While most of the Microsoft news of late has been related to Windows 8 and the Surface tablet, just a few weeks ago there was a new release of Windows Server 2012 which included a version named Windows Storage Server 2012. This offering comes in two versions, Workgroup and Standard. The Workgroup edition is targeted at smaller groups of users with a license-restricted number of concurrent SMB connections set at 250. It also limits the underlying hardware to a single CPU socket, a maximum of 32 GB of memory and up to six disks.
The Standard edition looks almost identical to Windows Server 2012 Standard edition in terms of capabilities and features. It has the ability to support two Hyper-V instances, up to 2 TB of memory and 64 CPU sockets. There is no limit to the number of disks or concurrent SMB connections with the Standard edition. While neither version will function as a domain controller, you can create a virtual machine with Windows Server 2012 Standard and use it in that role.
Installing Windows Storage Server 2012 is pretty much what you’d expect from a Windows operating system. It boots from DVD or USB disk and asks you to answer a few questions. You’ll need a 64-bit capable computer along with a minimum of 512 MB of memory. For the Standard edition you’ll need a virtualization-capable CPU if you intend on running Hyper-V. You’ll also need SAS disks should you want to cluster-enable your storage.
The good news is Windows Storage Server 2012 installs just fine on any late-model system with either an Intel Core i5 or i7 CPU or an AMD multi-core processor. We tested it on a white-box system with an AMD Phenom II X6 1090T 3.21 GHz processor (six cores), 16 GB of memory, a single 500 GB SATA drive for the boot disk and two 2 TB SATA drives for storage. You’ll need at least two disks if you plan on using any of the resilient capabilities of the new Storage Spaces feature. SATA drives work just fine with either edition, and you could get as much as 24 TB of storage with the new 4 TB drives.
All versions of Windows Server come with several new features in the storage area. These include an improved iSCSI Target and Initiator, an updated NFS client and server, and SMB 3.0 with a bevy of new features. SMB 3.0 is the key to many of the new storage capabilities in Windows Server 2012 and provides the foundation upon which things like Cluster Shared Volumes and the scale-out file server are built. The NFS and iSCSI server functionality makes Windows Storage Server 2012 a good candidate solution for your VMware workloads.
Many of the new storage features are designed with the virtualization use-case in mind. Windows Storage Server 2012 Standard includes Hyper-V, as well as the ability to join a cluster. That means with two computers and dual-ported SAS disk controllers you can build a resilient storage cluster that would rival high-end storage area networks at a fraction of the cost. For failover there’s a new feature in SMB 3.0 called the Witness Service that brings the ability to switch a connection from a client to another computer in the cluster quickly in the event of a hard failure.
All versions of Windows Server 2012 come with PowerShell 3.0, which provides the core of all management functionality. On graphical installations of Windows Server you have access to the new Server Manager tool which includes many information screens and wizards to deliver a much richer and functional management interface. Behind the scenes is PowerShell 3.0, executing the commands to carry out the administrative tasks.
For example, to create a share on a local drive you could use the GUI interface or type the following command in a PowerShell window:
New-SmbShare –Name ShareName –Path C:\LocalFolder
That’s all there is to it. You can get a list of current shares with the command:
For the more graphically oriented there’s Server Manager. It’s a definite upgrade over previous administrative tools delivering a well-laid-out interface that’s easy to navigate. Context-sensitive menus and drop-down lists show you only the commands pertinent to the operation at hand. Other tools are available from the Tools menu such as the Hyper-V manager. These launch stand-alone apps to handle management tasks not covered by Server Manager.
Windows Storage Server 2012 brings lots of functionality to the table as a stand-alone or cluster-capable storage appliance. With iSCSI and NFS capability you could use one to provide storage to other virtualization solutions such as Citrix’s Xen or VMware. Expect to see it roll out soon, bundled with hardware offerings from all the major vendors, or you can download a copy from Microsoft’s MSDN or Technet service and give it a whirl on your hardware.