Windows Home Server: Did Microsoft just shoot themselves in the foot?

Earlier this week, we reported that Microsoft has made the decision to remove Drive Extender from Windows Home Server "Vail" and Windows Small Business Server "Aurora" for good. Many upset customers have spoken out about the change, including prominent bloggers, as well as various others online.

Microsoft may have shot themselves in the foot, unless they make a backtrack decision now; with over 2600 users voting on a "bug" filed for Windows Home Server on Microsoft Connect, with many sharing their anger and frustration.

It seems that one of the primary drivers of Windows Home Server sales was the Drive Extender feature, a tool that allowed users to bridge multiple storage devices (including external hard drives) to create a larger storage pool, which replicated data across devices. Microsoft say there were "listening" to customers, but it seems this is not the whole truth. If you decipher the announcement, they specifically say that they are making the change for this reason:

 We are also seeing further expansion of hard drive sizes at a fast rate, where 2Tb drives and more are becoming easy accessible to small businesses.

Looking at Windows Home Server as a product, this makes no sense. Most home users actually buy WHS because it's the only product that offers the ability to extend storage across many drives, aside from purchasing a NAS, and small businesses shouldn't really be using the product anyway. A home user probably doesn't know what RAID stands for, and just want to buy a product that can do things easily, with minimal effort, just like the HP Media Smart Servers that were released with WHS v1.

If you dig deeper, Paul Thurrott says on his blog that Microsoft removed the feature because of issues that occurred for small businesses under server application loads. Which essentially means that Microsoft is removing the feature from a Home product because Small Businesses were having issues. Is anyone else lost here?

If we're entirely honest, we aren't quite sure who will buy Windows Home Server "Vail" when it's actually released now. Many are saying that they will now only consider a Drobo or other NAS solution for their files, and won't look at the product again. There's still hope though, Microsoft have previously turned around decisions.

If you're disappointed that Microsoft's removed Drive Extender, let the team know on Microsoft Connect

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

Windows 7 gets festive for the holiday season

Next Story

Daily Gaming: November 25, 2010

44 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

What if I need 3-4TB or more?
As since I'm now using a DSLR and only going to shoot RAW (principle) I need a ridiculous amount of space.
Then again I wont use Windows HS to provide my storage needs to my Mac anyways.

GS:mac

Vast majority of replies on this topic are from people who clearly never used WHS and frequented the news groups to understand the issues with Drive Extended. And then there are those who would suggest using Server 2008 as a replacement but then you miss the point of WHS as well, an easy to manage consumer solution that isn't nearly as expensive as purchasing a Server 2008 license.

bob_c_b said,
Vast majority of replies on this topic are from people who clearly never used WHS and frequented the news groups to understand the issues with Drive Extended. And then there are those who would suggest using Server 2008 as a replacement but then you miss the point of WHS as well, an easy to manage consumer solution that isn't nearly as expensive as purchasing a Server 2008 license.

All I am arguing is that, for most of the folks saying that they need multi-terabyte drives (arrayed or not), the performance advantages of 2008 R2 are worth the additional price vs. WHS v2 on the same hardware. Further (unlike the FreeNAS option), it's less complex (arguably, it's less complex than WHS) in terms of software or hardware. However, most of the folks beating up MS for tossing DE are looking at price (not performance) as the only worthwhile metric. However, when you are dealing with multi-terabyte drives (arrayed or not), it's hard to beat 2008 R2 Standard for performance for the price. Also, as far as TM backups for Macs, if the Mac can see the networked drive and write to it, it can TM backup to it (can or cannot TM back up to SMB shares, which is how it ususally has worked?) If SMB is still valid for TM (and I don't know of any change to TM that invalidates it), then any Windows server OS would work as a TM backup target (as long as you do the *sensible* thing and separate TM backup target partitions from target partitions for other OS backups).

