Microsoft Abandons Drive Extender for Vail, Aurora, Breckenridge

Microsoft announced that Drive Extender will no longer be part of Small Business Server Essentials "Aurora," Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials "Breckenridge" and Windows Home Server "Vail."

Microsoft has decided to remove its Drive Extender storage technology from the upcoming versions of Small Business Server Essentials, Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials and Windows Home Server.

The decision was announced Nov. 23 on the Windows Home Server blog by Michael Leworthy, a Microsoft product manager. Noting that "large hard drives of over 1TB are reasonably priced" and 2TB drives are "becoming easily accessible to small businesses," the team felt the Drive Extender technology "was not meeting our customer needs," wrote Leworthy.

Microsoft's Drive Extender technology provided the ability to take individual hard drives and pool them together into a single volume. When adding a disk to the server, administrators could select whether to add the new storage to the default storage pool to increase total capacity or designate it as a backup drive.

Acknowledging that the decision meant there was no "integrated ability" to pool storage or for automated data duplication, Microsoft will "work closely" with OEM partners for an alternative product, according to Leworthy. "This will provide customers with greater choice as well as a seamless experience that will meet their storage needs," he wrote.

Critics alleged that quality hardware RAID solutions are expensive, and the resulting product is more likely to be too complicated for the less technically inclined while Drive Extender had simplified the entire process dramatically.

Windows Server 2008 R2 has built-in capabilities for data protection, and "core features" such as automated server and PC backup, easy sharing of folders and files, remote Web access, and simplified management are still included, Leworthy wrote.

Home Server, code-named "Vail," Small Business Server Essentials, code-named "Aurora," and Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials, code-named "Breckenridge," are all in beta and are expected to be released in the first half of 2011. Leworthy said in the blog post that the anticipated product launch date remains the same, with a new beta without Drive Extender to be available early in the year.

The Drive Extender feature, while highly anticipated, has not been without its share of controversy. In an earlier version from 2007, a serious bug caused data corruption amongst some users. Despite Leworthy's claim that the change was fueled by customer and tester feedback, the comments on the Windows Home Server blog were negative, with customers angry that the "key feature/selling point" was being removed.

Enthusiast site We Got Served called it a "shock move," pointing out that the decision came almost eight months into the public beta of the three platforms. Terry Walsh called Drive Extender "one of Microsoft's most innovative engineering feats" on the site's blog. Walsh noted that Microsoft had been slowly re-engineering Drive Extender, limiting its potential and creating an "inherent weakness" over the past two years. His implication was that these limitations and changes were the reasons many beta testers criticized the technology, leading to Microsoft's decision.

Alex Kuretz, an integration and test engineer for HP's MediaSmart Server, was a bit more blunt, writing on his blog, "It is saddening and frustrating to have invested so much time and energy into a something that has such obvious value and to then watch it slowly be dismantled into a nearly useless shell of its former being."