The State of Vail (Windows Home Server v2)

I started to write this article on Sunday, at which time it had a lot different focus and the only thing that remains is the title. I was writing about what I liked in Vail and that many of the ways I use Windows Home Server had already migrated to Vail, despite it’s beta status. Then today Microsoft dropped a bomb and announced they were discontinuing Drive Extender in WHS and SBS.

My first reaction is that Windows Home Server v2 is dead to me. Drive Extender (DE) provided the features I most liked about Windows Home Server. The ability to pool drives of different capacities/capabilities and the RAID like folder duplication. I already have one share that exceeds the capacity of even the new 3TB drives and other shares are growing closer to that 2TB barrier where all the rules change. There are some things I just want to always work without muss or fuss. WHS provided that.

I never liked the media capabilities of WHS so that was never a big deal for me. Too many gaps.   I was recently looking at add-in options but was waiting for the final v2 release (luckily). I do like the PC backup capabilities but have never trusted it enough to put all my eggs in that basket. Besides, all the data I care about is on the server. So PC Backup isn’t enough to sell me on WHS.

I think part of the problem is MS was having issues with drive extender itself. There was the data corruption problem in version 1. I’ve been having a few strange issues on Vail which may be DE related, but it is beta software. Unfortunately I was expecting a company with Microsoft’s resources to fix the issues, not pull an existing feature. Microsoft has killed entire products before so I should be shocked by this, by I was.

A second issue is that Microsoft does see this as an OS for an appliance type device that OEMs sell, not for people like me building their own box. So I think Microsoft’s statement about working with their partners is a driving force. It may be a way for vendors to distinguish their products or offer tiers of servers at various price points.

Microsoft also said people wanted to be able to be able to remove a drive from WHS and still get at the files. While I don’t argue that there were complaints when this ability was removed in Vail it’s a terrible reason to remove DE

So does this really mean WHS is dead to me?

Probably. I’m going to need something as a home server (I use the term broadly in this case) and it will need some sort of OS. That OS might be Windows Home Server v2, but I seriously doubt it. Short of some killer third party software I don’t see any benefits WHS gives me over Linux (for example). Even with a killer third party or OEM solution I suspect it won’t survive a value evaluation. Good RAID is expensive and now the R&D expense has shifted to the third parties.

So this weekend I’ll probably go back to Windows Home Server v1. Since Vail was beta I’ve kept the hardest to handle files (all video and almost all music) on my version 1 server. Plus I’ve been copying all changes from Vail back to WHS v1 every night. So moving back will just require some changes to links and drive mappings. I’d removed some 2TB drives for the new build so space is a little tight so I’ll probably move a drive or two back. I’ll probably be on version 1 for awhile.

I don’t see much point in running Vail anymore. Maybe there will be some 3rd party apps or add-ins to fill in the bomb crater, but until then there’s not much point. So the question I have now is do I move version 1 to the new hardware and use the old hardware to explore other options? Or do I use the new hardware for my explorations?

I’m leaning towards testing on the new hardware. I’ll be using the available RAID so will want to test breaking and rebuilding the arrays with the hardware I’ll actually be using.

On the other hand Windows Home Server Version 1 isn’t going away. I certainly won’t be spending a lot on future add-ins, but what I have now will probably run through next year without a hiccup. I’m curious if the faster hardware will give version 1 any noticeable performance improvement.

Andrew Edney’s post on Using Windows Home Server was were I first read the bad news.

Alex Kuretz has an opinion piece that asks if Windows How Server is dead? Well, it may not be dead to me, but it’s on life support with a negative prognosis.

Update: I added some related links.

2 thoughts on “The State of Vail (Windows Home Server v2)”

  1. Yep, back to WHS v1 for me this weekend too, that's going to be a blast given I did put all my eggs (stupidly) in the Vail basket.

    Drive Extender pretty much is WHS for me, along with the automated backups which are useful for all the little things other people keep on their machines and don't want to lose.

    The other annoying thing is I will lose the nice 'clean install' backups I had set up of all the machines in the house.

    • Hi Chris, I imagine there will be more of the enthusiast crowd leaving Vail behind too. Vail was looking nice and I liked the changes a lot. I'm pretty bummed but keep telling myself v1 is still there and does what I want. Maybe Microsoft made the announcement just before the long Thanksgiving weekend (at least for many in the U.S.) to give us all time to go back to v1.

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