By Henry Baltazar  |  Posted 2006-01-30 Print this article Print

Appliances running Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2003 will likely be more useful and efficient with the R2 update.

In addition to the enhancements made to the general-purpose Windows Server 2003 Release 2, on which Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 is based, the storage operating system adds some compelling features, including SIS (Single Instance Storage) and improved indexing.

Windows Storage Server 2003 is available only through OEMs. Hewlett-Packard, EMC and Dell are just a few of the companies that will be releasing NAS (network-attached storage) appliances powered by the operating system. R2 was released to manufacturers in December, and the first systems running the operating system update are expected to be rolled out in the next few months.

How is Microsoft differentiating its NAS platform from the standard OS? Click here to read more. eWEEK Labs tested Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 on twin ProLiant DLK100 G2 servers, each with an Intel Pentium 2.8GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM.

One of the most distinctive features of Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 is SIS, which can be used to optimize storage resources.

This technology, which was first implemented in Microsofts Remote Installation Services tool, monitors the contents of a volume and ensures that only one unique copy of a file is saved. SIS, working in conjunction with RIS, ensures that multiple copies of application and core operating system files are not stored. (For example, SIS can check to make sure that only one copy of Office is stored.)

In Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, SIS is used to eliminate redundant files on a file volume. For example, if multiple end users save identical PDF files to the same data volume, SIS stores the PDF file once and creates pointer files to replace additional copies of the file.

If a user were to edit the PDF file, SIS would automatically create a copy of the file for the user, separate from the original copy. All of this is transparent to the user, requiring no training to be effective.

SIS is activated and managed with a command-line interface. In our tests, it was fairly easy to start and stop the SIS groveller. The one thing we didnt like was that SIS had to be run at the volume level. We would have preferred the ability to activate SIS on a directory-by-directory basis.

Only six volumes can simultaneously run SIS. This should be sufficient for most SMBs (small and midsize businesses), especially since Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 is designed to run on midrange NAS appliances.

SIS is compatible with a couple of different backup applications, including Symantecs Backup Exec, CAs BrightStor ARCserve Backup and CommVaults Galaxy.

Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 also improves index-based full-text search, to help users find content in a variety of file formats, including PDF and Zip, and Office document formats.

In past iterations of Windows Storage Server 2003, the index service had to be 100 percent complete before it could be used to accelerate client searches. With Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, the service can still function even if the index has not been completed. The index service can eat up close to 30 percent overhead for text files, however, so it is a good idea to set aside extra space for the index itself.

The new File Server Management console included with MMC (Microsoft Management Console) 3.0 did a decent job of walking us through the process of setting up and managing file shares.

In addition, DFS (Distributed File System) has been improved with the addition of RDC (remote differential compression), which makes DFS efficient over WAN links by transferring only file differences when two locations have copies of the same file.

RDC will be a useful tool for IT managers who want to consolidate files at a single site for consistent backups. In this configuration, file additions and modifications made at remote sites are mirrored at the central data center.

File screening returns in Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, but this time the technology was developed by Microsoft. (The previous version was developed by Veritas, which has since been acquired by Symantec.)

To read Henry Baltazars take on merging Veritas and Symantecs wares, click here. We found the file-screening capabilities easy to set up, and Microsoft has created some basic rules for excluding, for example, audio and video files. We were able to trick the file-screening capabilities by changing the file extension, but the feature should still be effective for most sites.

The R2 updates of both Windows Server 2003 and Windows Storage Server 2003 improve the operating systems quota capabilities.

In Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003 environments, quotas could limit user storage consumption on the volume level only. With the release of the R2 updates, quotas are now linked to Active Directory, allowing IT managers to implement quota policies networkwide and also allowing quotas to run at the folder level.

The new Storage Manager for SANs management tool works with storage systems that support Microsofts Virtual Disk Service. This tool is relatively low-end, comparable to entry-level SAN management tools such as QLogics SANSurfer Management Suite, but it will help organizations grow NAS units with SAN storage.

Storage Manager for SANs walks IT managers through the process of creating a LUN (logical unit number) and helps them assign the LUN to a server. Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 has solid reporting and analysis tools that allowed us to see how our storage resources were being used.

Still notable by its absence from Windows Storage Server 2003 is a feature that would allow appliances based on the operating system to function as an iSCSI target. Microsoft officials have not said whether such a capability will be added in future versions of the operating system.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.


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