Windows Home Server: All Better, Only It’s 7 Months Laterby Ryan Smith on July 22, 2008 12:00 AM EST
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- Ryan's Ramblings
If you recall my past blog post on Windows Home Server, we were discussing a critical file corruption bug in the operating system that Microsoft had finally identified. The Drive Extender technology for handling the WHS storage pool had a particularly nasty and hard to fix race condition that resulted in data corruption in certain situations when the service was migrating data from one drive to another. Due to the nature of the bug and Microsoft’s desire to pack the fix with Power Pack 1, the delivery of the fix was not expected for 3 months, which at the time would have made the delivery date June.
June came and went, the Power Pack was nowhere to be found. Microsoft did release a public beta of the Power Pack in June, but this is hardly the same. As any professional server administrator can tell you, you don’t test new patches on your production servers.
Finally, as July comes to a close, Microsoft has released the shipping version of Power Pack 1. Now if you haven’t quite picked up on the tone of this blog post yet, I am not particularly happy with the situation. I’m quite happy that the issue has been fixed, I am also happy that Microsoft has deployed the rest of the Power Pack 1 features, but I am not happy with how long it has taken.
When we get right down to it, the corruption issue was first acknowledged 7 months ago back on December 21st of 2007. And while we acknowledge that the issue is a particularly complex one that took Microsoft months just to completely identify, does this change the fact that the problem has taken an extraordinarily long time to correct? No, it does not.
In what other industry and with what other product is it acceptable for a common data corruption issue to persist in a server for this long? In what other situation is it appropriate to continue selling faulty software and devices utilizing that software after the faulty condition has been found? Unless you are enough of a computer enthusiast to read sites like AnandTech, there’s a good chance you would not have even known about the issue.
While WHS is a home product and I certainly don’t expect the same kind of rapid response from Microsoft for it as I would Windows Server products, WHS is still a server, one that until this week had a major malfunction. Call it vitriol or call it common sense, but a bug fix for an issue of this kind of importance should not take this long. This is certainly the worst support I have ever seen for a Microsoft operating system that I can recall; I cannot recall a bug like this having ever gone unfixed for this long before.
Microsoft should be ashamed of themselves (at least as much as a large multi-national corporation can be) on the matter. While I hesitate to blame the WHS development team directly because not everything is in their hands, it’s certainly appropriate to blame Microsoft as a whole. Would committing more resources to WHS have resulted in a bug fix coming sooner? Potentially. Pulling the sales of WHS devices (particularly 2+ drive servers) should definitely have happened however, along with pulling the OEM copies of the software itself. The single greatest problem is that a bug like this existed, but the second greatest problem was that WHS continued to be sold, and this is something that could have immediately been resolved.
So here we are, 7 months after the bug was first acknowledged and just a year after WHS first shipped. At this point the data corruption issue is fixed and it’s once again safe to use a WHS with multiple drives, and knock-on-wood there are no further corruption problems in the OS. But I find myself reflecting on what I said back in March, “It also undermines a great deal of confidence in Microsoft that will take some time to recover.” I have a troubling lack of confidence in Microsoft’s ability to support Windows Home Server, and I can’t bring myself to once again recommend Windows Home Server at this time. I still have hope for the next version of WHS, but I think that Microsoft has blown it for WHS v1, it’s a v1 product that should be avoided. This is a shame for HP in particular, as Microsoft’s premiere US partner for WHS in the United States they have gone above and beyond everyone else (even Microsoft) to improve the WHS experience and to produce some really good servers, and ultimately it’s what Microsoft has or has not done that makes it all a moot point.
With that said, not everything is a bad thing today. Besides fixing the data corruption bug, Power Pack 1 adds a number of features and fixes that resolve our earlier issues with WHS when we first previewed it. The long-awaited connector package for Vista x64 is here, allowing computers running that OS to be backed up, and you can now back up the server itself to an external disk. Furthermore network I/O has been significantly improved in some cases so that WHS isn’t nearly as pokey as it once was (although we’d still like Vista’s file I/O prioritization) and the Drive Extender service behavior has changed so that it no longer engages in file balancing as much. Even lesser features such as the ActiveX control for the web access portion has been beefed up to better handle uploading large files and multiple files. Even without the data corruption fix, Power Pack 1 is a big update for WHS that everyone with a WHS box will likely enjoy.