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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  • davepermen - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    but this follows the "i just buy much too much to most likely never hit the limit" approach, which we get forced to, now, from microsoft.

    can you extend your raid10 if there are more storage needs? can you extend it by any disk you want (maybe you don't want to buy 2tb drives a year from now, but 3tb ones). can you extend it over different sata controllers, raid controllers, usb (3) controllers, and even a nas? and can you do all that with just plugging in, say "add", and be done?

    DE is about growing with needs. your raid is about "big enough to hopefully never need to grow".

    and microsofts next plan is the same: sell finished boxes, and hope the customer just buys a new box, if the limits are reached.

    and yes, the constant balancing led to some problems (some more than others). which was why it was requested to get fixed for whs2. nothing else. not dropping it or anything.

    what if your raid controller dies? can you still get to your data, then? if you say yes, are you sure? are you sure, 5 years from now?

    and btw, i like to play with such things. still, having a pool of secured data, that i can let easily grow as needed, that is just awesome. raid doesn't give me that.
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    No, I'm aware that Raid 10 is set. I didn't mention that I do have 4Tb, 2x 2Tb drives for backup as I'm not silly enough to let my data sit on a supposedly protected Raid 10.

    As it stands, WHS V1 is gone and I'll wait to see what WHS v2 has to offer.

    P.s. I have four PCI-E slots free for additional raid if needed but yes, DE was so VERY, VERY easy and it's a shame it's gone. I'm sure that certain 'oems' applied pressure.
    Reply
  • CUfuzzy - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    DE was THE selling point that made me build a WHS in the first place! Without it, I will not be up(down?)grading to Vail. Reply
  • GeorgeH - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    This. DE was the only reason I recommended WHS - if it's gone, so is WHS as far as I'm concerned. Reply
  • haplo602 - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    and DE is important WHY ?

    we have onbaord raids that do the same thing I guess. on a HOME server, there's realy no need for 'enterprise features'.

    I have to admit my lack of any knowledge about WHS/DE. But it does not seem as a big point to me compared to widespread onboard raid availability.
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    "I have to admit my lack of any knowledge about WHS/DE."

    Then why comment if you're not sure on the matter. DE was pure simplicity to use. You have 2TB in storage space and need to add into that, slap another drive, add it to storage and there you go. You could then duplicate your data to be safe
    Reply
  • heymrdj - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    Not only that but you could use any disk you want. When I needed just that bit of extra space while waiting on a new 2TB I put in an old 320GB IDE drive and added it to the pool. With a RAID array I couldn't do that, I'd have to add the drive seperate of the pool, then drag and drop folders till it balanced out, and remember what I seperated. WHS just does that for me, keeping the disks used in one pool until I added the 2TB, then ran through the remove disk wizard which drained the 320GB out onto the disks and let me remove it again.

    Simplicity.
    Reply
  • erwos - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    Have you ever tried to extend a RAID5? It's not easy, nor is it pretty.

    With DE, you just add another drive to the system, and it just works.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    DE is an expendable JBOD array with enough intelligence at the filesystemish layer that also provides on-demand mirroring at the file/folder level. Reply
  • archer75 - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    While I did not like DE in Vail(high overhead, poor performance, drives not readable in other computers) I do think DE in v1 is great. The entire reason I use WHS is because of the drive pooling and data protection. I just wish it used some form of RAID other than the traditional(see unraid, flexraid, drobo)

    Being able to use drives of any size and pool those drives is an absolute must. I have a ____ case that supports 22 hard drives. In it I have 2x 500gb, 4x 750gb, 6x 1tb, 2x 1.5tb and 2x 2tb. I just buy whatever is the biggest drive available when I need more space. Plug it in and add it to the pool and away I go. I have 5.2tb of movies/tv shows, alone. I'm not going to now split that across multiple raid arrays and have multiple similar shares to work with on my network.

    For me, everything that was special about WHS has been removed. DE in vail was not the right path. But neither is scrapping it entirely. There are better options.
    Flexraid won't work for me. But flexraid live, if it ever sees the light of day, would.
    Reply

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