Microsoft abandons Drive Extender for Windows Home Server Vail

In a very unexpected move, Microsoft has removed the Drive Extender technology that is a part of the Windows Home Server and Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 products.

The technology, which only existed in Windows Home Server and Storage Server allows users to combine their drive storage using a combination of internal and external drives, to create a large storage pool for media, as well as replicating the data to protect against failure. Essentially, shared folders became entire volumes for media.

Microsoft says that the move is largely down to that they've had extensive feedback from customers about Drive Extender, and it largely has been negative. Customers have complained that when the drive replication fails, there is no way to recover data, as the server technology uses features that are not found in any other version of Windows, meaning that the data is not recoverable. In addition to this, larger drives have become more available, with the advent of 1TB drives, and 2TB drives being close to becoming feasible, Microsoft says the technology is no longer required.

Many comments on the blog post were also bad, too. A large amount of Windows Home Server customers liked the feature, with two users saying:

Well, congratulations.  I have 3 HP Mediasmart servers in my family, and was planning on going with a new one based on Vail when it got released.  Good job, MS- you've just shot yourself in the foot

Most stupid decision ever. It was THE main selling point. All the people I sold a home server got it for THAT reason. Else, they would have bought just another NAS.

According to Microsoft, Windows Home Server is still on track for a 1st half of 2011 release, and will deliver the same feature set, minus the Drive Extender technology. 

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Really stupid decision!
Good thing I decided not to wait for Vail and instead built a WHS last summer…
DriveExtender was one of the main reasons for me to use WHS, if they don't provide an as easy to use alternative, I'm gonna use Windows 7 Prof as replacement for WHS (at one point in the future I will have to update as 2TB drives are max for WHS…)

Actually, most of the hue and cry was from OEMs - but not for kludginess reasons. The issue became crossover with Windows Server 2008 R2's Standard Server (the base R2 deployment, which is as a file server). The OEM concern is that Vail (which is based on R2) could cannibalize R2 sales (especially small business). Instead, if you want SECURE storage, you have to buy R2 itself. Could this be the "Windows ME" of server OSes?

What's going to be really ugly is what the OEMs do. I expect that in the new config, you'll be able to buy a single-drive system from HP just like you always could. A 2-drive system will come with mirrored storage. Then if users want to add disk space, they'll need to buy TWO spindles and mirror them instead of simply adding 1 additional drive. Then the 4 bays will be full and the only way to upgrade at that point will be to replace drives that contain actual data or buying an entirely new server.

Agree here... Since WHS is supposed to be a SECURE storage I'd hate if it had a single point of failure with no recovery path. If DE was readable in Win7 or any other platform I'd go for it. But without it I'm glad it was removed.

roadwarrior said,
I've never used WHS, so never used this feature, but how exactly is it different than simply mounting a new drive as a folder within an existing volume?
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/307889

DE can span any number of drives - it isolates folders from volumes. You can have one folder span multiple hard drives - say a folder with 1 TB of data spanning two 750Gb HDDs. Adding/removing HDDs to the pool is painless. If you run low on space, pop in another HDD, and all of a sudden all that space is available to *all* the folders. It can also do software raid on a folder-by-folder basis - that way you can have your photo folder replicated across all the hard drives, but your raw video folder not duplicated, so as to save space.

It is quite the ingenious solution to a home NAS - it's the reason I went with WHS over other NAS solutions.

NateB1 said,

DE can span any number of drives - it isolates folders from volumes. You can have one folder span multiple hard drives - say a folder with 1 TB of data spanning two 750Gb HDDs. Adding/removing HDDs to the pool is painless. If you run low on space, pop in another HDD, and all of a sudden all that space is available to *all* the folders. It can also do software raid on a folder-by-folder basis - that way you can have your photo folder replicated across all the hard drives, but your raw video folder not duplicated, so as to save space.

It is quite the ingenious solution to a home NAS - it's the reason I went with WHS over other NAS solutions.

Maybe I'm wrong in thinking this but don't they have a better, more advanced way of doing this in the enterprise level versions of Win Server? Making it easy for you to add more space should still be there but done in the background in some other way.

Funny, a lot of people seem to want the feature on the server, but put it on the phone and OMG people are outraged.

I for one want a ubiquitous windows experience.

The use case for a phone and a server is very different. With a phone the only reason people swap memory cards frequently is because they are limited for space and want to jump about...if they dont know where files are they can't do that.

How often do people hot swap HDD's in a PC on the other hand? Besides, half the issue is just the state it leaves your card in after the format and the fact theres no documentation as to what ones are supported properly.

Apples to Oranges.

