How-To Geek

9 Alternatives for Windows Home Server’s Drive Extender

Now that Microsoft has officially killed off the best part about Windows Home Server what can you do? Here are some alternatives for drive extender that you can use if you want to build a WHS of your own.

So What Is Drive Extender?

The idea of drive extender for Windows Home Server is you can have as many hard drives as you want and they all group together into the same pool of storage. This is similar to a RAID setup but drive extender had a few cards up it’s sleeve that made it invaluable for a NAS appliance.

  • No special RAID controller or hardware was needed.
  • Hard drives did not have to match in size or manufacturer so you could literally take any hard drive and use it in your pool.
  • Hard drives used standard NTFS filesystems. If something bad happened, you could just pull out the drive and plug it into another computer to view and recover files.

There were some downsides to drive extender as well and version 2 for Windows Home Server “Vail” was supposed to fix most of those problems. However Microsoft ran into other problems with v2 and they did not see it in their best interest to continue maintaining the software.

Windows Home Server had a few other benefits as a storage solution over a standard Windows installation but for many people, drive extender was the only reason to use the product. Now that Microsoft has killed it off, let’s look at some alternatives.

I am not going to shy away from Linux alternatives in this list because in many cases Linux may be easier and better for the solution you are looking for. Linux has the benefit of being free, has lower hardware requirements, and if you are just looking for shared storage, 100% compatible with samba shares for Windows and OS X.

Windows Alternatives

Windows built-in software RAID – Windows has come with its own software RAID built into the OS since the Windows 2000 days. While this solution may not have the best performance, it doesn’t require any additional software and is supported by Microsoft. If you are looking to set up Windows software RAID check out our how-to article explaining the process.

Note: Software RAID options may not be available in all versions of Windows.

disParity –  disParity is a software RAID solution that is very minimalistic. It is completely command line driven which can be very good for some people and very scary for others. It will allow you to set up your data drives and then also keep a parity drive for recovery. It doesn’t quite group drives in a pool of information but more focuses on the recovery aspect of RAID.

FlexRAIDflexRAID, similar to disParity, focuses on the recovery abilities of RAID rather than the massive storage pool. It requires a parity drive, just like disParity, but it can be configured from a web page and runs as a Windows service. There are also instructions in their forums on setting up FlexRAID on an existing Windows Home Server if you already have one.

Linux Alternatives

Logical Volume ManagementLVM provides a management layer to set up multiple disks spanning into one, dynamic resizing of volumes, and even hard drive replacements inside of a volume. As a matter of fact, LVM sounds like the perfect alternative for any Linux based WHS replacement and it comes with every major distribution. Be sure to check out our upcoming how-to on setting it up with Ubuntu Server.

unRAID – Lime Tech, the company behind unRAID, provides DIY licenses to build your own setup as well as whole servers that can replace your current NAS. The DIY server is designed to run completely from a USB drive and has the flexibility of drive extender while also keeping the data recovery of RAID. The server is free if you have 3 or less hard drives and there are reasonable license costs for more drives. If you are looking for a quick overview on how it works check out Revision 3’s video.

MooseFSMooseFS is a bit more involved than the other solutions but it is much more flexible as well. All of the other solutions have relied on one machine with a lot of hard drives plugged in. MooseFS relies on a couple servers running management with a lot of other computers doing the storage. It is called a distributed filesystem and if you have Linux computers lying around your house this may be your best solution. Otherwise it probably is best to leave it for corporations and businesses.

GlusterFSGluster is a lot like MooseFS above, and Ceph below, and is probably a bit of a bigger solution than you are looking for. Gluster is another distributed file system that doesn’t rely on one computer to do all the storage, but you will need at least one that is on all the time to host the shared volumes to your clients.

Beta Options

All of the options above are fully stable and at least somewhat mature options. There are a couple more options you may want to look at. Despite being beta releases, they have some features that the others may not incorporate.

GreyholeGreyhole project employs the JBOD approach to storage but along with local disks you can also mount and use remote filesystems in your storage pool. Unlike some other solutions that only create a storage pool or only focus on redundancy, greyhole can do both and is a great open source alternative to drive extender and folder duplication on WHS.

CephCeph is a new distributed file system that is just now starting to make its way into the Linux kernel. While it is very similar to MoosFS and Gluster it boasts better performance, is based on BTRFS, and has a cool octopus logo. It is aimed to be use by businesses and isn’t ready for deployment yet, but so was WHS in a sense.

Justin Garrison is a Linux and HTPC enthusiast who loves to try new projects. He isn't scared of bricking a cell phone in the name of freedom.

  • Published 11/29/10

Comments (21)

  1. NLS

    You missed at least one for Windows. Liquesce.
    You could classify it as beta, but then easily FlexRAID and DisParity also classify as such.

    (only for JBOD not recovery – but you can mix FlexRAID for recovery and Liquesce for the JBOD anyway)

  2. Erik

    What about MHDDFS instead of LVM? I’ve been looking into this and has seen MHDDFS mentioned as superior to LVM.

  3. Grant

    What I use is mirrored RAID as a base for the LVM physical volume. This gives me both the redundancy of RAID, and the ability to throw more disk at it when I need the space. It takes a little bit of knowing what you are doing to set it up, but once it is up and running, it is very low maintenance.

  4. Cameron

    After the DE fiasco last week – I made the decision to migrate off of my WHS box that serves 12TB of data in my home network. After much research, I decided to go with a solution you don’t mention – FeeBSD with ZFS.

