Which should a small business choose: Windows Home Server or Windows Server Foundation?

Which should a small business choose: Windows Home Server or Windows Server Foundation?

Summary: Until quite recently, Microsoft officials emphasized the "home" in Windows Home Server (WHS) when explaining how that product fit into its server line-up. Last week, however, something changed. Microsoft officials added small office/home office (SOHO) users to its list of potential customers for WHS.


Until quite recently, Microsoft officials emphasized the "home" in Windows Home Server (WHS) when explaining how that product fit into its server line-up.

Last week, however, something changed. Microsoft officials added small office/home office (SOHO) users to its list of potential customers for WHS. On November 5, the WHS team posted a new blog entry entitled "Top 10 reasons to use Windows Home Server in your SOHO." From that post:

"Don’t let the name Windows Home Server fool you into thinking that this product was created for home use only. A lot of the reasons that you would use Windows Home Server in your home are just as applicable to a small or home office. Windows Home Server provides a dependable and affordable way to organize and safeguard your work on up to 10 computers."

Up until this point, Microsoft's business-focused Windows Server family looked like this (with entry-level servers listed first):

  • Windows Server Foundation
  • Windows Server Standard
  • Windows Server Enterprise
  • Windows Server Datacenter

Other "specialty" versions include the Web Edition, Windows Small Business Server and Windows Essential Business Server. (The latter two bundle together various Microsoft applications, like Exchange Server and SQL Server, with Windows Server.)

Microsoft delivered the first release of Foundation Server in April 2009. The R2 version of Windows Server Foundation is globally available (covering all countries in Western Europe, Central Eastern Europe, France, German and Korea and Middle East/Africa) as of this week. Like WHS, Foundation is primarily an OEM product. The first release of Foundation was available preloaded on servers from Dell, HP, NEC and Fujitsu. The R2 version will be sold by these same server vendors, plus IBM, Lenovo, Acer and local OEMs such as Wortmann (in Germany) Datateknik (Turkey) Lanix (Mexico), Positivo (Brazil) and NTT (Japan), among others, according to the company.

So which should a small business user choose: Foundation or WHS? The biggest difference seems to be in the number of users that are supported. Foundation scales up to 15, while Home Server only supports up to 10, company officials said. In addition, Home Server is also designed specifically as a media server, with storage and file backup features for movies, music and photos," a spokesperson added when I asked for more information.

"Windows Home Server is for people who work and play at home," said Eugene Saburi, General Manager in the Windows Server & Solutions Division. "And it's still based on Windows Server 2003," at this point, he said. "Windows Foundation is more of a general-purpose platform," Saburi added. "You can install a line-of-business app on it."

(There's no official word on when Microsoft plans to upgrade WHS so that it is based on Windows Server 2008 or 2008 R2. Maybe that's "Vail" -- which could be out next year if the latest rumors are right.)

Meanwhile, if you're wondering when will the R2-inclusive versions of Windows Small Business Server and Windows Essential Business Server will be out, Microsoft officials aren't saying. They are not talking about a month, a quarter or even a year (!) in terms of shipping commitments for these two products. Sigh.

One would think it wouldn't take the Softies long to update the existing SBS and EBS products to include the "minor" Windows Server 2008 R2 update... but if they also include the new Exchange Server 2010 bits, it could take a bit longer. And if they wait for the SharePoint 2010 ones, the next releases might not be out until after mid-2010....

Topics: SMBs, Hardware, Operating Systems, Servers, Software, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Competition

    The $1000 Mac-Mini with Snow Leopard Server and no user-count limits
    may have inspired the outreach.
    • One small problem

      Then you are stuck running OS X. A bad OS with no user-count limits is useless.

      If you want to avoid MS in the server department, going with OS X is just stupid. Linux would be a [b]far[/b] better alternative.
      • Yes I'd REALLY have to question

        ....someone going to OS X for a server before looking at having the same OS the big boys use for free.
      • You're a MORON

        Why is OSX bad? It's BSD, the server tools are based on Open source (Apache, Postfix, OpenLDAP, etc) and has support.

        The only negative would be the laptop hard drives in the Mini but blade servers have gotten away with it...
        • Who's a moron?

          Blade servers don't use laptop hard drives. Sorry. They may be 2.5" form factors, but they're night and day in reliability, and you won't see any laptops shipping with 10,000 or 15,000 RPM drives with SAS interfaces in them.
        • He's a moron?

          I thought the big benefit of open source was "free to develop, free to use", that kind of gets lost with the whole "let's pay the $500 dollar Apple premium"
      • Clueless

        Unless Im wrong I think you are clueless about OSX. Care to prove me wrong?

  • That depends on your needs.

    WHS is a great solution for file sharing and/or client backups. It's backup feature is a strong selling point, IMO. It would be nice to see this extended to every version of Windows.