It was the only feature of whs that made it worth getting, everything else you can do with opensource apps, silly move microsoft. Guess when my current WHS v1 starts to get dated i will make the transition to Amahi it is looking very polished these days and although i know a little of linux it is simple enough that you dont need to worry. Very Disappointed.

J400uk said,
I think its a good decision, always thought it was pointless myself.

agreed... most people flipping out probably have no idea of the tons of other options this opens up to be more standard, easier to maintain.. MS will undoubtedly come up with a "point and click wizard"

Strange how they instead of improving the implementation to address most shortcomings in the initial version, just says they'll cancel it. I mean, yes, there seem to have been problems with it, and yes, the feature sounds pretty revolutionary for Windows.

Northgrove said,
Strange how they instead of improving the implementation to address most shortcomings in the initial version, just says they'll cancel it. I mean, yes, there seem to have been problems with it, and yes, the feature sounds pretty revolutionary for Windows.

They are improving it, but dropping it. It was only used on WHS and some other non existent mid-level server. Now the same technology that runs corporate volumes will run home volumes so if you need to recover/move disks you can do so with the same technology across all windows platforms. If they do it right (using current technology available or from 3rd parties) you could even "encapsulate" a disk with data on it already and not be forced to format a disk or buy a spare WHS to backup your main WHS (which if you needed a spare, doesn't that mean there is a huge problem of reliability to begin with??)

Darrian said,
No longer required? How else am I going to reasonably build a 50 TB media center?

I've been looking at the new NetApp shelves - 24 2TB spindles in 4U. I assume you'll want a spare or two, so add a couple of shelves. It's reasonable for everything but price for the home user.

I still prefer using WHS. Using a "Linux" server when every PC in the house runs Windows is a pain. Drive sharing with Samba is quite slow. I've tried it and unless I did something really wrong, it was not a pleasant experience.

Btw win2k8 supports native volume resizing and shadow copy plus software mirroring if hardware doesn't provide it. I wouldn't be surprised if ms creates a GUI to make volume management feel simple like DE felt. most people won't even notice anything but much better performance and standard features to have more recovery options with!

blahism said,
Btw win2k8 supports native volume resizing and shadow copy plus software mirroring if hardware doesn't provide it. I wouldn't be surprised if ms creates a GUI to make volume management feel simple like DE felt. most people won't even notice anything but much better performance and standard features to have more recovery options with!

Volume resizing isn't going to help me create a single volume out of two or more disks is it. It's not going to automatically maintain duplicate copies of files either.

There was a presentation by one of the MS developers working on Vail and Aurora at a recent EU tech event that showed it still to be apart of Vail. I guess s/w mirroring or replication will still be available as part of the OS just not as part of the proprietary disk extender technology which prevented other OS' from reading drives using it.

I was doing research for a future WHS I'm planning to buy or build, and hated it for the fact that you would lose half your space for backup copies. Say you build an array with 6 2TB disks, with raid 5 you lose 2TB, with drive replication you lose 6TB. That's a lot of space. The replication wasn't even real-time so if a drive dies before replication is complete you lose your data.

If you implement raid 6 you would only lose 4TB and if any 2 drives fail you can still recover, with drive-extender if you lose the 2 drives with the same data you're screwed.

Raid is simply more efficient.

What I don't understand though is why they're completely removing it. From what I understand there's nothing stopping you from creating a raid array and running WHS on it. The array is essentially invisible to the OS and it will just see it as one big drive. In fact a lot of the WHS machines available already support raid.

Well the obvious assumption is when that first drive goes you replace it ASAP before the second one also goes. It's pretty unlikely you'd lose those two specific drives at once unless there was far larger issues with your system.

giantpotato said,
I
If you implement raid 6 you would only lose 4TB and if any 2 drives fail you can still recover, with drive-extender if you lose the 2 drives with the same data you're screwed.

Raid is simply more efficient.


Certainly RAID 5 or RAID 6 is more efficient than RAID 1 (mirroring). However, if you only want to mirror 10% of your data and don't replicate your backups, this is no longer the case - you'll be forced into a situation where you mirror a couple of drives and then need to add some unmirrored drives.

If I have 3 500B drives in a 4-bay RAID5 config and want to add 1TB in, what do I need to do? Yup, back it all up (to what?), replace *all* the drives, and restore it all. In a DE environment, you buy a new 1 or 2TB drive and you're pretty much done.

