Vail Abandons Drive Extender V2 – An Opportunity for Microsoft, I Hope


As many people have seen, the Windows Home Server team stated that Microsoft is abandoning Drive Extender V2 in Vail. Many are crying foul and have even started to petition Microsoft to bring the new Drive Extender back which currently has approximately 1,500 signers. While most other sites are crying foul, as Drive Extender in Vail added some RAID 10 features with check summing, I have been of the position that Windows Home Server V1 and Vail are better off without using Drive Extender V2.Before going any further, let me say this, there are a lot of overreactions stating there is no compelling reason for Vail now. In some cases, where people want the lightest NAS possible with great Windows backups, this may be true. With that being said, 64-bit support, support for GPT disks, and from a stability standpoint, the community needs Vail. With Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 (R2) adoption rates being what they are, and the cost of hardware continually plummeting, Server 2003 and Windows XP are slowly becoming less relevant. Personally, I use Windows Server 2008 R2 daily and cannot think of a compelling reason to put Windows Server 2003 on machines.

Next, despite what may amount to a few thousand petitions, Microsoft will likely not bow to pressure and bring DE V2 back, and they should not (at least due to the petitions). I would be willing to wager that a very high proportion of WHS licenses are sold through OEMs like HP, Acer, and others where the software is pre-installed. Frankly, people that buy new home server units from these vendors are going to buy whatever is offered, and Vail will be a compelling enough upgrade from WHS to make the vendors simply use Microsoft’s latest and greatest. My guess is that Microsoft sells under 50,000 licenses to end customers doing home builds a year, so we are talking <$50m in revenue at risk (resellers take a cut) for a company that brings in $60-70B a year in revenue. I know at every large technology firm I have consulted for, a $50m product line is not a top priority.

Where Microsoft makes more money is selling Windows Server Products to small businesses. Let’s face it, RAID 10 or RAID 6 with a hot spare and BBWC performs better than WHS ever did. Even DE V2 could not match the performance of hardware RAID. As someone that has run 20+ drive (Hyper-V/ bare metal) WHS v1 installations with hardware RAID and directly attached drives using DE, WHS (and Server 2008 R2 for that matter) run much better when they have little idea that a drive failed. For example, removing a drive properly from WHS requires that all shares are taken offline for what can be a long rebuild process. I had a 2TB drive (Western Digital Green for those wondering) die this morning on a machine that was using the device directly not through RAID 10 or RAID 6. It was 96% full at the time and it is looking like a 6-7 hour removal time. New 3TB drives are 50% larger than previous generation 2TB drives but only 20-30% faster, so removal times for full drives are only going up.

I digress, where is the opportunity in this? With Microsoft removing DE, Vail is now compatible with the old NTFS stack and all of the software built over the years for it. NTFS is clearly not the best file system around, and ZFS is not either, but at least NTFS is a known quantity because it has been used all over the place. Frankly, hardware RAID works much better than Windows Home Server’s Drive Extender technology ever did.

What I think we should all be hoping for is not DE v2, instead it is Microsoft building a version of “MS-ZFS” that is production ready across the board from desktop to server versions of Windows. Right now, EMC, NetApp, HP, Hitachi and a myriad of smaller vendors are all hot on solid state caching. With next-gen eMLC and new consumer 25nm SSDs hitting lower price points, Microsoft is probably better served looking at something that can address multiple storage tiers, SSDs, cheap SATA storage, Windows Home Server/ NAS storage, and cloud-based storage. Being able to integrate those four tiers while focusing on data integrity would do wonders for Microsoft. The big opportunity here is moving everything to a better file system, and having one Windows file system, not one for Windows 7 and Server 2008 and another for NAS appliances and very small business storage servers.

Aside from all of this, one reason I am excited is that this announcement opens up a lot of possibilities for something better. The question I have been asking myself over the past few months with test Vail setups is, could DE v2 + NTFS be the future of Windows file systems. My hope has been no, and it appears, at least for the time being, that it is not. I understood file corruption I saw because Microsoft clearly labeled this as beta software. Looking at WHS v1’s release, file corruption was not an infrequent “feature” of the software, but it has gotten better with time. Let us hope that Microsoft has taken the experience of WHS V1’s launch and has made this decision with the express intention of building something better, across the board, down the road. One of the first steps one sees in companies transitioning to a new technology platform is curtailing investment in new features for old platforms, hopefully making this transition away from NTFS + DE V2 a precursor to a new, improved, and universal MS-ZFS file system.

I am sure a lot of people were disheartened by Microsoft’s announcement so feel free to vent in comments if need be.


  1. Patrick,

    I’ve always enjoyed reading about your massive WHS setup. Iw ould have to disagree with you on a couple of points.

