Microsoft upgrades SAN, NAS features

By Kevin Komiega

—Microsoft made good on its promise to add enhanced SAN and NAS management capabilities to its Windows Server 2003 operating system this week when it released Windows Server 2003 R2 and Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 to its partners.

Among the new storage capabilities added to Windows Server 2003 are SAN management tools for configuring and provisioning iSCSI or Fibre Channel SANs and storage resource management (SRM) tools for monitoring and managing disk space usage.

"Windows Server 2003 R2 has a strong focus on reducing the cost of storage management. We've built in tools to enable and simplify the setup of smaller SANs," says Bob Muglia, senior vice president of server and tools at Microsoft.

The premise, according to Microsoft, is to make it easier for Windows administrators who are not SAN-savvy to configure and manage midrange storage networks.

To that end, Microsoft has added a new tool called Storage Manager for SANs to Windows Server 2003. Storage Manager for SANs is a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) "snap-in" that aids users in creating and managing logical unit numbers (LUNs) on Fibre Channel and iSCSI subsystems in SAN environments. Storage Manager for SANs can be used on storage subsystems that support Microsoft's Virtual Disk Server (VDS).

Microsoft has also beefed up its branch and remote office management capabilities using the Distributed File System (DFS) and print management tools in Windows Server to allow users to replicate, manage, and publish documents and files to and from remote locations over a WAN.

This can be achieved through the use of DFS Replication and DFS Namespaces, a pair of new tools aimed at managing data remotely.

DFS Replication is a replication engine that supports scheduling and bandwidth throttling. The software uses a new compression algorithm known as Remote Differential Compression (RDC) to replicate only the deltas or changes when files are updated. DFS Namespaces allows administrators to group shared folders located on different servers and present them to users virtually.

On the NAS front, Microsoft has updated a tool called File Server Resource Manager, another snap-in for the MMC designed to assign quotas to folders and volumes, screening files, and generating usage and performance reports.

Support for Unix devices has also been thrown into the mix. Microsoft's new Services for NFS feature allows for support of mixed Windows/Unix environments by letting Unix clients access and transfer files on Windows-based systems and vice versa.

Microsoft claims that Windows Storage Server 2003 provides users with faster speeds and feeds. According to Radhesh Balakrishnan, group product manager for Microsoft's Windows Server Division, Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 delivers better NFS performance for NAS systems. The Standard Performance Evaluation Corp., a nonprofit benchmarking organization, released an NFS performance benchmark of 22,416 operations per second for Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition running on a four-way HP ProLiant Storage Server.

Balakrishnan also cited testing results from the Edison Group Inc., which showed improved performance for the CIFS/SMB (Common Internet File System/Server Message Block) protocol. Windows Server 2003 rated 4.11Gbps throughput for Windows Server 2003 R2's CIFS performance.

Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 also includes single instance storage, full text search and built-in document collaboration with Windows SharePoint Services, identity and access management, virtualization, and Web platform technologies.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft's hardware and software partners have pledged support for the Windows Server and Storage Server 2003 R2 releases. In the first half of 2006, vendors such as Dell, HP, Iomega, LeftHand Networks, and Tacit Networks will deliver NAS products based on Windows Storage Server 2003 R2. Overall, more than 30 vendors have committed to building on or supporting Windows Server 2003 R2.

The new versions of Windows Server and Storage Server will be available to end users in March.

This article was originally published on December 08, 2005