Backup Options

WHS can backup all the PCs in your home network, but the home server itself needs protection from HDD and other failures. The least costly backup options for the home server is an external storage device connected directly via eSATA or USB.

Data Vulnerability

Not only do hard disk drives have a finite lifespan, they can also fail suddenly with little or no warning signs. Sometimes all that is required is a replacement circuit board, but sometimes an expensive data recovery service is the only option to get your data back. If you value your data at all, having a sound backup scheme is vital, whether you have just a single PC or multiple computers in a home network.

While a home server is no more likely to suffer a drive failure or experience some other critical problem than the client computers on the network, housing so much data puts it in a precarious position. If it only holds backups of other machines, the server going down would not be a significant loss unless one of the other PCs on the network also fails during downtime. In most cases however the server stores a centralized collection of music, movies, pictures and documents that may have taken years to collect and/or have financial/sentimental value.

Some prefer to use a form of RAID (RAID-1 and RAID-5 are the most popular) on their servers to protect their data but it is not supported by the current version of Windows Home Server and more importantly, we don’t consider it a true backup method. With RAID-5, the data on a dead drive can be reconstructed through parity regeneration, but there is no second complete copy of the data. RAID-1 technically does backup as a drive that fails can be replaced by a mirrored one, but it is dangerous having a backup drive in the same machine its backing up. If something happened to the server like a power surge, or if it suffered a physical attack (it is still a PC after all), all the drives inside would have an equal chance of being damaged. Ideally you want the backup, in order of increasing security, in a separate machine, in a separate room, or completely off-site.

Consumer Backup Options

  • PC: A second PC in a different room with the same storage capacity as the server. Obviously this would be a waste of computing power and electricity just to house a second copy of your data.
  • Network Attached Storage: A small NAS device or enclosure sitting on the network to backup for a server would be an ideal choice if money was no object. The only truly affordable ones are the single and dual drive variety and while they may advertise gigabit interfaces, they do not operate anywhere close to speed you’d get with a PC. 4-bay NAS enclosures start at US$300 while a “cheap” 6-bay model can cost three times as much or more.
  • External Hard Drive Enclosure: The cost of hard drives has gone down considerably in the last few years and as a result the external hard drive has become an affordable and common backup solution. Fanless enclosures get very hot when left on 24-7 though and the ones with tiny fans are loud, so often users will only use them to do sporadic, impromptu backups. Though they cannot be connected directly to a network like a NAS enclosure and thus have to piggyback off a PC, they are quite cheap with 4-bay eSATA models often going on sale for as low as US$100.
  • Optical Media: Recordable CDs and DVDs have their place, but they do not excel as backup mediums. Their limited capacity means large individual files and sets of content must be broken up into parts and it can be time consuming to burn and keep track of these discs. We imagine restoring a large data set after a drive failure would be a tedious experience as well. Data can’t be updated either unless more expensive and slower rewritable discs are employed. BD-Rs offer much bigger capacities but still suffer from some of the same inherent problems.
  • Online Backup: There are many backup services available that can throw your data up in the cloud so even if your house burns down to the ground, your data is intact in a safe data center presumably far away from the local disaster that has just destroyed all your worldly possessions. For an affordable subscription fee, companies like Mozy and Carbonite offer unlimited storage, automated backup, and encryption to keep all your data up to date and secure. However if you have 1TB of data and a 1mbps upstream connection, you would need to saturate your connection and continuously upload for more than three months to send it all. If you have an ungodly internet connection (by North American standards) or only a small amount of data to backup, it may be safer and more convenient simply to hand your data off to someone else.

Icy Dock MB561US-4S

Obviously we cannot make a blanket recommendation on a backup device for all home servers, but the best general option in our view for a small home network that requires a moderate amount of storage is a multi-bay hard drive enclosure like the Icy Dock MB561US-4S.

The Icy Dock MB561US-4S.

Retailing for about US$200, it is a little expensive compared to similar devices like the Mediasonic ProBox or Sans Digital TowerRAID but it is very well built and surprisingly quiet. It’s a 4-bay enclosure with a mostly aluminum construction and a 80 mm fan at the rear with an adjustable speed switch. It has USB 2.0 and eSATA interfaces and like most multi-drive enclosures/docks eSATA requires a controller that supports port multiplication. Many third-party SATA controllers (like the JMicron controller in the Zotac H55-ITX-C-E inside our SFF server build) and basic SATA expansion cards will work with it, but the majority of native chipset controllers will not.

Find the right multiple-bay external storage enclosure at the best price with the SPCR Shopping Engine.

Specifications: Icy Dock MB561US-4S
(from the product web page)
Model Number : MB561US-4S-1
Color : Pearl White
Host Interface : eSATA + USB2.0 combo
I/O Port : 1 x e-SATA (port multiplier) ports, 1 x USB 2.0 port
Drive Fit : 4 x 3.5” SATA I & II
Drive Type : Standalone with vertical positioning
Transfer Rate : Up to 480 MB/Sec. via USB 2.0
Up to 3 Gb/Sec. via eSATA
Insert& Extract connection Via : 15 pin direct hard drive connection
Structure : Aluminum body w/ partial plastic
Drive Cooling : Rear outtake fan w/ adjustable fan speed control
Cooling Fan : 80 x 80 x 25mm ball bearing fan
LED Indication : Device Power & Drive Activity
LED Display Color : Mini White
OS Requirement : Windows 98/SE/ME/2000/XP/VISTA ; Mac OS 9.0 or higher
eSATA Port Multiplier
Interface Requirement :
PCI-Express / Express Card /
PCI-X Host Bus Adapter with eSATA connector /
Onboard eSATA connector that support port multiplier function
Plug & Play : Yes
Hot swap : Yes
Power Supply : Built-in
Power Supply Voltage : 12V / 6A , 5V / 8A , 112W (12V PEAK 12A)
Power ON / OFF : Built-in Switch
Dimension (L x W x H) : 234.9×141×175 mm

Physical Details

At the back, the Icy Dock has eSATA and USB 2.0 connections, a fan adjustment switch, and an on/off switch. The Icy Dock has a built-in power supply so it uses a standard power cable (no AC brick).


The fan holder at the back is a little loose and be removed by hand.


The front plate of the hard drive sleds are made of plastic, but the rest is aluminum, making them fairly strong.


Airflow is a problem for many of these enclosures because the circuit board with the SATA connectors is usually located in the rear in front of the fan. We would’ve designed it with side-mounts and a fan on the case floor blowing up.

Find the right multiple-bay external storage enclosure at the best price with the SPCR Shopping Engine.

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