Microsoft drops Drive Extender from next version of Home Server OS

As someone who has long had a file server tucked away in a closet, I’ve always been intrigued by Microsoft’s Windows Home Server operating system. The OS’s built-in backup and file-sharing functionality aren’t all that exciting, but its Drive Extender feature is considerably more interesting. Like RAID, Drive Extender is a redundancy scheme that spreads data over multiple drives. However, rather than dealing with raw data at the drive level, it works with individual files, enabling users to be selective about what’s being replicated. Dealing with redundancy at the file level also allows Home Server to easily add new drives to its pool of available storage.

The ability to expand a server’s redundant storage capacity by simply plugging in a USB hard drive seems like the kind of feature Microsoft would want to keep around for Home Server. Surprisingly, though, Drive Extender has been dropped from Vail, the next version of the Home Server OS. According to the official Windows Blog, the affordability of high-capacity hard drives has lessened the need for Drive Extender. Also, the Microsoft team responsible for the decision "felt the Drive Extender technology was not meeting our customer needs." Those customers aren’t just home users. As a subsequent post explains, Home Server is tightly tied to Windows Small Business Server 2011 and Storage Server 2008 R2, both of which target businesses.

Judging by the comments on both blog posts, Microsoft has a fair number of customers who are more than a little miffed by the decision. I can’t say I blame them. Although Drive Extender is the sort of thing I expect most businesses can live without, it’s arguably Home Server’s most important feature for, you know, home users.

Comments closed
    • kurt-o
    • 9 years ago

    I’m not one to normally comment… But this article is very inaccurate. Microsoft changed the drive extender technology in Vail, and subsequently Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials. What has happened is that the Drive Extender technology in Vail worked on a lower level than the file level that WHS v1 worked with. So whereas in WHS v1 you could potentially still have access to yor files if the system drive failed by simply putting the HD in another computer.

    Vail removed that capability since the Drive Extender pooled the drives together on a block level. Vail also had the issues of reintroducing drive letters for each share that you wanted to create. It was quite frankly a mess. I’m not sure what Microsoft’s next move might be. Since even with large drives the concept of one master pool was/is awesome.

      • FuturePastNow
      • 9 years ago

      Then they should put Drive Extender v1 into Vail. Fix the high CPU usage of demigrator.exe and call it done.

        • HisDivineShadow
        • 9 years ago

        The original version had its share of problems that they could not resolve. Going to V2 was the resolution to those problems. Except that V2 has its own share of problems, not the least of which is making the drives unable to be dropped into another computer not running WHS.

        Rather than fix V2 which was going to take forever or fix V1 which they never seemed fully capable of due to flaws in design, they threw their hands up. Not because they can’t, but because they do not want to delay business products for silly things like a niche version for consumers. I say that sarcastically, btw.

        I think this kinda makes WHS pointless.

          • LoneWolf15
          • 9 years ago

          Most V1 flaws were fixed in Power Pack 1. Seriously, I’ve never had a data issue with DE v1 (I started using WHS after PP2’s release).

          DE v1 should be fine for WHS, even if it isn’t robust enough for Small Business Server. Microsoft’s smart move would be to keep it out of SBS, but have v1 in Vail.

    • Corrado
    • 9 years ago

    Is it possible they’re going to have something ‘better’ to put in that replicates the same functionality?

    • mrpeabody
    • 9 years ago

    I love WHS. The features that make it a killer app:

    – To back up my computer, all I do is leave it on overnight.

    – To store my media files with duplication, all I do is copy them to the server.

    – To add drive space, all I do is plug in another drive. Any drive, any interface, any size.

    WHS has its problems. The console frankly sucks. But there is nothing else on the market that can match those three features at $100 with an easy gui interface. Not RAID, Linux, or Mac. MS /[

      • HisDivineShadow
      • 9 years ago

      Use Drobo, perhaps ReadyNAS, even another Windows 7 computer (possibly a Media Center PC with RAID5).

      Set your Windows 7 PC to backup to your network share. You can set each computer to a certain time and day of the week. Use any number of directory replication utilities to keep directories updated on each of your PC’s (and the network shares).

      What you love about WHS is easily replicated elsewhere. I also think having your PC update/backup itself to a network share is probably quicker anyway and if you’re already used to “just leaving your computer” on at night to do this, you’re trained to do what is necessary already.

