Microsoft Announces Removal of Drive Extender from Windows Home Server

by Alex Kuretz on November 23, 2010 · 49 comments

in News

If you want Microsoft to hear your feedback on this topic, I suggest you do so via the blog post, their Facebook page and vote for the team to bring back Drive Extender on the Connect site.

Microsoft has a blog post up today announcing the removal of the Drive Extender feature from Windows Home Server Vail and the Small Business Server editions known as Aurora and Breckenridge. Drive Extender is the technology that allows you to add most any hard drive to your Home Server and have it become part of your server storage, as well as provides the Duplication feature that makes sure all the important data on your server is stored on more than one physical hard drive to prevent data loss due to drive failures.

This feature has its issues in both Windows Home Server v1 and Vail, and I have expressed some significant concerns about the new version when we first saw the Vail beta and again when we saw the Vail Beta Refresh. But the important fact is that Drive Extender was a much easier solution for storage growth and data protection than RAID, as I discussed in this article comparing RAID and Drive Extender.

With the removal of Drive Extender from Windows Home Server, it will be the responsibility of the Home Server manufacturers such as HP and Acer to deliver a data expansion and protection solution. Some possible alternatives are hardware RAID, software RAID, or other RAID-like solutions such as UnRAID, FlexRAID, or ZFS.

Microsoft has offered several reasons for making the decision to remove Drive Extender. They advocate that the prevalence of large hard drives is making the need to pool drives less important, however it is even more critical to have duplication and backups now that the death of a single drive can wipe out 2 or more terabytes of your data. They state that OEMs want to implement more trusted RAID solutions, but I highly suspect these are the Small Business OEMs and not the teams building Home Servers for consumer use. Microsoft also mentions that many customers (myself included) demanded that they be able to read the server drives in another computer as we can do with the current version of Drive Extender and that removing Drive Extender allows this to happen, though at the expense of the entire DE feature set.

You can read the full blog post here on the Windows Home Server blog.

What do you think, was Drive Extender a critical component of Windows Home Server, or were the known issues with Drive Extender such that you are happy to see it go in favor of a more tried and true solution such as RAID? What technology do you want to see manufacturers use in place of Drive Extender?





Article by

I'm Alex Kuretz, and I'm the founder of MediaSmartServer.net. I was the Lead Test and Integration Engineer at HP for the MediaSmart Server until April 2008 when I moved on to other opportunities outside HP. I've kept active in the Windows Home Server community, creating several add-ins and helping users make the most of their Home Servers.


{ 47 comments }

Jeremy November 23, 2010 at 10:11 am

Yes, this is a critical component. In fact, it was the only reason I bought my WHS units instead of other solutions. Without Drive Extender, I will not be continuing with WHS for long.

norm November 23, 2010 at 10:22 am

That was just a shot heard around the world.

Unless Microsoft patches a solution, WHS is dead. Drive Extender is what makes WHS and everything else storage related “just work” on the WHS platform. Other than that it is just a clunky storage platform with a couple of benefits (backups, and remote access).

Keith November 23, 2010 at 10:22 am

What a strange choice for MS. I would much prefer the Backup and Extension ability of the server to be built into the OS, or at least as closely aligned as possible, rather than running as an extra application or add-in. The variety of solutions adopted by the manufacturers will no doubt add great confusion to the WHS ecosystem. My experience with manufacturer-installed features have led me to turn off as many HP-integrated ‘features’ from my EX490 as I can (ie. Twonky). I will definitely have to reconsider recommending future versions of WHS in the future.

Matt November 23, 2010 at 10:27 am

All my personal data is now on my WHS. The benefits of Drive Extender was a big reason for me to choose WHS. Without it though I can’t see myself going to v2 and really abandoning the platform all together.

Paul November 23, 2010 at 10:41 am

Wow. I had already planned to install Aurora for several small business clients of mine and Vail in my house. Not anymore. Big win for Linux I guess.

