23 Nov 2010

On Drive Extender

Author: q | Filed under: Aurora, Beta, Breckenridge, Breckenridge, Drive Extender, SBS

Today, Microsoft announced the removal of the Drive Extender technology from the “Colorado” product line. That includes the next version of Home Server, SBS 2011 Essentials, and Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials, all of which are still in beta. The Home Server announcement is at http://windowsteamblog.com/windows/b/windowshomeserver/archive/2010/11/23/windows-home-server-code-name-vail-update.aspx and the SBS 2011 Essentials announcement is at http://blogs.technet.com/b/sbs/archive/2010/11/23/windows-small-business-server-2011-essentials-update.aspx. There are a lot of folks in the Home Server arena who are probably going to be really unhappy about this, as well as some who were looking forward to having Drive Extender in SBS 2011 Essentials (Aurora) and Storage Server 2003 R2 Essentials (Breckenridge). Personally, I”m thinking it”s a good thing for my business and the potential customers we have who will be looking at these products.


For those who are asking “What is Drive Extender and why should I care,” here”s a brief summary. Drive Extender was a disk management technology introduced with Windows Home Server that allowed the total storage on the box to be expanded by adding any size disk of any kind. Wikipedia has a little better description at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_Home_Server#Drive_Extender. On my Home Server at home, I have a pair of 500GB disk drives, a 1TB drive, all connected on the internal SATA controller, and just added a 750GB USB drive,all pooling to have one large storage area available for my music library and my wife”s photo library. Unlike RAID,where all the disks have to be exactly the same geometry and the entire array has to be rearranged when new disks are added, with Drive Extender the newly-added disk can be added to the storage pool at any time and increases the overall storage amount.


While Drive Extender was cool technology for the Home Server market, I had real concerns about it in the Aurora and Breckenridge products. Yes, having the ability to add storage willy-nilly without a concern about the size and type of drive seems nice, but many application vendors refused to support their products on a Drive Extender platform. While logically all the storage appears to be one large single volume, the actual data stored on the drives could literally be anywhere, and possibly in multiple locations. Think about a SQL database where the log files might be stored physically on a SATA-connected drive, but the database files actually resided on external USB storage. As far as the OS was concerned, it was all one large volume, but the performance in that scenario would have been a real mess.


So as I”ve been working with Aurora and planning for how we”ll be rolling out SBS 2011 Essentials implemtnations, I was already making plans to boost the storage in a box that would run Aurora to ensure that some disk was allocated to Drive Extender for storage of some data, but other disk would be excluded from the Drive Extender pool so that I could install LOB application data (i.e., QuickBooks, SharePoint, Kerio Connect, etc.) onto the non-DE storage area. But then how do you protect the non-DE storage area? Put it on a RAID array? Then what”s the value of DE if I”m already putting in some sort of hardware fault-tolerance on the box? And what if a vendor chooses to say “we dont” support our product on SBS 2011 Essentials” because of DE, even though I”ve got their data and/or application installed on non-DE storage? That”s a possible support nightmare I was not looking forward to getting into.


So, today, we know that DE will no longer be a part of the Colorado family, and we”re waiting on updated beta builds of the product that do not have the DE technology implemented. Now I can speak more confidently about what application support will look like on Aurora, because there is no DE to confuse the issue. I can start scoping out “standard” hardware to use as a foundation for an Aurora install. Am I going to have to rethink how I do my next “home server” box at the house? Sure, but I wasn”t sure I was going to make that box run on Home Server anyway, I”m probably doing that one on Aurora. And we don”t sell a lot of Home Server in our business, and pretty much won”t once Aurora and Breckenridge become available.


While I can see how the Home Server folks are going to lament the loss of DE from their product, as cool as it is, removing that technology removes a LOT of roadblocks I was expecting for Aurora and Breckenridge, and that”s good news for my business.

3 Responses to “On Drive Extender”

  1. Tim Carney Says:

    I agree with your analysis, this is a good thing!

  2. Licantrop0 Says:

    I do not agree. Windows Home Server was not supposed to be an application server or something more.
    Windows Home Server (and Vail) should be just a FILE SERVER, containing backups and all company files.
    A file server without DDE and Shadow Copies is a non-sense.
    If SBS need to be something more and should support more hardware/software, it”s ok, remove DDE from that, but not from Vail.

  3. eriq Says:

    I completely agree that it”s unfortunate that WHS won”t get the updated DE. And if Vail had been the only product being developed on that codebase, maybe MS would have dedicated more resources to getting DE to work. But given that they couldn”t get DE to work properly, even in Vail, it”s still a better thing that they removed it than releasing Vail with faulty drive storage. We saw what happened with the data corruption problems in WHS, which nearly killed the product in the consumer”s eyes. Releasing Vail with know faulty DE would have completely nuked the entire project.

    Would it have been nice to have Vail with DE and Aurora and Breckenridge without? Yes, to me that would have been the ideal approach. But I”m not in the decision loop in the development team and can only deal with the cards that MS hands out.

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