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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  • docbones - Monday, November 29, 2010 - link

    Totally agree, the problem with Vail was that for large files that you didnt want to waste space duplicating with Vail had a huge issue. Lets say you have 3tb of video, you dont need it live stored twice - you can re-rip it if needed.

    A drive goes out in WHS 1, okay, just the files that where in that 1 drive are gone. In Vail - you loose ALL of it.
  • Sportbikerr1 - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    RE: Microsoft has made it clear there’s still a great deal to discuss about “Vail” at CES next year

    The discussion should go like this:
    Q: Does Vail have drive extender?
    A: No
    ... Walk away... end of discussion
  • tonyn84 - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    I must be the only one who is happy with this news, I actually had a rather annoying experience when testing this since it was impossible to read your files off of the hard drive from any other pc, ended up having to recopy all the data I had stored on it (a major pain since it was spread out across 3 other pcs). Yes these are server systems but they aren't exactly built on server quality parts, if you ever have to reinstall the OS, you're kinda screwed. Reply
  • erwos - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    You should be backing up your WHS. I know that sounds redundant, but it's really not. Reply
  • tonyn84 - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    That's the problem, back it up to what? The folder duplication option is kind of useless if only the original install can read the data. So then you're making manual backups to an external drive? Why bother with the server, just back up each pc on its own. Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Monday, November 29, 2010 - link

    Actually, the idea is this:

    a) Back up all of your systems to a WHS box
    b) Back up your WHS box to an external drive
    c) In case of fire or disaster, grab external drive and run
    d) Restore from external drive to next WHS you build.

    RAID or Drive Extender is only a precaution against drive failure. If you delete a file, or screw something up yourself, neither of them help; you should still have a backup.

    P.S. You can get data off the backup drive in WHS v1 without having WHS installed on a box, too.
  • Squuiid - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    Time to look at one of these...

    Only $930 with battery backup... 'sigh'. Again, this is such a poor decision!
  • name99 - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    "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."

    Ahh. So the codename Longhorn means nothing to you?

    I don't want to criticize MS any more --- it might have been fun in the early 2000s, but now it's just sad. However it does seem reasonable to ask the question: "When it comes to storage, WTF MS?".

    It's reasonable to point out that:

    (a) storage is hard --- no-one is willing to tolerate errors, and at the same time you have to jump through many many hoops to get speed

    (b) Apple has also not shipped any great leaps forward in storage over the past few years.
    The difference is that Apple operates on a model of (for the most part) not announcing something until they are pretty sure it works. There might have been a lot of hoping and dreaming around ZFS within OSX, but Apple never promised or claimed anything either way. Rather, Apple upgrades the file system quietly --- so quietly that many of the newer features like the automatic movement of hot files to the faster parts of the disk, or storing small files in the catalog record, are unknown even most Apple enthusiasts, let alone the outside world.

    The problem with MS seems to be (ironically enough, given the standard claim that Apple is the marketing driven company) that marketers drive the press image of the company regardless of what engineering says. And so we get, repeatedly, these sorts of elaborate promises of what the future will bring, totally decoupled from what engineering has running in the labs.
    I can't help but wonder if we're going to see yet another replay of this when Windows 8 comes out. We heard breathless claims last year about the new super-ultra-nano-really-really-small kernel for Windows, which we've stopped hearing about. The current story is about how Win8 will be super-ultra-virtualized. One suspects that, in spite of all this, what will ship with Windows 8 is a shinier, somewhat improved Win 7 with all these grand rewritings, from new micro-kernel to super virtualization all abandoned along the way.
  • sxr7171 - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    I have tried and tried to get this OS to work for me and its a hopeless cause. I can list several *really dumb* issues in WHS v1.

    1. When copying a 40GB+ file DE does not even check to see if the drive it chose to copy the file to has sufficient space to accept the file. I have gotten all kinds of stupid errors. I needed to run an unsupported "drive balancer" program to get it to reshuffle the data for about 1 full week before I had at least 40GB available on ALL drives before I could successfully copy the file over.

    2. I used to get crazy stutters when playing Blu-Ray ISOs from the WHS machine which was a homebuilt dual core at 3.2GHz with 4GB RAM. I used to think it was some network configuration issue and I spent months and $$$ trying to fix the problem. It turned out that it was just WHS. Just pathetic performance. Yes you can get 80MBps+ transfers to the system, but it won't read data off the system at that speed. Just not good for that use.

    3. Random stupid errors from the console about some file not able to be read or some stupid thing or another. Yes they happen and I think you lose data when the cause is something other than the most common "file in use" error. Anyway the system is not reliable and just a real PITA popping up stupid errors on all your client machines.

