Microsoft upgrades Windows Storage Server

Adds iSCSI ‘boot from SAN’

By Kevin Komiega

The Storage Networking World conference last month played host to the long-awaited launch of Microsoft’s Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, the second incarnation of the company’s popular storage operating platform, which includes a long list of new storage management features.

Storage Server 2003 R2 is a file and print server platform aimed at making storage management easier. The platform includes features such as single-instance storage, full text search and built-in document collaboration with Windows SharePoint Services, identity and access management, virtualization, and new iSCSI SAN management options.

Dr. Claude Lorenson, group product manager for Microsoft’s Storage Division, says that Microsoft’s partners were a big motivator for the development of new storage management features. “Partners have asked Microsoft for further differentiation between the Storage Server platform and the regular version of Windows Server 2003,” he says.

Microsoft says it can now reduce the complexity of branch deployments because the Microsoft Distributed File System (DFS) eases the complexity of replicating files over a WAN. Storage Server 2003 R2 has also been optimized to speed the capabilities of general-purpose file servers.

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Since Storage Server 2003 R2 has been tweaked for optimal performance on filers, it is available through Microsoft’s bevy of NAS OEM partners.

Examples of products that are, or soon will be, available with Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 are Dell’s PowerEdge storage servers, HP’s ProLiant servers, IBM’s xSeries, LeftHand Networks’ SAN Filer 150, and Tacit Networks’ Ishared “Branch Office in a Box” platform. Brocade, Bull, Fujitsu-Siemens, and Iomega are among the more than 50 software/hardware/solutions vendors that have also committed to supporting the operating system in the near future.

Although many of the details of Storage Server 2003 R2 have been reported for months, Microsoft threw in a last-minute twist: the availability of software-enabled SAN boot of Windows Server 2003 using the iSCSI protocol.

Microsoft worked with IBM to develop support for software-based remote SAN boot of Windows using Microsoft’s iSCSI software initiator and standard network interface cards (NICs). Microsoft has published the technical details of the implementation for its partners.

The software provides the ability to boot Windows-based servers and desktops from an iSCSI target remotely over an IP network without the use of specialized hardware devices.

However, this feature isn’t for users to cobble together. “This is not a solution that can be put together by end users themselves, but by server vendors or independent software vendors,” explains Microsoft’s Lorenson.

Lorenson says the remote SAN boot capability can only be implemented in one of two ways: It requires either a change in the server BIOS or a change in the NIC card’s firmware.

The one catch is that each server will still require its own separate LUN to take advantage of the remote boot capability, but Lorenson says the LUN does not have to be large and that Microsoft is investigating ways to provide single-image boot capabilities in the future.

Examples of Microsoft partners that are implementing iSCSI software-enabled SAN boot in their products include Alacritech, Broadcom, emBoot, IBM, Intel, Fujitsu-Siemens, and Neterion. Additional partners that have signed on to support Microsoft’s iSCSI software-enabled SAN boot implementation include Atto Technology, Azaleos, Brocade, Cisco, Compellent, Crossroads, Dell, EqualLogic, FalconStor, Fujitsu Ltd., Hitachi, HP, Intransa, LeftHand, NEC, Network Appliance, Nimbus Data Systems, QLogic, Sanrad, and Sun.

Microsoft also elaborated on its plans for the iSCSI target technology it acquired from String Bean Software in February. The target software can enable a hybrid storage mode on Windows Storage Server, giving users the ability to serve both block-level (SAN) and file-level (NAS) data on one box.

The iSCSI target software will be offered through OEMs as a feature pack on a Standard Edition or Enterprise Edition license of Windows Storage Server 2003 R2. Microsoft says the target software will include an integrated snapshot agent, providers for Virtual Shadow Copy Service (VSS) and Virtual Disk Service (VDS), and an integrated Multi-path IO (MPIO) “Snap-In” for management.

This article was originally published on May 01, 2006