How do I turn a standard installation of Windows 7 into a server?

smayonak December 23, 2011

My server rig would not install WHS 2011 (James Bruce has written some excellent WHS articles) so I had to use Windows 7 to host my network drive (it’s RAID 5). I wanted to know what kinds of software can be used to make a desktop Windows installation into a server. I’m currently using Filezilla and like it – perhaps there are other equally awesome softwares out there?

    • Smayonak
      January 25, 2012 at 5:19 am

      Thanks ha14 - I'm still debating whether or not to reformat my SSD (because of the added writes), but after reading about this, it appears that hard drive space was my problem. Thanks!

  1. James Bruce
    December 23, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    What do you mean WHS2011 wouldn't install? Is the server underpowered? Just curious. It's really a lot less hassle than trying to do with individual bits and pieces. 

    It depends on what you want to do with the server really. uTorrent can be made headless very easily for using a webGUI, so there's your filesharing.  

    Windows has built in network fileshares, so that shouldnt be an issue. It isn't as robust as WHS, but it will function. Forget about access control though, and just open it up to everyone on the network. 

    What else - autmated backups and over-the-network restore? Ahh, I'm afraid I'll have to let someone else answer that. This is really the strength of WHS I think. 

    For movie/media I use Plex Media Server on the server end, and Plex Media Center (client) on my other machines. That's also headless, so long as you point it at the right shared drive, it will fetch metadata etc for you, and you can manage the metadata from a browser on any local PC. 

    What else might you be after?

    • Smayonak
      December 23, 2011 at 4:25 pm

      Thanks James!

      Yes - those are the exact two features that I wanted in WHS: over the network restore and automated backup.

      the Server 2011 install failed for unknown reasons - black screen on boot of installation disk. I waited several hours but it just never progressed beyond the black screen to the installation window. I tried a lot of different troubleshooting methods but none worked. My config is pretty minimal but well within the requirements:

      32 GB SSD (it also failed in the exact same manner using a requirement meeting 160gb drive)
      4 GB RAM (only two DIMM slots)
      integrated video (does it matter?)
      2.5 GHz dual core celeron
      RAID 5 1.5 TB drive (3x500GB) using FakeRAID

      I had WHS 2003 previously, which worked great - however, because it was always performing some kind of backup in the background, its network drive performance was a little laggy. I also wondered why all the network traffic went directly through the router rather than there being a network protocol for PC-to-PC interaction (is there?).

      • James Bruce
        December 30, 2011 at 5:56 pm

        Not sure what you mean about pc-to-pc networking. Your router is actually a *network switch* also, which "switches" the network packets over the local network. So all interaction *is* direct pc-to-pc, but it still needs to go through the physical connection at the router side. 

        Sad to hear you're having problems with the install, but my best guess would be the fakeraid is causing issues. If you can, strip them out and try to install without them. Then just add them in as regular non-RAID drives. You can set up them as the storage space for specific functions (like one for video, one for downloads) , or as backups of others - so fakeRAID is kind of pointless. 

        • Smayonak
          December 30, 2011 at 7:31 pm

          I didn't know that - I assumed the router acted as a bottleneck on network traffic. Like, for example, server transfer speeds drop whenever there's a lot of network activity. Streaming medium starts hiccuping. It's pretty bad stuff.

          Based on this experience, it seemed that it would be possible to bypass my network "bottleneck" by doing a "direct PC-to-PC" connection. You know how some wireless adapters can be be set as the access point? Like that. Of course if it's just a switch then the issue is probably a hardware issue on my server. My normal transfer speeds are less than half the speed of USB 2. Anyway, it feels like I just leveled up. Thanks James!

          By the way, thanks for the advise with WHS 2011 - I've never tried a WHS2011 install  with the FakeRAID plugged in (it seemed like  a bad idea). According to the system requirements, I only need one hard drive plugged it, but I noticed a storage requirement, too. Strangely enough, the system requirements for WHS2011 keep changing. Apparently you now need a minimum of a 160GB drive (instead of an 80GB).

        • Smayonak
          December 30, 2011 at 8:53 pm

          Oh I forgot to mention why I use FakeRAID - my network drive is RAID5 - so I can have a single drive failure without data loss and can do a simple drive swap in such an event. What's really awesome about the RAID controller is that it has an internal alarm that goes off when any individual drive has failed. It's the most obnoxious sound I've heard in my life - absolutely perfect for letting me know something is seriously wrong.

      • Rpm_
        January 1, 2012 at 6:48 pm

        check out We Got Served forums, check Hardware section for a workaround for the 160Gig minimum HDD

        • Smayonak
          January 25, 2012 at 5:09 am

          Thank you for the help. I'm still debating whether or not I want to reformat my SSD. This is really helpful though.

  2. Mike
    December 23, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    It would help if you can tell us a bit what you want to do with the server or want the server to do [by itself].

    For webserver and stuff like that you should look into the WAMP stacks or BitNami.

    If you want to setup some download page other than FTP I recommend HTTP File Server.

    For a (more than) decent mailserver I think Kerio is the way to go. If you don't want to invest money into it you can also take a look at hMailserver

    Unfortunately Windows 7 does have a limit of 20 concurrent connections (file sharing, printer sharing, ...). If you don't think that's an issue you can perfectly use the built-in file sharing.
    The only alternative I have found is Resara Server suite but I don't have any hands-on experience with that.

    Another thing I usually use is TFTPD32 - it combines DHCP, DNS and TFTP (e.g. for Netboot/Netinstall). One alternative would be DHCP DNS Server.

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