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Was Drive Extender’s removal from WHS 2011 ever THAT big of a deal?


That is a question I’ve been asking myself since the day this whole fiasco started!

windows home server 2011When Microsoft announced that they were removing a feature called “Drive Extender” from its upcoming Windows Home Server release, I honestly was pretty surprised by the amazing backlash of public discontent.  I mean, it was staggering!  The majority of comments for posts I saw on many of the bigger technology sites were for the most part saying “I am quitting on WHS because of this!” and “Drive Extender is the only thing that made Windows Home Server any good!”. Seriously, a lot of people were talking that way and I really couldn’t understand why it became such a big issue.

Just in case you are just getting into this marvelous world of the “Connected Home” and are exploring your options for the best media servers out there, you certainly must be weighing in on Windows Home Server 2011 as one of your options.  To bring you up to speed, the first version of WHS server had a feature integrated into the Windows Server 2003 based OS called Drive Extender which basically allowed users to easily add hard drives to their home server (no matter what size) by just plugging the drives in and then adding the drive to which ever storage pool you desire.  Simple as that, and that’s what people really liked about it.  But was that really the ONLY feature people liked about Windows Home Server?  That is where my bewilderment of everyone’s reaction really began to grow.

I do not think any bafflement over the reaction was because of my lengthy IT Systems Engineering career as I really tried to remain objective throughout the process and look at it through the eyes of the general public.  Could my Mom add a hard drive to a WHS?  Um…No!  LOL, gotta love her though.  But the average person out there can muddle through installing a hard drive into a server just as they would a PC, not much of a difference to be honest!  I think perhaps Microsoft using the word “Server” in the name probably hurt them in the beginning.  A word like “Server” is enough to scare many an average consumer away from even considering it because it just “sounds” complex.  Microsoft could have done a bit better on the marketing research there!  But trust me, if you can add a hard drive into a PC, you can do the same in Windows Home Server, no matter what version.   But I digress…

Options & Innovation

No, I felt convinced that just this one feature being removed from the Operating System was not going to be the demise of  Windows Home Server and that Microsoft surely had some type of plans in store and realized how important the Home Tech industry is as I stated in a post shortly after the Drive Extender announcement.  From what I saw at CES, neither the Connected Home, nor Microsoft’s obvious interest in it has suffered from any loss in public awareness!  In fact, considering Microsoft’s display floor layout was a “Connected Living Loom”, I’d say they are well vested in seeing this industry become very successful…and full of Microsoft products!

drive extender options

Drive Extender’s demise seemed like the perfect opportunity for 3rd Party companies to fill the voids and come up with different drive extender options.  Whether Microsoft did this purposefully or not is besides the point, they opened it up for companies to create competing products thus spurning innovation.  Everyone knows how I love innovation if you have read any of my Google TV articles. Winking smile

One such company, Drive Bender,  is mentioned over on Home Server Land and will be released tomorrow (February 21st, 2011) in fact!

Drive Bender takes single point storage to the next level. Inspired by Microsoft’s “Windows Home Server” Drive Extender technology, Drive Bender is a product that provides the same level of functionality, and more, for all versions of the Microsoft Windows**.

I’m looking forward to checking that out for sure, but are there other options?  You know it!  You can find another Windows Drive Extender replacement in StableBit’s DrivePool which our friends at Home Server Show covered recently.

WHS: Dead or Alive?

I believe that those who sat back and waited to see what would happen after Drive Extender’s removal before completely discounting or even abandoning the Windows Home Server platform altogether were ultimately right.  Drive Extender’s removal never meant the demise of Windows Home Server 2011 as so many were so quick to predict!  It’s the same trend we are seeing everywhere in the media and we have to change it!  Look for the positives beyond any negative!  They usually outweigh the negatives as in WHS’s case.  Windows Home Server 2011 has much more to offer than Drive Extender alone (as did WHS v1), and now that it is based on Windows Server 2008 infrastructure, you can bed that the I/O interface is going to be pretty solid.  Perhaps you do end up having to take one extra step when adding a hard drive, is that really reason to abandon a platform?

I think not…and I thought not then.

Considering that you can download the Release Candidate of WHS 2011 now and install it without any additional hardware using VMware Server, you can all go play with it to your hearts content.   If  you do end up finding that you like it, you may very well find yourself using Windows Home Server 2011 as the centerpiece of the Connected Home!

Want it?  Find step-by-step instructions here in our “How-To” section.

As always, we look forward to your comments!  If you enjoyed the article, please share it with your friends!