Geoff Coupe November 23, 2010 at 10:45 am

Bizarre, just, bizarre…

Bryan November 23, 2010 at 11:02 am

I totally agree, this was a huge reason for why I bought the HP WHS. I have invested a ton of money into buying digital music and of course photos. I’m paranoid about losing all of that and without the built in redundancy this is a monumnetal loss for me.

Donald November 23, 2010 at 11:24 am

Guess i can stop waiting on Vail and go ahead with an UnRAID server or maybe a look into FlexRAID; it does look interesting. This seems like a huge mistake for MS seeing as most everybody used it. Sad to see WHS going down this hill.

jam3ohio November 23, 2010 at 11:34 am

Wow. I am probably not going to go with Vail/Aurora now. Very bad news.

t-bone November 23, 2010 at 11:35 am

Couldnt they go back to the WHS DE technology? I mean some of the other features would still be useful over W2003. Its like scrapping a car cause you dont like that someone leaned the passanger seat back. I know either way it will require work on MS part because of the push for 64bit but better to table one for a while then scrap the whole thing.

ThatGeekGuy November 23, 2010 at 11:40 am

Absolute idiocy on the part of MS, taking out what is probably the heart of WHS. I’ll be attending the Houston Windows Entertainment and Connected Home Meet-up next week, be interesting to ask this queston of the Microsoft marketing rep that is attending….

Mike

Tom Abell November 23, 2010 at 12:08 pm

I don’t plan on writing off WHS quite yet. I really am hoping that Microsoft realizes that the Home Technology industry is literally poised for massive growth and that the established WHS system stands to take the biggest portion of that market. Perhaps they will read all the comments on this blog as well as their own blog and realize they are going down the wrong path.

I’m holding out hope…don’t fail us Microsoft.

Gordon Currie November 23, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Tom, not to dash your hopes too much, but (as a former employee) the timing and content of this announcement indicates total disarray and chaos inside the HSBS group. If they had a plan right now, they would have announced a solid replacement for DE.

It’s likely that there is a turf war going on, and DE is a casualty of an arbitrary decision from outside the group. Hence the sudden and dazed nature of the announcement.

sjkeegs November 23, 2010 at 12:12 pm

I just (five minutes ago) explained to a co-worker in the hallway why I bought a WHS system instead of building a server with RAID. The Drive Extender IS the reason that i went with WHS instead of something else.

Brian Howard November 23, 2010 at 12:17 pm

MS is probably hedging their bets on “cloud” storage for the average user. Most user’s probable have less that 25 GB’s of data requirement. With rumours of Win8 being “more” cloud based, this might be part of a bigger plan.

Gordon Currie November 23, 2010 at 12:43 pm

I have no doubt that this is part of the underlying story. However, for tens of GBs of data, a $500-900 box from an OEM starts looking like an unecessary middleman between your PC and the cloud.

For the multi-terabyte crowd – whether avid media enthusiasts or small businesses – the cloud isn’t going to be viable for at least five years, probably more. There are too many moving parts to upgrade.

Graham November 23, 2010 at 12:34 pm

This is shear lunacy. I count WHS to be one of the most solid products that Microsoft produces. I was deeply saddened to hear about the changes to DE for v2 and I’m just shocked to hear about its removal. I can’t condone this, and will no longer be purchasing any Vail licenses until this is remedied. DE can hardly be called a “feature”. It is the entire product they are removing. I’ve been working as an informal, unpaid salesperson of WHS to all my family and friends up to this point, and have authored my own add in for the system. But I cannot support the decision to remove DE, and can no longer endorse the product to anyone.

Awake November 23, 2010 at 12:46 pm

There were two parts of Drive extender that were important to me: growth and redundancy. In the first release of Vail (WHS-V2) they broke the redundancy by changing it to ‘block based’ storage, which is another name for RAID-5. One of the beautiful things about ‘the old way’ was that it was NTFS based, so if a real disaster happened, you could just put a drive in an enclosure and try to access the data that way. If you have ever lost a real RAID controller and ended up will all your data unrecoverable because it is spread in pieces all over the drives, you know the difference.

