Back in April we dissected Drive Extender v2 – Microsoft’s storage pool and data duplication technology for Windows Home Server – based upon the first preview release of Windows Home Server “Vail”. In “Vail”, Microsoft was going to significantly overhaul this cornerstone piece of technology for WHS, replacing the file-centric Drive Extender v1 with the block-centric Drive Extender v2. In a nutshell DE v2 was intended to fully modernize the underpinnings of Drive Extender by bringing it closer to contemporary peers like ZFS, and in turn bringing with it a number of performance, compatibility, and data reliability benefits.

With such a change would also come some drawbacks compared to the existing implementation of Drive Extender, but it’s nothing we expected Microsoft wouldn’t be able to surmount. Certainly everything seems to have been firing on all cylinders over at Microsoft, as WHS “Vail” was joined by 2 additional business-focused WHS offshoots, Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials and Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials.

So imagine our utter shock when we found out that Microsoft is going to be removing Drive Extender entirely from “Vail” and the rest of its offshoots. Effective immediately, Microsoft is dropping Drive Extender from all of these second-generation WHS operating systems, and instead will be releasing these OSes without a native storage pool/duplication feature.

Ultimately Microsoft is citing the feedback based on the potential drawbacks of DE v2 such as the inability for other OSes to read DE v2 disks, and what Microsoft believes is a diminished need for DE with the availability of 2TB+ hard drives. The needs of “Vail’s” two business-class offshoots may have also played a part, as Microsoft notes that “our development for these products is very closely tied, a decision like this affects all three.” What we can easily imagine however is that DE v2 development was not going as well for Microsoft as they hoped, as OS programmers and drive makers alike can tell you just how difficult it is to design a new product/filesystem while avoiding corruption – even Microsoft got it wrong the first time. DE v2 by extension was going to be pushing the envelope as far as what any consumer filesystem was capable of.

In any case at this point we’re still trying to scoop our jaws off of the floor. Drive Extender is by no means the only major feature of Windows Home Server – least we forget remote access and client backups – but it’s certainly a cornerstone of the OS and goes hand-in-hand with the OS’s file server capabilities. The loss of DE further blurs the line between WHS and Linux, not to mention reduces the separation between it and dedicated NAS boxes.

Ultimately however this is only the beginning of the story for WHS “Vail”; Microsoft has made it clear there’s still a great deal to discuss about “Vail” at CES next year, so hopefully by then we won’t be left scratching our heads at where exactly Microsoft is going with the next iteration of their Home Server line of OSes.

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  • Parag2k3 - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    I use Amahi for my home server. Although it takes some time to set up, you get easy to use web based controls. On top of DE inspired file duplication, you get opendns, openvpn, and web apps like bittorrent. You can also use the server as a linux desktop as well. Reply
  • FATCamaro - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    First of Ryan Smith is very wrong comparing Drive Extender to ZFS. If anything I would compare it to LVM/RAID combination. Of course Drive Extender is much better than LVM/RAID.
    I wanted Drive Extender since I was gong to build a WHS box for my parents since I have a technet license. Now i'm not sure if I should stick with version 1 and add a bunch
    Reply
  • therealnickdanger - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    I'm not certain that this really bothers me. My current WHS runs a hardware RAID-5 with duplication off. My next will likely be RAID-5 as well (or RAID-6). I can see their reasoning on the one hand... but if you're ditching the new version, why not at least keep the old version for those that want it? Reply
  • Doormat - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    While this is a tech site, not everyone wants to be neck deep in tech all the time. I love my WHS box because its dead simple and I don't have to devote weekends to fixing it if it breaks or runs out of space. I just throw in a new HDD and go from there. My biggest gripe at this point is that 3TB disks aren't supported by BIOS. Reply
  • therealnickdanger - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    Is RAID really "neck deep" anymore? It seems like most mobos have the feature built in and add-in card have great setup info... just hit F6 or F10 and it practically builds itself. To me, the subjective inconvenience of RAID far outweighs the performance hit of WHS file duplication.

    Diff'rent Strokes, I suppose.
    Reply
  • Etsp - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    It is when you want to add storage space.

    One of the major benefits of DE is you could simply add a HD to the storage pool and increase your storage. In a RAID situation, you would need to backup the data on the raid, add the drive, rebuild the array to include the additional drive, and restore the data. Or you can buy at least three new drives, install and configure them, and then copy the data over. But I don't know how many systems have enough SATA ports to support that kind of move.

    Just out of curiosity, how many drives in your RAID array that you would be considering RAID-6?
    Reply
  • MadMan007 - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    I can see them not doing DE v2 if there are development time issues, but no DE *at all*? That's just a completely rediculous and horrible decision. The ability to add drives seamlessly to an already set up WHS box is one of the very major appeals of WHS...heck, most all of all the commercial WHS boxes include hot-swap bays for just this purpose. I chose WHS over Linux variants because of the simplicity of DE and that I didn't want to spend lots of time learning Linux. Without DE a major, major advantage of WHS is gone, most all of the other features can be made up for with alternative software.

    This is an inept decision and whoever made the decision to remove DE entirely ought to be axed.
    Reply
  • Kaboose - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    I can also agree dropping DE v2 might have been a good idea for the time being, but dropping DE entirely is just foolhardy, yes with larger hard drives becoming cheap it isn't as important, but i feel there is a niche this filled which will now go unfilled. Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    Who has (Had) a 14Terrraaabyytteee WHS, I'm not exactly going to miss it. Sure, it does it's job, but a whole load of people had had speed problems with constant balancing.

    My servre is (Funnily enough) right next to me and I've opted for a vanilla 2008 R2 server install onto a Crucial SSD, with 4 2Tb drives in RAID 10.

    That'll do. (Yes, I am aware that most people don't want to play with these things)
    Reply

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