to use.

    So does anyone else have a suggestion that meets most (or all) of my requirements?

    Thanks.


    Theokrat

    Monday, June 9, 2014 2:56 PM
  • You are right, but ... Microsoft want's to earn money. And it seems Windows Home Server with that price tag and the niche audience was not the product for doing so.

    Also Microsoft wants to drive users into the cloud. With paid services this would generate even more steady revenue, and give some control about the content.

    That this is partially unwanted by customers or even technically an issue, since not everybody has high speed Internet available at home or office, is some nuisance which tends to be ignored by the marketing people and decision makers.

    Best greetings from Germany
    Olaf

    Tuesday, June 10, 2014 7:49 AM
  • You can still find new copies of WHS 2011 on e-bay.  Microsoft is going to continue supplying WHS 2011 to OEM's until 2025.

    Barry

    Tuesday, July 15, 2014 10:16 PM
  • You can still find new copies of WHS 2011 on e-bay.  Microsoft is going to continue supplying WHS 2011 to OEM's until 2025.

    Barry


    Where did you get the 2025 date from? The last I saw from MS was they were discontinuing support in 2016!


    Phil P.S. If you find my comment helpful or if it answers your question, please mark it as such.

    Tuesday, July 15, 2014 11:22 PM
  • Barry,

    Thanks for the suggestion, but for other reasons (that I probably didn't initially mention) I don't think Ebay will work for me.

    If I were just looking for myself I might try Ebay, but I'm looking to build a system that can be sold to a customer.

    Some of the Ebay sellers look like they have questionable products.  Packages that have already been opened or other comments that suggest you may not be purchasing a legal copy of the software.  That's not something I'd want to purchase and then resell to a customer.

    Another thing is that with Ebay I can't easily tell how many copies are available to purchase.  Since the supply looks tenuous that doesn't seem like a good choice for the product I'd like to resell.

    I happened across a Microsoft webpage yesterday, sorry but I didn't save the URL and can't seem to find it now, that implied OEM version of WHS2011 would be available till 2025.  But if that were true I'd expect to be able to find them at the larger etailers and I can't seem to find them anywhere.  I'd be fine with buying OEM copies if I could find them at a reputible store.

    I did come across several comments that mentioned the Windows Server 2012 Essentials FAQ which mentioned a 2025 date.  Several of those comments had broken links.  But once I did locate this WSE2012 FAQ it did mention WHS2011, but only the 2016 date.

    If you know of someplace other than Ebay to find legitimate copies of WHS2011 OEM version I'd be interested in learning about that.

    Thanks again.


    Theokrat

    Wednesday, July 16, 2014 3:08 PM
  • http://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle/?p1=15820

    Phil P.S. If you find my comment helpful or if it answers your question, please mark it as such.

    Thursday, July 17, 2014 1:27 AM
  • Phil,

    That's the same type of information I've run across, i.e., the 2016 deadline.  I thought I'd seen some Microsoft website (when searching a few days ago) that mentioned 2025, but perhaps it was only in a forum post such as this one?

    The Server 2012 Essentials FAQ says:

    "Q: How long will customers be able to purchase Windows Home Server 2011?
    A: Windows Home Server 2011 will remain available as an OEM embedded product until December 31, 2025, and will remain available in all other current channels until December 31, 2013."

    http://social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/windowsserver/en-US/b48cd5a7-5471-46b7-9d39-1247367e7240/which-server-program-do-i-need?forum=winserveressentials

    And not in any official website from Microsoft about WHS2011?

    I think the confusion about 2025 might come from posts like this.  Mary Jo Foley mentioned, "Windows Home Server 2011 will remain available as an OEM embedded product until December 31, 2025, and will remain available in all other current channels until December 31, 2013, according to Microsoft's documentation."

    http://www.zdnet.com/microsoft-confirms-enthusiasts-fears-no-more-versions-of-windows-home-server-7000000348/

    It certainly seems to me that all the normal places I could have purchased WHS2011 dried up after December 2013.  The comment about "... embedded product until December 31, 2025 ..." seems peculiar to me.  Would this have been a reference to companies like HP that used to market complete WHS systems?  I think I recall reading they all dropped out of the WHS market 1-2 years ago?  So even if HP could have purchased WHS2011 until 2025 it would not have been available as OEM software to the rest of us?  If that is what the comment meant describing them as "embedded" seems odd to me.  I would have thought "embedded" referred to things like the computer used to run an ATM, etc.  And I can't imagine WHS ever being sold for a device like that?

    If the comment mean that OEM versions of the software should still be available then I certainly can't find them (except possibly on Ebay).