So I lost interest in Vail… it’s become just another dumb RAID-5 system.

Now they remove on-the-fly expansion. Blah. Never again will I buy a multiple drive storage system that does not allow on-the-fly expansion… I learned the hard way with my ReadyNAS. Want to expand? Backup your Terabytes of data somewhere, replace all the drives with matching sizes, format the whole mess, and copy the data back over… 100′s of dollars and several days later you MIGHT have your system working again. Compare that to a Drobo.

So the only thing left to distinguish a WHS from a cheap RAID-5 enclosure is bundled backup capability… blah… there are lots of tools that do that. Streaming? Get a Western Digital streaming drive, it actually works.

WHS is dead. I own 3 WHS systems, and I am a fan of Version 1, but with the changes made to Version 2, I couldn’t care less if it dies.

teq November 23, 2010 at 6:35 pm

@Awake: Perfect summary, couldn’t agree more. Vail is dead in the water.

Now for an upgrade path for WHS V1 – my, what a headache.

Cheers,
teq

Geek Boy November 23, 2010 at 1:30 pm

OUCH! I’m an unpaid evangalist for WHS (1) and integrating same into our living rooms/ man caves. This is a short sited and ill conceived decision and makes Vail a non event.

As we all know, RAID ain’t a backup solution and DE is critical to consumer acceptance. Tell me MS, can Sally or Jim in North Dakota set up RAID or properly administer same? Tell Me!

More than once, the ability to read and recover the WHS (1) drives/storage pool in another box has saved my behind and this is another reason why Vail is a non event for me.

aart12 November 23, 2010 at 3:40 pm

…mouth agape… slowly opening. closing. opening. closing… like a landed fish. repeating in a soundless, uncomprehending stupor. Nothing emanating from a grotesquely twisted visage… and that’s just Microsoft! I don’t know what to say either. I am dumbfounded. I am found dumb.
It’s like watching a state-of-the-art submarine sinking, for no reason, in a perfectly calm harbor upon a maiden launch. No reason other than because somebody forgot to secure the damn screen door!

Oh boy (sigh). Yeah. REALLY? Yeah, really.
So, what happened? In the 11th hour was something discovered about DE that scared the wooly socks off you guys (MS)?
What was it?
* Major corruption of files?
* DE created a black hole and started sucking Redmond into it until little Jimmy pulled the plug and saved the universe?
* Did it work too good?
* Or perhaps was it discovered that “you could not profit enough from it” [sic]?
* A little internal suicide maybe?

I can only assume so, because I am sure you would not have pulled such a vital component to WHS without some really excellent, friggin darned good reason.

So, where do we go from here boys and girls? At this late stage of the game/beta phase, I am assuming that Vail (at least) is dead. Surely you guys are not going to try and pawn off Vail, as it is now, as a finished product?
My customers, nor I, will buy into that one… and I rather doubt anyone else will either, unless some genius in marketing is about to come up with some absolutely brilliant spin!
As a devout WHS user, and advocate, I am rooting for you… but, you know… this sort of thing does not increase confidence in us out in the trenches. It seriously casts a pall and a really awkward silence on the whole relevance question. Is MS even relevant anymore? Just another thumbscrew in the obsolete, heavy, enclosure.

MS, R.I.P.

Bill November 23, 2010 at 5:29 pm

I’m shocked….
I’m using Vail now but if this is tries then tell me why we would pay for v2 when we could just use freenas or other alternatives..U just lost my purchase MS

Gadget Insane November 23, 2010 at 6:46 pm

So what makes VAIL better than WHS 1 again? My WHS server hasn’t stopped working, my PCs are still getting backed up, nor does the software have an expiry date so I’ll just keep using what I got till I outgrow it. When/if I do, I’ll move on to something else like unRAID, FlexRAID, etc.

