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Windows Server 2008 steps on some storage toes

Windows Server 2008, the latest Microsoft OS, was released to manufacturing in February. It doesn't include as many totally new features as Windows Server 2003 did in its first release, but it will offer new integration for features first rolled out with Windows Server 2003 R2 in 2005. That new integration leads industry experts to anticipate better adoption and, potentially, a few bruised egos in the storage market as some features overlap with existing vendor offerings.

64-bit support is one feature that was already present in Windows 2003 R2, but storage vendors are expected to catch onto it more widely this time around. "The key is the upgrade to Exchange 2007," which runs on 64-bit software, says Randy DeMeno, chief evangelist at CommVault. CommVault is offering what it calls "release-agnostic" upgrade support; users can back up files and apps from any previous version of Windows and restore them to any other version, including 2008.

EMC says a 64-bit OS will more fully saturate storage pipes, and could lead to issues with hot spots on disks as servers consolidate. "64-bit technologies are going to drive better server consolidation, which also means higher utilization rates for storage channels," says Brian Martin, senior director of partner engineering at EMC. "It's a perennial problem as technology moves forward." The next move for storage in this performance game is the emerging 8Gb/sec Fibre Channel (FC).

Another update, announced with R2 but only available with the new OS, is the ability to expand and shrink volumes on the fly using its Virtual Disk Service (VDS), a feature called virtual provisioning. Hewlett-Packard (HP) was first to announce support for this update, saying last June that it would support the feature when it became generally available. Other vendors, like EMC, are still working on integrating the "shrinking" part across their disk arrays.

New features developed for the latest revision have required development efforts from storage vendors, but they won't be directly felt by users. These include stricter, more granular security features that CA says required redesigns to its ARCserve software; new support for multipathing using a standard called asymmetric logical unit access, which EMC said it changed some code to accommodate; support for volume sizes larger than 2TB in failover clusters; and the ability to add disks to failover clusters on the fly.

The problem for vendors, particularly backup software vendors like Symantec, is that VDS and Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) are now much more visible to the user, and could commoditize the Windows integration that has been their bread and butter. One example of this is Windows Server Backup, a free data backup tool available with Windows Server 2008 that's based on the snapshot technology Microsoft rolled out with Windows Data Protection Manager (DPM). Most vendors will nominally support DPM and Server Backup snapshots, but won't support managing them in the same repository as their own. "We're really in a competitive situation with DPM," says Jason Fisher, director of product management at Symantec.

Other vendors, like HP, say they "do have that co-opetition feeling," according to Elaine Yee, HP StorageWorks-Microsoft relations marketing manager. But, in some cases, the updates let them offer better storage support for Windows servers; Windows Server Backup replaces an older utility that didn't allow backup to tape, she says.

Storage Explorer, a new management interface introduced with R2, is in a similar boat. The interface can use the SMI-S standard to manage storage, but Drue Reeves, VP and research director for the data center strategies service at Midvale, UT-based Burton Group, doesn't expect it to take the place of established SAN management tools--or Microsoft's own storage management tools. "Virtual Disk Service has more rich features and along with VSS has become a de facto standard," he says. "Users have to deal with fragmented management because SMI-S has not lived up to its promise."

--Beth Pariseau

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