Drive Extender has issues with larger (2 TB and larger) drives; however, this is strictly a WHS issue (Small Business Server R2 doesn't have that issue, nor does 2008 R2 Standard Server). There is no reason why Small Business Server (or even 2008 R2 Standard Server) can't be used if storage space is that much of an issue (unless it really is all about the money) - what's the base cost for 2008 R2 Standard Server? (Is that base cost that much more than WHS v2?) According to Newegg, 2008 R2 Standard (which includes five client access licenses) is $660 + tax/shipping. Yes; that's more than what WHS costs - however, it also has better performance (and a lot more versatility) than WHSv2, even on the same hardware. Lastly, let's be honest - multi-terabyte drive arrays are nobody's idea of small (not even a single RAID5 array of 2 TB WD Caviar Black/Green SATA drives); if you would classify that as small, I have to wonder what are you comparing such an array to). Either you're deluding yourself, or you're trying to pull a fast one on someone else. Drive array performance is about more than hardware - it is also about the server *software*, and why in the world should WHS v2 be designed to handle business-class datastores?

I bought a small form-factor machine running WHS from Acer a while back (Aspire H340), and the Drive Extender crap is the very reason I blew away the OS and installed Server 2008 R2 on it. My backup plan involves rotating individual data drives, which is pretty much exactly how Drive Extender is intended NOT to be used. So, no loss for me.

I can anticipate the type of response I'm gonna get for this...but in my case, I bought the machine for the form factor (4 hot-swappable drive bays, low power, quiet) rather than the OS. I don't need an "easy to configure" OS.

John Nash said,
The PC backup feature in WHS in it's best feature. As long as they leave that!

That's not going anywhere.

That is *probably* why some folks are griping about Drive Extended going away in WHS v2 - they have 1 TB and larger desktops and wanted to centralize backing them up on the cheap.

Hello - why not actually use a real server operating system (say, 2008 R2 Standard Server) for that task? R2 Standard includes *everything* WHSv2 does (and several features it lacks, not even counting Drive Extender), runs on the same hardware, can also be administered remotely (from any machine that can administer WHS, in fact, using the same tools) - the only drawback R2 Standard has is price (howewver, it has better performance than WHSv2 on the same hardware doing the same work).

Just use FreeNAS with ZFS pools. Much more flexible and it supports RAID5, 6 and even 3 disk redundancy (beyond RAID6).

Windows Home Server can't compete with that.

Vice said,
Just use FreeNAS with ZFS pools. Much more flexible and it supports RAID5, 6 and even 3 disk redundancy (beyond RAID6).

Windows Home Server can't compete with that.

Whatever. Drive Extender is just one small part of WHS.

Vice said,
Just use FreeNAS with ZFS pools. Much more flexible and it supports RAID5, 6 and even 3 disk redundancy (beyond RAID6).

Windows Home Server can't compete with that.

What about all the people who have no idea what you just said? Like stated in the article most home users have no idea what RAID even is let alone basically installing Linux (FreeNAS).

jakem1 said,

Whatever. Drive Extender is just one small part of WHS.

Drive Extender was a very important part of the operating system and now that its gone users will look for alternatives that gave the same capability. FreeNAS combined with ZFS Pools (built in feature) would accomplish that + much more.

necrosis said,
What about all the people who have no idea what you just said? Like stated in the article most home users have no idea what RAID even is let alone basically installing Linux (FreeNAS).

It's just as difficult as building a Windows Home Server. And FreeNAS is based on FreeBSD not Linux.

FreeNAS is much more powerful, free and its also very easy to use. Just because people are familiar with Windows doesn't mean that should be the default option. If we used that login with everything the ballpoint pen would never have been invented because everyone already had pencils.

Vice said,

Drive Extender was a very important part of the operating system and now that its gone users will look for alternatives that gave the same capability. FreeNAS combined with ZFS Pools (built in feature) would accomplish that + much more.

BSD is not a warm-and-fuzzy OS by any means. (Any of them - the closest is the FreeBSD semi-fork PC-BSD, and even that has some major quirkage that separates it from Linux.) Compared to any BSD, 2008 R2 is a yawner in terms of installation and configuration (could that be why Windows has never gotten any respect as a server OS - it's too easy to install and configure?).

