Windows Server 2008, the storage story

Windows Server 2008, the storage story

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With the “official” name of the next Windows server release announced last week at WinHEC (Windows Server 2008….shocker!) and with availability of Beta 3, I figured this was a good time to discuss some of the features as they relate to the storage workload. Some of the pillars of Windows Server 2008 are: security, branch office, virtualization….but there is plenty in there to make life for the “storage aware” administrators easier. True to the model of Universal, Distributed Storage, Windows Server 2008 will bring more enterprise storage features to everyone. A good example is the inclusion “in-box” of the Microsoft MPIO DSM. This is an industry standard solution that brings multi-pathing and load balancing with failover clusters to any users of Windows Server 2008. Storage vendors (iSCSI or Fibre Channel) can add features based on this DSM to integrate with their storage array management schema if desired. Bottom line? Easier multi-pathing for everybody. Connectivity to iSCSI storage will also be simpler in Windows Server 2008 with the iSCSI initiator now “in-box”, no need for separate download and integration in the server console.

Continuing with this theme of connectivity, there will be a new remote file sharing protocol in Windows Server 2008, Server Message Block 2.0 (SMB 2.0). SMB 2.0 greatly improves the scalability of SMB 1.0; there is now more open files on a server supported as well as a higher number of shares supported. The protocols have been enhanced to reduce the “chattiness” that makes file sharing on a WAN sometimes painful. With SMB 2.0, customer data has shown the ability to download a 300MB file 35 times faster than with SMB 1.0 using a 100 Mbps link (from 24 minutes to 41 seconds). SMB2.0 will also support transactions, symbolic links and client side encryption. All these features are fully functional when Vista clients are used in combination with Windows Server 2008.

To help customers maximize their disk storage assets, the Virtual Disk Service (VDS) in Windows Server 2008 introduces the concept of “Shrink” for volumes and Logical Devices (LUN in SAN parlance). This will be supported on both software and hardware VDS providers. With this feature, it will be possible to re-capture/re-assign disk capacity that is not needed for a certain application anymore (assuming support from the disk array vendors). The other key storage service, VSS is also getting some enhancements. A new utility, called “Diskshadow” is an “in-box” VSS requestor that can create and manage both software and hardware based shadow copies. It offers a command line interface and a script mode. It will support hardware transportable shadow copy to enable off-host backup and data mining. Auto-recovery of transportable hardware shadow copy is enabled and fast recovery scenarios (with GPT disks) are also supported. This is another example of enterprise storage for everyone. A few years ago, this type of functionality was only available in enterprise class storage devices, now you can get this functionality at the server level.

I have chosen to present only a few key point of the storage “story” in Windows Server 2008…there are other relevant features (Storage Explorer, ServerBackup, SAN friendly clustering, better disk alignment tools...) that will be part of a future discussion. With Beta 3 now available, you can now put all these features to test!

Claude Lorenson

[Update: The following sentence: "SMB2.0 will also support transactions, symbolic links and client side encryption" is not correct.  Transaction support and client side encryption will not be available in Windows Server 2008 and therefore are not in the beta 3 release either.]

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