MS had demonstrated again how irrelevant they’re becoming. They had a competitive advantage with DE and they just killed it. Unbelievable.

rvbvolney November 24, 2010 at 8:09 am

@Gadget Insane – I’m thinking the same thing: my WHS v1 is doing what I need it to with no hassle. If XP can live for 10 years, why can’t v1? The “no-brainer” storage expansion and key file duplication are absolutely the only advantages that WHS has (had) over the many alternatives out there. What MSFT did was insure that I won’t be buying their product, though I am sure I would have before this.

Seth November 24, 2010 at 8:24 am

DE and the automated backups are the only reason I went with WHS in the first place versus something like FreeNAS. This is sad.

Jason November 24, 2010 at 8:30 am

It looks like my next storage solution will be a Drobo, or something similar. It is absolutely perplexing that Microsoft have gone in this direction.

Ryan November 24, 2010 at 11:30 am

I would like to know WHY they are getting rid of it completely instead of making it an optional part!!!!!!! Not a good move in my eyes! I’m perefectly happy with Version 1 if this is the route they are going! There is no way I will put my data into a RAID system again after having lost stuff!!!! I had issues with my WHS but guess what….I just took the drives out and between all of them recovered all my data!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Guess I will not be upgrading…..guess I should buy a spare HP WHS to keep around as a spare!

Karan November 24, 2010 at 2:21 pm

I find it interesting that they’ve moderated the comments and have stopped approving of posting any new comments. Way to censor the feedback.

Awake November 24, 2010 at 8:29 pm

FWIW, Newegg has HP systems as Black Friday deals starting at $300.

Comp1962 November 25, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I have to admit my schedule of late has caused me to fall behind on these things. With all its known issues and quirks the Drive Extender in WHS v1 works, works well and is simple to use. I like simplicity and I like being able to sleep at night knowing my servers are taking care of business and the Drive Extender is part of that.

To remove this function and place the responsibility on either the end user or the OEM is a bit concerning. I do understand many like the RAID option and prefer to use it while others not familiar with RAID would opt for the simplicity of the Drive Extender that we have come to enjoy in WHS v1.

For me I am not looking at WHS interms of a Business Server and enjoy looking at it from a Consumer View Point. This is what WHS was targeted for and should continue to be targeted towards. It should be a server that most can setup and let run requiring very littel effort from most people.

Since the release of WHS we the end users have pushed pushed WHS beyond where I have to believe the creaters ever envisioned it would go and along the way we have made it easier to use and have created issues to go with it but as a community we have been supportive of each other and have taken a wonderful Server OS and made it an awesome thing.

Looking forward I will sit on the sidelines and watch how this all pans out but I have to say honestly I like my servers where they are. I am happy with them and while there are some things that Vail does that I like very much I can not say that it in its current form is somethng that will motivate me to move forward and should I opt to do so I would be very cautious in the approach and not be so quick to kick WHS v1 to the curb.

Ray November 26, 2010 at 9:11 am

Hi All,
This news is a shocking and yes I think “Drive Extender” is a critical component of Windows Home Server, talk about jumping ship. Now what are we suppose to do? This only complicates the setup of WHS-Vail. I just purchased the NORCO 4U rack chasise RPC-4224 becouse of the ease of adding drives with “Drive Extender”
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811219038

What is everyone else going to do? I want to hear from everyone.

Thank you,
Ray

Gadget Insane November 26, 2010 at 9:20 am

@Ray

What are your intentions where the current version of WHS can’t satisfy your needs?

Ray November 26, 2010 at 11:18 am

@Gadget Insane,
What are my intentions where the current version of WHS can’t satisfy your needs?

Well I have been using Vail since the first beta and it serv me perfect with the what it does now but remove “Drive Extender” is a killer for me.
Just how is one going to add storage without the complex of a RAID setup? You know what I think? this whole thing is drivin by $$$ thier could be know other reason. I have to agree with another poster, I think it works to good.

