Windows Server 8, the forthcoming followup to Microsoft’s Windows Server 2008 R2, sports what some may term revolutionary changes to how enterprises leverage their investments in storage. If one word could sum up what Windows Server 8 is all about, it would be "virtualization"--virtualization of servers, virtualization of desktops, virtualization of cloud services and last, but not least, virtualization of storage.
Storage virtualization has been a commanding topic for those managing enterprise environments and has taken on more importance as companies work with cloud-based technologies, including hybrid and local clouds. It is the elastic nature of those cloud solutions that drive storage complexity. Simply put, as clouds grow and shrink, storage must also automatically provision and de-provision to meet the needs of elastic cloud services. Virtualization greatly simplifies that process.
At a September Windows Server 8 Reviewer’s Workshop, Microsoft’s Thomas Pfenning, general manager, Windows File Server, demonstrated how storage virtualization works under the Windows Server 8 paradigm. Virtualization capabilities are not the only changes to how WS8 deals with storage; significant work has gone into storage management, as well as clustering, remote storage access and end-to-end workload monitoring. All told, the end result is a storage subsystem that is easy to provision and manage.
On the platform side of the equation, Microsoft has enhanced or added new capabilities, such as thin provisioning and dynamic data movement, both of which increase efficiency (capacity utilization) and performance. Another notable addition is native de-duplication, which promises to save vast amounts of storage by eliminating space wasted on duplicated files.
Thin provisioning further enhances WS8 storage capabilities, where virtual disks can be quickly mapped and unmapped as needed. This in turn becomes an important component of WS8’s new platform abstractions. Here, administrators are now offered storage pools and storage spaces. Pools can be used for aggregation, administration and isolation, while storage spaces offer high-performance provisioning based upon defined pools. That methodology can offer additional savings, simply because the physical storage devices can be JBODs, SATA or SAS solutions, reducing the need for dedicated SAN systems.
While much of the technological advancement can be summed up as academic, in practice, the true value of the enhancements can be realized. For example, Microsoft was able to demonstrate the ability to create massive volumes in a matter of seconds, and create policies for storage protection (failover, de-dupe, etc.) in just a few quick steps. The management system also incorporates health monitoring and automated failover. The improvements have a cumulative effect on performance. For example, a demo of a CHKDSK scan on a large volume took only a couple of seconds, while the same scan on Windows Server 2008 R2 took close to a minute to complete.
The improvements to storage functionality are significant, and it would probably take the equivalent of a thick book to cover all of the changes. Nonetheless, it was easy to see in just a few minutes how improved the storage paradigm is with WS8. Significant enhancements are readily evident, and Microsoft is on the right track with the changes it demonstrated. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft’s storage enhancements will affect the market. After all, several large vendors offer storage virtualization, de-dupe and several other technologies that Microsoft will launch with WS8, and the impact on those vendors could be significant.
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