Windows Storage Server 2003, Part 1

On June 2, Microsoft introduced Windows Storage Server 2003, the newest member of the Windows Server family of products. I've been writing for several months about Windows Powered Network Attached Storage (WPNAS) solutions and specifically about WPNAS 2.0, a version of Windows 2000 Server that's optimized for file serving. In essence, Windows Storage is WPNAS 3.0.

Microsoft chose the Windows Storage Server 2003 naming convention for several reasons. First, Microsoft decided to drop "Powered" from the name because Powered is associated with Microsoft's embedded systems group. Although Windows Storage is available only to hardware partners and is preloaded on Windows NAS devices, Windows Storage is not embedded into those systems. Second, Microsoft decided to remove NAS from the name so that Windows Storage becomes associated with the broader networked storage category, which includes Storage Area Network (SAN) as well as NAS. Finally, and most important, including Windows Storage in the Windows 2003 product family lets Microsoft market all versions of Windows 2003 at the same time. I recently presented at a Hewlett-Packard (HP) & Microsoft Network Storage Solutions Road Show and found that, to many in the audience, WPNAS was an unknown OS. Even during the launch of Windows 2003, Microsoft never mentioned WPNAS 3.0. It's time for Windows Storage to get the attention it deserves.

Here's a rundown of Windows Storage features that Microsoft has upgraded from WPNAS:

Base platform--Windows Storage is based on Windows Server 2003, rather than Win2K Server. Windows Storage includes technologies from Windows 2003 such as Volume Shadow Copy Services (VSS) and Virtual Disk Service (VDS). Like WPNAS, Windows Storage is a headless device: You manage a Windows Storage NAS device from a browser or from Terminal Services. Also like WPNAS, Windows Storage supports all the third-party utilities that Win2K Server and Windows 2003 support. Another similarity with WPNAS is that Windows Storage is available only bundled with NAS devices that come from Microsoft's Windows Storage partners, such as HP, IBM, Iomega, Dell, and MTI.

Support for iSCSI--Microsoft includes support for iSCSI in Windows Storage. This support is important for future compatibility when using a Windows Storage NAS device as a gateway to a SAN device based on iSCSI. Today, most SANs use a Fibre Channel switch, but iSCSI is an emerging standard.

Support for multipath IO--Windows Storage supports as many as 32 paths between the filer and the storage device. Multipath IO lets you provide for load balancing and failover in the network interface cards that are connected to your Windows Storage NAS device.

Enhanced clustering support--Windows Storage supports as many as eight nodes of failover clustering. This support affords a significant level of reliability in an optimized file-serving environment.

Support for VSS--In WPNAS 2.0, Microsoft licensed snapshot technology from Columbia Data Products that allowed 250 point-in-time snapshots. In Windows Storage, Microsoft significantly upgrades the snapshot infrastructure. First, VSS supports multiple snapshot providers, including those from third-party SAN providers. For example, if a Windows Storage NAS device is connected to a SAN, VSS can initiate a snapshot from a supported SAN hardware replication solution. Microsoft recently demonstrated this capability: VSS completed a hardware-replication snapshot on a SAN on a 1.2TB database in 1 minute. Microsoft includes in Windows Storage its own VSS snapshot provider, which allows as many as 512 total point-in-time read-only snapshots (i.e., 64 per volume).

I'll continue my examination of Windows Storage in "Windows Storage Server 2003, Part 2" with detailed information about how VSS and VDS work on a Windows Storage device. In part 3, I'll discuss typical uses of Windows Storage NAS devices and how they can significantly benefit your IT infrastructure.

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