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HP Halts Its Windows Home Server-Based Products

Microsoft today confirmed that its hardware partner, Hewlett-Packard, will not produce a future product using the upcoming code-named "Vail" version of Windows Home Server (WHS).

HP also plans to discontinue its current MediaSmart Server product line, which uses the first version of Microsoft's WHS software. Vail is Microsoft's second-generation WHS solution, currently at beta. The entire team that worked on HP's MediaSmart Server has been reassigned, according to information disclosed to Alex Kuretz, as described in his MediaSmartServer.net post.

Kuretz, who formerly served as lead test and integration engineer for HP's MediaSmart Server, was told by HP officials that the MediaSmart team is moving to HP's Palm Global Business Unit to work on webOS projects. HP announced the acquisition of Palm Inc. back in April, with Palm's webOS cited as the principal reason for the acquisition.

HP has been a leading WHS partner, and the company's withdrawal from production seems like a major blow for Microsoft. WHS, which got a rocky start, was initially aimed at the home hobbyist market. However, Microsoft last year began repositioning WHS as a backup solution for small businesses with up to 10 PCs. A "preview build" of WHS Vail was released in August. WHS Vail provides backup and storage capabilities for home and small business users, but it omits many other useful server features, such as out-of-the-box printer support and terminal server support for remote access.

Last month, Microsoft announced that it was removing the "drive extender" feature from WHS, which lets users easily pool multiple hard drives into a single volume without having to resort to a redundant array of independent disks (RAID) approach, which isn't supported in WHS Vail anyway. The removal of support for drive extender by Microsoft caused an uproar among WHS users. That uproar prompted Terry Walsh, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional and editor of the "We Got Served" blog, to write a letter to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Walsh noted in his letter to Ballmer that drive extender was being removed because it caused problems for two Microsoft small business products, but he cited hundreds of customer complaints about the removal plans. Ballmer replied to Walsh on Nov. 26, saying, "Let's look into it."

Microsoft, in a blog posted on Tuesday, dismissed the idea that HP's decision had anything to do with a feature change in WHS.

"This news is in no way related to recent announcements about feature changes in Windows Home Server 'Vail'," the blog stated. However, Walsh has noted in his post that many WHS users have stated that they don't plan to upgrade WHS based on the removal of the drive extender feature. And those decisions could affect future sales prospects for Microsoft's partners.

HP told Microsoft that it will continue to sell and support MediaSmart Server throughout this year. In the meantime, other Microsoft hardware partners are continuing their plans to sell WHS Vail-based products.

"Microsoft continues to work on delivering 'Vail' to our customers," Microsoft's blog explains. "We are working very closely with our partners such as Acer, Tranquil and many System Builders to bring the best solution to market."

Another curious note was sounded by Microsoft when its Microsoft Press division announced that it will not publish pending book called "Windows Home Server Inside Out," as noted by a We Got Served blog post. The author of the book, Andrew Edney, specifically noted that fallout from removing drive extender from WHS Vail and Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials (code-named "Aurora") influenced the decision to kill the book at Microsoft Press. Drive extender was also removed from Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials, scheduled for release in the first half of 2011. Edney described drive extender as "more powerful than a redundant array of independent disks (RAID) in several ways."

Microsoft did explain its decision to remove drive extender in a blog post late last month. The post hints that Microsoft's OEM partners may offer some sort of "storage management and protection solutions" offerings, presumably instead of drive extender. The blog states that "target product availability is still H1 2011, and we expect to deliver a new beta without drive extender for Windows Home Server Code Name 'Vail' early in the New Year."

Microsoft has two other upcoming server products besides WHS Vail that will be aimed at the small business market. Windows Small Business Server code-named "Aurora" is targeted toward organizations with less than 25 users. Windows Small Business Server code-named "7" is aimed at organizations with up to 75 client access licenses in place.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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