Unified Storage Mirage

Each new version of Windows seems to introduce a new file system. Is Longhorn the end of it?

Sometimes things get put off around Chez Auntie. There’s that porch that needs to be repainted and Fabio’s new shirts to be monogrammed. It always seems to be October by the time we get around to thinking about taking down the Christmas lights, which makes this abode at least a little bit like Microsoft. No, not in the Christmas-light department—in the procrastination department. Sometimes it seems like Redmond announces products and then, well, doesn’t ship them when we’re all expecting them.

What got Auntie thinking along these lines was running across an old reference to Storage+. Storage+, you may recall, was part of the Windows DNA architecture (along with COM+ and Forms+) announced clear back in 1998. Since then, we’ve seen rumors of Storage+ (sometimes referred to as the Relational File System, RFS) in just about every planned Microsoft server operating system. In 1998 (which was about 30 years ago in computer years), the plan was to have Storage+ in the next version of Windows and to have it be based on the next release of SQL Server. Now that’s still the plan—only for different values of “next.”

But let’s suppose, just for the sake of argument, that the Softies are finally going to roll out this new world of storage in SQL Server “Yukon” and Windows “Longhorn,” both due in 2003. (OK, maybe 2004. Don’t set your watch by Microsoft’s release schedules.) What does that mean to you, the Windows-supporting MCSE?

The details are still murky. Depending on which set of rumors you believe (and, of course, some of these rumors are planted by Microsoft, while others come straight from the company’s foes), the new SQL Server-based file system will replace the existing disk file systems, the Exchange store, the Active Directory store and even the registry. In theory, this should give developers and administrators several benefits. First, access to all information on the computer will be through one uniform set of APIs. Second, these APIs will leverage all the work done over the years in SQL Server. Replication, transactional semantics and bulletproof recovery could all be coming soon (well, in a few years) to a file system near you.

But then there are the downsides. This gal worries about two of ’em in particular: backward compatibility and the “yet-another-version” problem.

There have been a lot of innovations in Windows disk storage lately. Windows 2000 includes the Distributed File System, IntelliMirror, disk quotas, removable storage and remote storage (are you having nightmares about the Win2K exams yet?). Windows .NET Server adds Volume Shadow Copies, Virtual Disk Service and Automated System Recovery. Have you implemented any of these services in mission-critical applications? Do you want to bet your job that they’ll work exactly the same when the whole guts of the file system are ripped out and replaced? The same questions, of course, apply to the Exchange store and Active Directory. Will the new implementation faithfully reproduce every feature and quirk of the existing systems, even if Longhorn undergoes the most extensive beta program in recorded history?

The other big issue is the multiplication of Windows versions. By the time Longhorn ships, organizations will have Windows servers running Windows NT 4.0 (no matter how much Microsoft would like to kill that version), Win2K, and Windows .NET Server. No matter how compelling the feature set, some CIOs are just going to say, “No more migrations.” And, of course, we’ll also have a replay of the NT 4.0 vs. Win2K battling certifications. Some of you readers will be right up there with your CIOs saying, “no more,” yourselves.

Sometimes, if you procrastinate long enough, you might as well forget the original plan. Those Christmas lights, for instance: At this point, we might as well leave them up. Auntie wonders if perhaps Microsoft has reached that point with Storage+, under whatever name. Sure, unified relational storage for everything would be a technological wonder. But will anyone need it or want it by the time it ships?

Is unified storage a killer app for you? Or are you so tired of new Windows versions that they couldn’t pay you to upgrade again? Let me know at Auntie@mcpmag.com.

About the Author

Em C. Pea, MCP, is a technology consultant, writer and now budding nanotechnologist who you can expect to turn up somewhere writing about technology once again.

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