DE wasn't perfect - for example, it didn't handle the loss of the C: drive. However, it did solve a lot of problems by allowing users to easily grow their storage pool, something you simply can't do in a RAID5 or 6 configuration.

ewilts said,
In an earlier blog posting from Microsoft: “geeks, when encountering Windows Home Server for the first time, often ask the question “Why doesn't Windows Home Server use RAID?”. The simplest answer is RAID sucks as the basis for a consumer storage product.”

http://blogs.technet.com/b/hom...-a-consumer-technology.aspx

Back at you, Microsoft

Two years worth of tech advance is quite enough to render that statement invalid.

schubb2003 said,

Two years worth of tech advance is quite enough to render that statement invalid.


What has changed in terms of RAID in the last 2 years? It's still a PITA for the average user... It's still way more inflexible than DE was...

WHS Drive extender was very flawed and stupid hack to begin with:

In v1 it was implemented using hidden files and junctions. That means that you couldn't copy 2 GB file to array with 3Gb free if those 3Gb were distributed between as 1.5Gb + 1.5Gb. In v1 you could recover half of your files if one of the drives died. In v you can connect a single drive to a Windows machine and copy some files from it.

In v2 they started stripping the data in 1Gb chunks. If one disk dies, all data is lost completely. The file system is not readable by ANY Windows machine (other than WHS).

People hated the v2 Drive Extender and voted against it. v1 DE is rather lame too. Both had issues with data duplication, speed and data protection/recovery. They sould just create a good portable software RAID5 solution instead of these gimmicks. (BTW RAID 5 was removed from Windows 7 though you can still see it in Drive Management)

RealFduch said,
WHS Drive extender was very flawed and stupid hack to begin with:

In v1 it was implemented using hidden files and junctions. That means that you couldn't copy 2 GB file to array with 3Gb free if those 3Gb were distributed between as 1.5Gb + 1.5Gb. In v1 you could recover half of your files if one of the drives died. In v you can connect a single drive to a Windows machine and copy some files from it.

In v2 they started stripping the data in 1Gb chunks. If one disk dies, all data is lost completely. The file system is not readable by ANY Windows machine (other than WHS).

People hated the v2 Drive Extender and voted against it. v1 DE is rather lame too. Both had issues with data duplication, speed and data protection/recovery. They sould just create a good portable software RAID5 solution instead of these gimmicks. (BTW RAID 5 was removed from Windows 7 though you can still see it in Drive Management)

You could, however, take those drives in the storage pool, plug them in to *another* WHS server, and the storage pool would show up *and* you could retrieve data from the drives (I know because I tried it). I really don't see an issue with how they did it with v2. If you already have a WHS, what's the big deal about installing it on another hard drive and hooking the originals up?

NateB1 said,

You could, however, take those drives in the storage pool, plug them in to *another* WHS server, and the storage pool would show up *and* you could retrieve data from the drives (I know because I tried it). I really don't see an issue with how they did it with v2. If you already have a WHS, what's the big deal about installing it on another hard drive and hooking the originals up?


The only thing that DEv1 had on RAID was NTFS.
DEv2 is slower, consumes more space and gives worse protection than RAID.

RealFduch said,

DEv2 is slower
DE has never been about performance. It was for backups and the odd media streaming, not hosting enterprise applications. Performance wise it was more than fine for the task it was designed for.

lol the first time i read the title i was thinking along the line
'Microsoft abandons windows defender ......etc'

then i realized ....

Looks like they've got a request from OEMs. With DE, OEM cannot build in a more expensive hardware (RAID) and get more money. Now the problem has been solved...

Stupid decision. And what is an option now?

cpu said,
Looks like they've got a request from OEMs. With DE, OEM cannot build in a more expensive hardware (RAID) and get more money. Now the problem has been solved...

Stupid decision. And what is an option now?


Switch to Ubuntu and use rsync

Whilst I do like file replication, I dont like the fact that the files are not recoverable from other windows machines... Im sure there are plenty of other options, even if as simple as folder sync, mirror.. etc.. at least that way you would have more control over what is duplicated and where it is duplicated... I never liked the fact you had no control over this.

I'm not entirely sure what Drive Extender does when I read this news post. Is it something like software JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks)?

RuuddieBoy said,
I'm not entirely sure what Drive Extender does when I read this news post. Is it something like software JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks)?
Pretty much, with data replication just in the case that a hard drive fails.

Just use raid or software raid. Ms can include a light partition extender to do what users want without maintaining a complex proprietary volume system unique only to whs. Love the decision. Whs Vail is shaping up superbly.

blahism said,
Just use raid or software raid. Ms can include a light partition extender to do what users want without maintaining a complex proprietary volume system unique only to whs. Love the decision. Whs Vail is shaping up superbly.

