In-Depth

From Chaos to Control

Is poor data storage management putting you through “network hell?” Perhaps a software-based storage management solution can save you.

When the first version of Windows NT was released, NT 3.1, network file services was perhaps its most developed feature. Users could save and retrieve files to and from a central file server. This true client-server functionality was a big step up from the peer-to-peer file sharing capabilities of Windows for Workgroups, but it lacked features of the more traditional UNIX file servers.

Specifically, there was no way to restrict the amount of space network users consumed. If you granted users change access to a directory, they could fill it with files until the disk was full. Even then, NT wouldn’t send an email alerting you, the system administrator, to this—but your users would when they discovered they couldn’t save their files.

Several companies noted these missing features in NT and built software-based data storage management products to compensate. But unfortunately for these companies, Microsoft also eventually compensated for these shortcomings with the introduction of Windows 2000 Server. Win2K is designed to provide hard quotas that prevent users from exceeding their allotted disk space, stopping them from saving new files. (Note, however, that what appears to be a Win2K bug apparently allows unscrupulous network users to substantially exceed their prescribed quotas. For details, see http://www.ntbugtraq.com/default.asp?pid=36&sid=1&A2=
ind0003&L=NTBUGTRAQ&P=R565
.)

To track disk space usage, Win2K also lets you configure alerts—sort of. If users exceed their allotted disk space, an event is added to the event log. This can be an effective alerting method if you have a management tool that emails you when a specific event is added to the log. Otherwise, you’re going to have to check the event log on a regular basis to detect problems.

So, after you’ve upgraded to Win2K, which third-party software-based data storage management products remain useful? Here, we’ll check out three:

Choosing the Right Storage-Management Tool

Network file servers are a critical part of your IT infrastructure because they keep your corporate resources centralized and allow people to easily collaborate on documents. Adding disks is the obvious solution if you’re running out of disk space—after all, disk drives keep getting bigger and cheaper. But be careful here, because the cost of storage goes beyond the cost of the hard drive. As you increase storage, you also increase administrative time, chances of failure, and backup requirements.

So, when it comes to storage, there’s a better answer than buying more hardware: Carefully manage your storage utilization. Chances are good that much of the space on your file server is filled with documents that don’t really need to be there. In a medium to large company, it’s impossible for you to keep nagging everyone to police and clean up their network folders. In place of nagging, storage-management software helps you keep network folders well ordered by allowing you to control the amount of disk space network users can consume.

Win2K is the first Microsoft operating system to offer storage management features as part of the base platform. This feature set, though, is quite limited. If all you need is something to stop users from consuming more than their allotted space, you won’t need to buy software that supplements Win2K’s capabilities. On the other hand, if you want to be actively notified of users who reach their space limitations and easily view utilization reports, take a look at the three storage management products I’ve reviewed here.

Of these products, I happily recommend StorageCeNTral and Quota Server. They offer similar feature sets: simple reporting, alerting, and hard quotas. While StorageCeNTral is a slightly more robust product, offering SNMP alerting and integration into Windows Explorer, Quota Server offers a great user interface that is easier to use. Either product will suffice for basic storage-management needs—they’ll let you know when a server is running out of space or when users are consuming more than their fair share of disk space. Put these products through their paces by downloading the trial versions available at the W. Quinn and Northern Parklife Web sites.

Finally, while SpaceGuard costs less than StorageCeNTral and Quota Server, its reporting capabilities are limited. True, it does include some alerting features not found in the base Win2K Server, but overall, Win2K’s capabilities have basically made SpaceGuard obsolete. What can I say? SpaceGuard is a package whose time has come and gone.

About the Author

Tony Northrup, MCSE, Compaq ASE, lives in the Boston area and is currently a systems architect at Genuity. He’s the author of Introducing Windows 2000 Server (Microsoft Press) and NT Network Plumbing (IDG Books), and co-author of Networking Essentials Unleashed (SAMS Publishing).

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