    I’m on the High End of the Power-Home user of computers. The reason I fell in love with WHS was its ease of use and ability to grow with my needs. I home built my WHS and am about ready to drop 4TB of HDD space into it this weekend. Because of DE, I can do this. Without DE, I would have to go and setup a RAID array or multiple RAID arrays… something I have no knowledge or insight into.

    Then beyond this, I would have to create or buy a backup program. I’m not a developer, so I’d have to buy one that could handle backing up my Main Home PC and then have that backup backed up for redundancy…

    The easy answer here is “Cloud Computing”. Well, I already have a key set of files backed up to the Cloud… how am I supposed to backup my entire music collection, photo collection and movie collection to the cloud? Then what about when I want to play that movie on a different computer or stream it to the HTPC I hope to build next year…

    This is why WHS and DE were so important to me. It made my life SUPER easy so that I could sleep well at night knowing everything was backed up and that when I’m on the main computer, my kids can still save their files to the server from either the laptop or our other desktop computer and my wife can print pictures from our laptop while I’m playing Starcraft and my kids are surfing…

    For me, DE was about ease of use and peace of mind… with Vail, I am sure that backups will still give me peace of mind… but will it still be easy or will I have to go and learn a whole new technology set before it becomes easy again?


  2. the loss of DE is a potential issue, but if M$ replaces DE with something of similar functionality then there is no major problem.

    i suppose time will tell.

    i also like the functionality of DE whereby i can simply add further hard drives, but if M$ creates something similar but in a different way then i see no problem.

  3. Have to disagree with you here, I was really hoping that DE would be a stepping stone to a better filesystem that would be expanded into other home product lines.

    For me the big winner of WHS is how easy it is to just toss in a new disk when I start running low on space. I really have no knowledge of RAID and quite frankly: I don’t WANT to learn. I have my hobbies and the things I enjoy doing, managing storage is not one of them, nor will it ever. Being able to check a few settings and have reasonably protected storage is a winning feature for me, and while I will likely still upgrade to Vail (with FlexRaid or something running on it) for the support and better performance/stability, I will be sad to lose the ease of use.

  4. Thank you for being a lone voice of reason in a sea of hyperbole.

    I too see this as a huge opportunity for something better. DE never did impress me – the hack that it was (and is). Like you, I eagerly await the greater opportunities that native NTFS support will present.

    Like you say, it’s all in how this is handled. I do agree that if they just drop DE and don’t have some minimal backup strategy, then this will be pretty bad – but I highly doubt that will happen. The WHS team has been pretty aggressive and forward thinking in the past.

    Here’s to hoping short term pain equates long term gain.

  5. “For me the big winner of WHS is how easy it is to just toss in a new disk when I start running low on space. I really have no knowledge of RAID and quite frankly: I don’t WANT to learn. […] while I will likely still upgrade to Vail (with FlexRaid or something running on it) for the support and better performance/stability, I will be sad to lose the ease of use.”

    Do you honestly think a vendor like HP will require you to use something like FlexRAID?

    Can we hold off the coming apocalypse until the product at least enters release candidate and maybe one or two manufacturers debut their Vail solutions?

  6. Until they are more forthcoming with WHAT(if anything) the product will be getting, I will be making contingency plans. Their comments about larger drives negating the need for drive pooling really sparks some fear in me, and unless the OEM solutions are backported into a license of Vail that I can use on my homebuilt machine I won’t be buying. I don’t buy big-box computers for a reason, if I wanted a little dedicated simple NAS machine I would buy a QNAP and call it a day.

  7. if “we” don’t like WHS Vail (Vista!!!) then surely “we” merely stay with WHS v1 (XP!!!) until WHS v3 (Windows 7!!!)

    ok, perhaps the parallels are a little unfair at this point-in-time

    afterall, M$ have said what they are removing, they MIGHT add something in its place.

    out of interest, on a vail system, could DEv1 be added by the end-user as a program /service?

  8. Heh, I’d forgotten all about WinFS, though from that writeup it seems as though it’s more about making your material discoverable than providing an easy pooling ability(which is all I care about).

  9. I think it is a more than valid opinion that DE v1 and the accompanying ease of use is awesome.

    Fact is, corruption was fairly scary in the v2 incarnation. I had only copied about 150TB to the Vail systems, but I was less than impressed.

    If MS can keep some sort of WHS V1 DE in Vail that would probably be a win so long as it had GPT volume support.

    Short of that I will be sure to cover alternatives.

  10. If you do I will be glad to read them, I’m really coming to enjoy reading your writeups. +1 for presenting simply some fairly complex concepts.

  11. Patrick,

    Can’t wait to read your updates on potential alternatives… Like I said, I read your site regularly, especially the “Big Server”… I’m jealous and use your site as a trusted resource.


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