      I wish Microsoft would just add the automation, update cooperation between “client” and “server,” and display-less utilities of WHS for the consumer level to Windows 7 Ultimate, hence earning it that title.

      I think WHS needs Drive Extender to have a purpose. Without it, I think Windows 7 does most things well enough and with but a minor tweak, it could do everything better except provide a proper place for a large amount of mission-critical storage. For that, we have NAS.

      Imo.

        • MadManOriginal
        • 9 years ago

        b[<"Just use a NAS"<]b For enthusiasts who can put together a PC NASes are a bad value. (Heck, even HP Mediasmart servers aren't any more expensive than NASes. TCO might be not be as different due to power draw but electricity is cheap, lots of the power draw comes from diusk drives anyway.) One can easily build a very capable WHS box for much less money and have lots of potential expansion for additional uses, like say adding a TV tuner card to record shows, which most (all?) NAS don't have. The prices on 4+ bay NAS are pretty rediculous whereas most any motherboard these days aside from mITX has 6 SATA ports...check out 6-bay NASes and be prepared to keep your eyes from popping out of your head. b[<"Just use a RAID array on {blank OS}"<]b To be able to add disks to an array non-destructively one needs to buy an expensive RAID card too. DE is also more flexible than a tradtional RAID array for redundancy, for example one can choose exactly which folders to duplicate with DE, and adding any disk type of any size to a pool is the epitome of drive array flexibility. There are just too many good things about DE i[

        • mrpeabody
        • 9 years ago

        #51:

        My desktop is Win7 Home Premium and my netbook is XP, neither of which have the network backup feature you mention.

        But I’m not complaining about backup, because my understanding is that the backup features in WHS v2 will be as good as or better than v1. It’s the loss of the storage pooling, automatic duplication, and arbitrary drive addition — the DE features — that make v2 a nonstarter for me.

      • Corrado
      • 9 years ago

      youve apparently never used time machine. It’s got hourly backups. It’s free. The gui is dead simple, and you can use third party nas hardware with it, such as the western digital live! Nas, and many of the third party router software supports it now too.

        • destroy.all.monsters
        • 9 years ago

        Buying a mac, unless you already have one, is not free. This is a Windows discussion and not a Mac one.

    • ekul
    • 9 years ago

    Drive Extender was the wrong way to do pooled storage and MS is right to kill it off.

    You can’t do pooled storage at the file level without significant overhead, especially as file size grows. It might be bearable for some office documents but when you start duplicating TBs worth of videos it’s going to get painful.

    Sun designed a killer filesystem with ZFS. It has all the features of Drive Extender with the added bonus it actually works and doesn’t corrupt your files. And since it works at the block level it can also do cool things like deduplication and live corruption repair, all without a users knowledge. Toss in better-than-Time Machine snapshots it just might be the best filesystem no one uses.

    • Mentawl
    • 9 years ago

    Will be keeping my WHS1 server running for a while longer then I guess! Which is fine with me, it works perfectly for everything I use it for.

    • Namarrgon
    • 9 years ago

    I had a home-built Atom-based WHS box for the last couple of years. I just recently wiped it & put Windows 7 on there, and Drive Extender was the main reason why.

    Neat as it was, it was the frequent drive balancing that killed it for me. Often when I tried to use it (for HTPC media playback, or even just video streaming), it’d randomly start shuffling large files around for the heck of it, performance would go through the floor, and my video playback would start skipping.

    Couldn’t schedule these tasks to a more convenient time, so out the door it went. DE and the other features just weren’t worth the unpredictability, and I preferred Win7’s media handling anyway.

      • Forge
      • 9 years ago

      Something was wrong. My home-built and HP Mediasmart WHS boxes rebalance once a month, at 3AM.

      Your server was rebalancing 1X per day or more? Error #1.

      You couldn’t schedule rebalance? Did you Google at all? Error #2.

      • LoneWolf15
      • 9 years ago

      I’ve never had that problem, and video storage+playback to my content streaming box is my primary use. I’d guess you might have an issue with the drives you used, or something else.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 9 years ago

    For Home users just use Time Machine and call it a day. GG.

      • Corrado
      • 9 years ago

      I <3 Time Machine. Just got a new MBP15 and had already sold my Mac Mini. I plugged into my network, the new MBP15 found my WD Live! NAS, and said ‘hay! you wants me to get this infoz? LOL!’ and I clicked yes. Within 30 minutes, my new MBP was exactly the same as my Mini was.

