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Posted on November 24th, 2010 by Jon Honeyball

Yet another Microsoft storage disaster

HP Mediasmart centre

So Microsoft has decided to kill off the Drive Extender technology in the next release of Windows Home Server, codenamed Vail (and the other concotions of the same basic recipe: Small Business Server 2011 Essentials, codenamed Aurora).

This was the one bit of cleverness in Windows Home Server that really appealed to the home user. Buy a four-bay server like the cute little HP Home Server, and add more discs when you needed more space.

The underlying drive manager tools just added the space into the pool for you, rather like a Drobo does. And you could mark important files and directories so they were put onto more than one spindle, just in case of drive failure. It was simple, it worked, and the users loved it.

For the 2011 version, Microsoft decided to rejig the technology and came up with the refreshed version called Drive Extender. Now, after a very embarrassing 24 hours — in which they claimed we really didn’t need it, indeed that we were calling on Microsoft to pull it out and junk it — they have had to admit that it didn’t work properly so it’s been junked.

The howls of protest are reverberating around the world.

I’ll dig into this more in my next column, but here’s a thought for the meantime. Microsoft, or rather the brilliant team led by David Cutler, came up with NTFS in 1991. Since then, just about every storage technology that Microsoft has tried to bring to market has failed.

Cairo’s Object File System never happened. Structured storage deconstruction to NTFS streams in NT 3.51 never made it to release. Drive M: in Exchange Server was canned because it was way too easy to break. The WinFS object file system promised for Vista. And now Drive Extender. Thats one attempt every five years, give or take.

I was chatting with one corporate IT director recently who lovingly stroked the floor to ceiling rackspace of his huge Storage Area Network. We were musing about Microsoft and file systems. He said “NTFS is very solid, but Microsoft doesn’t do storage. Not even slightly. And can’t innovate in the space either”.

Hard to disagree with his view, to be honest.

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23 Responses to “ Yet another Microsoft storage disaster ”

  1. James Wimmer Says:
    November 24th, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    exFAT, you forgot, they got exFAT out the door. I don’t know anyone who uses it, or a device outside of the PC-world that supports it, but they did release it though.

  2. MJ Says:
    November 24th, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    If you ever had a drive fail in WHS, you’ll know it was actually a poor solution. Not surprised they’ve killed it, and I stopped using it and went to a simple XP and batch copy to secondary.

    To replace a dying disk, you had to put in a new temporary disk, wait for it to format it, then tell it that you wanted to take out a disk. Then you had to wait many hours for it to decide it was all moved off. Then you could take out the disk, put in a new one. Then it would add it to the array, but you couldn’t use it for even more hours. IIRC it took me several days to replace the disk, and it was not smart. That’s why I abandoned it.

  3. Steve Cassidy Says:
    November 24th, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    That’s not all that different from a) competing NAS products and b) bottom-end corporate RAIDs. You actually have to walk quite a way up the price-list before smarter behaviour becomes available, in hardware – and you’re lucky that the way your SATA drive failed didn’t simply take out the whole machine (as some can)…

  4. Daniel Germain Says:
    November 24th, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Two words… Quantum and StorNext!

  5. Tuxkid Says:
    November 24th, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    “Now, after a very embarrising 24 hours”

    Spelling mistakes seem to be getting more and more common on many websites.

    Rest in peace, proof-reading, you shall be truly missed.

  6. George Says:
    November 24th, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    FreeNAS + software raid = free.

  7. John Says:
    November 24th, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    I was shocked at this news. I had been on the point of buying an Acer EasyStore, but was trying to hold out to see whether Vail would a) offer significant advantages or b) would reduce the price of WHS v1 products.

    There’s clearly no reason to wait and pay for Vail, so I wondering whether there’s also no reason not to go for the mature, tested and bug-fixed product that is WHS v1.

    Any advice? But anyway, more on this topic please, PC Pro.

  8. Kurt Says:
    November 25th, 2010 at 9:27 am

    @John, agreed, it would be nice to hear more about the WHS arena on PC-pro.
    Maybe even a feature on the best WHS vs. NAS products.

  9. John Says:
    November 25th, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    @Kurt. I’m with you on this. An impartial and objective review of WHS v NAS would be hugely useful to me.

  10. Danny Thomas Says:
    November 25th, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    I think this fits it with your Epilogue in this month’s magazine. With Technology pushing terabyte drives into the home space an efficient storage solution that performs well, protects the data and provides search and intelligent storage options (not just hierarchical folders) is exactly the kind of innovation that Microsoft should be pushing through. PCs are now very powerful and capable of massive storage. Future OS solutions should help businesses and users manage and exploit their data. But the trend with both Apple and MS seems to be to add more home entertainment which is a truly wasted opportunity.

  11. Martin Says:
    November 25th, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Anybody who’s migrated from NetWare to Windows servers can tell you that NTFS is not a nice place to store files. A quick search on YouTube (Novell versus Microsoft) will show the difference.

