Windows Home Server Dropped Drive Extender - Now What?

GeekSpeak, Media comments edit

A couple years back when I was researching storage solutions for my media center, I landed on Windows Home Server because of a feature called “Drive Extender” that basically lets you put a bunch of disks of different sizes into the server and have them create One Big Volume. No need to deal with RAID or any super technical stuff the average user doesn’t understand. Plug and play. It’s one of my favorite features and it’s one of the primary reasons I settled on Windows Home Server.

From a features-I-use standpoint, there are really three key use cases for me:

  1. Storage. Photos, music, videos, documents… just general storage. Being able to expand that easily and have some fault tolerance through the data duplication in Drive Extender is key.
  2. Backup. The ability to have my computers automatically backed up to a central location is really cool. It’s a full disk image, too, so if anything goes south you can restore the complete machine, OS and all.
  3. Media (DLNA) server. Streaming pictures, videos, and music to devices on my network.

It appears that the next version of Windows Home Server hasdropped the Drive Extender capability. That’s 1/3 of the reason I like my WHS. Technically, the media serving capability of WHS is pretty limited, so I use Asset UPnP to handle music and the videos mostly get dealt with through file sharing rather than DLNA… so that’s 2/3 down, leaving the backup as the key feature draw.

Looking at the next version of Windows Home Server (code name “Vail”), even if they keep the backup feature in place, I don’t think there’s compelling reason for me to upgrade. (Yes, I voted to have them keep Drive Extender in the next version, but I’m guessing the decision’s been made.) They could update the DLNA server, but I’ll put money down that it won’t transcode Apple Lossless music over the network so I’d still have to use something like Asset UPnP to fill the gaps. Without the easy storage upgradeability… eh. It’s a file server. Not compelling.

So now what?

I ran into a bit of a reliability problem with some bad drives in my WHS a while ago and went looking for a new storage solution. I ended upgetting a Synology DS1010+ to move my DVD library to. It’s super stable - I’ve not had to reboot it in months - and the expandability is easy. It (along with several other Synology products) have a feature called “Synology Hybrid RAID” that is, basically, Drive Extender. It “optimizes volume size when combining hard disks of different sizes.” That said, it also has full-on RAID if you prefer to manage things that way. It has a DLNA server (though I’ve not had a chance to try it myself, I can’t imagine it’d be any more limited than the WHS v1 server). Really, the only thing it doesn’t have is full image-based backup, though it will do data backup and integrates with Apple Time Machine.

There are also a ton of other features that come built-in.

Am I trying to sell you a Synology device? Not necessarily. I’ve just had good luck with mine so far and if I had to choose between that and the new Windows Home Server, I’d probably end up with the Synology. It’s a little more expensive than some of the WHS offerings out there, but you do seem to get what you pay for, at least in this case.