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Multi Seat computing at home

Last response: in Windows 7
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March 31, 2012 9:08:58 PM

Hi - Not sure this is actually a Win 7 question... My family have growing computing needs - 2 kids, plus my wife and I, and frequent visitors like grandparents. All of want access to a PC, but I don't want to administer 5+ machines around the house.
How can I roll out a central server for the family to access their own portfolio of applications? The kids' school uses Windows. I want to allow my wife the freedom of a power user, secure the kids surfing an allow everyone to keep personal files centrally. Also, given my eldest is a tinkerer, I want to allow her to experiment within her own pc environment - but be able to kill an environment and deploy a fresh instance (she has an old mac now, and managed to change the o/s to Spanish - took me over an hour to work out to fix it). I'm not sold that MultiPoint is the right solution- especially for power users. Also wondering what h/w to use in the build and what the costs will be for this computing nirvana... all advice appreciated!
March 31, 2012 10:00:29 PM

The simplest and cheapest solution might not be a multi-seat system at all. You could build a bunch of identical machines and maintain a single system image, kept on a central file-server which you could deploy to any or all of the machines at any time to update them or fix "broken" systems, redirecting all the important stuff (user profiles and home directories) to the file server over a fast network (gigabit hardware is dirt-cheap these days and, if you really must have wireless, adequately-fast 5GHz-band 802.11n hardware isn't going to break the bank either). You'll also have the benefits of having everything running locally on each machine which will eliminate the persistent performance problems that dog thin client systems when doing things like video playback or Flash content.

If the client machines are not identical, you could use automated installation tools (Windows Deployment Services is free for use with WinServer 2003/2008) to deploy a generalised build to them, injecting the necessary hardware drivers into the image.

Otherwise, you're probably looking at Virtual Desktop Infrastructure - a powerful host server running a VM for each client desktop, plus suitable thin clients to give each user a console over a fast wired network. It doesn't sound like your spec would be satisfied by a "traditional" thin client system like Windows Terminal Server or an X11 host.
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a b $ Windows 7
March 31, 2012 10:57:20 PM

i'm running 3 laptops and a desktop, off home built windows home server V1, so all of the data is stored on server, all duplicated & backedup. The machines are then as mollets suggested just images, even if they are different a single image each is not much to store. And the automated incremental backup of home server lets you restore from bare metal as fast as your network can push data across. My gaming machines 120 ssd + 200GB of HDD restores from nothing in 1-2 hours on GBe
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April 1, 2012 10:26:09 AM

these are great suggestions thanks - what sort of h/w would be best to act as server?
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Best solution

April 1, 2012 11:21:40 AM

vanilla_quark said:
these are great suggestions thanks - what sort of h/w would be best to act as server?


You don't need a particularly powerful system to act as a file-server for such a small network (don't believe Dell's marketing assertions that a powerful quad-core Xeon with umpteen GB of RAM is "suitable for up to ten users"). Any reasonably recent (Pentium 4 upwards) system with a GbE network adaptor would be more than enough if you're planning to run Windows on the server. A late-model Pentium III would do the trick but you might have problems getting a current version of Windows to run on it - Linux/Samba would be a better bet as it generally has better support for older hardware and generally seems to be much more efficient.

(My imaging server at work is a modest-by-today's-standards 3GHz Pentium 4 HT with 4GB RAM on a cheap desktop motherboard, running Linux with Samba and, according to the network monitoring software, routinely sustains 117MB/s over its onboard el-cheapo Realtek GbE link for minutes at a time when serving images to suites of machines. With HT turned off, it maxes out at 89MB/s which is still pretty quick. The two main file-servers are dual-socket, dual-core 2GHz Core 2 Xeons on WinServer 2003R2 which don't even break a sweat when up to 500 students all hit them at once saving their work when the school bell goes at the end of a lesson. So file-serving is not really hard work.)

It all depends on your budget and how resilient you want it to be; I'd certainly want some kind of RAID for the home directories at the very least but if you're diligent with backups, you might not feel that's necessary. (Acronis TrueImage/Backup & Restore is an excellent server backup tool - it "freezes" a snapshot of a running system and makes an image of it which can be restored very quickly and easily to a replacement hard drive using a bootable CD, giving an instant working system. Again, you might decide that Windows Backup is sufficient for your needs.)

Hope this helps,
Stephen
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a b $ Windows 7
April 1, 2012 11:33:04 AM

i'm using an althon II 255, with 2GB of ram, all I wanted on the mobo was lots and lots of sata ports. Thats for WHS V1, a bit more is needed for V2.

If you can get hold of WHS V1, then it 'pools' all of the drives and ensures that each file is stored on two seperate drives, no need for identical sizes etc., this helps to protect from individual drive failures and is easier to upgrade than raid, just pop another drive in and add it to the pool. WHS V2 DOES NOT have this. You can also nominate a spare drive as a backup location.

There are other solutions, but they might require mashing together.
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April 5, 2012 8:15:16 PM

Best answer selected by vanilla_quark.
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April 5, 2012 8:16:57 PM

this is great input thanks molletts and monkey - certainly has changed my direction, and saved me a lot of heartache!
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