With Windows Server 8, which is expected to be released for testing on Wednesday, Microsoft has turned its attention again to storage. The company has introduced and incorporated a plethora of new features and support for storage technologies into its product. They include:
Support for SMB 2.2: Windows Server 8 now supports Server Message Block 2.2, a file sharing protocol. SMB 2.2 is designed for performance and continuous availability. It includes direct support for specific server workloads, including Microsoft SQL Server, Hyper-V, and SharePoint, allowing these applications to deliver better performance, reliability, and scalability.
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For instance, Hyper-V over SMB 2.2 supports file servers and storage at a reduced cost compared to that of traditional storage-area networks. It will allow certain state information to exist beyond the failure of a single node in a scale-out cluster. Further, SMB 2.2 supports multi-pathing for high-availability and allows a single authenticated session to be virtualized across multiple connections. SMB 2.2 also provides automatic failover for clustered servers.
Data deduplication: With Windows 8, Microsoft has added a filter driver for deduplicating NTFS data. This optional or add-on feature is implemented for each volume and is cluster-aware and crash-consistent. Available as only source or server-based deduplication, it works with files of less than 64 KB, non-encrypted files, and files without extended attributes. After deduplicating data, the data is compressed into chunks, which are stored in a NTFS "chunk store" called ChunkStash, which stores the metadata on flash memory or hard drives. Deduplication can be scheduled or run when the server is idle. Microsoft claims that there is only a 3% to 4% performance degradation with its deduplication algorithms. IT administrators can determine the files that will be deduplicated based on the age of the file.
Live Migration: Windows Server 8 will allow virtual machine images to be moved from one storage device to another without impacting or taking down the virtual machine. This feature will improve patching of virtual machines (VMs) by letting the administrator to move the VM to another device, take down the VM and patch it, and then remigrate the data back to the patched server.
Improved device and technology support: Windows Server 8 now supports attachment of JBODs (Just a Bunch of Disks) to servers via RDMA (Remote Direct Memory Access) enabled network interface cards (NICs). At this time, two NICs are supported: a 10-Gbps Ethernet adapter from Intel and an InfiniBand adapter from Mellanox. RDMA allows the transfer of data from the server to storage without involving the operating system, thus saving on latency and affording high throughput. Windows Server 8 also supports network offload technologies such as Single Root IO Virtualization (SR-IOV), TCP Chimney Offload, Receive Side Scaling (RSS), and Receive Side Coalescing (RSC), to free up the server processor and handle more workloads.
Thin Provisioning: Windows Server 8 supports thin provisioned storage arrays. The operating system recognizes and exposes the LUNs of virtual disks as thinly provisioned to the storage stack. It allows administrators to be notified when thresholds are reached and allows for higher utilization of storage.
Storage Spaces and Pools: Windows Server 8 includes Storage Spaces and Pools, a storage virtualization technology that allows the virtualization of storage hardware and the enabling of just-in-time provisioning, mirroring and multi-tenancy.
Storage management improvements: Windows Server 8 supports the Storage Management API (SMAPI) to manage direct as well as external storage arrays. It also implements the Storage Networking Industry Association's (SNIA) Storage Management Initiative-Specification, which allows the discovery and management of SMI-S-enabled storage arrays.
CheckDSK or Checksum: Microsoft has redesigned its CheckDSK utility to allow online disk diagnosis and troubleshooting. The company introduced Spot Repair and Spot Verifier Service, which perform an online scan of the system, marks bad clusters, cleans them up, and repairs corruption in real-time.
That's not all of the storage enhancements with Windows Server 8--it's just the tip of the iceberg. Windows Server 8 will be one OS upgrade for storage and IT administrators to try out and see what other storage enhancements there are that will help them manage their servers and storage together.
Deni Connor is founding analyst for Storage Strategies NOW, an industry analyst firm that focuses on storage, virtualization, and servers.
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