Microsoft dumps Drive Extender from Windows Home Server, effectively neuters product

Microsoft dumps Drive Extender from Windows Home Server, effectively neuters product

Summary: Microsoft seems determined to send the Windows Home Server project straight into a coffin.

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Microsoft seems determined to send the Windows Home Server project straight into a coffin.

I never really saw the point of Microsoft's Windows Home Server (WHS). The problem wasn't so much the idea, which was sound, but identifying the market. Who were these home users who were going to buy servers? Sure, a market existed in the Small Office/Home Office market, but I doubt that it was a big market. Why buy a "server" when there are plenty of cheaper and easier to use backup and storage appliances available. Anyway, Microsoft knows best ...

... then it came to light that WHS suffered from a bug that could cause data corruption. This bug was identified in March of 2008, but it was July before there was a proper fix (something that went beyond just hoping that the data would be safe). That kind of time delay between discovering that a server OS has a data corruption bug and delivering a fix understandably erodes peoples trust in the OS.

The fix was delivered, and people who had invested in a WHS system were once again happy.

In the meantime, Microsoft has been busy working on WHS V2, codenamed "Vail" (yes, that rhymes with "FAIL") Fans of WHS expected this to be like WHS, only better. Yesterday those dreams were shattered when Microsoft announced that it was removing a key function from the OS - Drive Extender.

For those of you not familiar with the product, Drive Extender is a file-based replication system that offers easy storage expansion (plug in a new drive and away you go), multi-disk redundancy, and a single folder namespace free from drive letters. In short, it meant that home users didn't need to become storage experts to add and replace drives in their WHS. Or to put it another way, it was WHS's killer feature.

But now it's gone. This from the Windows Home Server blog:

When we first started designing Windows Home Sever code name “Vail” one of our initial focuses was to continue to provide effortless support for multiple internal and external hard drives. Drive Extender provided the ability to take the small hard drives many small businesses and households may have acquired, and pool them together in a simple volume.

OK, it was useful.

During our current testing period for our Windows Home Server code name “Vail” product, we have received feedback from partners and customers about how they use storage today and how they plan to use it moving forward. Today large hard drives of over 1TB are reasonably priced, and freely available. We are also seeing further expansion of hard drive sizes at a fast rate, where 2Tb drives and more are becoming easy accessible to small businesses.  Since customers looking to buy Windows Home Server solutons from OEM's will now have the ability to include larger drives, this will reduce the need for Drive Extender functionality.

I fail to see how the availability of larger drives means that Drive Extender is no longer a key feature. Drives are bigger, but people have more data. Removing this feature and relying on OEMs to offer RAID simply doesn't make sense.

When weighing up the future direction of storage in the consumer and SMB market, the team felt the Drive Extender technology was not meeting our customer needs.

Really? In what way exactly? Nothing said in that sentence makes any sense to me. The only reason that I can see for Microsoft to pull Drive Extender from WHS is that there's some issue with it and in order to keep to a development schedule the feature has to be pulled. Microsoft has some very smart people working for it, so the idea that "it can't be done" just isn't worth considering. That said, "it can't be done in the time given" or "it can't be done based on the available budget" does make sense.

It also makes no sense for Microsoft to claim that customers don't want this feature when quite clearly the comments to the blog post, and over on Microsoft Connect make it pretty clear that they do want this feature.

In a second blog post on the Windows Home Server blog, Microsoft further stomps in its own mud puddle by backtracking [emphasis added]:

Hi, it is a rough day for Vail, and I have been dreading today for a while as an avid Vail user myself. We know this [Drive Extender] is popular feature in regards to our home server product, and as such all expected that it would have created this type of outreach from our community.

That's quite a switch from the previous post:

When weighing up the future direction of storage in the consumer and SMB market, the team felt the Drive Extender technology was not meeting our customer needs.

Which is it?

The comments on the blog post make it very clear that Drive Extender was a killer feature. Here's a selection:

So you'll be cutting the price of the product in half correct?  I mean, you know removing this key feature/selling point is going to cause the price of the hardware to skyrocket.  I could care less about the SBS 2011 Essentials or business servers...I bought WHS for my home.  I'm upset, the WHS team has not delivered what the Windows Home Server community has wanted from the beginning...enhanced support/integration/port of Media Center and SkyDrive.

...

Noooo :( the folder duplication was the feature I liked more! Now how can I set up a software duplication only for specific folders?!? I do not want to RAID all drives it takes too much space!

...

"Target product availability is still H1 2011".  This means nothing to me now.  My great interest in Vail has just evaporated.  Drive Extender is the great feature of Home Server, and what my personal data storage is based around.  I have loved owning my WHS but unfortunately without DE I will be looking for other products now.

...

