Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 is now available!


Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 has been released to our OEM manufacturers! In my opinion, this OEM platform is by far the best value for your money for a network-attached storage (NAS) appliance operating system. Our OEMs tell us that they prefer a solution that integrates flawlessly into an Active Directory, supports that latest storage management applications, plays nice with industry standards and has an easy to use interface that IT pros understand. Buying industry standard servers running Windows Storage Server is 4x less expensive than buying a proprietary appliance and the features people want most are included without paying more later. In addition to the cost savings, the new release scales very well to accommodate many more users accessing files than those proprietary appliances.

In today’s IT environment, people expect great features like fast file protocols with distributed namespaces, file replication, data deduplication, iSCSI Targets, volume snapshots and support for the latest security, anti-virus, and backup applications. They want the ability to do storage reporting and enact automated policies based on the business value of their data. If something goes wrong, they want on-site support staff with teams of people available to resolve issues and answer questions. Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 is built on the award-winning Windows Server 2008 R2 codebase and contains some awesome features for NAS solutions. OEMs will be offering great storage solutions and best in class support for these mission-critical systems over the next decade.

Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 based storage appliances are delivered by Microsoft partners with the same management and protection tools that are deployed across the rest of their customer’s Windows infrastructure. Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 enables simplified and rapid deployment of highly available file or iSCSI-based block servers without the user ever going to the second node to configure the cluster.

Three New Editions to Savor:

  • Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Enterprise
  • Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Standard
  • Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Workgroup

There are a ton of new things you can do with Windows Storage Server appliances. Let’s look at the key scenarios and uses.

Key Scenarios:

