Microsoft Opens iSCSI Window

Users say Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 plays nicely with IP SANs

July 7, 2006

4 Min Read
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Early feedback from Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 indicates improvement over Microsoft's previous storage OS and a nice complement for IP SANs.

That said, early adopters are also quick to add that R2 is still very much a work in progress.

R2 extends Microsoft's reach beyond the NAS systems powered by its Windows Server 2003. While Storage Server 2003 R2 still ships mostly on NAS servers from partners such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard, it seems a good fit for companies looking for file and block storage on IP SANs.

Improvements in Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 include single-instance storage for compression, disk quotas and file screening for improved utilization, and Distributed File System (DFS) for replicating across distances. (See Microsoft Widens Storage Window.)

Still, at least one customer warns one not expect too much from Microsoft's new storage OS."It's an upgrade. It's not a brand new product," says Andrew Miller, IT consultant for Denver-based Specialty Sports. "It's not earth-shattering."

Not that Miller's complaining. He installed a LeftHand Networks SAN Filer 150 NAS gateway running Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 earlier this year for the chain of 120 sporting goods stores in Colorado and California. Miller says the combination of the gateway and an IP SAN running LeftHand's SAN/iQ volume management let Specialty Sports spend about one-third of what a low-end Fibre Channel SAN would have cost.

Miller says Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 was a step up from storage features in the previous Windows Server 2003 operating system.

"Reporting is much better, and the interface is nicer," he says. "Single-instance storage, there's something there, although I don't know how much bang for the buck Specialty Sports is going to get from it."

Miller says the combination of Windows Storage Server 2003 and LeftHand's SAN/IQ software lets Specialty manage file and block storage through one system. Now the company runs Exchange and SQL for all the stores from the company's Denver office."We do snapshots through SAN/IQ software," he says. "You mount them up as volumes using Microsoft's iSCSI initiator. We do one snap a day for SQL and Exchange, but we probably will be doing it every three or four hours."

Creating snapshots that way comes with a caveat, though. "You have to be careful mounting volumes and snapshots on the same server," Miller says. "Using Microsoft Disk manager, you can't tell which is which. You could remove the live system instead of snapshot data."

Mustafa Sayla, senior network administrator of Chicago-based financial services firm Mesirow Financial, also sees Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 as a way to support an IP SAN. Mesirow tested it on an HP ProLiant Storage Server system in February, and Sayla says the company will probably put it into production as a Windows file and print server in conjunction with its EqualLogic PS200E IP SAN systems. Mesirow uses a Network Appliance NAS for its Unix environment.

"Our main purpose in testing was to see how well it worked with our iSCSI SAN," Sayla says. "We were pretty impressed. We can manage our entire iSCSI network from that one interface [Microsoft Management Console] rather than using separate management interfaces. That lets us manage EqualLogic from our Windows GUI."

Sayla was especially interested in improved disk-quota management, DFS, and file screening in the Windows Storage Server 2003 R2.Microsoft did a lot of work on disk quotas in R2, and now supports quotas across shared areas, like folders, instead of for individual users and volumes. It also offers admins greater granularity in setting quotas.

"Quota management is greatly improved," Sayla says. "In the older version, quota management was only user based, that doesn't work well in our environment. Now it's much more granular, and you can manage it in multiple ways. We've been using third-party software for quotes, but we won't need that once we go to R2."

He says DFS is also greatly improved. DFS helps move files to branch offices by providing centralized namespace management across file servers. However, Sayla found that file screening still isn't up to snuff. File screening allows administrators to limit access to certain file types, usually personal audio or video files that take up a lot of space.

"File screening needs improvement," Sayla says. "If I change the name of a file, it does not catch it. Hopefully they'll work on that."

Specialty Sports' Miller also found a flaw that might prove temporary."Microsoft has some work to do on the iSCSI initiator side," he says. "R2 didn't change the iSCSI initiator at all."

Since releasing R2, Microsoft added support for booting servers from an IP SAN with its initiator, and that capability will show up in servers and software applications soon. (See Microsoft Laces IP SAN Boots.)

Dave Raffo, News Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • LeftHand Networks Inc.

  • Microsoft Corp.

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