I spoke briefly with Dave Berowitz and Jonas Svensson of the Windows Home Server team today about a couple of questions I had about the recently released Vail public beta (see my overview). This information should be of interest if you're using or considering Windows Home Server.

Upgrading from v1 to Vail

The big one was about upgrading from Windows Home Server v1 to Vail. As you may know, WHS v1 is a 32-bit system and Vail is 64-bit, and Microsoft does not support upgrading from 32-bit Windows versions to 64-bit versions. This is the case with Vail, and Microsoft is not explicitly supporting any sort of data upgrade path between the two systems. So you're welcome to stick with your v1 server--the software will be fully supported through 2012--or move to the new platform and take advantage of those additional features. Customers are migrating data currently with network file copy/Robocopy-type operations, and it looks like that's pretty much you're only option.

File system changes

In WHS v1, the system used standard NTFS-formatted disks, so if the server crashed, you could take the disks out individually, pop them in any Windows PC, and copy the data off. With Vail, Microsoft has changed Drive Extender to use block-based duplication instead of file-based duplication, so this is no longer possible. However--and this is a very important point--you can pop those disks into any Vail-based PC server and access the data that way. I was pointed to a Windows Home Server Forums post that details this and other changes to the Drive Extender technology in Vail.

New/Improved features:

For duplicated folders, data is duplicated in real time to two separate drives - there is no hourly migration pass.

File system level encryption (EFS) and compression are now supported for Drive Extender folders.

File conflicts are gone, duplication works as intended for files in use as it is performed at the block level now.

Deprecated features:

A data drive from a storage pool cannot be read on machine not running the “Vail” server software.

Data isn't rebalanced across drives to ensure even distribution. The data allocation attempts to keep drives evenly used. A periodic rebalance operation is considered for the next version.

There's a lot more, so check out the post.

Media Center integration

I noted in my overview of Vail that Microsoft had told me in September 2008 that it was planning some form of Media Center integration with WHS Vail. Today, I was told the following: "Microsoft has never publicly announced anything regarding Media Center in Windows Home Server, though we've always looked at different scenarios for the product and did consider that. But we have lots of complementary capabilities in Vail, including streaming inside and outside of the home, organizing all of your media in one place, and accessing that content through a variety of clients, including Windows 7 PCs and Xbox 360."

SKU differences/different markets

As I noted previously, the Vail public preview is marked as "Premium Edition," suggesting that there will be multiple versions (or "SKUs") of the product. Microsoft had no comment about that, beyond noting that it was too early to discuss product branding or pricing. That said, the Vail core market is the same as that for v1, home users, and Microsoft knows there is a dedicated and avid tech enthusiast audience as well.

Changes to come

The Vail public preview is representative of the final release but is not quite feature complete. Microsoft told me to expect some post-beta changes coming down the road.

Hope this helps. --Paul