Microsoft operating systems are usually accompanied by plenty of hype, but you can be forgiven for missing last year's release of Windows Home Server.
Consumer awareness of WHS has been one problem restricting uptake of the operating system, which is designed to take charge of home network storage. The main responsibility for selling the operating system has been placed with the hardware manufacturers such as HP and Tranquil – largely since Microsoft has not allowed the software to be sold by licence.
Those who are aware of the system have tended to be 'prosumers' or enthusiasts who are confident enough to set up more complex NAS or Linux systems. The main difference between the two is that WHS aims to offer network storage, back up, and remote access out of the box using client software without the need for networking knowledge.
However, the other factor affecting take up is the extra cost. The flagship WHS device is the HP MediaSmart Server, which retails at £470 for a 1TB unit, while a Synology NAS device can be picked up for just £100 (with hard drives extra). It's clear which factor cuts the cloth with consumers.
Playing the long game
Microsoft seems to be playing the long game with the operating system. Laurence Painell, OEM Product Manager at Microsoft, believes that the future is bright for Windows Home Server:
"At the moment the main bulk of our customers have been tech savvy prosumers, but there is a significant push planned for the next year for the average consumer who are using digital memories, music over multiple PCs, and could really benefit from this kind of product," he said
"The key issue is to bring more OEMs to the product. The more competition, the more prices will fall."
The strategy of attracting more OEMs seems to be working as in the last few months technology giant Fujitsu-Siemens and Belinea have come to market with their own WHS systems. At the same time, prices of existing HP MediaSmart Servers have already dropped slightly.
The good, the big, and the ugly
The Fujitsu Siemens WHS offering is the Scaleo Home Server, which despite being the largest and ugliest server on the market, is also one of the most functional. It has included power scheduling and TwonkyMedia, a music and internet radio client which can be run from the unit.
The Belinea o.center is made up of clean white lines which makes it look more like a kitchen appliance than a server. While it doesn't offer the extra functionality of the Scaleo, you won't feel the need to hide it from the judging eyes of your friends and family either.
While both of these units are extremely functional, both cost around £400 for a 500GB device and have hardly penetrated mainstream outlets, and this is still symptomatic of the problems of WHS.
Despite this, uptake of servers is still low, and Microsoft looks well placed to take advantage when the need for storage penetrates the consciousness of the average consumer.