Just how hard do folks think 2008 R2 Standard Server is to set up? Here's some food for thought - not only is it no harder than WHSv2, for the most part, it's *easier*. Don't take my word for it - if you have the capability of running x64 VMs, download an evaluation ISO from Microsoft yourself and do the self-guided tour.

It's just as difficult as building a Windows Home Server. And FreeNAS is based on FreeBSD not Linux.

FreeNAS is much more powerful, free and its also very easy to use. Just because people are familiar with Windows doesn't mean that should be the default option. If we used that login with everything the ballpoint pen would never have been invented because everyone already had pencils.

I already run Windows Server 2008 R2 on my home server. But I can't recommend it for home use if you haven't looked lately it's a £500 operating system (Standard Edition). Compare this with for example a Windows Home Server where you can build the entire server for £500 including all the hardware and software.

2008 R2 is great I love it, but it just isn't affordable enough to be considered for average consumers who are looking at things like Home Server. This is where OpenFiller, FlexRAID, UnRAID and FreeNAS live. All affordable competitive solutions that do not need hardware raid cards to be competitive. And I know you are going to say that you can use Software RAID on Windows Server 2008 R2. But let us be honest its implementation doesn't compare favorably to any of the other options or a hardware based solution. FreeNAS with ZFS is the best out of the lot.

And I know you put FreeNAS down, somehow you are trying to peg it as just another BSD distro but the reality is FreeNAS is very easy to use, takes about 3 minutes to setup after popping the Disc in your system and it has all the features consumers expect like uPnP streaming, iTunes shares and file & printer sharing for Windows and Macs. Even 2008 R2 doesn't support Macs, Which means no Time Machine backups to a 2008 R2 server. I've personally installed VMWARE and FreeNAS on my 2008 R2 server just to handle my Mac backups, and with only 256MB RAM dedicated to the VM it flies.

Vice said,
I already run Windows Server 2008 R2 on my home server. But I can't recommend it for home use if you haven't looked lately it's a £500 operating system (Standard Edition). Compare this with for example a Windows Home Server where you can build the entire server for £500 including all the hardware and software.


However, WHS is naturally limited in terms of the size datastore it will support reliably, and reliability is important in any server deployment; arguably, it's more important in a home server than a small-business server (depending on the small business). With that stipulated, while FreeNAS is as reliable as any other BSD, does it, or does it not, still require CLI configuring? If it does, anyone that is seeing that WHS is too limited in terms of drive/partitoin support will also, for the most part, reject FreeNAS due to the command-line reliance. With 2008 R2 Standard, there is little or nothing to unlearn from WHS (or Windows in general, for that matter). And if you are going to run FreeNAS in a VM, you have thus added additional complexity into the situation (which isn't wanted in a home-based server).

Lastly, there is stil the administration of the server. With any version of WHS (or 2008 R2) you can use either Remote Connection or a Web browser (any browser - it need not be IE). And why can't TM back up to SMB shares? (Every version of Windows, client and server, still supports SMB.) Was this a change in TM?
2008 R2 is great I love it, but it just isn't affordable enough to be considered for average consumers who are looking at things like Home Server. This is where OpenFiller, FlexRAID, UnRAID and FreeNAS live. All affordable competitive solutions that do not need hardware raid cards to be competitive. And I know you are going to say that you can use Software RAID on Windows Server 2008 R2. But let us be honest its implementation doesn't compare favorably to any of the other options or a hardware based solution. FreeNAS with ZFS is the best out of the lot.

And I know you put FreeNAS down, somehow you are trying to peg it as just another BSD distro but the reality is FreeNAS is very easy to use, takes about 3 minutes to setup after popping the Disc in your system and it has all the features consumers expect like uPnP streaming, iTunes shares and file & printer sharing for Windows and Macs. Even 2008 R2 doesn't support Macs, Which means no Time Machine backups to a 2008 R2 server. I've personally installed VMWARE and FreeNAS on my 2008 R2 server just to handle my Mac backups, and with only 256MB RAM dedicated to the VM it flies.