    ZFS seemed to be both the most complete solution (disk pooling, expanding volumes, data redundancy) with the most simplicity. Granted, as a relative UNIX newbie it took me most of the weekend to get everything up and running (still need to figure out a couple of permissions issues) I’m now in the process of transferring over all the data.

    For people not wanting to get into the mess of building up the OS and services yourself, there’s always FreeNAS, which provides an out of the box solution.

  5. Nick Bencino

    Out of curiosity can I create a pooled volume in Windows 7 without formatting the drives i want to pool?

  6. Smurf-IV

    4 windows os’s there are currently 3 options
    FlexRaid View
    Have a google search on those terms

  7. welchwerks

    We can always stay with whs v1

  8. Brad

    Welchwerks said it and I wonder if it’s true….I have WHS v1 and don’t want to lose anything….I loved the ability to toss in a couple different drives and everything was perfect…..I’m still good right?

  9. J. Anthony Carter

    Not to be a grammar Nazi or anything but it’s s-e-n-s-e, not s-e-n-c-e. Really threw me there for a few seconds trying to figure out what in the hell that word was! :-)

  10. ncage

    Another one you missed is DFS under windows server. I forgot which version they added replication but you’ll need replication if you want to duplicate DE (a quick google should yield the answer). DFS is really meant to provide a storage pool across multiple servers so stuff is easy to find and you would be able to get at your data if one server goes down (replication). I don’t know if you can replicate across multiple disk in the same machine. I have asked in the technet forums, but, as of yet, now one has answered.

    Anyways thanks for the writeup. I definitely found some more i need to look into :)

  11. Roger

    welchwerks & Brad: Staying with WHS v1 would be a fine idea, if Microsoft were going to update it to support Advanced Format drives. They’re not, unfortunately. Which means that even if you never intend to scale your WHS storage pool up from its current size, you still have long-term issues with replacing dying drives and maintaining performance.

    Long story short: WHS v1 is on life-support. You can continue using it for the next year or so if:

    (a) you’re willing to hunt around for non-Advanced Format drives while they’re still making them, or…

    (b) you’re willing to take a performance hit from XP-aligned AF drives as they fill up and/or face heavy load.

    Of course, avoiding that kind of crap is exactly why I started using WHS in the first place.

  12. Justin Garrison

    @J. Anthony Carter Sorry bout that, I always tend to miss things, even on my second read through.

    @NLS & @Smurf-IV Thanks for recommending Liquesce I have never heard of that one before. As for DiskBuncher I couldn’t find any releases of the software, just a couple code repositories so I couldn’t even tell if it is finished yet.

    @Erik The reason for recommending LVM is it is supported on almost every major Linux install without needing to install anything extra

    @Cameron I can’t believe I didn’t even mention ZFS. Of course I didn’t touch on BSD and since licensing still keeps it out of Linux I guess I may have well talked about Reiser or BtrFS.

  13. Andrew

    How about a Drobo with whatever windows os you like? I was thinking of buying one and using it with Server 2008 maybe.

  14. Stormy1954

    While this is interesting I cannot help feeling that the average user of WHS in the home will just balk at all this talk of “Raid”, “Redundancy” “NAS” “NTFS” “DFS” “Controllers” etc.. etc…

    Having used both a windows and a linux raid solution in recent years there is a steep learning curve to go through (especially to enable a secure recovery facility).

    The beauty of WHS was its simplicity (yhome users needed to know very little of what went on in the background). Instead of shying away, let Microsoft know that they should be developing a WHS and a Small Business Essentials around a robust DE even if it means delaying the release of Vail/Aurora.

    As I understand it, Steve Ballmer (Microsoft CEO) has now agreed “to look into it” following the widespread and justificable outrage. We can but hope…

  15. fredsource

    One thing to note is that Amahi has Greyhole built in. Plus much more (large app store of media apps and web apps) –

    Disclaimer: I am part of the core team at Amahi and helped with Greyhole

  16. graeme

    NexentaStor Community looks pretty cool — nice front-end for ZFS with pretty much everything WHS DE did:

    I might check it out today with my spare box.

  17. Anthony

    I’m currently trying out Poolit from Tiger Technology in my office production environment. It does disk pooling from multiple sources, (local disks, iscsi disks, network shares), and you can set up rules for data distribution and optimization. It’s very fast in my testing, adding minimal appreciable overhead. It’s not cheap at $499 per pool but it comes with support, and perhaps they’ll see this as an opportunity for a “consumer” version of the product.

  18. Lay

    I’m currently developing DiskBuncher ( The first test version should be possible in the next days.

    It is a Drive Extender alternative which runs under Vista/Win7 and later. So you can use the Media Center on the same PC.

    Other features:
    network share support
    USB disk/stick support
    add/remove/replace disks
    special caching for fast SSD use
    Compatible to disparity or flexraid

  19. Brad

    As Erik mentioned before, MHDDFS looks pretty good.

    It allows very simple drive management.

    I dont believe that it would be that difficult to set up to MHDDFS clusters (the same size) and manually create a script to keep them both mirrored.

  20. John

    Hey Guys I was wondering if anyone can give me some advice… I am currently running VAIL and Im getting kind of nervous because I had to go through that annoying process of updating it to keep it from restarting every 2hrs… I would like to Migrate to Win 7 with one of the solutions you’ve mentioned above but I a bit of a n00b and am worried about what will happen to all my files since they are shared amongst the sever on different hard drives… If I uninstall VAIL and install Win 7 how will my files show up with out drive extender?

  21. Buck

    Looks like FlexRaid is doing something. The openegg link shows that the blog has been removed.

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