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Considering a Home Server

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If you’re like most people today, you have multiple home computers connected in a wireless network. You also have lots and lots of media files — digital photos, music, and videos — stored on each of these computers. Even though all your computers are connected, it’s difficult to share or stream these media files from one PC to another; heck, it’s hard enough just figuring out what’s stored where. If you have two or more computers connected to a home network, you should consider adding a home server to host all your media files — and to back up your valuable data. Michael Miller, author of Que’s Windows 7 Your Way, tells you why in this article.

If you’re like most people today, you have multiple home computers connected in a wireless network. You also have lots and lots of media files—digital photos, music, and videos—stored on each of these computers. Even though all your computers are connected, it’s difficult to share or stream these media files from one PC to another; heck, it’s hard enough just figuring out what’s stored where.

The solution to this conundrum is something called a home server—a separate, low-cost computer connected to your network for the sole purpose of storing and serving those media files. Read on to learn what a home server is, and how it works.

What is a Home Server—and Why Do You Need One?

Put simply, a home server is a computer that’s dedicated to storing and sharing files—typically media files—that are used by other computers in your home. That’s right, another computer.

I can already hear you saying, you already have enough computers in your household; why would you need another one? There’s one computer for you, one for your spouse, one for each of your kids, maybe even a dedicated computer in your living room or office. Then there are all the other non-computer devices connected to your network—video game consoles, smartphones, maybe even an iPad or two. Isn’t that enough?

No, it isn’t—because all those computers together do not offer a practical way to share those files that all of you want to access. I’m talking media files, primarily—digital photos, music, and videos that everyone wants to watch or listen to. The more connected devices you have in your household, the less practical it becomes to store your media files on individual computers. What do you do when you want to listen to a song that’s on your wife’s notebook PC—and your wife (and her notebook) isn’t around? Can you even find the photo or video you want—do you know which PC the thing is stored on?

These are common problems with the proliferation of digital media. Interestingly, the solution is somewhat old school, and it involves centralization—in particular, the centralized storage of those popular media files.

All of which brings us back to the item at hand, the home server. A home server is nothing more than a computer that is dedicated solely to storing and serving commonly used files, such as media files. Instead of storing your photos and music and videos on all your computers individually (and willy nilly), you store all those media files on the home server. The home server is then connected to your home network, of course, and any other computer connected to your network can easily access and play those media files, in real time. With a home server, you know where all your media files are, and have immediate access to them from any computer on your network.

With its role as centralized media storage, you might think a home server would be something big and costly and complex. Just the opposite is true; a home server is a relatively simple computer, nothing more than a glorified desktop PC with a slightly bigger hard drive than normal. In fact, most home servers don’t even have a keyboard or mouse or monitor; you access and monitor the server via the other computers on your network. In day-to-day operation, it just sits there—and works.

A home server, then, is a stripped-down desktop PC with a big hard drive and a network connection. (And no monitor or keyboard.) When you connect a home server to your network, it serves as the central repository for all your home media and other frequently accessed files—as well as the storage facility for data backups from all your household PCs.

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