Disk Management??? I cant see that anywhere on the Whs Console. Why dont i have Disk Management?, What does it do?, how do i get it?.
God Bless the audience of Whs that know it just works & nothing else.

I wasnt having a dig at you, in general its just easy to forget that what we know & what others know are two different things.

Do people not realise you can have a partition span multiple disks in Disk Management? (disclaimer: not sure if you can do this in Vail)

Cat believe there are no people sticking up for Microsoft here!
Where are all the members who think everything MS does is for the love of its customers and that we should all accept whatever they choose to include or exclude in their software?

Im glad there are still some sane people out there who don't just accept everything :-)

Orange Battery said,
Cat believe there are no people sticking up for Microsoft here!
Where are all the members who think everything MS does is for the love of its customers and that we should all accept whatever they choose to include or exclude in their software?

Im glad there are still some sane people out there who don't just accept everything :-)

I think you're confusing MS users with Apple users

"A recent case study was conducted to show the benefits of Windows Home Server in Bunten & Associates, a small business located in Covington, Kentucky."

That pretty much says it all
RIP WHS

I'd say Windows Home Server is dead without DriveExtender. It now has no real advantage compared to using Windows 7 as a Home Server OS… (Windows 7 because of Windows Search -> indexed network share…)
I'm not gonna "upgrade" to Vail - it's more like a downgrade anyway. Only problem with WHSv1 is that it can't support drives > 2 TB. (Seems I'll have to buy a bunch of 2TB drives for on-demand-extendability…)

I am dissapointed, but to be honest, De was the number one reason i use it at home. i rarely save any files to my pc now, all of them are stored on and accessed from the server.
Streaming to media devices around the house was the other reason. The rest wasnt so important to me. Im not due to increase my storage for atleast another 6 months.
If i was to upgrade to Vail, i would need to remove my (2) 1 Terrabyte & (2) 500G drives, keep the (2) 2 Terrabyte drives and purchase another (4) 2 Teraabye drives just to get back to where i want my storage needs in 6 months time. plus the cost of vail and a few external casing so i can reuse the HDD's slowly adds up.
So on that reasoning, i wont be upgrading to vail.

The only complaint I ever heard about DE was that the files werent readable by other OS. I dont get how they went from that to lets just jettison it. Seems like an expensive NAS alternative now.

I also dont fully understand what issues SBS were having. Ive run apps across WHS and never ran into errors. In any case, still no reason for not leaving it in the home product.

Yep - they seriously screwed this up. I was looking forward to Vail - I downloaded and installed both betas - but I do not know what I'm going to do since the *main* feature will be gutted. I can't afford a Drobo - I've been looking into solutions like FlexRaid, but nothing will match the ease of use that WHS provided. I've been disappointed by Microsoft promising things and then not including those things in the final product before, but those disappointments are *nothing* compared to the frustration and bitter disappointment I have towards Microsoft after this decision - mostly because they had something working with DE v1. They had *better* reverse the horrendous mistake they made here.

NateB1 said,
Yep - they seriously screwed this up. I was looking forward to Vail - I downloaded and installed both betas - but I do not know what I'm going to do since the *main* feature will be gutted. I can't afford a Drobo - I've been looking into solutions like FlexRaid, but nothing will match the ease of use that WHS provided. I've been disappointed by Microsoft promising things and then not including those things in the final product before, but those disappointments are *nothing* compared to the frustration and bitter disappointment I have towards Microsoft after this decision - mostly because they had something working with DE v1. They had *better* reverse the horrendous mistake they made here.

Vail beta from MS is 10 weeks old yet seems pretty stable, just need a timebomb crack and youre set.

After reading many comments on this topic, I must say I am astonished at the lack of information everyone seems to have. No one at all has noted that there is a new Home and SBS version coming.

For everyone's information there is 2 new servers coming. 1 is a new WHS. the other is a WHS version for Small Business.

Now I can understand why MS are removing the feauture, but cannot understand why removing it from WHS.

If the problem is with Server loads, then why not take out DE from the Small business version (Auora) and leave it in the new WHS Vail.

That would make the most sense.