Well, thank you for the update on Vail.  You have now made my decision between Vail and a Drobo easy.  Since you removed probably the best feature of Windows Home Server, Drobo is an easy win.  It will keep my pictures and other files safe in expandable storage.  Vail just became a hassle and the features it offers do not offer nearly enough to balance out this failure.  The biggest reason for a home server is for storage and that storage has to have the ability to be increased over time as storage requirements increase.  Configuring RAID is simply a bad solution.  If it was a good solution, it would already be popular.  This is a sad day for consumers.

...

You know, you REALLY could have done a better job with this announcement.  This raises so many questions, and people are left to assume the worst.  Especially when you say "drives are big and cheap these days" and throw RAID out there.  What?  It makes it sound like whoever is in charge of WHS nowadays doesn't "get it" at all.  I'm hoping that somehow things are not as dire as they seem, but I'm really concerned about the future of WHS now.

...

I'm sorry, but at the moment this strikes me as a slap in the face as a longterm WHS user. And the stretching of the facts is just breathtaking and worthy of spin doctors at their finest:

If a drive fails, I can't just replace it and carry on? I'm stunned and disappointed. Time to look for another non-microsoft solution, perhaps.

And these are WHS fans speaking out here! Not Apple of Linux fanboys.

So long WHS ... Maybe this is what happens when you choose a codename for your project that rhymes with FAIL.

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Microsoft, Servers, Software, Storage, Windows

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74 comments
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  • In other words OEM's probally said

    "If you want WHS to really get off the ground, and really be showcased, drop Drive Extender so that we can sell more RAID based systems...at a better profit point"
    John Zern
    • RE: Microsoft dumps Drive Extender from Windows Home Server, effectively neuters product

      @John Zern maybe, but I'd imagine that RAID for what is effectively a home product might increase support incidents.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • RE: Microsoft dumps Drive Extender from Windows Home Server, effectively neuters product

      @John Zern

      Most motherboards made today have basic RAID included with the exception of some lower end computers. I see many OEM computers made by major brands where RAID is already on the motherboard but not used. If you build yourself you will find it hard to purchase a motherboard without some sort of RAID capability. Unless you go really low end of course.
      bobiroc
      • RE: Microsoft dumps Drive Extender from Windows Home Server, effectively neuters product

        @bobiroc Sorry, but you just don't get it!! RAID requires a collection of homogeneous drives, with DE I can mix and match any size, both internal or external, and then set the OS to duplicate and distribute that data so that It is never compromised. No rebuilding, no keeping a collection of like drives on hand in case of a failure!!
        GraemeJ
      • RE: Microsoft dumps Drive Extender from Windows Home Server, effectively neuters product

        @bobiroc

        Unfortunately the drive manufactures are making you buy the enterprise drives (much more expensive) because they turned off some part of the firmware code that works with raid in the cheaper drives. Wasn't raid supposed to be used with Inexpensive Disks, not any more.
        http://wdc.custhelp.com/cgi-bin/wdc.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=1397&p_created=1131638613&p_sid=vLrIp*fk&p_accessibility=0&p_redirect=&p_srch=1&p_lva=&p_sp=cF9zcmNoPTEmcF9zb3J0X2J5PSZwX2dyaWRzb3J0PSZwX3Jvd19jbnQ9MjQsMjQmcF9wcm9kcz0yMjcmcF9jYXRzPSZwX3B2PTEuMjI3JnBfY3Y9JnBfcGFnZT0xJnBfc2VhcmNoX3RleHQ9cmFpZA!!&p_li=&p_topview=1

        BS from WD on why the desktop drives can't be used in raid, which they used to be.
        We can thank corporate greed for this.

        Jeff
        JefferyS_TheTech
    • Why the OEMs?

      It's not like this is the first time MS doesn't live up to its much hyped press releases. Surely the MSCE isn't surprised!<br><br>Hilarious is the single NIC only support now used in SBS. Great security model. MS sure knows servers;-)

      PS Spent the last few days showing at a major retailer's innovation & tech future briefing. Nice to see MS is still wheeling out their crappy surface computer. Just USD10+ billion in R&D per annum doesn't produce much anymore.
      Richard Flude
  • Adrian Adrian Adrian

    You should have stopped when you said <i>"I never really saw the point of Microsofts Windows Home Server (WHS)."</i>. You obviously never used it. There may be cheaper backup appliances but easier I would have to argue with. It cannot be much easier to have it done automatically by simply installing a connection client and if you ever need to recover anything it is as easy as pie. or heaven forbid if you have to completely restore your computer. Boot from recovery disc and a couple clicks and walla.<br><br>While I think the dropping of this feature is a bad move, I do not think it will cripple the product. Large Hard drives of 1TB+ are affordable and to be honest I wouldn't mind having a smaller drive or partition for the OS and then a large RAID or seperate hard drives for the media. Once you set up the media shares it is seamless anyway. I find that WHS is one of the best solutions for a home or small business looking to set up a server that can do many things like being a Media Server, Central Storage, Backup for up to 10 computers and I am sure other things. I do not have a WHS currently but I have 3 friends that do and from what I have seen it is well worth the $99 and maybe modest computer with plenty of storage. Is it for everybody, heck no, but it is not a bad solution to consider.<br><br>I do appreciate the information as I will take the time to provide feedback to Microsoft to let them know my opinion of them dropping this feature. I do not see why they cannot just make it so there is an option on how you want to set up the WHS.

