avast_box_whs

To scan or not to scan (the Windows Home Server)…that is the question.  On Show #28 on the The Home Server Show, a few of us discussed just that particular question.  It was even the topic of a post in a January 2008 review at We Got Served.

If you have looked for an antivirus solution for the Windows Home Server, you won’t find many.  Is that it’s not really needed?  Is it that the market for this type of software is still too soft or too much of a niche?  Could it still be too complex of a solution for most users?  Do most people feel that antivirus on the client is good enough?

Its been well over a year since that post and avast! has since released a new version.  I think it’s time again to ask the question, is it really necessary to run an anti-virus application on your Windows Home Server?  And if you did, would you run avast?

I have been running the avast! Windows Home Server Edition on my own WHS since the late spring (May 2008).  I purchased it as a part of the Professional Family Pack (see specs below) that included one server and 10 client licenses.

family pack

In the Media?

Before we get too far, I wanted to highlight where avast! fits into the rankings with the other products that are out there.  I will include some links so you can do some research for yourself.  Remember that most reviews cover the client side only.

TopTen Reviews – Ranked 14 out of 17. BitDefender, a product reviewed here at the Home Server Show was ranked #1.

Top 20 Antivirus Rankings – Ranked 12 out of 20.  Kaspersky. also reviewed by the Home Server show was ranked #1.

A note about the Windows Home Server

If are an experienced Home Server user, you can skip to the next section.  For those of you still reading, you must be either in the market for one or have questions of what to buy.  Very simply, there are two options.

1.  Purchase a pre-built home server like the HP MediaSmart Server.  There are plenty of examples out there and HP is not the only company making them.  This discussion is a bit outside the scope of this review, however, this site and many others have all kinds of info to help you if you are trying to make that decision.

2.  Build your own using new or reused PC stuff as well as the OEM software from Microsoft.  This option is more for the advanced user, but not impossible for the novice.

My Home Server

Every home environment is different, so let me explain mine.  I opted to build my own server using the OEM WHS and a re-purposed PC that I pulled from my parents place when I bought them a new one.   Here are a few of the system specs for reference.

WHS

Microsoft Windows Home Server 32 Bit 1 Pack (Power pack 1) – OEM – $99 at Newegg.com
Dell Dimension 2400
Intel Celeron 2.20GHz
1.25 GB RAM
80 GB ATA System Drive (Contains the OS) Partitioned into 20/60 GB space
2 x 500 GB External USB 2.0 ATA Hard Drives (Used for Data)
160 External USB 2.0 Hard Drive (Used for File Backup)

Here is what it looks like on the WHS:

WHS storage

avast! does offer several choices when it comes to protecting your home environment.  The most revenant ones for this discussion are listed here.

Options:

avast! Windows Home Server Edition – Covers just the WHS if purchased alone.  $39.95 for the first year.

avast! Professional Family Pack – Includes WHS Edition and 10 Pro Clients for $79.95 for the first year.  If you have more than 3 PCs at your location and you want to run the professional version (comparison of the pro and home versions here), this is the best value.

avast! Professional Edition – Pro Client Version.  Starts at $39.95 per client.  A 10 License purchase would run $249.50 for one year.

avast! Home Edition – Free for non-commercial and home use only.  You must register the software within 60 day to end trial.
WARNING – Can be used in conjunction with the WHS Edition with two major limiters.

1.  Script blocking in IE is not available.
2.  Scheduling of scans in not an option.

I recommend that for the first time user, download the Windows Home Server Edition from here and the Professional Edition from here and try it out for 60 days.  By the end of the trial period, you will have a good idea if it meets your needs.  If you are going to proceed, I have some notes below.

I did get the free Home Edition working with a trial version for the server.  I have a licensed server copy on my production WHS and well as Pro on all 6 of my clients.

avast! Windows Home Server Edition – Installation

The avast! WHSE installs much like any other software add-in for WHS.  The download for both the licensed and trial version can be found here as well as the instructions for installing.  The download is 75.1MB and the current version as of this writing is 4.8 (Released Jan 2009).

Download the .msi package and copy it to the Software\Add-ins folder on your Home Server.  It will appear as an option in your available add-ins on your WHS.

The set up is easy and can be done successfully by selecting all the default "next" options and "Demo" and "OK" under the License Manager.  I would recommend you demo the software first before you buy.

Avast2

Another next and you are done.  It will require a reboot. Make sure you are ready for that.  Once installed, it has its own tab in the WHS console.