Owen said,
remove Drive Extender from Windows Home Server "Vail" and Windows Small Business Server "Aurora" for good.

Not enough for you?

Really stupid to be honest. That feature was really the only thing making it stand out against any other NAS system. I've been considering buying one but was waiting for Vail first but now I don't think I'll bother.

Typical dumb ass mistake. Hopefully they'll backtrack on this. Hopefully. Also they should require oem builders to require a Video out port (either VGA or dvi)

AnotherITguy said,
Typical dumb ass mistake. Hopefully they'll backtrack on this. Hopefully. Also they should require oem builders to require a Video out port (either VGA or dvi)

That defeats the purpose of headless servers.

Owen W said,

That defeats the purpose of headless servers.

The DVI/VGA port is useful if the server crashes to the point where it needs to be rebuilt from scratch. Also, it provides a way to update to a later version of WHS. In my homebuilt WHS system, I have an el cheapo graphics card in there for just that reason.

Well it seems that M$ is only listing to what the 'business' users are suggesting, and completely ignoring the home user on this move. So yes I say M$ has shot themselves in the foot with this move. I would be curious to see the demographics on windows to see which group of users is bigger (IE home or business class)

jnelsoninjax said,
Well it seems that M$ is only listing to what the 'business' users are suggesting, and completely ignoring the home user on this move. So yes I say M$ has shot themselves in the foot with this move. I would be curious to see the demographics on windows to see which group of users is bigger (IE home or business class)

I'm going to gue$$ that bu$ine$$ encompa$$e$ more u$er$.
Plea$e note that you $ound just a$ annoying a$ thi$ when you try to be hip and talk like thi$.

omnicoder said,

I'm going to gue$ that bu$ine$ encompa$e$ more u$er$.
Plea$e note that you $ound just a$ annoying a$ thi$ when you try to be hip and talk like thi$.
People who use a $ when saying MS do it because they don't like Microsoft and think they don't deserve an actual S (well, that Microsoft is all about the money...). They think it makes them look cool, when in reality it means they are a immature child.

Anyways, what I don't get is that WHS stands for Windows HOME Server, as in HOME, as in regular people, not businesses. If businesses want a Windows Server, oh, I don't know BUY WINDOWS SERVER, like the regular consumer wants to buy and setup Windows Server >.>

omnicoder said,

I'm going to gue$ that bu$ine$ encompa$e$ more u$er$.
Plea$e note that you $ound just a$ annoying a$ thi$ when you try to be hip and talk like thi$.

He use one freakin' $ in his post. You're the one that's actually more annoying. Grow up.

omnicoder said,

I'm going to gue$ that bu$ine$ encompa$e$ more u$er$.
Plea$e note that you $ound just a$ annoying a$ thi$ when you try to be hip and talk like thi$.

Yeah, I'm really tired of that. It's so unbelievably childish...

jnelsoninjax said,
Well it seems that M$ is only listing to what the 'business' users are suggesting, and completely ignoring the home user on this move. So yes I say M$ has shot themselves in the foot with this move. I would be curious to see the demographics on windows to see which group of users is bigger (IE home or business class)
Wow, we have a pretty good story and all you guys can talk about is how he used two $'s instead of S's in his post. You guys can all grow up.

De.Bug said,
Wow, we have a pretty good story and all you guys can talk about is how he used two $s instead of S's in his post. You guys can all grow up.
Not to be mean, but this story broke a few days ago.

De.Bug said,
Wow, we have a pretty good story and all you guys can talk about is how he used two {0}#039;s instead of S's in his post. You guys can all grow up.

You should grow up because all you can talk about is how they were talking about how he used $ instead of S.

Using $ instead of S is dumb and makes you look like an idiot, if you don't want people calling you an idiot, grow up and don't use it.

jnelsoninjax said,
Well it seems that M$ is only listing to what the 'business' users are suggesting, and completely ignoring the home user on this move. So yes I say M$ has shot themselves in the foot with this move. I would be curious to see the demographics on windows to see which group of users is bigger (IE home or business class)

Well since Windows Home Server is targetted at Home users, I'm guessing home. And stop with the $, really.