Windows Server 8 Heterogeneous Storage Support

Whether you’re talking about closet space in your house or the capacity of your datacenter, storage is something you can never have enough of. But storage space alone isn’t the whole story. Storage for data needs to be both flexible and reliable. Microsoft recognizes the crucial importance of storage today more than ever, which is why we focused so deeply on storage in Windows Server 8. If you read my previous blog, you’ll recall that I talked about the storage and continuous availability enhancements in Windows Server 8 and discussed how we provided functionality to create a more cost-effective storage platform for our customers.

We are also addressing storage for mixed mode environments. Some of our customers have a mix of Windows and Unix/Linux client machines. Windows Server 8 multiprotocol storage technologies aren’t new to Windows Server. The IT admin can use the same Windows Server 8 system to store data from both Unix/Linux clients (via the NFS protocol) and Windows clients (via the SMB protocol). We have continued to augment this capability, including use of improved clustering to deliver a more highly-available storage platform that is also a cost-effective choice for our customers.

For example, the Services for Network File System (NFS) server and client on Windows Server have come a long way since Services for Unix (SFU) was first offered. After integrating these components into Windows (with the Windows Server 2003 R2 release), we’ve steadily focused on improving stability, reliability, and performance of our NFS stack. The NFS protocol itself has evolved from its traditional file serving roots into a viable file-based storage protocol for server applications.

So how does this progress show up in Windows Server 8? Let’s look at some key features for NFS for Windows Server 8:

  • Storage for VMware Virtual Machines over NFS: Now with Windows Server 8 you can confidently deploy the Windows NFS server as a highly available storage back end for VMware virtual machines. We re-designed critical components of our NFS stack and focused on providing transparent failover semantics to NFS clients.
  • NFS v4.1 server: The NFS v4.1 protocol represents a significant evolution of the NFS protocol, and we’re excited to deliver a standards-compliant server-side implementation in Windows Server 8. Some of the Windows Server 8 NFS v4.1 server features include: a flexible single-server namespace for easier share management, full Kerberos v5 support (including authentication, integrity, and privacy) for enhanced security, VSS snapshot integration for backup, and Unmapped Unix User Access to enable easier user account integration. Windows Server 8 supports simultaneous Server Message Block (SMB) and NFS access to the same share, identity mapping using RFC-2307 based identity mapping stores for easier and secure identity integration, and highly available cluster deployments.
  • PowerShell everywhere: In response to customer feedback, over 40 Windows PowerShell cmdlets provide task-based remote management of every aspect of the NFS server -- from configuring NFS server settings to provisioning shares and share permissions.
  • Identity mapping is simpler: Windows Server 8 includes a new flat file-based identity mapping store. Windows PowerShell cmdlets also replace cumbersome manual steps to provision Active Directory Lightweight Directory Services (AD LDS) as an identity mapping store and to manage mapped identities.

In addition to NFS protocol support, Windows Server 8 will now provide an inbox iSCSI software target. The Windows iSCSI Software Target enables a Windows Server to provide remote block storage (disk devices) for applications and workloads using a converged Ethernet network. Today the Microsoft iSCSI Software Target is already available as a free download for Windows Server 2008 R2, and if you‘ve tried the Windows Server 8 Developer Preview build, you may have noticed iSCSI Software Target 3.3 is now an inbox feature.

As a Windows Server 8 feature, the iSCSI Software Target can be easily managed by the new integrated File Services role available in Server Manager and can be automated using over 20 Windows PowerShell cmdlets.

These attributes make the iSCSI Software Target ideal for:

  • Network/diskless boot: By using boot-capable NICs or a software loader, you can deploy hundreds of diskless servers. With the Windows iSCSI Software Target, the deployment is fast; we tested 256 computers deployed in 34 minutes. By using differencing virtual disks, you can save up to 90% of the storage space for the operating system images. This is ideal for large deployments of identical operating system images, such as a Hyper-V server farm or High Performance Computing (HPC) clusters.
  • Server application storage: Some applications require block storage, (e.g., Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V and Exchange Server). The iSCSI Software Target can provide these apps with continuously available block storage. Since the storage is remotely accessible it can also consolidate block storage for central or branch office locations.
  • Heterogeneous storage:  The iSCSI Software Target supports non-Windows iSCSI initiators, making it easy to share storage on Windows Servers in a mixed environment.
  • Dev/Test/Demo/Lab environments: When the iSCSI Software Target feature is enabled, it turns any Windows Server into a network-accessible block storage device. This is perfect for the testing of applications prior to deployment on SAN storage.

With the investments and enhancements that we have made for NFS and iSCSI, Windows Server 8 will provide an even more compelling storage platform that addresses our customers’ heterogeneous IT requirements. Both NFS and iSCSI target can be deployed with Windows failover clustering to enable transparent fail over of workloads, ensuring applications continue to work without errors in case of a network or node failure.

These are exciting times with the upcoming storage features with Windows Server 8, and I look forward to sharing more over the coming months. Thank you for reading.

Thomas Pfenning

General Manager, File Server Team

Comments (1)

  1. Anonymous says:

    I'd love to see (inbox) functionality for software-replicated block storage. Because that is the single biggest missing HA piece.

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