Creating a Server Environment

I would like to set up my computer system at home and I need some advice about this setup:

I currently have a P4 WinXP 20GB, 512 MB desktop (and running out of space).  

I would like to set up a "Server" (with lots of GB) to be my machine that I install my software programs on, as well as data.  From this, I would like to be able to use my laptop and my desktop to access these programs and data.
Can I mirror my desktop to a server?   The problem with my desktop is that it is not very upgradeable on the HDD.  (I have one of those Dimension 4300S - small desktops)

I am trying to be economical about my future hardware needs and only want to purchase a laptop, but I have so many other things on my desktop that I would want access.  I considered a external HDD, but I don't think that will take care of any future software programs I might want to install and use.

Can someone give me some advice as to how this should work and what hardware I would need?  Also, are backups on servers only done on tape, or can you back up onto cd roms too?

Thanks for any advice and direction!!  

Who is Participating?
If you really want a system with programs you can access wherever you are, then a laptop and external hard drive are the only solution for you.  You would always have to always run from the laptop, though, because that's where the installation is done.  The Remote Desktop requires a network connection, which is not a problem in one location, but is hard to do if you are travelling.
While what you want to do is admirable, it might be difficult because most desktop software is designed to run only on the desktop it was installed on.  A server version would work, but these are usually much more expensive than the desktop version.  What would work for you (and probably what you're thinking of) is to remotely host a session on the server, so that everything runs on the server and you see it as a window on your desktop.  You would install WinXP Pro or Win2000 Server on the server machine and enable hosting of remote desktops.

For your choice of servers, since this is a home network, you could go with some of those inexpensive servers that Dell sells now and then.  You would not need a powerful graphics card; in fact, an onboard video would work fine.  You might want dual cpus if you do video compression like converting tapes to dvds, but for the most part, you want a lot of disk storage.  A tower with lots of drive bays would be good, and a hefty power supply like the Enermax 460 to supply powe:  You could get SATA drives, but once you have arrays of drives, the bus is not going to deliver the data that much faster than one single drive can, so determine if speed or quantity is the most important criteria.

Finally, keep in mind that the video on the remote desktop will be slow sometimes, due to the need to display over a network connection.
SuperCPlusAuthor Commented:
Thank you Callandor for your response.   The best way to accomplish this is through Remote, hmm.  

So any future software that I might install and any graphics files, music files could be stored on the Server.  I have not worked with Servers very much so bear with me.  

I am not sure what you mean by dual cpu's.  And why the tower with lots of drive bays.  What is the difference between the SCSI, SATA and I think, the new RAID? hard drives?  

Should just wait and get a new Desktop - instead of a server - or as a server - I guess I am alittle unknowlegable here.....

With the Remote Desktop - is this remote connection through the internet? wireless?  What are the chances of disconnection to the server?  

On-Demand: Securing Your Wi-Fi for Summer Travel

Traveling this summer?Check out our on-demand webinar to learn about the importance of Wi-Fi security and 3 easy measures you can start taking immediately to protect your private data while using public Wi-Fi. Follow us today to learn more!

Dual cpu motherboards enable you to add additional computation power for certain applications, but if you aren't familiar with them, it's ok to go with one powerful cpu.  You can get a desktop and use it as a server - I mentioned a tower only because they can be added to easily for more storage and other peripherals in the future.  SCSI is used when multiple users and multiple applications are expected to access the disks and good performance is desired.  If you only have a desktop and a laptop accessing it, IDE drives will be fine.  SATA are the fastest IDE drives in terms of data throughput, but they cost more, so if absolute top performance is not required, again, IDE will work for you, and you will be able to get the best value for your money.  RAID may be something you want, for redundancy, because if you're putting all the data in one place, you don't want that data to be lost.  A RAID-1 (mirroring) or RAID-5 (mirroring and striping) setup will use up extra drives to keep copies of your data so that if a hard drive fails (and they DO fail), you can easily get the data back.  RAID-5 adds a little of the speed of RAID-0 (striping) to speed up access.  You can read up on RAID here:

Remote Desktop can be used on most networks, including home networks, and can be wired or wireless.  It can be used on the internet also to access work computers from home and vice versa, usually in conjunction with Virtual Private Networks.  A lot people who work from home probably use it.  Disconnection is highly unlikely, unless one of the two parties gets rebooted or loses power or times out doing nothing (depending on how the time limit is configured by admins).
On your budget I would opt for a Simple USB 2.0 external HD. They are pretty cheap. I have installed six of them in the last two weeks and each install was flawless. I use Avantrix Backup Plus 7.1 and keep the boot drive imaged and have clients install all their programs as well as their data to the external drives. You can get the drives up to 250gig. Just share the drive and your systems can access it. If you map the drive to your remote machines you can use it as an installable local drive and run programs from it. Quite a few apps get flaky running from a mapped drive, so it is just trial and error. My file server is a dual PIII-600mhz supermicro mobo with 512m PC150 and I have five 9 gig cheetah drives 10k rpm. It meets my needs and I put it together for just under 600.00 scouring I also run NT 4.0 (cheap) and use a pair of Intel 100 cards teamed together to get 200mbs of bandwidth to my other machines. I thought about using the 1000mbs cards but just didn't need the extra throughput.
SuperCPlusAuthor Commented:
Thanks mlynch24 - this is closer to what I had in mind.  I was thinking in this line - and hoping I could take my laptop and external HDD with me and have the access to the programs that I might need on the external.  Then at home, have the desktop also able to access the data on the external as well.

Do you think imaging the desktop drive is an idea that would work  - as far as having (a laptop) access to the programs already on my desktop?    Is this possible?  Or would I need to install the programs directly to the external HDD - of course some of those files would need to be in my Windows directory on the desktop.....I am a little confused about this.  

This hardware  <I also run NT 4.0 (cheap) and use a pair of Intel 100 cards teamed together to get 200mbs of bandwidth to my other machines. I thought about using the 1000mbs cards but just didn't need the extra throughput.> is a little over my head - I am not sure what you mean.  It sounds like you built you own desktop/server?  

Thanks Callendar for the info on the Raid drives...and etal.  The Remote Desktop would work in some instances - however, if I am out somewhere I would need to have internet connection to access my desktop at home - and that may limit me - which I am trying to avoid.   The portable HDD would work well - if I could get it to work by having the same access to the programs on both my desktop and laptop.  Then we're back to the Server question of havng Programs run on only one computer.  There must be a way!!!

SuperCPlus, let's keep it simple and cheap.  There is absolutely no need to purchase a real Server.  For what you want this is a waste of money.  All you need is a good workstation, a motherboard with everything onboard (video, NIC & sound (if required)).  A P4 processor with HyperThreading (cost difference from a non HyperThreading is minimal) 512MB - 1GB RAM and 2 large HDDs, 120GB - 160GB and HDD cooling fans.  SATA drives would be good and once again price difference between them and the "old" IDE is minimal.  You should also buy a Server Operating system.  Windows 2003 would be excellent, by NT 4.0 would also suffice.  With the 2 HDDs, you would setup a Disk Duplex (Drive Mirroring).  That way if one drive fails then you don't loose everything.  Replace the dead drive and recreate the mirror.  Backups could be done on a CD Rewriter or a DVD Rewriter.  Both are much cheaper than a tape system (and the tapes).

I like dual CPUs, but if you setup an old system like MYLynch then, if one CPU fails, you can have the problem of trying to find a replacement processor that is a perfect match for the old one.  Here is a little article on dual CPUs that you may like to read for research.  I found it interesting and quite surprising.  

There are no right or wrong setups here.  You have to view the options and decide which one is better for you, or even take parts of various setups.  If you are thinking of upgarding your hardware in a year or 2, then an older system like MYLynch's would be good to play with.  If you are not wanting to upgrade for 3 or 4 years, then look at newer hardware.  Remember to keep it as simple as you can.
SuperCPlusAuthor Commented:
Thanks for the input....I will have to work with what Callandor suggested - I still think the "admirable" should be able to be done....maybe in the future?  (I guess that's what Laptops are for!!)  I just wish I could load all the programs on a portable HDD and access them from any computer!  

Question has a verified solution.

Are you are experiencing a similar issue? Get a personalized answer when you ask a related question.

Have a better answer? Share it in a comment.

All Courses

From novice to tech pro — start learning today.