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Sunday
Feb062011

Windows Home Server RIP?

I’ve been running an HP MediaSmart Windows Home Server for a while now, and I’ve actually found it quite useful. There are many PCs in my house (laptops, desktops, home theater PC and media center), and they’ve all been hooked up to the home server, saving me a bunch of pain and hassle.

The PCs back up every day – the whole drive. I can restore a PC from bare metal very quickly (I’ve used this feature on two occasions when hard drives have died). I’m told that this integrates with Time Machine on the Mac, too, but I don’t have a Mac.

Anti-virus on all PCs and the server stays up-to-date automatically thanks to the Avast! anti-virus suite, which has a version specifically for WHS.

The server itself hosts network shares for user files that are duplicated across multiple physical drives in the server.

Adding and removing drives on-the-fly is simple.

WHS has a plugin model that allows me to add Amazon S3 offsite storage as an additional backup for the shares.

I have a ton of media stored on the server, and it’s all streamable to the PCs and a few XBox 360 consoles (in Media Center Extender mode).

All of this is available remotely when I’m on the road via a secure web site.

Generally, I think this is one of the best products Microsoft has ever shipped, but several things have happened recently to make me think that the ride is over.

First, Microsoft have decided to kill the Drive Extender technology that’s at the heart of the storage and redundancy engine of WHS. This technology has a checkered history – it was destined to become the storage mechanism for all Windows Server versions, but exhibited some nasty bugs early on in life that caused data corruption. Those problems were fixed, and in my experience the technology has been very solid since then, but apparently more problems appeared during testing with several corporate server software products, and Microsoft has decided to take a different path. It looks like the next version of WHS will have to interoperate with a Drobo-like hardware solution instead.

Second, I was recently “volunteered” to give an internal presentation on Windows 7 Explorer, and during my research on this, I discovered that the new Libraries system in Windows 7 doesn’t quite work fully with Windows Home Server. Specifically, a Documents library, when asked to “Arrange by Type”, doesn’t include library locations on a Windows Home Server. The location is indexed (WHS Power Pack 3 is installed, Windows Search is installed and running), but the files on the WHS location simply don’t show up in “Arrange by Type” view (and, curiously, only this view, it seems). Indexed files on a traditional network share on a standard Windows Server 2003 show up just fine in this library view, so I think this is a WHS problem.

Third, I also noticed that files on a regular network share that I’d deleted months ago still appeared in the library in some view modes, but if I try to open them I get a “File Not Found” error. This appears to be a problem with Windows 7 Libraries, to be fair to WHS.

All of this fails to give me a warm and fuzzy feeling about the future of Windows Home Server.

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