Setup small home office server (long read)

I need some guidance and recommendations for setting up a small home office server. I currently use a workgroup with 4-5 computers and file and print sharing is very hit and miss. I’ve gone through most advice on setting up the master browser, netbios, and static ip’s with little success. My data is scattered across the network and it takes forever to find a file. I don’t want guests to access all my shares but I want access to everything. I think a dedicated server should help manage this. I was planning on buying a small form factor PC with windows to run as the server. I want the SFF because they are small, quiet, and don’t generate too much heat (Shuttle Zen XPC ST62K).

Users on my computers:
*Me (admin mode, absolute access)
*Me (user mode, access to all data, limited install privileges)
*Wife (user with access to all data, limited install privileges)
*Secretary (access to business documents& all software, no access to personal folders, no install privileges)
*Guest (Some apps and Internet only, locked down tightly, no data access)

Desired Hardware configuration:
*DSL modem/Router
*My PC (wired) (Video editing, graphic arts, Gaming, Quicken, internet)
*Wife’s PC-2 (wired) (Quickbooks for business, office apps, burning cd’s, internet, email)
*My Laptop (wired and wireless) (internet, music recording/editing, burning cd’s, Travel computer)
*Xbox (hacked, used to play photos and mp3’s, use ftp to move files to and from)
*Guest PC (wireless) (internet, office, music editing, burning cd’s)
*Various guest laptops (wired or wireless) (This PC should connect to network for internet access and only access a “public” folder for data)
*Dedicated Server with 2 printers, scanner & fire wire drive. (Wired)

Desired use of server:
*Private FTP host (easy way to send large files (10 MB-800 MB) to friends or clients. infrequent use)
*Team-speak server
*Print server (one laser and one photo printer with memory card reader)
*“Holder” of all data (music, “My Documents”, photos, software backups, Completed video projects)

My current hardware:
*DSL modem/4 port router.
*D-link 714P 4 port router. 10/100 ( I currently this router as a switch and parallel print server all on the LAN side)
*Dlink USB print server
*3 custom PC’s with 10/100 cards (mine, wife’s, guest)
*Laptop with on board 10/100 and 802.11B
*Xbox with built in 10/100
*Occasional guest with their own laptop.

Hardware questions:
*What processor & Ram would be recommended for a basic file server. Budget is small, noise and size is very important.
*If I spend the money to change the PC’s and Routers to gigabit should I notice a huge speed gain? I typically work with 1MB to 50 MB files on the network with the occasional 2 GB DVD image transfer.
*Can I get by with the two routers I currently have to connect all computers without buying a switch? (It seems to work now with my workgroup)

Software questions:
*What version of Windows would best used for the server? I am not a network guru or programmer. No linux or new operating systems.
*Can I get by with Windows XP professional? If so how do you configure one PC as the Server and the others as the host.

On server I plan on making the folders:
Folder:--“My Documents”--Accessible by:
Me Docs --(me)--Me, Wife
Business Docs--(wife, secretary)--Me, Wife, Secretary
Guest Docs--(Guest) --Me, Wife, Secretary, Guest
Music -- -- Me, Wife
Photos -- -- Me, Wife
Videos -- -- Me, Wife
Pub -- -- Me, Wife, Secretary, Guest
Pubftp -- -- Me, Wife, Secretary, Guest, FTP user with account and password

I will map these folders to network drives on the client computers. I will map the “My Documents” folders as noted

Any help or guidance will be greatly appreciated.
10 answers Last reply
More about setup small home office server long read
  1. Hardware:

    1. You don’t need a powerful processor. Even an older generation one would do. RAM depends on the OS and clients connecting but 1 gig would be a safe bet. HDD would be a component that you’d want to look at since this is going to be a file server. I would recommend the raptors for performance. But if it is not in your budget I’ve heard good things about the latest Samsung HDDs (specially where heat and sound are concerned) .
    As for a platform I would suggest a via you cannot beat them for size sound. There are even some fanless solutions available.
    2. If you can get a switch with a gigabit port to connect to the file server there should be an improvement. My advise would be 2 go with your current setup (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it) and if you feel that the network is performing slow then go for a new switch.
    3. See no 2


    WinXP pro should be able to function as a small file server but there is a limit on the amount of users that can connect to it (5 if I remember correctly, if I am wrong please correct me.)
    I know that you said that you don’t want to use Linux :? but try it you wont believe how easy the newer distros are to set up :) ! And you cant beat the price.

