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So What's Windows Storage Server for Anyway?

Microsoft made its first overt move into the dedicated storage server space in September with the release of Windows Storage Server 2003. In a field of Windows Server operating system versions that seems to be growing by the month, the company is still struggling to define what distinguishes its Storage Server SKU from all the other versions of Windows Server 2003. The company recently embarked on an education campaign to clarify its intentions for the product.

The difficulty in detailing what the product is intended for stems in part from its complex history. Windows Storage Server 2003 grew out of the former Windows 2000 Server Appliance Kit, which made it to version 2.0. Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices built using the Windows kit were called Windows Powered NAS. The 3.0 version that would have come out in the Windows Server 2003 timeframe, instead morphed into two parallel projects. Microsoft decided to create a Windows Server 2003, Web Edition as a low-cost SKU to compete against Linux for Web servers and appliances. That left the Server Appliance Kit only serving a storage function, so Microsoft went with a storage-oriented name.

Contributing to the confusion, a Microsoft executive mistakenly announced last summer that Windows Storage Server 2003 would be available separately rather than packaged only with OEM hardware as the SAK was. Actually, Windows Storage Server 2003 is designed strictly for sale to end users through OEMs who are selling solutions complete with hardware. Major hardware partners to date include EMC, HP, Dell, NEC and Fujitsu.

So now that we've cleared up what Windows Storage Server 2003 is not, what is it? "Windows Storage Server 2003 is based on Windows Server 2003, but it is a dedicated file and print server," says Claude Lorenson, technical product manager for the technology. At the same time, Lorenson says, "We're not trying to force file-and-print customers onto Storage Server."

Currently, organizations use a lot of Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition, Windows 2000 Standard and Windows NT 4.0 for file and print. To make Windows Storage Server 2003 more efficient in those tasks, Microsoft has turned off a number of services and added other features.

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One of the most attractive features is a Web-based user interface for remote administration and setup. A Storage Manager, licensed from Veritas, provides more full-featured quota management, file filtering and storage reporting than are possible in other versions of Windows. Features of Services for Unix 3.5, which is itself free now, are integrated into the product. The most notable SFU component is the NFS Server for serving and printing files from Unix and Linux. "We also made the modification on the snapshot tools so you can also snapshot NFS shares," says Lorenson. "It is very important for us to have the operating system integrate as easily as possible."

Additionally, the OEMs can tune file serving performance for their specific hardware and integrate specific applications into the Web-based UI. For example, HP provides replication options, Iomega does backup and EMC provides its customers with storage provisioning. On the other hand, several standard Windows Server 2003 features are turned off, including the options to make the box an Active Directory server or to locally install Exchange Server. In fact, a relatively limited set of applications can be run on Windows Storage Server 2003. They include backup, anti-virus, file and network print and limited SQL Server deployments.

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According to Microsoft, several scenarios are suited for Windows Storage Server 2003. The top scenario is for server consolidation, especially for file and print. "Windows Storage Server 2003 has a much higher capacity of storage for consolidation. The sweet spot is 500 GB to 8 TB of captive storage," Lorenson says. Optimal file and print scenarios for the storage version of the server are pre-configured servers, dedicated servers in the data center or branch office servers. On the other hand, the storage version is not appropriate for organizations that want to use Windows SharePoint Services to enhance file storage and enable team collaboration, that are committed to direct-attached storage architectures or that need flexibility to repurpose servers for other uses such as business applications or e-mail. Another area for which Microsoft recommends use of Windows Storage Server 2003 is as a NAS gateway for a Storage Area Network.

For the record, the standard and enterprise versions of Windows Storage Server 2003 are two of 13 SKUs of Windows Server. There's Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition; Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition; Windows Server 2003, Datacenter Edition; Windows Server 2003, Web Edition; Windows Small Business Server 2003, Standard Edition; Windows Small Business Server 2003, Premium Edition; Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition for 64-bit Itanium 2 Systems; Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition for 64-bit Itanium 2 Systems; Windows Server 2003, Datacenter Edition for 64-bit Itanium 2 Systems; Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition for 64-bit Extended Systems; Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition for 64-bit Extended Systems.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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