      If Apple made Time Machine for Windows, I’m sure a lot of the Apple Haters(tm) would not use it on principle, but its a really slick, and really well made product.

    • Forge
    • 9 years ago

    What?

    Really, WHAT?

    Whatwhatwhat??

    Apparently the WHS development decided that WHS was a good product, and had to go.

    Drive Extender is the one feature I couldn’t easily replicate with a different host OS. I will be dumping plans to update to WHS 2.0 aka Vail.

    Congrats MS. After a year+ of silence on the WHS front, you have now managed to announce an ANTI-FEATURE.

    Really, did no one on the WHS team ever hear “when remaking or updating something, try to make sure it’s not worse than the original”???\

    Well, now I have no reason to go with WHS in the future, time to start designing my next generation of homebuilt WHS 1.0 machines.

    • Sanctusx2
    • 9 years ago

    Count me as one of the people who considered drive extender a major reason for purchasing WHS; it was a great alternative to the usual RAID options. Definitely not happy to see they’re removing it from the next release.

    • FuturePastNow
    • 9 years ago

    I’m glad I went ahead and made a new server with WHS earlier this year instead of waiting.

    • HisDivineShadow
    • 9 years ago

    They are too late in this development cycle to fix Drive Extender, so they remove it.

    They’ll probably add it back in a later version of WHS, but can’t say that now because that’d basically be suggesting, “Wait for the next one because this one’s incomplete.” So they say they’re removing the feature.

    When they add it back, they’ll say they responded to consumer requests for the feature to be added back and so they updated it with some improvements and made it a great reason to replace Vail with the next version.

    I think they took away about half the reason anyone bought Windows Home Server by doing this, so they might as well go back to the drawing board if fixing Drive extender would take that long. I think the smart (and responsible) thing would be to update WHS as a Service Pack type of thing up to Vail level. Then restart WHS development with fixing Drive Extender as a priority.

    That said, MS is all about the Almighty Dollar. If they can charge you for a full OS upgrade and then guarantee you’re going to pay for another one after it to get a feature they had in an older version, well… guaranteed money is guaranteed.

    Let’s face it, though. Most people who buy WHS’s don’t pay enough attention to realize what’s missing until they’ve bought it. And I imagine a lot of them won’t even notice it then because they’ll be new to WHS. The ones who do know (and care) will not buy in, but they’re probably just not buying an upgrade.

    So MS’ll catch those stragglers on the next update cycle and catch the apathetic or the ignorant on this one.

    • PenGun
    • 9 years ago

    Windows servers …. LOL.

      • ManAtVista
      • 9 years ago

      Yea they only run Microsoft.com and other sites larger than anything you’ll ever touch, what a joke!

        • PenGun
        • 9 years ago

        You are welcome to it. I just find it funny.

        Any *nix server will do whatever I want it to. I don’t need no stinkin’ support.

          • Anomymous Gerbil
          • 9 years ago

          Way to miss the point of WHS.

            • PenGun
            • 9 years ago

            You mean it’s not that it’s all done for you? I thought that was the point.

        • kc77
        • 9 years ago

        quite the contrary you’d be hard pressed to find Microsoft anything driving data centers and truly large storage.

        Laughing at MS decision would be quite normal. You’re talking about about a software solution that’s thoroughly covered by hardware controllers that do it better on an exponential level, which is why MS dropped the feature.

        If anything MS is forcing you to understand the difference between a hardware and software solution and to pick the proper hardware to do it correctly.

          • shank15217
          • 9 years ago

          Oh here we go, the software vs hardware argument.. so um its a home storage server, its already dedicated to one function, why would need specialized hardware?

      • Trymor
      • 9 years ago

      Bingo. I hate raid. Recovery, rebuilds, bah.

    • bdwilcox
    • 9 years ago

    Proving once again that Microsoft’s biggest competitor is its own arrogance.

      • sweatshopking
      • 9 years ago

      Why, BD? was this feature really that used? Why does it matter that much?

        • bdwilcox
        • 9 years ago

        Because it’s the main thing that differentiated WHS from its competitors on the market; now it’s just one of the boys, so to speak. Plus, most of WHS’ typical users won’t know how to set up a RAID and won’t do regular backups, so this will leave them vulnerable as well.

