Inside Windows Storage Server


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WSS 2003 OEM offerings

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Windows Storage Server 2003 (WSS) is only available through OEMs that bundle the operating system with their hardware. The list of OEMs includes vendors such as Dell Computer Corp., EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) and Iomega Corp. Prices start at less than $1,000 for approximately 160GB of storage (these devices usually require memory upgrades for the best performance) and range to more than $30,000 for high-end devices that scale to many terabytes and provide redundancy.

For example, EMC's NetWin 200 is an entry-level network-attached storage (NAS) device that combines WSS with the company's line of Clariion networked storage systems. It sports two 3.06GHz Intel Xeon processors, 2GB of memory, a RAID controller and two 36GB disks.

HP offers a full line of storage products based on WSS 2003. At the low end, the StorageWorks NAS 1200 is an entry-level NAS for small businesses. It's available in three capacities: 320GB with a 2.4GHz P4 processor, 640GB with a 2.8GHz P4 processor and 1TB with the 2.8GHz processor. Each comes with 512MB of memory and redundancy. They are preconfigured with a RAID 5 volume. The higher end products--StorageWorks 2000, 4000 and 9000--are available in a variety of configurations.

With a steadily growing share of the network-attached storage (NAS) market--currently at 41% according to research firm International Data Corp.--Microsoft Corp. has upped the ante with the latest incarnation of its storage operating system, Windows Storage Server 2003 (WSS). Microsoft hopes the low cost and easy management of NAS devices built around WSS will give NAS stalwarts, such as Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp), a run for its money.

Emphasizing Microsoft's renewed thrust into the storage market are the recent announcements from OEMs supporting WSS. Hardware and software vendors, such as EMC Corp., Legato (a division of EMC) and Veritas Software Corp., have lined up behind the operating system with a broad range of products that exploit new WSS features. Perhaps the most significant addition to WSS is Microsoft's Feature Pack, which supports Exchange e-mail databases. Other key WSS features include:

  • Volume Shadow Copy Services (VSS)
  • Multipath I/O (MPIO) support
  • Improved integration with SANs
  • iSCSI support
  • Web-based management interface (in addition to the Microsoft Management Console snap-in)
  • Exchange support (with the Feature Pack)
The SAK evolves
First shipped late last year, WSS evolved from the Windows 2000 Server Appliance Kit (SAK). WSS takes advantage of its Windows Server 2003 foundation. For example, VSS allows point-in-time copies of data for backup and restoration, providing more advanced data protection and backup capabilities. MPIO provides redundant I/O paths and iSCSI overcomes the limitations of Serial SCSI by providing block-based storage over IP networks. According to Microsoft, WSS also provides better file-server performance than the SAK; it claims a 50% improvement. One compelling argument for WSS is its Web-based user interface that makes configuration and management much easier.

In fact, simplicity is one of the product's strengths. The Web-based user interface provides wizards for setup, configuration and ongoing management. Rick Bauer, CIO of The Hill School in Pottstown, NJ, says it's easy and intuitive. "We like the fact that the WSS fits our needs without a lot of drama or overhead."

Compared to previous versions of Microsoft's storage operating systems, WSS offers more full-featured quota management and improved storage utilization reporting. These features are built into the operating system--you aren't required to purchase additional management applications from OEMs. As might be expected, WSS supports Microsoft's Active Directory, which allows it to use established policies for security enforcement. According to Microsoft, WSS supports all major network operating system protocols, including NFS, NetWare, AppleTalk and HTTP. Most OEMs ship their WSS devices with a mirrored operating system partition and a RAID 5 data partition. To add the device to the network, just set the IP address, the computer name and then join the domain.

This was first published in August 2004

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