About the Author

Tom AbellPut simply, Tom loves technology! Having been involved in the IT world since leaving the US Navy Submarine Force in 1992, Tom has moved his way up to the top as an IT Systems Engineering. But having spent some time in the Home Automation industry early in his career, he’s never been able to shake his love for creating integrated Home Technology environments and has been running HTPCs and Windows Home Servers for years. With 17 years of IT Systems Engineering experience, Tom's recent OIF 08-09 deployment has rekindled his love for the Connected Home Industry and hence, the website. We hope you like the site, please share it with your friends and follow us on your favorite Social Networks! Read more about Tom on the "About Us" page.View all posts by Tom Abell

  1. Sander Pool
    Sander Pool02-24-2011

    Maybe I missed something but what is the 2 sentence summary on why removal of Drive Extender isn't a big deal? Just because 3rd parties will provide similar functionality isn't a good reason unless WHS 11 plus this 3rd party software costs the same as the current version. Most likely this is not the case. More likely WHS 11 will be more $$ than the current version and you know these add-ons aren't going for less than $50. In a world where WHS competes with linux based alternatives how is this a good thing?

    For this post to make a compelling case it would need to say something like "OK so you don't get drive extender but you get X, Y and Z and that's worth it because blah blah." All we get from the article is that it's based on server 2008. Who cares? Certainly no one who feels "intimidated" by the Server part of the name and thus never adds a drive is going to care about Server 2003 vs. 2008. Could you list tangible benefits of going to Server 2008?

    If I buy a WHS 11 system with a single drive, how easy is it to add a second one and get file duplication? With my WHS system it was a trivial non-screwdriver operation. If this is not possible with WHS11 without extra software and without rebooting then WHS11 is less capable than WHS. Simple.

    Thanks for writing this post but to be honest I don't think it was very convincing :)

  2. Mark E
    Mark E03-19-2011

    I think that the removal of DE was good and bad, First, good because the way the were going to implement it was below the ntfs level making recovery of data difficult if the system got hosed. Second, bad because it was a major feature that brought users to the first version. Not needing raid made things so much easy and folder duplication made backup easy and took up less space. You can add single drives but if you video files are bigger then the drive you now have multiple drives which also leads to increased cost setting up large raid drives which in itself has a lot of choices and cost to deal with. If your budget affords you a decent raid 5 card and 5 1TB hard drives then as time goes on you need more storage its not as easy to add larger drives and remove the old ones. This adds a lot of cost to a server, and then were talking about a home server who is willing to spend a couple thousand on it at the outset. I believe that Microsoft is looking at putting home server is small offices and not in homes if they had they would have kept features like drive extenders and WMC integration into home server, features that will allow true integrations now and not in the future. That was the problem with WMC when it was released in 2002.

  3. VDMGC

    Uhm… This was a viable platform for IP surveillance solutions, where larger to downright enormous disk capacity is in the order of the day. Quick painless upgrade to 13Terra would definately have been attractive. Vail will never, ever be useful for us, while DE would have turned the decision on the streaming server OS… The "Not a big deal" statement just shows blatent ignorance on the part of the author:
    "Since I cant think of a real use it is therefore declared useless…"

  4. Tom Abell
    Tom Abell04-01-2011

    Wow! 😉 Thank YOU for commenting! I am wondering though…did you read anything BUT the title? First of all, I never said it wasn't a big deal. It is a big deal to just about everyone. What I questioned was if it was THAT big of a deal. You know…the "I'm never going to use Windows Home Server ever again because you did this Microsoft!" type deal. I think we can tell where you are on this and you know what, I'm OK with that! If you don't want to use Windows Home Server 2011 because they removed DE and you don't like the two awesome 3rd party solutions I mentioned in the article, then that is your decision, but it's not like this is the first time Microsoft has dropped a feature and let 3rd party companies introduce new innovation. Innovation is what keeps all of this moving forward, so what let MS call all of the shots? (Not to mention the fact that you are actually helping that new business become successful in today's economy.) I mean, seriously? If the functionality is still there, even if you have to pay a few extra dollars a month over the course of the lifetime of your Home Server, then what is your beef really? A few dollars a month to support a new company? If you're building a 13 TB Home Server, you can afford it man.

    FYI, if you wanted to upgrade your HS and add 13 Tb of disk space, guess what? You can actually create one spanned volume from all of those drives. If the drives are still unallocated (i.e. newly installed), they can be combined into one volume. Yes it does take 1 extra step, sorry! Where DE came in was making life really easy for those home users throwing in a 500 GB drive they bought / scavenged. You are right, it was a useful feature. It is my opinion that you are wrong that the removal of Drive Extender will end up killing WHS.

