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Windows Storage Server R2 Enters Beta

Microsoft on Tuesday released a beta of Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, which will include enhancements for storage management, collaboration and branch usage.

Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, previously known by the code-name "Storm," is the second generation of Microsoft's dedicated file server. The product is sold exclusively by OEMs as part of a complete hardware-software file server solution.

The product roadmap calls for a release to manufacturing by the end of 2005 with the rest of the Windows Server 2003 R2 editions. Allowing OEMs some time to build and test systems with the gold code, Microsoft does not plan a formal launch of Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 until April.

Storage Management

Several improvements in the R2 storage server are focused on storage management. A key enhancement will be single-instance storage -- a concept familiar to Exchange administrators. Intelligence built into the server OS will recognize when multiple users are saving copies of the same file. While it would appear to all users that the file is stored in each of their folders, the server only physically stores one copy and the rest of the files point to that instance.

Microsoft is also including its own software for quota management in the R2 storage server. "We used to have that functionality in Storage Server as third-party licensed software. Now it's a Microsoft version," said Radhesh Balakrishnan, a group product manager in the Windows Server Division.

The R2 storage server will also be fine-tuned for file serving. Some of the back-and-forth confirmations needed to verify data integrity for Exchange workloads or application workloads aren't necessary for the server. "They're not needed in a file environment because the SMB protocol handles that itself," Balakrishnan said. By changing registry settings to optimize file serving performance, "we can see up to a 30 percent improvement in SMB performance," he said.

Collaboration

To cement Windows Storage Server 2003 R2's role as a file server, Microsoft is building in Windows SharePoint Services for collaboration. While the services have been available since shortly after Windows Server 2003 shipped, they've been an add-on for all editions except Windows Small Business Server 2003.

Balakrishnan says the benefits for a file server include version control and better utilization of storage capacity. Rather than storing 10 copies of a Word document with each team member's minor changes, the server is storing one copy and using 10 percent of the storage capacity it might otherwise have used in the uncontrolled collaboration scenario.

Microsoft will also turn on index-based searching by default in R2 storage server. The benefit to users is the ability to search for documents when they don't remember the file names or locations. Balakrishnan acknowledged that the on-by-default feature causes a performance hit, but he called it minimal. "We're talking about 3 to 4 percentage points even in environments where there are hundreds of users touching that file server," Balakrishnan said.

Branch Office

One of the key usage scenarios for Windows Storage Server is to provide file serving for branch offices with just a handful of users. In a Q&A on the Microsoft Web site, Bob Muglia highlighted new features in name-space virtualization (DFS-N) and self-replication (DFS-R). "[They] make this operating system ideally suited for remote office deployments," Muglia said.

About the Author

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

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