    Good luck
  2. So if I use win xp pro as the server what exactly do i need to do to make it a domain. Do i run the netwrok set up wizard? Are there specific settings to set up the clients?
  3. IMHO you don’t need to setup a domain in your case. A siple workgroup should do. If you want DNS, DHCP then you’ll need win2003 server (linux is better for this and not really hard). There might be 3rd party soft for XP pro that does this but as I mentioned b4 this is not really needed.
  4. The problem I have with the workgroup set-up is that file sharing is very inconsistant. In order to access files on Comp B from A. I always have to navigate to A's Shares from comp B first. That gets annoying fast. Comp B is set up as the only comp to be the master browser but it is not always on first.

    Would having one pc as a server that's always on improve this?
  5. Yeah I know it can become a mess.
    Maybe windows 2003 small office version might help you (depends on your budget).

    Still think linux would be best 4 u.
  6. The best ways around workgroup share issues would be to either have open shares or have one computer as an intermediary. The key to a workgroup is having every users username/pass on every computer. If you have an intermediary computer just put everyones user/pass on it so they can access it w/o problems. File from one computer to server, then from server to other computer. If you make shares completely open (give guest access) there should be no problems sharing between computers.
    The part of windows xp that makes shares troublesome is the "simple" file sharing. If you are running XP pro on your computers turn that sucker off. Then you can manage the permissions/security of the shares yourself and all will be well.

    At home I have 5 client computers and 1 server (running 2k3 serv but winxp would have worked just fine). Each client has one user/pass and each of those have been entered on the server. Each user has a folder and each user can read all of the folders. They can only write to their respective folder. Security can be set on sub folders to restrict read access to only the respective user as well. When someone wants a file the other person has they simply dump it to their folder on the server and the other person pulls it off. I have yet to have any problems with it.
    This is my server: File Server
    It is huge overkill for my network. I currently have it running dhcp, dns, freelancer server, cs:s server, garrys mod server, teamspeak server, ftp, and a couple other little things as well as holding all of my files. I have yet to put any noticable strain on it. The only costly thing about it was the 250gb hard drives. The rest I scavenged or got off ebay for next to nothing. It has been running nearly 24/7 for over a year now, only power outtages over 3hrs took it down ;)
  7. I was under the impression that the OP wasn’t looking for a single file server solution (it is what I suggested in the first place) but wanted to share from all the comps and centrally manage the whole setup. I could have misinterpreted him though. :oops:


    If u can host all the files on one comp then best is to do as Folken said. Also no need for win server. XP or linux should do.
  8. Quote:
    So if I use win xp pro as the server what exactly do i need to do to make it a domain. Do i run the netwrok set up wizard? Are there specific settings to set up the clients?

    You cannot take a Windows desktop operating system...and "make a domain" with it. To run your network on a domain, meaning..."Active Directory" need a "Server" operating system, not a "Desktop" operating system.

    I run Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 at well as many of my clients. However....for the average home user, it's pricey, and a bit overkill. However as I reread your quote...I see you wish to tighten up file access rights....and local user account privies. I see you mention "secretary" this more of a business run at home? Do you have e-mail? Do you have shared calendar and contacts needs? Shared faxing?
  9. I guess i don't understand about domains and open directories. Do you mean that with win XP Pro I can only share using a workgroup? And to set up a domain I would need XP Server? Would the server take over some of the functions that my router does now, like DHCP and firewall?

    This is for a small business run at home. My web host provides the email server with only one business email account. We use outlook for email but not for shared calendars or anything.

    I can't use the solution posted by Folken because many times I am the only user on one machine that needs to access data and projects on the other machine. Running around the house to move data doesn't work for me.
  10. If your account is present on all of the other computers with administrative rights you could simply type (backslash)(backslash)computername(backslash)c$ in run to access a computers entire hard drive. Or share the specific folder the data you need to pull is in on each computer.

    I do stuff like that all the time at work and home. Someone will be missing an icon on their desktop or something so I will just go to their hard drive and add it to their accounts desktop without leaving my desk. The wow effect is always an added bonus, lol.
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