    If I end up being wrong and WHS 2011 dies, I'm a big boy and can admit it. Thanks again for your comment…next time please read the article fully! 😉 In the meantime, since you are not going with WHS, perhaps one of our tutorials on FreeNAS will help? I'll get you started at the beginning:


  5. Angry_about_DE

    To basically dismiss the entire WHS community for small business was balogna. They should have had two sku's. One WHS for home people which included DE and one SBS version with no DE. DE is what really ser WHS apart from other competitors. It was a no brainer backup solution. Now we have the luxury of paying a third party which I can only hope is cracked.

  6. dfadf

    DE was the pratically the main reason I bought whsv1. Heck, I even went all out and spent around $1200 to build a media file server that is energy-efficient, almost no maintenance, and lots of Ts around the os. With the DE removed, I really don't see much of a reason to upgrade just for the sack of upgrading again… If support runs out… so be it.. when was the last time I called MS to complain about whsv1. NEVER. If I want to make my whsv1 more secure.. I will just remove IE and turn off some of the unnecessary services.

  7. John

    Tom – my view is that while the removal of drive extender will not prove the death of WHS, it has alienated a huge part of its existing user base. Drive Extender is one of those great ideas that presents some huge technological hurdles. Therein lies the real problem with farming this out to third party vendors – when MS makes some subtle change to NTFS that breaks the third party app or the 3rd party app makes an assumption about the way NTFS works that is incorrect – who does the user blame – MS or the third party vendor.

    Things that work at such a base level of the OS should NOT be left to third party vendors – however innovative they might be. To me the subject of costs etc while valid is minor compared to the potential data loss.

    And this could the real reason that MS dropped the technology – they just couldn't make it completely safe themselves for their customers and they didn't want the hassle of lawsuits when someone lost 20TB of data! I don't really know – it is Microsoft after all and in this case the communication seems almost deliberately terse and unresponsive.

    Most of the "over the top reaction" probably stems from MS lack of open and frank communication on the removal of DE. Unfortunately there is no "all in one" product out there that now does everything so I too doubt very much that WHS2011 is going die.

    Personally I really like the idea of solutions like FlexRAID and unRaid – but FlexRAID is not up to commercial release yet and if you aren't familiar with Linux then unRaid can be quite daunting but does seem way more mature than most of the other solutions out there and can potentially be run on VMWare or VBox.

  8. Gary

    So it seems given there is not a single response of clear agreement that the few folks posting comments would agree that actually removing DE really was 'THAT' big a deal.

    I for one would agree, without DE WHS 11 looses one of it's key features and whilst I may move to WHS 11 in the future it will certainly be after an extensive search for something better. There are some great Linux based server alternatives riding in to fill the DE void.

  9. John

    Windows Home Server going forward is dead. Windows Home Server v1 will live on. The very fact that you can buy WHS 2011 for $50.00 bucks is a major sign of concession. Windows Home server was easy and transparent. Automatic backups, add storage (any storage usb, etc., any size) and it folds into one large drive.


  10. KevinM

    "it certainly has not killed the platform as so many people claimed"

    For me, removing DE killed the platform. I'll be sticking to v1 for the time being, and hope they add it back in a future release. My colleagues who are also using WHS feel the same – we are all giving version 2011 a miss.

  11. Karl K
    Karl K11-15-2011

    Tom, you are so busy defending yourself, you are missing the point. I was getting ready to upgrade to WHS 2011 until I found out about this, now I am not. I can get around the lack of DE–I just don't want to. If enough people don't want to upgrade, MS makes no money, and the product dies. They haven't appeared to be overly committed to it to begin with, lack of DE being evidence. This was a function that was HUGELY touted in v1. So I conclude that removing DE, thereby making enough people not upgrade, thereby resulting in monetary losses, may very well kill WHS. Count the number of times you say above "move to FreeNAS." I hope they DO create a great upgrade that will make the hassle of upgrading worth it – but they didn;t this time.

