Windows Home Server ‘Vail’ omits Drive Extender

Back in December Microsoft caused a bit of a ruckus in the Windows Home Server community by announcing that the next version of Windows Home Server, codenamed “Vail,” will not include the Drive Extender technology that enabled users to easily add on storage to their systems: when users connected storage, the existing drives used by the system simply got bigger, and users didn’t have to muss and fuss with a myriad of drive letters and reconfiguring applications. Windows Home Server fans had called on Microsoft to re-examine the decision, arguing that Drive Extender was one of the features that made Windows Home Server distinct from other solutions like NAS devices, but now Microsoft has begun shipping Windows Home Server 2011 to testers…and Drive Extender is nowhere to be found.

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Home Server fans embraced Drive Extender because it vastly simplified the process of expanding storage on a server: simple install or attach a new drive (whether internal to the server or external via USB or another interface) and Drive Extender would detect the drive, format it, and automatically add its capacity to the server’s pool of storage capacity. Users did not need to worry about drive letters, or reconfiguring things like media servers, backup applications, and other utilities to access the drive. Users also didn’t have to worry about copying material back and forth between distinct drives to make room where it was needed: Drive Extender handled all the heavy lifting transparently.

Microsoft argued that in an era where terabyte-capacity hard drives are increasingly common, technologies like Drive Extender were no longer needed by most users. Windows Home Server 2011 instead offers a “Move Folder Wizard,” which automatically detects when new drives are connected and holds users’ hands through a setup process. Windows Home Server 2011 also includes a Shadow Copy utility that will automatically back up a drive’s contents to another location. However, Windows Home Server has a hard limit of 2 TB per logical partition. Some home server enthusiasts plan to work around lack of Drive Extender using software RAIDS or drives mounted as directories using NTFS; however, both those solutions are somewhat geekier than Drive Extender’s simple setup.

Drive Extender was not without its detractors: the feature has been blamed for file loss and corruption issues seen by some early Windows Home Server users. Windows Home Server enthusiasts generally recommended only using the feature with complete and incremental backups—but that’s good advice for any system.

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