Avast 5

In this screen shot, the WHS name is HMSERVER.  From the console you can see the software version as well as VPS version (update).  You can also start the avast! main console from the icon on the application toolbar.

avast! Windows Home Server Edition – Features and Comments

From the console, you can right click on the Home Server to get five options.

Avast 6

1.  Properties – Schedule scans for the Home Server machine (or clients) as well as set various notification options.  In the licensed version, there is also a tab for the license key.

WATCH OUT! – For both the server and client versions, the default schedule to run is NOT set (see below).  If you don’t change it here, no scans will be run automatically by the server.  Select "Schedule scans on this machine."


Avast 3Avast 2

2.  View scan history – See a log of the scan history as well as any details of that scan.

Avast 4

WARNING – On my TESTSERVER, the scan took about 26 minutes for about 188 GB of data.  My production server contains more data.  I run the scan weekly and it can take 6 or 7 hours.  It has never found anything, however, I also run the client on every PC.

3.  Turn off Shields  – Gives you the ability to turn off the active "shields" or on access scanners that are running in the background on the server or client.  These scanners are very helpful on the client version, maybe not so helpful on the server.  They consist of a following scanners: Instant Messaging, Internet Mail, Network Shield, Outlook/Exchange, P2P, Standard and Web.  The screen shot below is from a client, but it looks the same if you remote to the server.  You might want to carefully consider what you turn off and what you leave on.

4.  Update VPS – This is just a remote way of updating the latest virus information.  In all versions this happens automatically, but if needed, you could do it here.  The one draw back here is that there is no display of an update status.  You are never really sure if something is happening until the VPS version changes and if it is current, nothing happens.

5.  Run a Scan – Starts a scan on any selected item.  Very useful if you are using the Home version and you want to kick off all your scans at once or even remotely.

main consoleThe main console gives you access to the rest of the software options.  It’s not laid out very well and often times looks like a couple of tools jammed into one interface.  It has some redundant features that are found in the WHS console tab.  There are more options than can be covered without you going to sleep, so I will only cover the main ones.

1.  Overall GUI – You can see right away some of the inconsistencies.  The Folders toolbar (left) and the Folders structures tree and the same features, just displayed in a different order.  You can turn off the structures by selecting View – Program Folders.

2.  Settings – All the finer options are here.  Things like appearance, languages, sounds, logging, alerts and troubleshooting can be found here.  Lots and lots of options.  Everything you would expect from a server application.  I have never changed anything here.

3.  avast! News – Looks like there was good intentions here, but it hasn’t been updated with new news since 2005.  Didn’t seem to be fixed in 4.8 either.

avast! Windows Home Server Edition – Simple User Interface

From View on the toolbar, you can choose the Simple User Interface.  It looks nothing like main console.  If you close it, and select Start main console again, you go back to the main one.  Again, it is not laid out very well and can be difficult to find your way around.

avast simple user interface

By selecting the up option in the upper left corner, you can switch back to the main console or get the rest of the options.

Conclusion

Pros

1.  As far as anti-virus purposes, it has worked on par.  Several of my kids PC’s have caught colds (or Trojans) and it has found them and removed them quickly.  Although, when a virus is found, I have had to go to the client PC to completely remove the virus.  It doesn’t seem possible to do it from the WHS.

2.  It is a very simple and light antivirus on the client.

3.  There is a free version that does work with the WHS version.  It does have some limitations.

Cons

1.  The client software however, seems to run short on products compared to its competitors like Norton, McAfee  or BitDetender.  No firewall or system utility tools are included.  While that makes it light, it also makes it weak from a price point perspective.

2.  In my tests, the server scan can take several hours (like 6 to 10 hours!) to complete.  I moved it to weekly so it wouldn’t consume that processor time each day.

3.  The UI is not always the most intuitive.  It sometime looks like it’s been put together by several teams that never talked to each other.

Because I have purchased avast! I will continue to use it through the expiration period.  I will then again start to look and see what else is out there.

So, do you have to have antivirus on your Windows Home Server to be completely protected?  What helps you sleep at night?

Author: Jim Collison

Jim is an IT Manager at Gallup Inc in Omaha NE and a Windows Home Server user since January 2008.  He blogs about technology, home PC security, social networking and anything else that sounds fun on his personal technology blog at http://pcaverageguy.blogspot.com/

Version Reviewed: 4.8