Drive Extender’s removal from WHS 2011 did NOT kill the WHS platform
Microsoft’s Windows Home Server (v1) had an extremely loyal following. Despite a second iteration Windows Home Server (2011) being released, WHS v1 STILL has a loyal following. The main reason for this is around a technology called “Drive Extender” which to the chagrin of us loyal WHS users, Microsoft decided to remove it in WHS 2011 due to compatibility issues.
Using WHS Drive Extender (DE), people could pool their local disk storage without using drive letters. Beyond that DE used a technology often called JBOD (just-a-bunch-of-disks) which allows users to create a single drive out of a pool of varying sized drives. It also had a simple yet effective way of dealing with data redundancy, and that was by copying the files on a separate physical hard disk. It turned out that Drive Extender was not compatible with a lot of the new server apps included in Windows Server 2008, and as a result it was not included in Windows Homer Server 2011, previously code-named “Vail”.
The backlash of this decision was immense, to some it spelled the end of Windows Home Server with many people saying the platform was forever dead. Personally, I was not one of these people, as you can see from the flaming I’ve received from one of my more notorious articles “Was Drive Extenders Removal from WHS 2011 ever THAT Big of a Deal?”. You can read the comments on there to see just how vehemently people disagreed with my opinion that while the removal of Drive Extender certainly took away an extremely popular feature of WHS, I felt that it was far from a decision that would “kill” the platform. It turns out that I was right.
Even though Home Server Drive Extender is gone as we formally knew it, Microsoft has been working on other storage innovations. These innovations, while similar to Drive Extender, are more stable and implemented in a much more efficient manner.
This new technology designed to replace the adored Drive Extender was discussed at a Developer Conference for Windows 8 recently:
A new Windows Server 8 capability highlighted on Wednesday is “storage spaces,” which will let users take just-a-bunch-of-disks (JBOD) collections and carve out a space or pool that shows up as drive using the new Server Manager. Users can use this feature to simply attach JBODs to Windows Server 8, explained Brian Surace, a senior program manager on the Windows team. No external storage array was used to create the pool. The improved Server Message Block 2.1 (SMB 2.1) protocol was used to help make this pooled storage available, he said.
[via Virtualization Review]
It is applicable not only to physical storages but to virtualization deployments also. There have been changes made to the NTFS, and now it can heal itself online with very little downtime. Also, Check Disk has been greatly improved and it takes only 8 seconds on a disk with 100 million files, compared to 100 minutes it took for the previous version.
Server 8 is massive leap compared to its previous editions and Microsoft plans to make a big impact through its release which is anticipated next year. But of all the new technologies incorporated in Windows 8, a replacement for Drive Extender has got to be the best news, especially for fans of Windows Home Server. What it also shows is that the WHS platform never was “dead”, it was just going through some “growing pains.”
I’ve always tried to compare what Windows Home Server has gone through to the “Windows XP to Windows Vista to Windows 7” example. Most people chose to “skip” Windows Vista because it was so slow and buggy compared to Windows XP. Yet, when Windows 7 came out, and many of the issues of Vista were resolved, people flocked to it. I’m betting the same thing will happen with the Windows Home Server platform.
So again I stand by my defense of the Windows Home Server platform, suggesting that the removal of Drive Extender didn’t kill the platform, but merely forced Microsoft to come up with better technology. Only time will tell if “Storage Spaces” will end up in the next version of Windows Home Server, though it seems logical that it will. It also seems logical that as popular, robust, and stable as the Windows Home Server platform is, its life was not cut short by the exclusion of Drive Extender from Windows Home Server 2011.
[slider graphic contains images from Philip Churchill's MSWHS.com]