Yesterday a significant announcement was made by the Windows Server team at Microsoft via the Windows Home Server blog and the aftermath has not been real pretty.

The team has decided to remove the Drive Extender (DE for short) technology from the current beta of three server solutions that includes Windows Home Server (WHS) Code Name Vail.  DE is the feature that gives you the ability to add hard drives of any size to your storage pool on your WHS server and also allows you to duplicate certain directories on your server so that critical files are stored on two physically different hard drives to protect your data in case one piece of hardware crashes.  This feature has helped me save important data on my home server such as family photos and our MP3 music collection a couple of times since I started running WHS v1 at home.  The DE functionality is what makes WHS the great product it is for home users.

In a post yesterday, Michael Leworthy, a Senior Technical Product Manager for Windows Server SMB, posted about this change in WHS Vail, Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials and Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials which are all in beta.

When we first started designing Windows Home Sever code name “Vail” one of our initial focuses was to continue to provide effortless support for multiple internal and external hard drives. Drive Extender provided the ability to take the small hard drives many small businesses and households may have acquired, and pool them together in a simple volume. During our current testing period for our Windows Home Server code name “Vail” product, we have received feedback from partners and customers about how they use storage today and how they plan to use it moving forward. Today large hard drives of over 1TB are reasonably priced, and freely available. 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.  Since customers looking to buy Windows Home Server solutions from OEM’s will now have the ability to include larger drives, this will reduce the need for Drive Extender functionality.

You see WHS, a consumer product, has had its development connected to two business products and it seems that feedback from partners and other customers (according to Michael’s blog post) is what has made a major impact on pulling the DE technology from these three programs.  According to a couple of other comments and posts I have seen in the last 24 hours it all has to do with data integrity in the storage model and DE is not being supported because of issues with how the data is stored in the DE technology.

The initial response to this was pretty swift and Michael’s first blog post has garnered almost 150 comments and a 1 star rating since it went online yesterday.  The overwhelming majority of the comments were pro DE and questioning why this was being pulled as the DE is what makes WHS what it is.

This response was so intense that it prompted Michael to post a second entry on the WHS Team Blog later yesterday to try and calm some of the storm that has started over this decision:

This decision was not easy in regards to Vail. It was incredibly hard, and we always knew that a direction which affects the family of products such as this has different effects on the individual components. While support for hardware RAID solutions, application compatibility and data portability are definitely key scenarios for SBS 2011 Essentials and Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials, for Windows Home Server users these areas may not seem as important. However, as our development for these products is very closely tied, a decision like this affects all three. We continue to look at ways to provide solutions for features such as data duplication, and are working with partners and OEM’s on extending both their hardware and software solutions for Vail.

That posting already has 80 comments on it since it went live.  No big difference between the first and second postings as almost all of the comments are pro DE.

The reason why DE is being removed from these three products is that they all use the same core in each OS and so it would be hard to continue to develop them all together with different core systems of which DE is a key element.  I am not sure if development of WHS under a subset of the server team is a possibility but that might be the only recourse to save DE as we know it for the consumer market.  Whether that will happen or not remains to be seen but based on what I am reading in these two posts it certainly appears to be a done deal.

I have always been a fan of WHS and the benefits it brings into my home to protect the data files that are important to us such as photos, home videos and music.  The other element of WHS that also protects us each day is the automatic back up of each computer on the network without me needing to think about it – it just happens.  We are yet to lose any data since we put WHS online when version 1 first came out – to me that is a testament to the reliability of the DE technology in WHS.

For the foreseeable future I will opt to continue to run WHS v1 for my home server until it is no longer supported with system updates because it gets the job done.  Like many of my fellow WHS users I am disappointed about this development however, I will hold my final opinions of this change until I see what alternatives are offered to replace this functionality and how it works to protect my important data. 

As you might imagine based on the intense comment traffic on Michael’s two posts about this change it is also generating a lot of responses across the web and here are links to some of those stories:

These two posts provide a perspective on why this is a good decision by Microsoft:

So what do you think of all these developments? Let us know in the comments below.