Blahism you are clueless to this issue. Have you ever used WHS? It is managed by a super simple, very lite GUI. Pop in a drive, any size, and it asks you a simple questions like "do you want to add this drive to the storage pool" if yes it does all of the work for you and you are done. If NO then its not added. It even knows when an external drive is plugged in and gives you the option to use that drive as a backup to the server.

This was a STUPID move. I wont upgrade now. Time for a QNAPP or Synology since they can be media servers as well.

I bet this was done because small companies 10 or less users were using these servers as a cheap alternative to SBS. WHS worked well if you have a small shop. File server, backup for all your PC's etc.

I looked real closely at WHS drive replication about a year or two ago, but decided against it. Besides giving me the impression of being "rigged", I also didn't trust the way it replicated. If a file was modified but left with the same size and timestamp, it would not replicate to another drive. This was too concerning for me, so I built my own home server using two mirrored 2TB drives.

Chugworth said,
I also didn't trust the way it replicated. If a file was modified but left with the same size and timestamp, it would not replicate to another drive.

Because it's an everyday occurrence for a file to be modified and left with the same size and timestamp...

bobbba said,

Because it's an everyday occurrence for a file to be modified and left with the same size and timestamp...


If you use TrueCrypt, then: Yes.

Of course, I know TrueCrypt has a checkbox called "Preserve modification timestamp", but still, this demonstrates that the possibility is open for your redundant drive to have outdated copies.

With WHS v1 showing it's age as MS moves on from the XP/2003 era this is a really bad move. To abandon such an important feature and put the release date back by 6 months is going to mark the end of WHS as a product series. If not before the next version, it probably won't be long after it with such a weak feature set.

My biggest surprise was that they seem to be abandoning drive extender without announcing an alternate strategy. I always thought good marketing was to wrap bad news with good news, seems not in this case...

Stebet said,
You might need to sign in to Microsoft Connect first for the link above to work.

I am, still doesn't work

Sraf said,

I am, still doesn't work
Pretty sure you have to be part of the Windows Home Server Code Name "Vail" test group to see it.

Owen W said,

It won't be re-added, the decision has been made

Larger things have been turned around by feedback. We can always hope, the bug already has over 280 votes and 70 comments.

blahism said,

best decision ever if you ask me! The old volume manager was a pita in a failure situation exactly what you don't want on a server like this

Which is why Microsoft extending the drive extender to the business market would have been great. Enterprise quality tools for recovery would have become available, which would greatly increase the chance of recovery since the new drive extenders stored data on disk more reliably and increased the chance of redundancy.

Also, working with drive extender drives would have been no more difficult (and probably actually easier) than working with failed RAID hardware or arrays.

TheChucklesStart said,

Which is why Microsoft extending the drive extender to the business market would have been great. Enterprise quality tools for recovery would have become available, which would greatly increase the chance of recovery since the new drive extenders stored data on disk more reliably and increased the chance of redundancy.

Also, working with drive extender drives would have been no more difficult (and probably actually easier) than working with failed RAID hardware or arrays.

+1

I know it was just a rumor, but I heard it was possible Windows itself would/could eventually get this "technology." I hope this isn't any indication that it won't happen >.>

Mr aldo said,
I know it was just a rumor, but I heard it was possible Windows itself would/could eventually get this "technology." I hope this isn't any indication that it won't happen >.>

You are thinking of WinFS, and yes, that is still happening.

I do think their logic regarding large capacity HDDs is flawed. It's the availability of cheap 2TB drives that makes drive extender essential because there's an increasingly good chance that WHS is going to have to back up one or more PCs with one of those drives.

With DE you could just throw as many disks as necessary at your WHS to ensure you had enough space for your PC backups. Now you'll have to ensure that your largest WHS HDD is larger than your largest PC HDD and that makes matters a lot more complicated. The loss of automatic file duplication is also a serious problem and really undermines the ability of WHS to provide reliable backups and storage.

I call bull whs will be much better without this huge single point of failure. Being based on win2k8 they can use existing LVm technologies to give us more control and functionality without the lazy old disk pool.

Making your data more accessible under normal and failed conditions is a good thing!

Tony. said,
So why couldn't this remain as an optional feature?

Probably for the same reason that Microsoft removed Firewire networking support in Vista.

roadwarrior said,

Probably for the same reason that Microsoft removed Firewire networking support in Vista.
Which was?

Incredibly stupid decision. I have a server running the current WHS Vail OS, and I *love* it. After this, it's back to WHS1 for me, until I can save up enough money for a Drobo.

NateB1 said,
Incredibly stupid decision. I have a server running the current WHS Vail OS, and I *love* it. After this, it's back to WHS1 for me, until I can save up enough money for a Drobo.

Name 1 reason why it is a bad decision.

