The products developed using Microsoft’s Windows Home Server software do a number of extremely useful things – backups, remote access, file and photo sharing, and file storage – using a very smart mixture of new and old technology.  Here are some notes about Windows Home Server from last year.

Unfortunately, a bug has been identified the causes data on the server to be corrupted in rare circumstances.  It affects a very small number of people and only occurs under very specific conditions, and it has been very difficult for the Windows Home Server team to track down.  But the effect is potentially devastating – especially to WHS’ reputation – because a server that cannot be trusted to save files is useless. Here’s an FAQ about the bug, and here’s Microsoft’s Knowledge Base article about it.

More details are emerging about the data corruption bug.  Apparently the fix will require a significant retooling of one of Home Server’s core components, so the team predicts that the fix will not be available until June.  AnandTech just wrote a detailed explanation based on the available information and some informed guesswork, sympathizing with the difficult problem faced by the team but also noting the sad reality of the effect on WHS’ reputation:

“The media will eat this up (and we�re just as guilty) and this will tarnish the product�s name for the rest of its life; customers don�t need to understand an issue to understand that a product is imperfect and that they should stay away from it. Yet data corruption is a serious issue that isn�t acceptable and can�t be ignored.

“Perhaps the worst bit however is that as an OEM-only product, Microsoft is not exerting any real control over what the OEMs do about the issue until the corruption problem is fixed. As of right now retailers are still selling OEM servers with 2+ drives (making them susceptible to the bug) and computer enthusiast retailers are still selling the OS itself, all with no notice about this bug. WHS is a good product where plenty of functionality can still be used even with the presence of the bug (e.g. backups) but we have serious problems with it still being offered for sale given these problems. WHS is already heavily tarnished due to this bug, there�s no (okay, some) shame in cutting one’s losses and halting all sales of the OS until the bug is fixed, even if it won�t affect most users.

“Ultimately it�s a damn shame to see something like this happen, no one is going to be a winner. Windows Home Server will be fixed, but only after a lot of grief for the developers and a lot of concern for server owners. Thankfully current server owners can take steps to prevent the corruption issue entirely, but at a cost of functionality, and we don�t doubt some people will still feel insecure about their data even after taking those steps. For the time being WHS is dead in the water. It�s a promising product that is not suitable for further sale given the potential severity of the bug. It also undermines a great deal of confidence in Microsoft that will take some time to recover.”

Do not buy a Windows Home Server device until this is resolved. When it’s resolved, go back to Windows Home Server with enthusiasm; this should not detract from its features or diminish its potential.

If you own a Windows Home Server device:

  1. This does not affect backups.
  2. This does not affect remote access or file/photo sharing.
  3. This does not affect single-drive devices.
  4. This does not affect word processing files stored on the server.

If, however, you are streaming media from the server or routinely moving very large files on and off it while other file operations are in progress, you should look very closely at the support bulletins about this problem.

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