    4. More stupid errors alerting you to a lack of firewall or AV software on your client machines when in fact the machine in question is running Windows Firewall and Microsoft Security essentials.

    Then I tried Vail both Beta 1 and Beta 2. Vail fixes some of the above problems and creates others. However I won't really judge it as it is a beta. I lost data, but I had a copy on my WHS v1 server. These are things I experienced:

    1. I lost data on the beta 2 install. You cannot run a database repair to recover your data as it is a listed bug. It does not work.

    2. Slow, slow, slow performance. I never got a transfer into or out of that thing at higher than 35-40MBps. USB 2.0 drives approach that speed.

    3. Beta 1 is more stable than Beta 2. Beta 2 came out with 2 new bugs, quite major bugs that could cause data loss. One had a patch on launch day but those clowns at MS could not be bothered to patch it into the ISO file. Such is their laziness and callousness.

    4. Vail is extremely inefficient. It must duplicate your data and also take an extra 12% on each copy to perform ECC. While I admit the ECC is important, if they were going to redesign DE completely and render it unreadable by Windows machines they could have designed something a little more advanced in terms of a software RAID product. They chose a glorified RAID-1 with 12% ECC penalty and slow performance and loss of compatibility with all other Windows machines. What a stupid, moronic set of trade offs.

    Okay so now they even got rid of DE. This product is useless for data storage. I have seen and experienced just how stupid MS programmers are. They are utterly incapable of releasing a data storage product that does not lose data (remember WHSv1 and now the WHSv2 betas?) They cannot create a file system more clever than glorified RAID-1, and they cannot offer a driver to allow it to be read from other Windows machines. They have failed to bring WinFS to Windows for almost of decade now. I have concluded that while MS programmers are likely brilliant, together they are organized at MS to produce works of pure incompetence.

    WHS is one such product.

    I do currently use WHS v1. I use it ONLY for:

    1. Client backups
    2. Store WMC recorded TV

    For real file storage I switched to Open Solaris ZFS based Nexentastor. I could be happier. Reliable, easy, fast. My Blu-Rays NEVER stutter. My file transfers are fast. My system could lose 2 drives simultaneously and my overhead is a mere fraction of what it was. I gained 80% in usable storage space. ZFS protects against bit-flipping while WHSv2 does at a 12% space penalty.

    All my storage problems have ceased since I switched to ZFS. When I was using WHS, I had dilemma after dilemma. It really took a toll on me just troubleshooting and planning upgrades and trying to fix the system. The fix was switching away from it. I could not possibly in my right ever recommend that anyone consider this amateurish junk for their long-term storage needs. The product is utter garbage and the successor looks like it will follow in it footsteps.

    Do yourself a favor and don't waste your time on WHS. Trust me I tried to make it work for 2.5 years. I just spent over 30 minutes of my valuable free time to warn my fellow ATers to not waste your time with this. You can choose to disregard this, but trust me you will pay in headaches and troubleshooting. Use it client backups only. Just get the cheapest Acer/HP you can find and limit it to that one function. That's all it really does and admittedly does well.
  • john_nj - Friday, November 26, 2010 - link

    My current server build (3.2 GHz i5, 4 gig, 16 x 1.5 TB Seagate drives spread across direct attach SATA and a couple of ESATA multiplier chassis, and a BD drive) has been pretty solid since I built it. Prior to that I was running an HP also maxed with 1.5 drives. The migration was easy because of the DEv1 feature of having member drives readable as normal NTFS volumes.

    Anyway, here's my experience with your issues:

    1. I'm assuming that you're working with single files of this size when ripping bd. In the past I did that a lot, not so much now because I'm running out of movies I want in my collection. Never had file system problem with a disk being too full to receive the iso.

    2. I stream those bd iso images to my main PCH C-200 all the time. No stuttering.

    3. I used to see the sharing violation pretty often if I'd leave applications open on the server, but I've never seen any errors that were the precursor data loss.

    4. It sounds like you have a ton of PC clients attached, so maybe your experience is different than mine. On the two PC clients I have attached for backups I just turn off the WHS error flagging and on the server I set those to ignore.

    I never installed Vail, because I knew from the get go that DEv2 wasn't going to allow for member disks to be read outside of the pool or on another machine.

    One of the things I like about DE is that I can have a single really huge volume that my various shares can utilize in a dynamic manner. I can have my media library take up as much room as it needs to without having to branch out the structure I set up into different shares or volumes. My pool consists of 21TB of storage and I have the other two drives in use as out of pool backup of critical files and another as a scratch drive for mkv conversions.

    The problems you experienced don't match up to what I've seen personally, but I'm glad that ZFS is a good solution for you and that your frustration is ended. Just out of curiosity, how big is your ZFS volume? How big can you make them? Can you span them across multiple ESATA multiplier arrays?

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