November 2010 Blog Posts

By now, you’ve all read that Drive Extender has been pulled from “Vail” and “Aurora”. Here’s Microsoft’s announcement post and attempt at damage mitigation:

When weighing up the future direction of storage in the consumer and SMB market, the team felt the Drive Extender technology was not meeting our customer needs. Therefore, moving forward we have decided to remove the Drive Extender technology from Windows Home Server Code Name “Vail” (and Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials and Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials) which are currently in beta.

While this removes the integrated ability for storage pooling of multiple hard drives and automated data duplication, we are continuing to work closely with our OEM partners to implement storage management and protection solutions, as well as other software solutions.

Of course, more details have since trickled out from various well-placed sources:

In a briefing last month, I was told that Microsoft and its partners discovered problems with Drive Extender once they began typical server loads (i.e. server applications) on the system. This came about because Drive Extender was being moved from a simple system, WHS, to a more complex, server-like OS (SBS "Aurora") that would in fact be used to run true server applications. And these applications were causing problems.

Which makes sense; “Vail” and “Aurora” share the same storage engine, and business users aren’t going to lie down and take a data corruption issue like we had with Windows Home Server v1 in the beginning, no matter how isolated and difficult to reproduce it is. There have been a number of changes to DE internals in “Vail” through the various beta/CTP builds we’ve had this year, but we are still seeing some major performance and architectural issues.

Drive Extender is one of my favourite features in Windows Home Server and one of its core differentiators. That core functionality has been replaced by a confused message from Microsoft essentially making data protection a problem for OEMs and System Builders. Without any concrete announcement on what will replace Drive Extender, Microsoft has killed the community’s faith in “Vail”.

Has there been a community backlash? Oh yes, my friends, there has:

Congratulations guys for holding the world record about "pulling back the best features while in Beta".

DE was the whole reason I purchased the WHS product. I could have as easily used Amahi or a similar Linux based product.

Quite simply, what is the point in Windows Home Server now?

I had to look at the date to make sure this wasn't an April fools joke come early. You are kidding, right?

You’ll see the same sorts of comments all across the Windows Home Server community.

So, being a back-seat Product Development Manager is fun! What would I have done differently? That’s hard, of course, and I’m glad I’m not in Microsoft’s position right now. I think the fatal mistake they made was not having some examples of alternatives to DE ready and waiting. If Microsoft could announce that some OEM partners were already testing cheap RAID controllers in their “Vail” hardware, or an ISV had built a nice wizard-driven wrapper for Windows software RAID, at least they’d have offered some direction and some hope.

Right now, the general consensus is that Microsoft has written off Windows Home Server as a consumer product, and has gutted the carcass for functionality that works for the Small Business Server market.

What does all this mean for Tentacle Software? If I’m honest, not a whole lot, except that my pronouncement on the Home Server Show about the continuation of the WHS v1 Add-In market post-“Vail” seems more prescient than it actually was.

We’re committed to Windows Home Server as a platform, and we believe passionately that having a server in every home is a real necessity given our entirely-digital lifestyles. We’ll continue to develop Add-Ins for Windows Home Server, in whatever its form, as long as Microsoft holds to that vision.

We’ve got two new WHS v1 Add-Ins in development (Blackbox, and one other that hasn’t been announced yet), which will be ported to “Vail” and “Aurora”. We’re also in the planning stages for a “Vail” and “Aurora”-only Add-In aimed at micro-businesses.

The biggest question mark hangs over Disk Management for “Vail” and “Aurora”. We’re waiting to see what shakes out of the Drive Extender removal, and how we’ll be able to support any new data protection functionality in the brave new DE-less world.

The bottom-line is really this: If we can find a way to poke the individual physical disks in a “Vail” system, there will be a Disk Management release for “Vail”.

I think Microsoft has done some real damage to Windows Home Server’s reputation here, but I don’t think it’s fatal. As long as we start seeing Microsoft open communications about what they see as a replacement for DE I don’t think Windows Home Server is dead. But they have to do it soon; zombie-WHS will not be pretty.

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