Steve Ballmer promises to “look into” Windows Home Server Drive Extender removal

By Tom Warren, on 30th Nov 10 4:15 pm with 2 Comments

Steve Ballmer has personally promised to look into the Windows Home Server drive extender removal.

Microsoft announced last week that it plans to remove the Drive Extender functionality from Windows Home Server “Vail”, Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials and Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials. In a surprising move the software giant explained that, due to customer feedback, it would be pulling the feature. Microsoft heard from customers, during the Vail and SBS 2011 beta’s, that many users are expanding their data use to 1TB and 2TB drives. Microsoft had originally planned to continue supporting multiple internal and external hard drives. Drive Extender allowed users to take small drives and pool them together to create a simple volume.

Microsoft announced the cut in a company blog posting last Tuesday:

“When weighing up the future direction storage in the consumer and SMB market, the team felt the Drive Extender technology was not meeting our customer needs. Customers also told us that they wanted easier access to data stored on Drive Extender drives so they are able to view these files outside of Drive Extender. Therefore, moving forward we have decided to remove the Drive Extender technology from Windows Home Server Code Name “Vail” (and Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials and Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials) which are currently in beta.”

The move angered many die hard Windows Home Server fans and Wegotserved, a Home Server enthusiast site, decided to email Steve Ballmer about it. Terry Walsh sent Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, the following email:

Dear Steve,

I’ve been a Windows Home Server MVP for the last three years, and I know you’re always keen to hear feedback about your organisation’s product and services from the MVP community.

There’s a significant storm brewing around Microsoft’s next-gen home server platform that I wanted to give you a heads up on and hopefully, inspire you to act. I’ll keep it as brief as possible (excuse the bullet points).

The Story So Far…

  • The decision has been taken to align the code across future versions of Windows Home Server, and two new business oriented releases – Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials and Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials.
  • A core component of the next –gen Windows Home Server (the storage subsystem) called Drive Extender has been found by your developers to create issues on the two small business SKUs with LOB applications.
  • As a result, the decision has been taken to remove the feature from all three SKUs (as the code is aligned). This is eight months into a public beta.
  • Drive Extender is widely regarded as one of the great Microsoft innovations over the last few years – it provides all of the benefits of RAID, with the ability to mix and match hard drives create a storage pool, protect files and folders and dies away with drive letters. It’s fantastically consumer focused and sits at the very heart of the home server proposition.
  • Culling the feature in the home server platform effectively removes the major differentiation vs a growing stable of cheaper and better featured Linux NAS boxes. It fundamentally cripples the consumer proposition.
  • The decision was announced two days ago – since then over 600 negative comments have been left by existing customers on Microsoft Connect, a further 300+ on the Windows Team Blog (here and here), and my own website has had around 200 comments (here and here) deriding the decision. 99% of them say the same three things:

    a. Why should an issue around LOB application support for small business impact a consumer targeted product which does not need LOB application support?

    b. There is little reason to upgrade to the new version of WHS as it now offers significantly less features than v1.
    c. The implication of aligning the code for home and small business products has effectively led to Microsoft losing sight of the consumer (and existing user base), in favour of the new small business customer.

What We Need From You

The development team have announced a planned RTM for all three SKUs by 1H 2011. There’s more than six months available to investigate, act and test. I’d be really grateful if you could:

  • Check out the feedback your customers are providing – they’re telling you clearly what they need from you.
  • Investigate the decision to remove Drive Extender from all three SKUs & the implicated lack of customer focus.
  • Invite the team to look at an alternative way forward for the home server SKU:E.g. Fork the code, pull Drive Extender v2 out of the Small Biz SKUs and reserve it for the consumer proposition.Or: Port Drive Extender v1 into Windows Home Server Vail

I understand Windows Home Server remains a niche product, and the small business server opportunity is compelling. My headline is that the next-generation of the product is currently on life support, but with improved consumer focus, clear thinking (and better consumer marketing, but that’s a different story) Microsoft has the opportunity now to save Windows Home Server before it flatlines.

Thanks for your time and best wishes,

Terry Walsh

Editor, We Got Served

Sure enough, Ballmer replied with “Let’s look into it”. Although the brief response is not a confirmation that Microsoft will reverse its announced changes, it offers hope to those who were disappointed at the announcement. Microsoft has around six months left before Windows Home Server ‘vail’ is expected to release to manufacturing (RTM).

  • GP007

    Well this is good, I think they shouldn’t take it out but just turn it off be default and then leave it up to the user to turn on or not. I was looking at a drobo after I heard about this but looking at those because of their data protection system a good chunk of data is missing/lost and I don’t really need to protect everything on there.

    Since what I really want it just to be able to store all the media I have I plan to mostly have the server off or just idle until I want to store or stream somthing to my TVs so the need for protection is pretty much not there for me. In this case I’d rathing be able to use the full capacity of my drives instead of losing a chunk like I would with a drobo or RAID.

  • Michael Stanclift

    I don’t know why everyone is getting so excited about his response. He didn’t promise to do anything, just that he’d look into it. For all we know this is as far as it’ll ever get.