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Supercharging Windows File Services

A recipe for success

Traditional Windows file shares are getting a little long in the tooth. The typical model involves a network share on which users store files. This share is centralized, which provides significant management benefits, such as ease of disaster recovery and consolidation. Today, however, users demand more from their file shares. They want access to those shares when they aren't connected to the network (e.g., offline files), and they want rich recovery options, such as versioning and archiving. The good news is that this dream state for supercharged file shares is available today. Leveraging features available since Windows 2000 Server's release and new features available in Windows Server 2003, you can offer users rich file-sharing capabilities that go above and beyond previous offerings. Let's take a look at the powerful combination of IntelliMirror, Remote Storage Service (RSS), and Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS). By combining these technologies, you can give your users a world-class file service that's unrivaled by technologies available elsewhere in the industry.

The Key Elements of Nirvana
When you look at administrators' and users' requirements for the file-sharing services that IT departments provide, several key attributes surface every time. For users, these attributes include offline access, user-initiated recovery, and earlier-version support. For Windows administrators, the ability to dynamically groom file-service data and provide rapid disaster recovery is of paramount concern.

Users are chiefly concerned with requirements such as flexibility, mobility, productivity, and protection from their mistakes (e.g., accidental deletion). For example, as a mobile user who travels often, I don't always have the luxury of being connected to the corporate network. I've placed my most crucial files on a network share, and I need to have access to these important files whether or not I'm connected to the network. I also want some assurance that IT has backed up these files in the event of some disaster. I rely on IT to protect me from myself in case I delete, corrupt, or overwrite any of my important files. In a perfect world, I even want to be able to initiate recovery of lost or corrupted files myself and to have access to earlier versions (going back as far as 14 days would be nice) of these files in case the current file isn't the one I want.

Windows administrators have their own wish lists that concentrate on meeting the service level agreements (SLAs) that they have with their users. Administrators have to be able to provide reliable file-sharing services, effectively manage the file-sharing services (including managing the size of the data set), protect against data loss, and provide rapid data recovery. Technologies such as archival, Hierarchical Storage Management (HSM), and Business Continuance Volumes (BCVs) can deliver most of what administrators and users want in file-sharing services, give end users better service, and make life easier for administrators. However, to provide file-sharing Nirvana, administrators have to do more.

The Recipe for Success
So how can Windows administrators reach the Nirvana state of giving users supercharged file-sharing capabilities? The key lies not in one Microsoft technology but in finding a creative way to combine multiple technologies in Windows 2003, Windows XP, and Win2K. For this recipe, start with a healthy portion of IntelliMirror technology, then add one part RSS and one part VSS. Let's take a look at each of these ingredients. If any or all of these ingredients leave you hungry for more information about them, check out the resources in the "Related Reading" box.

IntelliMirror. Since Win2K, Windows has offered IntelliMirror. A key part of IntelliMirror is client-side caching, which is also known as Offline Files. IntelliMirror's Offline Files capability lets network users access files on network shares, even when the client computer is disconnected from the network. Mobile users can view the share when they're disconnected, and they can still browse, read, and edit files because those files are cached on the client computer. When users later connect to the server, the system reconciles and synchronizes changes with the server. This feature is extremely configurable; you can use Synchronization Manager to define synchronization policy and behavior based on the time of day and network connection type. The Offline Files capability also lets users access network-connected files from the local offline cache, thus optimizing network utilization. This feature addresses the backup problem as well. Users simply store their files in their My Documents folders (configured for Offline Files), which the IT department regularly backs up. IntelliMirror's client-side caching feature offers a huge improvement in Windows file-system technologies compared with what was available in the past.

RSS. RSS provides a key component that lets you better manage network shares, including users' My Documents offline files. By implementing RSS in conjunction with IntelliMirror, you can provide volume grooming for those shares and intelligently manage their data. For example, RSS lets you groom less frequently used files to secondary storage, thereby reducing the overall amount of data on the share. This action, in turn, reduces the amount of data you need to back up, which saves time and money. Although RSS can add complexity to the mix and the configuration might require a bit of fine-tuning, the rewards can outweigh these drawbacks. RSS is just another optional building block that you have at your disposal; the combination of RSS and IntelliMirror is more powerful than IntelliMirror alone because adding archival to Offline Files provides obvious benefits in certain scenarios.

VSS. The last ingredient in the recipe is VSS. So far, I've discussed technologies that have been available since the Win2K days. For this final ingredient, you need to turn to Windows 2003, which adds VSS as a new feature for OS services and applications. VSS creates copies of files stored in shared network folders. If you don't add VSS to the recipe, users will still have the backup-and-restore capabilities because IntelliMirror stores user data on the network share and regularly backs up that data. However, VSS dramatically improves recovery capabilities because it adds rapid recovery and the basis for rapid backup and restore, providing much richer earlier-version support than without VSS. By leveraging a VSS-instrumented backup-and-restore mechanism, you can make nightly Shadow Copies of network shares. If this data is lost or corrupted, rapid recovery is a snap. VSS is a huge improvement over traditional non-VSS backup-and-restore solutions. By improving earlier-version support, you let users see earlier Shadow Copy versions that are available for their My Documents folders. Users can even restore files from those earlier versions.

A Winning Combination
This recipe for supercharging Windows file services might not prove equally tasty to everyone, but you can see the power that Microsoft intended with the combination of IntelliMirror, RSS, and VSS. If you want to increase functionality, ease administration, enhance disaster recovery, and reduce total cost of ownership (TCO), take a look at this powerful combination and see how one or more of these ingredients can help you get closer to file-sharing Nirvana.

Related Reading
"Introduction to IntelliMirror,"

"Technical Overview of Windows Server 2003 Management Services,"

"Remote Storage Service,"
Windows & .NET Magazine,
February 2003,,
InstantDoc ID 37589

"Exchange Server 2003 and VSS,"
Windows & .NET Magazine, July 2003,, InstantDoc ID 39187

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