    I am looking forward to the release of WHS "Vail" or whatever they will call it. I have a processor, motherboard, power supply, 4GB ram and a case already for it. Just waiting for WHS2 and will get the hard drives then. The HW set up so far cost me less than $400 and the rest will depend on the size of the drives I purchase.
    bobiroc
    • RE: Microsoft dumps Drive Extender from Windows Home Server, effectively neuters product

      @bobiroc You are so right. I'm a WHS user. It's a fantastic system that I use to keep my other machines backed up. Drive Extender is one of the best things about WHS, and something I use all the time. Dropping this feature from WHS, means that I'll either stick with WHS and go with a competing machine/technology when this one hits end of life.
      roteague
      • How do you &quot;use it all the time&quot;?

        @roteague: [i]Drive Extender is one of the best things about WHS, and something I use all the time.[/i]

        I'm curious what you mean by this.
        ye
      • Re How do you &quot;use it all the time&quot;?

        @ye

        Maybe he means when he goes to take out a smaller drive and replace it with a bigger one it rebuilds itself. I know my brother has done this a few times on his WHS to add more storage.
        bobiroc
      • I don't see that qualifying as &quot;all the time&quot;.

        @bobiroc: [i]Maybe he means when he goes to take out a smaller drive and replace it with a bigger one it rebuilds itself. I know my brother has done this a few times on his WHS to add more storage.[/i]

        As you said, a few times but not all the time.
        ye
    • I agree. Adrian is clueless about this product.

      @bobiroc: [i]You obviously never used it.[/i]

      Drive extender is not what makes WHS so useful. It was an OK feature but not even close to being WHS's major strength.
      ye
      • RE: Microsoft dumps Drive Extender from Windows Home Server, effectively neuters product

        @ye

        And that is my point. I still see no need to drop it completely but I guess that means that people need to speak up and provide feedback to Microsoft. As far as I know drive extender is in the beta of "Vail".
        bobiroc
      • RE: Microsoft dumps Drive Extender from Windows Home Server, effectively neuters product

        @ye Actually, Drive Extender IS what makes WHS so useful. Being able to use duplication security on a share-by-share-basis and avoiding the whole raid complexity is THE key selling point for WHS, at least imho. And yes, i'm using WHS for 3 years now. <br>This move is one of Microsofts classic shots-in-their-own-foot that happens just too often to not be concerned about deeper structural problems within Microsoft.
        cgdams
      • The ability to provide easy and reliable backups is what makes WHS useful.

        @cgdams: Drive extender, while nice, does not make the product.
        ye
      • RE: Microsoft dumps Drive Extender from Windows Home Server, effectively neuters product

        @ye To me (and many others, judging from the posts on the Windows Home Server Team Blog), DE makes a big enough part of the product to make it much less interesting. Adrians "neutering the product" may be one of his frequent exaggerations, but basically, he has a point.

        What's even worse in my eyes is the loss of trust that Microsoft suffers with this step. I vividly remember their arguments why Drive Extender was a better consumer technology than RAID (and followed them there by using it), only to find them nuking it completely now. How am i supposed to trust them on the next new technology they invent?
        cgdams
      • A lot of whiners who make mountains out of mole hills.

        @cgdams: [i]To me (and many others, judging from the posts on the Windows Home Server Team Blog), DE makes a big enough part of the product to make it much less interesting.[/i]

        It's not that big a loss. While I think it should stay DE is not the compelling reason for using (or not) WHS.
        ye
      • RE: Microsoft dumps Drive Extender from Windows Home Server, effectively neuters product

        @ye
        You seem to be bucking the trend here, bud. Should I believe you and one or two fanbois, or everybody else ? How far will you go to back up your buddies at MS?
        radleym
      • For most users... WRONG!

        @ye

        @cgdams: Drive extender, while nice, does not make the product.

        ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? I set up a server to protect my data. Otherwise I'd just get a bunch of large external drives. Plus Windows organizes itself into a pretty decent network, especially with Win7.

        So without data protection, what differentiates WHS from setting up a Win7 computer and setting up shares on it?!?!
        John_Shadow
      • Ye gets it not...

        @ye <i>Drive extender, while nice, does not make the product.</i>

        <b>You've got to be kidding me!</b> I set up a server to protect my data. If all I wanted was a big storage area, then I'd buy one of those large cheap external drives. <br><br> I mean really, what differentiates WHS2 from a plain Win7 computer that is set up with a bunch of shares?! True, there may be some services that need to be set up manually, but there are projects already out there to replicate the services of WHS with a small amount of effort.<br><br> So I guess it's hello Drobo, or maybe even QNAP!
        John_Shadow