Amahi / Greyhole – Alternatives to Windows Home Server (Vail)?

Microsoft dropped the Drive Extender (DE) functionality from Windows Home Server (Vail) this week, to the surprise and disbelief of the WHS community.

Drive Extender allowed users to dynamically shrink and grow their WHS storage pool and enable folder level duplication to protect important files. In Vail DE promised some great new features – such as real time data duplication, background storage operations, uninterrupted media steaming and more. At this juncture I have to say that I am very disappointed with DE being dropped from Vail and find it hard to see how it will gain much traction in the market without it.

I had recently been pondering what the alternatives to WHS might be and was already aware of a similar technology for Linux called Greyhole (as found in products such as Amahi) and was also looking into Nexenta – a ZFS based server platform.

My plan is to evaluate the basic workings of both in virtual machines before I make any decisions – but I did receive a timely email from the Amahi group today promoting Amahi (and Greyhole) as a WHS (Vail) alternative.

The feature set for Greyhole certainly looks to be good – though there are apparently still some “obscure” bugs to be worked out. This is probably to be expected given that Greyhole is still in Beta. I can’t say that the prospect of trusting my data to Beta software gives me much comfort – but equally WHS had some very bad issues in its early days that took a long time to be resolved. This explains why I was not an early adopter of WHS either.

One of the key tests for me will be to see if the ‘automatic free space balancing across disks’ interrupts other server operations such as streaming media or not? I certainly don’t expect it to, but I have not seen anything documenting how this feature works either.

Another feature that sways me towards Greyhole is that drives can be removed from a Greyhole storage pool and read directly by another (Linux) computer. This was certainly something that I appreciated in WHS (although this was not to be the case in Vail).

After Window 7 I had high hopes for Vail and it really is a shame that Microsoft has thrown in the towel with Drive Extender in Vail. While DE certainly was not perfect in WHS version 1 it was a big step in the right direction for the consumer market as it was a huge part of what made WHS “simple” to administer. I will wait and see what the final version of Vail looks like next year – but at this point I am hardly waiting with baited breath.

I still plan to use WHS to backup Windows machines and will probably run it as a virtual machine again in the future.

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