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Microsoft removes Drive Extender from new Windows Home Server, users rebel

Microsoft’s Windows Home Server has a popular feature called Drive Extender [Word docx] which lets you increase storage space simply by adding an internal or external drive – no fussing with drive letters. In addition, Drive Extender has some resilience against drive failure, duplicating files stored in shared folders when more than one drive is available.

Recognising the usefulness of this feature for business users as well as in the home, Microsoft prepared a significantly upgraded Drive Extender for the next version of Windows Home Server, code-named Vail, and for new “Essentials” editions of Small Business Server (SBS) and Storage Server. Anandtech has an explanation of the changes, necessary to support business features such as the Encrypted File System.

The new version is more complex though, and it seems Microsoft could not get it working reliably. Rather than delay the new products, Microsoft decided to drop the feature, as announced by product manager Michael Leworthy. Note the rating on the announcement.

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Part of the problem is that rather than discuss difficulties in the implementation, Leworthy presented the decision as something to do with the availability of larger drives:

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.

He added that “OEM partners” will implement “storage management and protection solutions”.

Unfortunately this was a key feature of Windows Home Server. The announcement drew comments like this:

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.

A thread (requires login to WHS beta) on the beta feedback site Microsoft Connect attracted thousands of votes in a couple of days.

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One of the concerns is that while Drive Extender 2 may be needed for the business servers, the version 1 is fine for home users. Therefore it seems that the attempt to bring the technology to business servers has killed it for both.

The SBS community is less concerned about the issue than home users. For example, Eriq Neale says:

While I can see how the Home Server folks are going to lament the loss of DE from their product, as cool as it is, removing that technology removes a LOT of roadblocks I was expecting for Aurora and Breckenridge, and that’s good news for my business.

though Wayne Small says:

I know that a few of my fellow MVPs were told of this recently and sworn to secrecy under our NDA, and we honestly were dumbstruck as to the fact it had been cancelled.  I can only assume that the powers that be at Microsoft know what they are truly doing by removing this feature.  On the flip side however, it means that any server backup or antivirus product that worked with Windows Server 2008 R2 will now most certainly work with SBS 2011 Essentials without modification!  See – there is a silver lining there somewhere.

What should Microsoft do? I guess it depends on how badly broken Drive Extender 2 is. Perhaps one option would be to keep Drive Extender 1 in Vail, but leave it out of the business servers. Another idea would be to delay the products while Drive Extender 2 is fixed, presuming it can be done in months rather than years.

Or will Microsoft ignore the feedback and ship without Drive Extender at all? Microsoft may be right, in that shipping a server with broken storage management would be a disaster, no matter how much users like the feature.

Related posts:

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  3. Windows problems: new users cannot log in, SQL Server 2014 install fails
  4. Server admin on the go with Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 app for SBS 2011
  5. Google the new Microsoft, goes to war on Windows Phone users (updated)

3 comments to Microsoft removes Drive Extender from new Windows Home Server, users rebel

  • The problem with DE and WHS is that the underlying (and technically superb – single instance storage at cluster lever) backup functions got hijacked by the brigade who demanded it also become a pseudo-file server with shared folders. MS tacked this on to DE, and it always confused both consumers and applications due to the lack of drive mappings (Picasa, for instance, cannot access any photos on a WHS share).

    Great shame, as the UI of Vail looks much better, and I would have loved to get the benefit of Server 2008, which would give me a wider choice of hardware to build my system from. But I hate RAID with a passion (DE is much kinder to its hard disks), so looks like I’ll be sticking with WHS 1.

    Kelvyn

  • I think if they would replace software DE interface and ease of use with a HW solution that is managed in the same way, then this would likely be a much better solution than software DE. But what they cannot do is leave out the DE ease of use and expect people using the WHS today to be able to manage a RAID configuration. There are way too many limitations to a HW raid. Just imagine your HW breaks(RAID chip wise), many times you actually end up losing your RAID data if you don’t have an external backup, especially important since WHS HW is usually cheap stuff and sells for cheap, which means long term support for the HW is likely non-existent for home users.

    I hope they come up with something better than this…

  • Clyde Davies

    I think Microsoft failed to learn important lessons from WHS. This is one product they managed to get 100% right first time, customers not having any need for waiting for service packs to materialise. I have my own WHS, which was reasonably inexpensive (£360) but manages to back up every single PC in our house in the space of a few minutes, and acts as a fileserver should I need it. Ok, so it doesn’t do some things which would be really nice, such as supporting its own Media Center Extender, but what it does do it performs faultlessly.

    The lessons that I took away from WHS were that (a) know your customers and make sure you address their primary bugbears (b) chucking technology, such as RAID, at problems doesn’t always lead to the best solution and (c) if you do come up with a good answer to problems, don’t bugger about with it. This mess makes me wonder if they’ve learned anything since the Vista debacle.