I have 6TB off storage on my Vail box and NOT had any trouble with it. Come on MS, What Gives?

I will be looking to another salution for my setup. Just want to know what options thier are and what everyone is going to do? O and by the way should anybody hope MS to make a 360 Degree turn based on our complaints with “Drive Exstender” I think NOT, just look at what all the complaining did to include “Media Center” in Vail. NOTHING.

Geoff Coupe November 26, 2010 at 9:36 am

I see lots of comments in the blogs from people thinking that the Drobo products are a replacement for WHS. As far as I can see, they are no such thing. They are primarily intended as a data store, not as the complete systems store concept of WHS. Yes, they do give you the storage pool concept of WHS, but that’s the end of it. They will not:

■ back up only one copy of identical files from multiple PCs. Instead, you will end up with multiple copies of the same file, one for each PC.
■ back up only those sectors that have changed in a file. Instead, even if only one bit has changed in the file, the whole file must be backed up. No intelligent storage here.
■ be able to roll back to a complete backup snapshot taken earlier in time, without the need to take up additional storage space to actually hold all those multiple backups.
■ be able to restore a PC with a working image with one click, if the PC has a failure.
■ act as a DLNA media server out of the box. You have to add a third party application for this.

As far as I’m aware, apart from the clear exception of the DLNA server, all the above selling points arise from the DE technology. If this is pulled from Vail, then really, what’s the point?

I’ll be sticking with WHS V1 until it croaks. I see nothing out there in the market to match it, and now Vail won’t either.

Alex Kuretz November 26, 2010 at 9:41 am

Geoff, DE is primarily to store data as well. The single-instancing is only in the client backup feature, not part of DE, as is the backup snapshot. Drive Extender provides the ability to add arbitrarily sized drives easily and provides data protection by making sure duplicated data resides on more than one physical hard drive to protect against drive failure.

Geoff Coupe November 26, 2010 at 10:06 am

Alex, thanks for that clarification. So that would seem to say that (a) Drobo does not yet match those features with a supported application from Data Robotics themselves, and (b) Vail will still not be able to duplicate data at folder level, but only at drive level (by relying on RAID)?

Alex Kuretz November 26, 2010 at 10:18 am

There are many flavors of RAID but typically duplication would occur on the volume. I’m not an expert on the Drobo features, sorry.

John Pombrio November 29, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Uh, as usual I have a polar opposite view (well, someone has to!). Drive Extender was the MAIN reason why I gave away my HP home server. Frankly, I found it sucked wind, big time. The data was locked away on my server without me being able to do much with it. It was such a closed, proprietary, unfriendly way to store data and I really, really disliked it. It had all the issues of a RAID while locking me out of the drives. I had strange failures and lost files with no way for me to even search for them, let alone restore or recover from the errors. The one time I tried to recover my “backed up” hard drive for my computer off of the home server, it completely failed, giving me absolutely no incentive to waste my time with the home server any longer. I sucked my data off, powered it down, and never looked back.
Give me a nice, simple NTFS drive and let ME decide how to back it up, clone it, and add drives, files, folders, and libraries.
A smart decision by Microsoft. I gave up on Drive Extender a long time ago as a broken promise.

Tom December 2, 2010 at 3:18 pm

They might as well scrap the product, it is dead.

Arthur Johnson December 3, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Sorry, I forgot to say please. :)

Arthur Johnson December 3, 2010 at 9:20 pm

@John Pombrio, well this news hits me EXACTLY as I was about to spend ~$400 for an Acer Home Server and now my head is spinning. Should I:

1. Ignore the news and buy the Acer anyhow, because I’m not exactly sure what Drive Extender is (but suspect it has something to do with being able to hot swap drives)?
2. Triple up and buy a Drobo FS with more storage than I need, but which at least can keep me feeling secure about the 5 computers (Mac and PC mingled) that keep my home-based business humming?
3. Buy a Mac Mini server and spend a day or two in sheer pain learning how to operate it?

