Microsoft storage: a litany of failure
Posted on 11 Feb 2011 at 15:09
As Microsoft provokes a storm by canning Drive Extender, Jon Honeyball reflects on the company's long list of disasters in the storage arena
Internally they all had the same structure, except for the binary streams of each document component itself. Long-term readers might remember the Office Binder, which let you build super-Structured-Storage containers that could hold multiple office documents.
The problem with the traditional file is that you have just one lock on it, at the file system level, so simultaneous multi-user editing was fraught with difficulty.
By breaking the OLE doc structure into multiple NTFS streams, it was possible for multi-user editing to be done in a much more controlled fashion.
At the time HFS seemed to be sexier, so the doc-file streams engine had to die
Obviously, Office didn’t know about this magic, so there needed to be a special chunk of code that sat inside the file system engine, called a file system filter, which did the breakup and reconstruction on the fly.
So why did this useful feature get canned? Well, the Office team had their client-side solution and didn’t really worry too much about the server side of things.
But the server team had a problem: the Office doc-file Structured Storage streams engine clashed with the hierarchical file system (HFS) N-tier storage management engine, which had been licensed from a third party. At the time HFS seemed to be sexier, so the doc-file streams engine had to die.
Then we have the debacle that was WinFS. Designed to be a clever file system for Windows Vista, it had some spectacular capabilities.
Filenames were deprecated down to mere marker points: when looking for something you could search by any of the logical Metatags that were available, so it was possible to search for a document last edited by me in the last fortnight, where you were the originator and it was a letter to the bank about Project Frog. Or it was possible to do joins across data types and across the whole network.
It was based on the SQL Server code base, and indeed, around that time I was told that the SQL Server build was done daily in both a WinFS-enhanced and raw SQL Server versions.
So why was this one cancelled? Well, as you no doubt remember, large chunks of the advanced features of Vista never made it to the final release, and WinFS was one of those casualties.
At the time, Microsoft claimed the technology worked well but the user interface was difficult to refine. Other internal voices suggested that the SharePoint Server group took one look and refused to have anything to do with it.
At that time SharePoint Server was – and still is – ruling the roost for complex server-side document storage, despite it being something of a hack that sits inside SQL Server on top of NTFS. Just enquire how many people have successfully migrated a large document store out of SharePoint Server into something else, and expect a very small answer.
The here and now
Which brings us up to the present day. If you want a complex, clever document store for Windows you have to use SharePoint Server. Windows Home Server’s Drive Extender worked well enough in version 1, but version 2 has now tripped and fallen.
The cold reality is that Microsoft has no storage vision at all
Meanwhile, the corporate world has moved on, into the world of active engine Storage Area Networks that look after volume management by themselves, while in the home market we should be looking to Drobo devices or NAS boxes on our networks.
This despite the fact that we need a platform for the home server market that lets third parties develop add-ons and additional capabilities. And if it isn’t based on Windows Server but on some potentially limited NAS engine, what hope do we have of lifting our home network’s capabilities any time soon?
The cold reality is that Microsoft has no storage vision at all. It simply doesn’t believe that anything beyond NTFS is really necessary, or at least necessary enough to require a company-wide push to solve these problems.
Hope for Drive Extender Yet?
Within days of the RC of Window Home Server with Drive Extender removed, there are possible solutions starting to come forward from independent developers (just check out some of the WHS blogs). It seems Microsoft do give up when they can't work it out and depend on others to complete their products for them.
By davemarchant1 on 11 Feb 2011
Why not Linux? Many Microsoft users cringe at the thought but if the storage problem is worth solving, Linux is worth learning. Indeed, much of the internet infrastructure runs on Linux, not Windows or Mac. True, there is a steep learning curve unless you're already familiar with some computer basics. However, Linux is generally rock-solid, runs for days/weeks/months/years, costs nothing (other than time), and has LVM (the equivalent of MS Drive Extender).
Marketers have long fooled consumers into thinking technology is an all or nothing proposition (ie, are you Mac or PC?). In fact, you should use whichever technology suits your needs. Allegiance to one manufacturer is bad for the consumer on many levels. Maybe you're Mac, PC, and Linux.
No amount of whining will force the corporate hand. Corporations are about money and profits. If Drive Extender is too expensive or makes the product unprofitable, you're not getting it.
By storm311 on 12 Feb 2011
That is how MS thinks of consumers...
Its no wonder that they are making no inroads in the consumer space.
By msbpodcast on 12 Feb 2011
I use TimeMachine on my ...
network of Macs (2)along with Linux (1) and PC(1) with cron job running on my disk server to pull off new/changed files off the machines.
With over 3TB of space to maintain, its was just easier to do.
By msbpodcast on 12 Feb 2011
Windows Server 2008 R2, Raid 10, done. Previously I had WHS v1 and eventually moved over to 2008 r2. I WILL probably install and use WHS V2 just... umm, just to use it :)
Either way, it 'is' a shame that DE is dead, darn shame as they really did have a fantastic product.
By rhythm on 18 Feb 2011
There's a lot of other tech coming out there. drive bender and StableBit's Drivepool.
Drive bender in particular looks interesting as that seems to run on any Windows platform.
By bubbles16 on 25 Feb 2011
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