    Still hoping someone has a less expesnive solution than Essentials for a home user.  But at the moment that seems to be my only option (especially if I want to keep all the features mentioned in my first posting)?

    Thanks.


    Theokrat


    • Edited by WindOfChange Thursday, July 17, 2014 3:10 PM Typo
    Thursday, July 17, 2014 3:09 PM
  • The hope is what dies last.

    But again Microsoft just confirmed their cloud first and mobile first intention.

    Leaves not much space for what we (at least also potential customers) want.

    Best greetings from Germany
    Olaf

    Friday, July 18, 2014 6:54 AM
  • While do-able, both the price and/or the admin overhead of an enterprise server are not Home friendly. Ess is not a Home server for most Homes. Neither is FreeNAS, an often-used alternative, which is also an enterprise server OS. While it's a long way from 2011 in features, many people do report Amahi is a very good Home server. Simple and easy to use. 
    Friday, July 18, 2014 9:15 PM
  • Problem with Microsoft intentions - NOBODY believes them any more.  They screwed their customers so many times on so many levels, that even die-hards like me, stopped believing them. They keep changing their minds almost every quarter, and nobody serious is going to continue playing this foolish game. HP, Asus and other OEMs also got tired of this silly game, and killed off their existing, or soon to be released home servers.   HOW DUMB!

    WHS v 1 was a fantastic product, instead of some of its initial problems. And what did Microsoft "geniuses" did? Killed it.   Microsoft Money - another example of missing focus. Killing off instead of selling to somebody else a product that was quite successful is beyond me.  

    At this point there is no nice solutions backup solution for a home as elegant as WHS used to be. Oh... there is, but again, marketing  "geniuses"  who decided to effectively killing already existing product by using ridiculous pricing.

    At the same time, the same "geniuses" are giving away almost for free Office 365, to compete with.... still trying to figure that one out. Wouldn't it make sens to sell next generation of WHS which DO TALK to the cloud, and can be used as a front to all of the 5 terabytes of free space that comes with each Office 365 subscription? Wouldn't this bring all bunch of iHeads if such a product gave them time machine support (promised and delivered in 2011) too?  Gee wiz... you do not need to graduate from Harvard to figure it out.  A solid community college should be enough.

    Right now, I am still on Windows 7, and will stay on it as long as my HP EX475 works. The day it dies, I am moving to Mac OS, and will only run Windows in virtal machine only until Intuit moves their asses and delivers good Apple native version of their Turbotax and Quicken software. 

    Oh... mobile market? Buying Nokia is not enough. Im trying Lumia 635 and it is a fine basic phone. However, I am not going to stick with Windows Phone, because ... Microsoft  marketing "geniuses" cannot get Google to stop the silly game of blocking access to Google services.... No Google+, no Youtube, no Flipboard....no Microsoft for me either. Android and iPhone is good enough for me.




    Tuesday, September 23, 2014 6:47 AM
  • If WHS 2011 runs out in April 2016, it's a good chance to switch to some other NAS system, such as Qnap or Synology. Or simply use another server such as Windows 2012. 
    Wednesday, December 30, 2015 7:29 AM
  • If WHS 2011 runs out in April 2016, it's a good chance to switch to some other NAS system, such as Qnap or Synology. Or simply use another server such as Windows 2012. 

    Depends what you want - I use W10 as a server to store data, serve up music and video as well as being a mail server and provide a VPN into my home network. That of course does not provide client backup capability for which I still use WHS2011 as it still works with W10 - what I don't use it for is to provide access to my network from the Internet.

    Phil P.S. If you find my comment helpful or if it answers your question, please mark it as such.

    Wednesday, December 30, 2015 2:47 PM
  • Well, the deadline (April 2016) is still a couple of months away, but I'm seriously considering jumping off the ship. What's forcing my hand is that I've recently discovered Roon, which I'm likely to purchase a subscription to. Trouble is, the Roon server software doesn't run at all well on WHS 2011, although folks have apparently got it running on WSE 2012.

    The sticking point for purchasing WSE2012 is the price. I really find it difficult to justify it. I might as well purchase a Windows 10 Pro OEM license, and cobble together a string-and-sealing-wax backup solution for client backups. I don't need to have remote access into the server from outside our home, so a Windows 10 based server is probably the way to go for me.

    I'll be sad to turn off the WHS2011 environment. It's been a terrific solution, despite a few bumps along the way. However, Microsoft has taken the axe to it, and regrettably, I have to follow suit.

    Sunday, January 31, 2016 8:33 AM