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Discover Windows 8's Hidden Server Features
File and Printer Sharing
As with previous versions of Windows, you can share folders and printers easily to the network using Windows. This can be useful for offices without a network-attached storage (NAS) server. Each PC can share on the network, or consider having a single PC set up as a central storage location.
If all the PCs on the network are running Windows 7 or later you may want to utilize the HomeGroup feature available via the Network and Sharing Center. It makes sharing easier and streamlined. You can create a HomeGroup and then other Windows 7 and later PCs can join by entering the randomly-generated password.
Windows 8 also includes incoming VPN support like previous versions, allowing users to remotely access files when away from the office. Though each PC could be configured for incoming VPN connections, you should consider dedicating one PC for the VPN server to simplify the router configuration.
Again, as with previous versions of Windows, you can turn on the Internet Information Services (IIS) component of Windows 8 to enable a web server. Example use cases would be setting up a server to host a local intranet or public internet site, or set on up to run other services like WebDAV or FTP.
Unlike previous versions, Windows 8 includes a Hyper-V feature, similar to the virtualization functions offered in the Windows Server editions. Windows 8's Hyper-V offers much more advanced capabilities than what was provided in Windows Virtual PC or Windows XP mode — for instance, 64-bit support for the virtual OSs and better support for wireless networking and sleep/hibernation modes. Windows 8 also supports importing or exporting virtual machines (VMs) between Windows Servers, and it can even handle live migrations.
A new feature of Windows is Storage Spaces, a data protection solution that's easier to set up and maintain than RAID and only requires a regular external drive. You can use Storage Spaces to safeguard each PC, or you can just enable it on a PC that you're designating as the central storage location.
Once enabled, the Storage Space appears like another drive in Windows and any files stored in it are spread across the storage pool. And if a drive in the pool fails you won't lose your data.
Another new data protection feature in Windows 8 is Files History, which you may find useful enabling on each PC and on one PC that you've set up as a central storage location. Files History is similar to the Previous Versions feature found in earlier Windows, but it requires an external drive to be plugged into the main PC.
Once enabled, Files History automatically takes a snapshot of changed files every hour and allows you to restore to the snapshots later if needed. By default, Files History automatically protects all the files in your Libraries, and it can also protect a Storage Space if you add it to a Library.
When Windows Server 2012's enterprise-level server features look to be overkill for your company or small workgroup, or if its complexity proves too overwhelming for your small business, take a closer look at Windows 8 and its little-known server capabilities, as they may deliver all the server functionality you'll need depending on your situation.
Eric Geier is a freelance tech writer — keep up with his writings on Facebook. He's also the founder of NoWiresSecurity, a cloud-based Wi-Fi security service, and On Spot Techs, an on-site computer services company.
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