1. Hardware RAID is harder to work with for consumers that this product is aimed at
2. Out of the box, WHS will end up with no protection from disk failure
3. Adding further storage will be much more complex
4. Existing WHS owners without HW RAID won't want to upgrade
5. Binning half the features of a product isn't likely to encourage sales

1. If its OEM it will have raid built in I'm sure. Raid 1 is faster than DE where it starts to matter on high demands.

2. If you built your own whs server doing a raid setup is easier than figuring out what DE was trying.

I'm pretty sure the drive management and pool system will be like any has system just not based on de but a real lvm that works across the entire platform, not just whs.

1. The vast majority of existing WHS servers have no RAID. RAID 1 requires 2 drives requiring more space for redundancy and significantly reduces flexibility for adding storage.

2. If you built your own setup using an Atom setup for a low power solution you've not got RAID as an option not to mention that RAID is more wasteful and less flexible.

If your only using 1 drive then none of this even matters. Atoms are woefully underpowered for Vail feature set anyway. And looks to have some new chips coming out which may offer more functionality for storage appliances depending on the supporting chipsets.

WHS v1 allowed you to add disks of your own size at your own choosing in a manner that RAID does not. Starting with a 200GB drive and adding a 500GB drive and enabling duplication is easy in WHS v1 and is not something you can do with RAID.

Atom CPUs worked perfectly for WHS, the only WHS feature needing a fast CPU is live video encoding which many people are not interested in. Take a look at how many Atom based WHS boxes there are and you'll get the idea.

An AMD based solution means new hardware and ignores existing setups that would have been fine not to mention that hardware specific solutions increase complexity defeating the stated design goals of WHS.

blahism said,
If your only using 1 drive then none of this even matters. Atoms are woefully underpowered for Vail feature set anyway. And looks to have some new chips coming out which may offer more functionality for storage appliances depending on the supporting chipsets.
I was just going to reply to your first point above but this will do. WHS is a headless machine...you don't need high performance. Things like hardware raid are in many ways overkill for a machine that will be used to back up peoples photos and music. If this was aimed at a corporate environment that would be another matter, but it's not as the name of the product suggests.

For the same reason an Atom CPU should be fine too. For a while I was running the Veil beta on an atom based machine and it worked absolutely fine. The primary purpose of the system is for backups that run over night when people arent using the systems and if the slower processor means it takes a bit longer no one will likely care.

blahism said,

Name 1 reason why it is a bad decision.

If drive extending technologies were useless, than ZFS would not be nearly as popular as it is in the server market.

Also, RAID requires like sized sections of a disk, so if you haven't bought exactly the same size disks, than you are out of luck. For example, the typical NAS can contain 4 drives, assuming raid 5 then you have 3 drives worth of capacity. If you run out of space, you have to replace all 4 drives (you might be able to exceed your original capacity with fewer drives, but you are not able to continue the use of your original drives without reformatting them).

This was a fairly simple procedure in WHS, add the new drive via a temporary external mounting system, remove one of the original drives, stick the new drive in. It is considerably less feasible to set up temporarily 3 extra drives in raid outside of your system to do a migration from a smaller raid array to a larger one.

[quote=TheChucklesStart said,]

If drive extending technologies were useless, than ZFS would not be nearly as popular as it is
[/Qoute]

Zfs is good but de isn't zfs and what de did could be done with standard volume managers. Instead of one big goofy volume you create volumes and encapsulate a new disk into existing volumes as well as build redundancy into the disk solution and not randomly in a pool.

TheChucklesStart said,
Also, RAID requires like sized sections of a disk, so if you haven't bought exactly the same size disks, than you are out of luck.
Yeah RAIDS a far bigger PITA. I'd be lucky to have more than three identical HDD's in the 8 or so in my WHS system. Over the past few years I've taken to putting new drives in my desktop and putting the replaced drive into my WHS.

Pretty much the entire point of WHS was that you could do that and not have to worry about rebuilding the raid or whatever. All you had to do was plug it in and it would go. Hell, if you wanted you could use external USB drives if you wanted.

If you go to the source link you also won't see a single positive reaction to this.

Smigit said,
Yeah RAIDS a far bigger PITA. I'd be lucky to have more than three identical HDD's in the 8 or so in my WHS system. Over the past few years I've taken to putting new drives in my desktop and putting the replaced drive into my WHS.
.

Broken record here, but with Win2k8 r2 disk management you can create logical volumes for your data partitions and span them across disks and expand / grow / shrink them - it just wont' work for external devices which actually shouldn't be part of the main pool anyway. I'm pretty sure MS will leverage the existing gui/ui elements to make volume manager / disk manager a little more "user" friendly..