Sun, Microsoft Take Different Tacks on File Systems

By David Chernicoff  |  Posted 2004-06-03

Sun, Microsoft Take Different Tacks on File Systems

Both Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. recently offered more information on file system technologies that will underlie their next-generation operating systems. To small surprise, the Dynamic File System and WinFS take different tacks to resource management, compatibility and performance.

At its quarterly systems release event on Tuesday, Sun Microsystems made a number of announcements about its latest operating system, Sun Solaris 10, including the official announcement of its new DFS (Dynamic File System). Solaris 10 is still in beta, and is available to customers via the Sun Software Express program.

Meanwhile, Sun recently offered attendees at the WinHEC conference, held in late May, the latest build of its Windows Longhorn. The operating system will be based on the WinFS file subsystem.

Sun execs referred to the Dynamic File System as a "dramatic advance in the file system/volume manager model of computer data management." This claim is based on DFSs support for virtually unlimited, scalable storage and major performance improvements over the file system and volume management found previous versions of Solaris.

Sun has built its Dynamic File System so that the layer resides on top of shared virtual storage pools. DFS handles the administration of the storage (both physical and virtual) and greatly simplifies the creation and deletion of file systems, a previously very complex task that required considerable effort and time from administrators. Configuring the use of high-end file system features, such as setting up volume and disk mirroring, has been reduced from a labor-intensive task that occupied most of an hour to a few simple steps that can be accomplished in 10 seconds.

In addition, DFS is always on, which provides a dynamic self-healing process for the underlying storage systems. The system supports end-to-end checksumming that can guarantee the integrity of every piece of stored data. It also allows system resources to be shared among existing file systems.

DFS is a major improvement for the Solaris operating system and will go a long way to simplifying the management of storage under Solaris as well as making the entire storage model for the operating system more reliable.

With the price of storage media continually dropping and large storage devices becoming increasingly more common—now in the multi-terabyte range—its easy to understand why Sun felt a need to provide better services for dealing with the large storage model.

However, Suns storage management direction is somewhat different from the announcements that made for the storage model in Longhorn or future versions of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. Those storage announcements have focused on the Windows File System, a k a WinFS.

Next Page: Microsofts WinFS Storage Subsystem

Microsofts WinFS Storage Subsystem

Unlike the Sun approach, WinFS is a database-driven storage subsystem that isnt a file system itself. Instead, WinFS is designed to work with the existing NTFS file system model (as well as future file systems from Microsoft). Its designed to store all sorts of data, structured and unstructured, or anything in between.

While WinFS can store meta-data, it is not explicitly a meta-data store. If anything, WinFS is an item store. And each item is carefully defined so that it can be retrieved.

At the same time, items need not have a file association, just a definition. Common definitions could be items such as contacts, messages and images. If a item type needed doesnt exist, developers can create a new type from an existing type or created from scratch using the API set.

In addition, WinFS isnt concerned with managing the available physical or virtual storage, rather, it provides services for managing monitoring and manipulating the items of which it is aware.

For Suns customers, DFS will provide major advantages to system administrators responsible for storage management in the Solaris environment.

In contrast, the primary advantages of WinFS will be realized by the end users of the operating system, allowing them to store and access data in a less-structured and more-comfortable fashion.

While application developers will be able to take advantage of the APIs that support WinFS and find new and easier ways to share data, it is the end-user that will see the greatest benefit from what WinFS brings to the future Microsoft operating systems.

The storage advancements from Sun and Microsoft in large part reflect their different customer base: Sun is focused on making the OS more usable for the enterprise administrator, which will then trickle down to the end-user. Microsoft focuses on improving the user experience with technology that will allow more advanced applications.

Actually, these are complementary strategies, though I doubt you could get anyone at either company to agree to that even with their recent public détente.

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