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Will .NET server make Windows storage friendly?

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"When you remove the source tree and leave the compiled app, it's much smaller than traditional .ASP pages," reports Dean McRobie, senior manager of technology with consulting service provider Sapient, Arlington, VA. "The code that comes out of [Visual Studio .NET] is very efficient and removes a lot of the overhead we have normally seen with COM or .ASP-based apps." This smaller footprint could conceivably pave the way for smaller .NET applications addressing a particular department's needs instead of trying to satisfy the entire company, he says.

Just because individual applications are smaller doesn't mean storage administrators will get a reprieve from growth. Although individual applications may be smaller, overall storage usage is likely to increase due to the overhead for .NET's operational data such as authentication and audit trails. Robert Sanders, practice director for global digital strategy and development at Unisys, envisions this issue alone could increase storage requirements by 5% to 10%. Of course, simply migrating existing applications to support.NET requires more testing and the other requirements of any major redevelopment.

VSS will certainly increase demands on companies' storage resources. Storage economy has never been the company's high point, and Microsoft's storage strategy is more or less built around the assumption that data is online all the time. More often than not, Microsoft views solutions through

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their money-is-no-object, rose-colored glasses. If data is to be available all the time, slow tape storage needs to be replaced with ATA/IDE arrays that stack hundreds of gigabytes of low-cost disks. Although they're slower than primary server drives, large numbers of slower drives do provide a cost-effective way to keep large numbers of shadow copies available to users on an ongoing basis.

Providing adequate storage infrastructure for .NET is about more than just adding disks, however. Dallas-based customer relationship management software developer Brierley & Partners, an early adopter of .NET, found that an entire storage infrastructure upgrade was called for after a customer loyalty application it built to support Sony's my.sony.com site performed over twice as fast as expected.

"We had to rearchitect the way we laid out SQL Server," says George Nemer, system architect with Brierley, which built the Sony system around a two-node Windows 2000 Datacenter cluster with 8 CPUs in each system and 1TB of available storage. "Because the performance of .NET was faster, we were hitting the database harder and the regular SCSI disk couldn't handle it. We had to split transaction logs from the data because transactions were intensive; you split things up to avoid hot spots. We are constantly learning more about increasing performance."

Brierley upgraded the system's interconnects to Fibre Channel, and boosted its backbone network from 100Mb/s Fast Ethernet to 1000Mb/s Gigabit Ethernet. The result has been a dream environment supporting more than 700,000 Sony customers using nearly 20 clustered Compaq servers support around 40,000 simultaneous users. Nemer anticipates .NET's snapshot capabilities will be a further improvement by cutting backup time.

Microsoft still has a lot to learn about enterprise storage, and it's hunkered down to climb the learning curve as quickly as possible.

One ISV - who asked not to be named - said he felt Microsoft has done a good job bringing its .NET Server platform up to speed to compete for enterprise storage business, but "it's not 100% there yet. There's just been a lot of third party development work for UNIX that isn't available for Windows," he says, adding that "it takes a while to catch up."

Looking to the future, the ISV says, Microsoft has some very aggressive plans. It's actively developing products that advance the distributed file system (DFS) capabilities. A DFS lets clients access and process data stored on the server as if it were on their own computer. When a user accesses a file on the server, the server sends the user a copy of the file, which is cached on the user's computer while the data is being processed and is then returned to the server. These efforts are a nature progression to work on global file system development.

And perhaps most disruptive, Microsoft, according to the ISV, is seeking a competitive advantage against major device vendors such as EMC, HDS and other big players, by writing APIs for .NET Server that will neutralize some of the unique functionality built into those companies' storage devices. In other words, .NET Server will become an agnostic platform and users can mix and match storage devices in their environment. Stay tuned.

Obviously, other ISVs are optimistic about Microsoft's long-term success as well, suggesting that .NET will rapidly assume a larger role within storage infrastructures as customers upgrade management software and move to .NET Server.

"Microsoft starting ESG has made us even more comfortable [with its commitment to storage]," says George Symons, vice president of product management and development with Legato Systems, which has been working closely with Microsoft to flesh out the .NET storage interfaces. Says Symons: "There really is a focus now on customers' storage requirements, what is the infrastructure we need to build, what hooks should be in there, and what it means to successfully back up Windows."

This was first published in August 2002

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