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Longhorn's File Services Role

This is the fifth and final installment of a series by contributing editor Greg Shields, which has taken a close look at Microsoft's upcoming Windows Server 2008 operating system, also commonly known as "Longhorn." The series has been dedicated to evaluating some of the product's new technical capabilities as a way to gauge their usefulness to IT admins in their everyday work. This month's installment takes a look at the product's File Services Role.

In the old days, creating a file server was easy. Take a standard Windows server, add a folder, share that folder among the right users and groups and you're done. No mess, no fuss. In fact, the whole concept of a file server was relatively subjective. Just about all of our servers had at least one file share on them, so virtually all of them could be considered file servers of one form or another.

With Windows Server 2008, Microsoft has codified the role of a file server more objectively through the creation of the File Services Role. Server 2008 is a much more highly componentized operating system than in previous versions, so many of the bits and bytes necessary to do complex file sharing require the installation of this role.

Optional Components
Though this seems like an extra step for a trivial operation, installing the File Services Role grants a set of additional Role Services as well. Optional parts of the File Services Role are the Distributed File System, both for Namespaces and Replication, the File Server Resource Manager, Services for NFS and the Windows Search Service. If your organization requires backward compatibility, the Server 2003 FRS and Indexing service are also available. Depending on your file-serving needs, any of these are optional components that augment traditional file sharing.

Read the rest of of Greg Shields' five-part "The Drive to Longhorn" series:

Part 1: Server Manager Responds to Users' Needs

Part 2: Longhorn's Terminal Services: The Server Manager

Part 3: Active Directory Improvements

Part 4: Getting Manageable

Part 5: Longhorn's File Services Role

Arriving as part of the File Services core is the new Share and Storage Management wizard, which takes much of the work out of the process of sharing a folder. It's installed to Server Manager upon the installation of the File Services Role. This wizard enumerates in a single location all shares and volumes currently configured for the server. It also provides advanced information about file screening, shadow copies, quotas, replication information and volume types.

The process to provision new storage and shares is similarly improved. If you remember back to Windows 2003, creating a new share could involve a number of individual management consoles: One to create the share, another to change its NTFS and share permissions, a third and fourth to share it through NFS or enable offline caching of its contents. All of these-plus a number of additional configurations-are now included as part of the Provision a Shared Folder Wizard, which can be accessed through Share and Storage Management.

Boon or Pain?
One of the most interesting settings now turned on by default is access-based enumeration (ABE). This capability was first introduced in Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1. With ABE, new capabilities on files and folders are enabled so users that don't have access to read a particular file or folder are unable to see it. No permissions, no visibility.

Depending on the needs of your environment, this may be a boon to your users or an added pain. If users shouldn't be aware of folders to which they don't have access, this can be an excellent option. But eliminating file and folder visibility can inhibit users from finding data they may need to access later. ABE is enabled on a per-share basis, so keeping keenly aware of where this may be useful is important. The most critical point to remember, however, is that unlike previous versions, ABE is enabled by default on all shares managed through the Provision a Shared Folder Wizard.

Formalizing the role of file services in Server 2008 is a big advantage to your computing environment. Encapsulating many of the oft-needed optional components into a single role will only make easier your process of sharing data to users.

[This article is based on pre-release information.-Ed.]

About the Author

Greg Shields is a senior partner and principal technologist with Concentrated Technology. He also serves as a contributing editor and columnist for TechNet Magazine and Redmond magazine, and is a highly sought-after and top-ranked speaker for live and recorded events. Greg can be found at numerous IT conferences such as TechEd, MMS and VMworld, among others, and has served as conference chair for 1105 Media’s TechMentor Conference since 2005. Greg has been a multiple recipient of both the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional and VMware vExpert award.

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