It's been in beta since July 2009, but Microsoft has finally released the Power Pack 3 (PP3) service pack for its Windows Home Server (WHS) storage and backup operating system. This is an important and timely update as one its main features is the addition of full Windows 7 client integration.
With Windows Home Server-based products starting to appear in the small-business market (for example, the HP StorageWorks X500 Data Vault), it's worth briefly explaining these Power Packs.
Delivered via Windows Update, Power Packs are separate from any updates and service packs for the underlying Windows Server 2003 SP2 operating system on which WHS runs. Customers running WHS PP3 will not need to do anything to the server itself if automatic updates are configured, although the connector software on each client should be updated manually as this doesn't happen automatically. An automatic server reboot will occur after PP3 is installed. For those who have been trying out the beta, this will need to be uninstalled before the release version can be installed. Full instructions can be found at the official Windows Home Server blog.
Shared WHS folders are now integrated into Windows 7 Libraries
Windows 7 clients can now see the shared folders on the WHS machine integrated into the Windows 7 Libraries. The common shared folders (Photos, Music, Videos, Public, Software) are added automatically, but users' folders can also be added manually if desired. A new shared folder, Recorded TV, is added to WHS as part of the new integration with Windows Media Center on Windows 7 and Vista clients. This integration also allows automatic archiving of recorded TV content and optional conversion to several mobile video formats.
Windows 7 clients will wake up correctly for scheduled backups using WHS PP3
Fixes for Windows 7 clients include suppression of the Windows Backup warnings in the Action Center and correct implementation of wake-up for clients that are in sleep or hibernate modes during scheduled WHS backups. Windows 7 clients are also now correctly identified in the WHS console. Recognising the increasing popularity of netbooks, the WHS console now supports low-resolution displays (1,024 by 768 minimum).
On the server itself, the upgrade to Windows Search 4 is the biggest change. Microsoft claims this improves the speed and reliability of searches for users accessing the WHS machine via the remote access portal. It also adds support for indexing EFS-encrypted files.
Looking at the broader picture, this service pack could be an important milestone for WHS for business users. Much of its lack of success in the consumer market has been down to spectacularly poor marketing by Microsoft, compounded by serious problems with the original release. With this third round of fixes and enhancements, WHS should now be sufficiently stable and mature to attract a small-business audience — it certainly has features that are perfect for many small branch offices. Hardware manufacturers will no doubt be watching HP's toe-in-the-water activities closely.