Windows Storage Server Energizes NAS

Windows Storage Server 2003 boasts a number of interesting features that should make NAS systems more scalable and powerful.

The new functionality introduced in Microsoft Corp.s Windows Server 2003 will make its way to network-attached storage appliances through the release of Windows Storage Server 2003, and eWEEK Labs believes vendors—and thus customers—can expect improved manageability, reliability and international (localization) language support.

We recently got a peek at the new software platform when Microsoft sent us a white-box server loaded with Windows Storage Server 2003. Our tests showed Windows Storage Server 2003 will add impressive data protection, scalability and improved language support to the popular NAS appliance package.

Windows Storage Server 2003

Windows Storage Server 2003, the updated software component of several NAS solutions on the market, boasts a number of interesting features that should make NAS systems more scalable and powerful.
















  • PRO: Flexible management; scalability; multipath I/O capability.
  • CON: Cannot function as iSCSI target.

• Network Appliances NAS line

Windows Storage Server 2003, the upgrade to Windows Powered NAS 2.0, was released to manufacturing in June. Hardware vendors will use Windows Storage Server 2003 to create appliances out of standard server hardware, and NAS appliances that run the software should be available in the near future. (Some product announcements are expected this week.)

One of the most interesting things we noted in Windows Storage Server 2003 is its new Shadow Copies feature. Using Shadow Copies, an IT manager can make static copies of data throughout the day that can be restored on demand.

Shadow Copies are complementary to tape backups and give IT managers the flexibility to restore accidentally corrupted or deleted files on demand without having to perform a lengthy tape backup.

However, eWEEK Labs believes Shadow Copies wont supplant tape backups—IT managers should continue to run backups at the end of the day and use Shadow Copies to protect data (and set up easy restore points) during the business day.

Shadow Copies generate some storage overhead—if IT managers wind up making too many, they could overwrite older ones. A maximum of 64 point-in-time copies can be created per volume.

When storing data on a Windows Storage Server 2003 device, Windows XP, Windows 2000 and Windows 98 clients can restore data on the client side without intervention. This is good news for sites that have a lot of transactional data because IT managers can always restore back to a stable original if something goes wrong.

In our tests, Shadow Copies were easy to use and manage.

Unfortunately, because we received only one preview unit, we were unable to test Windows Storage Server 2003s advanced capabilities. These include clustering, which has been improved to support up to eight nodes. Windows Powered NAS 2.0 supports only two-node clustering.

It will be interesting to see how hardware vendors take advantage of Microsofts clustering capabilities when enterprise-class NAS appliances hit the market. The upgrade will enable much bigger clusters, which will be attractive to the enterprise market because they can be used for storage consolidation projects.

The iSCSI initiator support in Windows Storage Server 2003 will be a useful feature in the future. As Windows Storage Server 2003 is implemented, its client-side iSCSI capabilities will allow it to use storage from iSCSI storage systems. The problem is that there arent a lot of iSCSI storage or RAID systems on the market.

Its only a matter of time before iSCSI storage solutions emerge. Hopefully, Windows Storage Server 2003 will have the ability to function as an iSCSI target so that iSCSI clients can get block-level access to the storage in their NAS boxes.

However, Microsoft doesnt currently support Windows Storage Server 2003 as an iSCSI target. Products including Network Appliance Inc.s FAS900 series offer this capability and distribute Fibre Channel resources to clients.

Fibre Channel support was available in the last release, and we expect to see more NAS head solutions (NAS gateways that utilize SAN storage resources) released this year to take advantage of the flexible volume mounting and boot-from-SAN capabilities that have been added in Windows Storage Server 2003.

Multipath I/O capability is another intriguing addition that will be interesting to see in action, although we could not test it with just one box. Multipath I/O allows IT managers to establish as many as 32 paths between storage devices and systems. This will eliminate single points of failure and allow more and faster access to storage resources.

Management flexibility is another strength of Windows Storage Server 2003. Like its predecessor, the operating system enabled us to manage NAS boxes by using the server console itself, by using a Web-based management interface or by using the Remote Desktop for Administration utility.

File screening (to prevent illegal file types such as MP3s from being stored on a NAS device), quota management and storage reporting are all included and easy to use in Window Storage Server 2003, and they definitely will be handy tools for IT managers.

Windows Storage Server 2003s storage reporting tools provide simple yet effective storage resource management capabilities. The storage reporter showed us not only what types of files were stored on our NAS but also how big they were and which ones had not been used for a long period.

Windows Storage Server 2003 supports English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and Chinese (traditional and simplified) language editions, which should make NAS appliances running this application attractive to businesses that have offices overseas.

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Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar can be reached at