  12. Darol

    OK, I have to weigh in on this discussion, although I am coming in about a year late. I have been a typical WHS enthusiast since early 2008 when I bought my first Acer Easystore H340 for $325 at my local MicroCenter. Now this discussion of Drive Extender or the lack thereof has me somewhat baffled. You see, when WHS first his the scene in 2007, the natives became restless, in fact, most were downright irate that the platform was not using RAID. They came waving pitchforks and rakes chanting "We want RAID, we want RAID, we DEMAND that MS give us RAID!" Well the hubbub eventually died down as folks began to calm down from their knee-jerk reactions and actually learn about DE and it's features and usefulness. Is is perfect? No, nor is RAID perfect. What most folks then, as well as now fail to realize the this is a HOME server. It should not take an IT specialist or deep-tech geek to make it work and keep it going. It is for Mr. and Mrs. Ordinary Computeruser to keep their files and PC's safe through ongoing backups. I think the greatest feature of WHS 1 is PC backups and set-it-and-forget-it simplicity of the daily backup. DE with duplication keeps those family photos and other treasures safe along with regular server back ups. To me, the biggest failing of V1 was the inability to clone the OS drive to guard against server failure. Yes I know there are workarounds for that, but they are not for the faint of heart or the non-tech types.
    What really wounded (it is not dead by a long shot) WHS is a two sided coin. First, when HP killed the MediaSmart servers, that pretty much spelled doom for any hope of getting WHS 2011 off to anything other than a whimper of a start. Other major players such as Acer have made only promises, but about a year later have yet to deliver a platform with a pre-install of WHS 2011. Lenovo had a very short-lived dabble into the pre-built server market, but the IdeaCenter 400 died almost before it was born. I think the second biggest failure, the other side of that coin, is promotion. It was never pushed very hard by MS, retailers such as Best Buy or (then) Circuit City, or even MicroCenter never even had store displays or showed much of an interest of trying to develop a market or demand for the Home Server. I totally agree that the third party DE such as Drive Bender is a perfectly valid and quite inexpensive solution to add to the home-built WHS running WHS 2011. I have purchased (for a mere $50 I might add) WHS 2011 and installed it on one of my EasyStore H340 boxes. So far, so good. Seems to work great. Is my data safe? Time will tell, I am still going to run my V1 box with the mindset that it is primary, along with V 2011 as more of an experimental status. Thanks Tom, and keep us the good writing, don't let the naysayers get to you.
    It is just funny that DE, in the beginning was the hated feature that would prevent adoption of WHS as a viable platform, and here a mere three years later it's loss is being mourned and the future of WHS doomed because it went away.
    Darol, Overland Park Kansas Windows Home Server enthusiast, both versions.

  13. Jay

    Well after reading all this I must say I DO AGREE that removing DE was a monumental screwing of the proverbial pooch on Microsoft's part. BUT lest we all forget this isn't the first time Microsoft did this. Can you say Windows ME or VISTA? So WHY was DE removed? It's VERY SIMPLE….. MONEY. Here, I'll explain…. Microsoft ran into big problems with DE and SBS 2008. Part of this problem was because Microsoft coupled their WHS 2011 design team with SBS 2008…. simultaneously simply because WHS 2011 was being built on SBS 2008 architecture. So in the grand scheme of things we have DE, a wonderful piece of technology, BUT for who? Well unfortunately for DE it's primary benefit was to residential users and not businesses. Microsoft knows that, and their main target for SBS 2008 is businesses not Main Street Joe Blow America. For no reason other then to cut costs of development Microsoft decided that DE was not a priority problem to make work correctly with SBS 2008. Silly? YES. But this is how Corporate America works people.
    Now I have been using WHS 2011 for a little bit now and there are things I do like very much, but of course I have my gripes as well. First and foremost I am loving the price! $50 bucks for the OEM version of WHS 2011 vs the $100 price for an OEM version of WHS v1. Immediately a BIG PLUS, and leaves a buffer for the 3rd party applications we might purchase like a DE replacement. I LOVE the fact that I can VERY EASILY resize partitions with absolute ease using disk management tools built into WHS 2011. It works exactly like Windows 7's Disk Management does. A major problem with WHS across the board is that it designates for the user the partition size of the C: Drive. Now, I don;t know about you but if I use a 250 gig HD for my C: Drive I wanna use a 250 gig drive, not a 250 gig drive with a 60 gig partition. In WHS V1 you had to "hack" this during installation of WHS V1 and that was not difficult for an IT Professional BUT for a novice computer user it can be tedious. If you do not increase the main partition size it is VERY VERY EASY to end up with low disk space warnings pretty quickly. So this problem has been beautifully solved in WHS 2011. Another big plus to WHS 2011 is the driver library. Being that it works just like Windows 7 driver discovery does it is extremely effective. As we all know WHS V1 was the traditional have the drivers ready OR be prepared to do some searching for a driver compatible with WHS V1, and that could be challenging at times. Server 2003 and XP Drivers did NOT always work for some 3rd party hardware like esata cards and usb 3.0 cards. PAIN IN THE NECK for novice home users. Another plus.. it looks like Windows 7 so as the public migrates to Windows 7 we keep continuity in how all of our environments look and feel. I am so Windows 7 oriented that I admit, going back to a Windows XP environment bothers me lol.

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