I have been through all the simpler solutions (take weekly images onto an external drive, plus daily data backups, plus a cloud backup) and recently spent two days in hell rebuilding my main machine’s hard drive because I was naive enough to believe they might serve, so I ha, VERY interested in what you or Alex or Karan or Tom or Ray or Comp1962 or others have to say before I plunk down my $1k — and my accountant sez I gotta do it this month. SO TELL ME…

Comp1962 December 3, 2010 at 11:17 pm

All I can say is that WHS has served me well for over 2 years. The client backup is outstanding. If you compliment that with Alexes BDBB to back up the client data base its even more outstanding. I store a wide range of files on my server that I share with others who also use my server. I use the server for streaming my media content within the home and online. I started with an EX470 which I still run today but my primary home server is an HP ProLiant with Duel Opteron Duel Core Processors, duel gigabit nics and obviously more powerful then the HP MediaServers but like them its running WHS OEM. I do believe WHS v1 has a place and works well. It has its quirks but its proven to be a great backup and centralized storeage solution for me. Its very simple to run and easy to maintain. For me I do not forsee another platform that does what WHS does but because it runs well for me I see no reason to look elsewhere either. I must admit I am not pleased with Microsofts decision to remove DE and I can only hope they come up with a solution thats simple and cost effective to run and if not I am still happy with WHS v1. I am sad to see HP discontinue the MediaSmart Server Line but they are selling a low end ProLiant that is priced right and can be used as a WHS or other server software.

If there is one thing WHS is extremely good at and worth running is the Client Backup feature. Just that alone will pay for itself the very first time you put it to use. So regardless if you purchase of Manufactured server or build one WHS v1 is still an affordable solution for client backups and it does way more then that.

About the only thing I can not comment on is the use of WHS with the Mac’s as all my clients are Windows based. So I would have to defer those comments on that to others who have MediaSmart Servers that support the MAC.

Alex Kuretz December 3, 2010 at 11:28 pm

Arthur, if you have decided that Windows Home Server is the right solution, I don’t see any reason to change your mind now as the announcement from Microsoft is about the upcoming version 2 of WHS. There isn’t another solution that’s as simple and effective as WHS, so if you need backups (you do), easily expandable storage (it’s really nice), and the rest of the features that WHS provides I encourage you to make a purchase. You may also be able to find some great deals right now on the HP servers as they have recently been discontinued.

Let us know what end up doing!

Arthur P. Johnson July 10, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Hey Alex, I wound up purchasing an Acer Aspire incarnation of WHS 2003, and it has already saved my bacon more than once. Drive extender performed flawlessly as I sequentially upgraded my storage with an old 250gig drive, a new WD 1GB Caviar Blue and a 2Gb Caviar Green; when I pulled the ancient 250 gigger and substituted another 1TB CG, it also handled it without complaint. All in all, it’s been a total pleasure. Thanks for the encouragement!

Alex Kuretz July 11, 2011 at 9:33 am

Glad it has worked out for you, thanks for the update. :)

John Whittington December 9, 2010 at 2:02 pm

As someone with two WHS installations, to me the whole value of WHS is in the drive extender part. It’s what attracted me to WHS in the first place. So for me there is zero value in Vail without DE.

It’s a pity as WHS has been one of the best “products” I’ve come across for a long time – it doesn’t have delusions of grandeur, just works day in, day out, and doesn’t require any great expertise to maintain.

So I’ll just continue to use WHS v1.

jwc December 11, 2010 at 8:39 am

I dropped WHS a few months ago and went with Unraid. Same idea, more work to set up but after it is set up it just works. linux based (pros and cons to that, I am not a linux guy).

Unraid uses a single drive (the biggest drive in the system) to store the parity info and after that you can add drives at will.

I now have a media server with about 11 terrabytes available storage, 3 tb used for video, all photos and videos, etc.

Nice. But it is ONLY a media / file server.

jwc

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