  1. File Server – Access files over the network using SMB and NFS protocols. SMB 2.1 is super fast and Windows 7 clients can speak it natively. SMB 2.1 combined with the new networking and storage stacks in Windows has proven to almost double the SMB file-protocol performance on identical hardware by moving from Windows Server 2008 to Windows Server 2008 R2-based file servers. You also get all the benefits of the File Server Resource Manager (FSRM) with quotas, file screens and storage reporting. FSRM includes the incredible File Classification Infrastructure (FCI) that enables you to classify every file in your organization and perform specific actions you choose. For example, you can scan all files for credit card or social security numbers and automatically protect them. You could prevent deletion of time-bound data, expire, delete, RMS protect, or move files to SATA drives when they get old. Just about anything you can dream up can be done with FCI; you could build a simple little HSM solution in just a few minutes!
  2. Branch Office Server – Windows Storage Server is the ultimate branch office OS. Take advantage of Read-Only Domain Controller (RODC) to authenticate the branch users. Use Distributed File System (DFS) to publish a company-wide namespace and DFS Replication to do two-way synchronization of branch office servers to the home office. You can make DFS replicas read-only and take advantage of SIS to deduplicate files in the branch. You can sync each user’s data to the corporate site and offer them offline files and folder redirection so they can work on multiple computers or while they are mobile/offline. Standard and Enterprise storage servers can also run DNS and DHCP so you can consolidate infrastructure in the branch. In a large branch, or if downtime isn’t cool, then use a pair of storage servers in a 2-node cluster. Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Enterprise adds BranchCache to save massive amounts of bandwidth over the WAN back to your corporate headquarters.
  3. Block Storage Server –iSCSI storage for application servers like SQL Servers, Exchange Servers or Hyper-V. The Microsoft iSCSI Software Target supports SCSI-2 and SCSI-3 persistent reservation commands so you can use it for shared cluster storage.
  4. Unified Storage Server – Serve blocks and files from the same storage server.
  5. iSCSI Boot Server – Boot support for diskless servers and clients.
  6. iSCSI Boot for HPC Clusters - Deploy and boot hundreds of diskless HPC cluster nodes in minutes using differencing virtual hard disks (VHDs) that build off a common “golden master” image. We have been able to simultaneously boot hundreds of HPC compute nodes off of a single iSCSI Target in just a few minutes.
  7. Gateway to a SAN – Front-end your storage area network (SAN) storage so you can leverage those disks for storing files.
Deployment Modes:
  1. Standalone Storage Server – Windows scales up well with fast drives, networking cards, and processors.
  2. Highly Available Storage Server – Use Failover Clustering to create iSCSI or file server solutions with no single points of failure. Multipath I/O (MPIO) can be set up on the network paths as active-active (round-robin load balance for maximum throughput and redundancy) or active-standby (only used in case of a failover).
iSCSI Storage Topologies Tested at Microsoft:
  1. Hyper-V host (iSCSI initiator) using an iSCSI LUN as a volume for the virtual machines. In this topology, the Hyper-V host uses an iSCSI initiator to connect to an iSCSI target. The host formats the LUNs with its own file system (NTFS) and creates .vhd files to be used by the virtual machines.
  2. Hyper-V host (iSCSI initiator) using an iSCSI LUN as a pass-through disk to the virtual machines. The Hyper-V host uses the iSCSI initiator to connect to an iSCSI target. The host doesn’t format the LUN and just passes it through to the virtual machines.
  3. Hyper-V virtual machine using the iSCSI initiator. The virtual machine uses the iSCSI initiator to connect directly to an iSCSI LUN being hosted by an iSCSI target.
  4. Boot and Data disks for a Hyper-V host. The iSCSI target can provide a LUN to a Hyper-V host for boot disks or data disks for the Hyper-V virtual machines in all three of the above topologies. If you boot from the disk described in the “Hyper-V virtual machine using the iSCSI initiator” topology, it enables diskless iSCSI booting.
  5. Clustered Application Servers. This configuration uses clustered physical servers or clustered Hyper-V guest virtual machines that use the iSCSI target for their shared storage. Many application servers like Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft Exchange Server, and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server are clustered to provide maximum uptime.
  6. Clustered Hyper-V host for Live Migration and CSV. This configuration creates a failover cluster with two Hyper-V host machines using the iSCSI target. A Cluster Shared Volume (CSV) will be created on the storage provided by the iSCSI target and the guest virtual machine configuration and disk files is created on the CSV. Hyper-V live migration enables the entire virtual machine to quickly move from one host to another.
Components Unique to Windows Storage Server 2008 R2:
  1. Single Instance Storage (SIS) – This file system filter driver transparently removes duplicate files from a volume to save space without impacting server performance. As duplicate files are detected the files are moved to a central store and replaced with a 4KB reparse point. The new version of SIS was written to use the mini-filter model. SIS supports 128 volumes on a single server and includes a full set of new Windows PowerShell cmdlets to control SIS. SIS is fantastic on a build server (I’ve seen > 70% storage savings) and useful on home/group/user folders (I usually see ~15% storage savings). SIS adds 2-3 milliseconds to the I/O read-path and it does not significantly impact the performance of a file-server. SIS works great on failover clusters too!
  2. New! Cluster-Ready OOBE – This customizable Out-Of-Box-Experience (OOBE) includes Windows Welcome and the Initial Configuration Tasks (ICT) applications. The OOBE can be used in standalone or clustered configurations and it enables OEMs to brand, customize and pre-load storage appliances with a custom image for their server hardware and attached storage. Users can enjoy a two-node failover cluster setup without ever going to the second node. Imagine setting up a highly-available iSCSI Targets or file services in just 15 minutes!
  3. Web RDP Management – Get full-screen management from any Windows system (ActiveX) or any non-Windows client (Java RDP) Just visit http://servername/desktop for complete full-screen UI management in any IT environment, including a Linux system running Firefox. Windows-based storage servers support NFS and iSCSI protocols for a complete remote-storage solution on application servers running just about any platform.
  4. iSCSI Software Target 3.3 – This new version of the Microsoft iSCSI Software Target for Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 includes Windows PowerShell cmdlets and differencing virtual hard disk support for HPC boot scenarios. See the Six uses for iSCSI blog for an outline of the many ways to use an iSCSI target. The test and development scenarios are especially awesome when you can’t afford an expensive SAN for each developer.
  5. iSCSI Software Target 3.3 Hardware Providers – New versions of the iSCSI Software Target VDS and VSS hardware providers for Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008, and Windows Server 2008 R2 (where iSCSI initiators are running) and a new HPC hardware provider (x64 only for Windows HPC Server 2008 R2) to automatically set up hundreds of differencing virtual hard disks to support booting hundreds of diskless HPC nodes.
  6. Branding and Licensing Packages. Used by OEMs to build a Windows Storage Server appliance. The EULA for Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 doesn’t allow you to run regular Line of Business or server applications on Windows Storage Server, but it does offer a complete storage solution for just about any storage workload.

Edition Breakdown:


I am really looking forward to seeing the new hardware that will come out with WSS in the next few months. Check back here for a new series of blogs on WSS we have planned.

Scott M. Johnson
Program Manager
Windows Storage Server