    If you need more than basic file sharing and client backups WHS is unlikely to be an option.
    • I'd second that

      WHS for a 10-user or less small business is a good option. Shared files, automated backup, internet access to files, and let's not forget that WHS also does Terminal Services Gateway Redirection to workstation PC's.

      If a client needs desktop, user, and email management, as well as an onsite, rather than hosted intranet, SBS is a better solution.

      WHS with hosted Exchange and Sharepoint is alright, but it depends on whether or not the client allows their data to be remotely hosted. Many companies don't want that, because they're regulated, or are skeptical about the security of cloud services, and so they should be.

      Foundation seems to be a niche product. I see it as being a product for a small business that is expecting rapid growth of their business into the enterprise space, but want a server product that offers heavily-componentized AD infrastructure at a budget price, knowing that they can easily expand it. The problem lies in Foundation only offering support of 15 users. That restriction also applies if it's used as a member server on a pre-existing domain. Reseller option kits place it at under $300 for bundling with new hardware. It's cheap, but I don't think it's a wise investment because it lacks the features that most people would look for in a server environment over, say, a NAS. See, there's this other Microsoft product called Windows Storage Server, that ALSO sells on OEM hardware. Foundation doesn't include Exchange, or Sharepoint. Aside from LOB support, I don't see the point here. I tend to think this is a product that an enterprise IT person would recommend to a small business because it's Server 08 stripped down, not an integrated solution. Kudos to Microsoft to fill in a lower price point though.

      SBS is a better investment IMO.
    • But how much it cost for more than 10 users?

      Please tell us how much per year.

  • Advice for SMB's

    Don't go the MS route. Avoid the lock-in, avoid the costs.


    "I know I saved $80,000 right away by going to open source, and each time something like (Windows) XP comes along, I save even more money because I don't have to buy new equipment to run the software."

    A few companies that use Linux for major systems:
  • Neither: Ubuntu Server 9.10

    Price: $0.00
    # of copies allowed: Unlimited

    See if Windows Home Server or Foundation can beat that!
    D T Schmitz
    • WHS: $350 including hardware.

      And a whole lot easier to setup and more reliable in the backup department. It's a great solution for 10 or less people who just need basic file sharing and backup.
      • Ubuntu server $250

        WHS adds about $50-100 to the price of the server.

        Combine it with an off-site backup like CrashPlan (works on Linux) and you have a winner that will cost less and be more reliable than anything from MS.
        • You're both wrong

          You won't get a server for $250 or $350. Oh sure, you can buy a desktop and call it a "server", but it isn't server-grade hardware - it's just a repurposed desktop.

          Server hardware is expensive. And more reliable. Intel Xeon 3000 series CPU's may just be rebranded Core 2/Core i7 CPU's, but the silicon is validated for server workloads. Also, you won't be able to use a Xeon on most desktop boards, and server boards cost almost twice as much as an average desktop board. Then you have cases and power supplies that offer EATX support that desktops just don't have. Add to that your higher-spec hard drives (enterprise SATA at the very least, and only if you're on an extremely tight budget).

          BTW: I would hate to see a $250 PC being used as a server, regardless of OS. To me, that sounds like a refurb, and any self-respecting IT pro steers clear of refurbs.
          • Don't get too hung up on the word "server".

            The kind of business WHS would be suitable for would not be the kind of business suited for a real server. For such a business it is not uncommon to find a desktop PC acting as a server. For this kind of business WHS is perfect. It offers dirt simple and reliable backups. It acts as a simple file store. And for $350 for hardware and software it's a bargin.
          • I don't think of a WHS device as a server really

            It's for a glorified NAS device but the software is really just Windows Storage Server designed for home users.

            The RDP Gateway option is just a bonus.

          • That's why I said not to get hung up on the word "server".

            WHS was never intended to be the server class you are defining. It's designed to be a simple, easy to use file store/media/backup server. And it works very well at that. A client I worked for a year ago was perfectly suited for WHS. They had an old 486 running Windows NT 4.0 sitting in the back room acting as their file server. A script was configured on the end user workstations to backup certain data deemed important. It was a six person office, one of which was part time. WHS is the perfect solution for such an environment. It offers simple file sharing and a very solid back solution. All of which do not require any interaction from the office staff. And if a computer is off when it needs to be backed up the WHS client software will power it on, perform a block level backup (thus saving huge amounts of disk space on the WHS sever), and the power it back off.

            They don't need, nor will they ever pay for a data center grade server. It's overkill. And with a complete WHS solution (hardware and software) costing $350 it's a great bargin (Atom processor, 2GB RAM, 1TB HD with three additional hot swap bays, gigabit ethernet).
          • more RDP power

            Wait till you install software such as ThinServer 2003 and you will have a full functioning MULTIPLE remote desktop server !!
          • I prefer a real server

            It happens also that is less expensive. So I can buy better hardware. Is the wining formula. By the way, I dont know if exists what you describe: "not be the kind of business suited for a real server."

            In my world, there is not such a business not suited for a real server.