  12. aart12 Says:
    November 25th, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    O.k., so the new v2 DE technology was not going to work (I am assuming so, since it was pulled). But DE v1 was/is still viable… so why pull the plug on the whole feature? At least re-implement v1 into Vail until the technology can be improved! Drobo, URAID, and others, have apparently found a viable way to implement this technology (pooling drives). Surely MS can figure out a way to do it, or better… and if indeed not, then license the technology from one of them!

    By completely pulling the DE component, you (MS) are cutting your own throats. Not just with WHS, but your standing as a technology leader. This move only reinforces the growing perception that MS is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

    Your “argument” that customers have inexpensive access to large drives (around 2TB drive MAX) and therefore do not need a DE technology is absolute nonsense and is a staggeringly obtuse cop out. DE allowed much larger volumes/pools than the individual drives to be created easily and provided an easy way to add new drives of any available size. RAID, as you must know, does not provide an easy means to do this, and they must all be identical in size and specification, severely limiting the use of any existing drives the user may have. Even most technically competent users who do use RAID find it frustrating, cumbersome, and flawed.

    If you really are listening to your customers, as you claim to be doing, you would know that what you had in DE v1 is the direction needed, and one that the consumer wants. NOT RAID!

  13. Lorribot Says:
    November 25th, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    Any kind of OS controlled raid is just asking for pain, if you are going to do it, then do it in hardware and save yourself some grief, it’s not cheap but has been working for years in servers and is reliable, software tools allow the expansion of drives on the fly.

  14. Alan Says:
    November 26th, 2010 at 11:04 am

    Having been a WHS user since pre-release days there is little I would want to change from the v1 release. Certainly the idea that the disks would not be NTFS readable really put me off but I have had a couple of disk failures over the time and have no problems with disk replacements. The main change I would like to see would be an O/S backup which could be accessed by the repair option to rebuild the system as was rather than a virgin build. I like the Windows server base as it opens avenues for all sorts of tweaks.

  15. Peter Says:
    November 26th, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    I too was a V1 beta tester and early adopter. It has worked very well for me.

    I’m guessing that DE could not be made to work properly with the upcoming generation of terrabyte capacity HDDs was at least part of the reason.

    I agree 100% with Mr H that MS’s performance in the area of filing systems is lamentable.

    This just means that I’ll be looking to alternative technolgies in future, though I can’t see how to avoid the high-cost of RAID or the NAS alternatives.

  16. Andrew Says:
    November 29th, 2010 at 1:10 am

    I have also been using WHS since the beta program. It does what I want at home just fine. If Microsoft ditch the drive technology what will be the point of having a WHS server ? None. All I want is an update, add support for Mac’s and a few other goodies. I love the remote access and file uploading, what else offers those features ? Replacing a drive is childs play in WHS, just follow the wizard. Yes its slow but there has to be some comprimise for the low budget hardware it runs on. My Dad bought me a copy of PC Pro back from Europe recently, I must subscribe again, the local version here (PCauthority) is hopeless. The Real World Columns are missing for a start.

  17. Josefov Says:
    November 30th, 2010 at 11:41 am

    I don’t know if anyone still follows these comments but it looks like the Bulldozer Steve might be crumbling after all. Here’s (allegedly) an email, as revealed by Engadget:

    ‘From: Steve Ballmer
    Sent: 26 November 2010 05:30
    To: Terry Walsh
    Subject: RE: MVP Feedback – Windows Home Server “Vail” Crisis
    Let’s look into it’

  18. Ian Says:
    November 30th, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    NTFS has lasted, but see Microsoft’s response to Carbonite when they complained about their NTFS storage falling over a lot: it is not designed to store lots of files.

    So Carbonite’s data servers now use a file system they won’t let users back up (you can only back up NTFS or FAT with the Windows version…)

  19. DiscoDave Says:
    December 2nd, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Good info on WHS can be found at brucebnews dot com along with an article on the demise of drive extender.

  20. Ian H Says:
    December 2nd, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    DE was the whole POINT of WHS – an easily extensible storage pool that you didn’t have to worry about what was where. Without DE then there’s no point in choosing WHS over a free Linux NAS solution…
    What MS ought to be concentrating on for Vail is full DLNA compatability so that IT JUST WORKS when trying to play content via xbox/PS3/Sony bluray players etc without having to resort to clunky on-the-fly transcoding add-ins.

  21. Simon P Says:
    December 5th, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    I’ve used WHS since the early betas. I’ve had a couple of PC’s needing restore and had drives fail in the server itself – neither gave any problem. The PC’s were back in an hour or so, the failed drives took longer but were still routine.

    There doesn’t seem to be any discussion of the other big advantage of WHS – the removal of duplication in doing multiple backups. While Drobo and others may offer drive pooling, are their backups as easy to configure and compact as those on WHS?

  22. Nick Says:
    February 21st, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Someone who uses language like “…And can’t innovate in the space either…” needs shooting.

  23. Steven Says:
    October 16th, 2011 at 5:51 am

    Filesystems are tough.

    Linux, Macs and Windows don’t make upgrades too often. Even ZFS had the occasional serious and nasty bug report.

    But you’d think MS could magic up at least *some* of their projects…. But they’re fish in a barrel nowadays :P


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