          • demani
          • 9 years ago

          Exactly, at this point what does Vail offer over other NAS solutions. That grow as you go feature (similar to what Drobo does) is a big deal to people who don’t want to get too involved with configuration and setup. It’s a shame: it was driving point for those who started small and wanted to grow things as needed (which would be most consumers). And it made it reasonable to buy a WHS machine easily, knowing that adding drives later was easy. Might as well just get a regular NAS now.

        • Flying Fox
        • 9 years ago

        Have you even tried it out to see what the feature is about? Sounds like you don’t know jack to be commenting on this.

        • cygnus1
        • 9 years ago

        SSK, it was very much used. Every WHS instance with more than one drive used it. It fantastically abstracted drive management. Just plug in a drive, hit add and magically your WHS has that much more storage available for any purpose or any share. Want your photo or music share protected against drive failure, check the duplication box for that file share and you just enabled mirroring for all files in that share.

        DE really was the core of the storage in WHS. Vail is going to have to be a completely different, much more difficult to manage product now.

        • LoneWolf15
        • 9 years ago

        SSK, this feature is crucial to WHS. I have an HP MediaSmart server running WHS. It came with one drive; I slapped in three 1.5TB drives to add to the original 1TB, and they just became part of the storage pool. Turn on folder duplication, and the files are protected from drive failure. With a few simple steps, I could pull individual drives, and replace them with 2TB drives, without losing any data, at any time.

        It made having a server at home simple, so I didn’t have to futz with the kind of things I do at work (but don’t want to do when I get home). While Windows Home Server has other useful features, dropping this one makes WHS less useful than a Drobo NAS box.

        You should check the MS Connect site –you’ll find Microsoft really stepped on a hornet’s nest with this one.

    • KarateBob
    • 9 years ago

    They’re removing the main reason why people used WHS. Next thing you know, Microsoft will stop supporting x86 all-together

    • adisor19
    • 9 years ago

    So let me get this straight : No RAID5 and no Drive Extender ?!

    What exactly will this OS use to add redundancy to your data ? RAID1 ?!

    Adi

      • Jigar
      • 9 years ago

      That’s exactly what i was thinking…

      • mcnabney
      • 9 years ago

      Libraries.

      Seriously, that is their solution. What I am most curious about is how the user can clear/pull a drive if needed.

        • sweatshopking
        • 9 years ago

        I don’t really see it being that big of a deal. Extender was kinda dumb anyway.

          • mcnabney
          • 9 years ago

          To add:
          Insert drive, click ‘add to pool’. Done.

          To remove:
          Click drive and select ‘remove from pool’. Wait 5-40 minutes as all unduplicated files are removed. Remove drive.

          In the future the WHS will show as many drives to the network as are running, the Libraries functions will ‘organize’ the huge mess. Definitely a step back since the Libraries function already works with WHS.

      • FuturePastNow
      • 9 years ago

      You can use RAID with WHS, it’s just not something the operating system does. You would have to set it up yourself and add the array’s volume to the drive pool.

        • cygnus1
        • 9 years ago

        I don’t think it’s that simple. The Drive pool was part of drive extender. there will be no more drive pool. users will have to manage every disk or every array separately. a share won’t be able to exist across multiple smaller drives and you won’t be able to make shares redundant.

        that’s why this being removed makes WHS much less flexible and easy to manage.

          • FuturePastNow
          • 9 years ago

          Yes. Sorry, I meant that about the current WHS. You can manually create an array and add it to the pool. I expect you’ll be able to create a share on a RAID volume in Vail, too, though that’s beyond the ability of 99% of computer users.

            • cygnus1
            • 9 years ago

            Exactly. I have no idea how MS is going to pull off making management simple without DE. When consumers have to manage drives, raid arrays or even multiple drive letters the product is going to fail.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 9 years ago

      DE is a sort of RAID1 anyway if you’re duplicating everything, it’s just much more flexible in that you can add and remove drives from the storage pool without affecting data, something only more expensive RAID controllers do last I knew, and have an odd number of drives too.

    • Jigar
    • 9 years ago

    Shame on you Microsoft…

      • sweatshopking
      • 9 years ago

      damn you jigar! first again. it’s getting heated these days. you’re doing an excellent job.

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