Windows Server 2003 Elevates Microsoft as a Storage Player -

Windows Server 2003 Elevates Microsoft as a Storage Player

Last week's release of Windows Server 2003 promises to make Microsoft more of a player in the storage area by plugging a number of critical holes in Windows NT and 2000, both the company and analysts report.

"Microsoft definitely recognized that if they wanted to target the enterprise, they needed to fix many of the problems that the Windows NT and Win 2000 systems presented from a storage perspective," says Nancy Marrone, senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group.

Improving storage capabilities was a design goal for Windows Server 2003, the Redmond, Wash. software giant confirms, with new and enhanced features for storage management and availability to help IT staffs reduce the total cost of ownership for storage systems. Those innovations are in the area of multi-vendor storage management, data management, data protection, and availability.

The Virtual Disk Service (VDS) enables multi-vendor storage devices to interoperate in Windows, providing APIs to storage hardware and to management programs that manage the storage hardware.

The Volume Shadow Copy (VSS) service provides an infrastructure for creating a point-in-time copy of a single volume or multiple volumes. Used for managing data from direct-attached storage to SANs, the Volume Shadow Copy service coordinates with business applications, backup applications, and storage hardware to enable application-aware data management.

The Encrypting File System (EFS) is used to store encrypted files on NTFS volumes. Encrypted files and folders are easy to use since they appear just like any other file or folder -- transparent to authorized users but inaccessible to everyone else.

Automated System Recovery (ASR) enables bare metal restore of servers and consistent data recovery of servers, including "system state" and hardware configuration information.

Multipath I/O (MPIO) is a high-availability function that provides multiple paths from the host to the external storage device. Up to 32 paths are supported. Load balancing is an additional benefit that improves performance.

Microsoft has also given Windows Server 2003 improved host bus adapter (HBA) interoperability, and has pledged to support iSCSI with a free download planned for June.

Flexible Volume Mounting, Multi-pathing Boost Microsoft's Stature

The new platform addresses many of the shortcomings of Windows NT and 2000, according to Marrone. Most notably, she maintains, the new OS uses a flexible volume mounting feature, "so now the Windows OS does not automatically claim all the available capacity it sees. NT solutions did that, and it was one key reason administrators were reluctant to network Microsoft servers in shared storage environments."

That ability -- to specify what volumes to mount upon boot through a command utility -- is analogous to the MOUNT command in UNIX, and also provides the ability to boot hosts from OS images on a SAN.

Other new features -- such as MPIO, VDS, and VSS -- "offer functionality that will help Microsoft move into the enterprise space," says Marrone. "It wasn't feasible to think a server could be enterprise class if multi-pathing wasn't available. Enterprise class systems need to be highly available, and part of that is having multiple paths to access the server."

The results of Microsoft's latest efforts have already been seen in the company's expanded partnership with EMC announced earlier this week.

"EMC certainly recognized that Microsoft was a formidable player in the NAS space, and they were better off working with them than against them," contends Marrone. "With Microsoft moving to a Windows 2003 OS for the NAS solutions, EMC can leverage off many of the new features in order to offer a really strong mid-range solution."

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