Microsoft has released Windows Server 2003 R2 and Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 based on it to manufacturing. The products deliver new capabilities in the areas of branch-office management and data storage technologies. They will be generally available to customers by mid-February.

The target customers seem to be the traditional SME businesses rather than enterprises who already have alternative tools. However, in branch offices these alternative products have not yet taken hold and Microsoft has everything to play for.

Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 is a dedicated file and print server with new features including single instance storage, full text search and built-in document collaboration with Windows SharePoint Services. In the first half of 2006, Dell, HP, Iomega, LeftHand Networks and Tacit Networks will deliver network attached storage (NAS) products based on Windows Storage Server 2003 R2.

Duncan Campbell, marketing VP for HP's StorageWorks, said: “The HP ProLiant Storage Server and ProLiant Data Protection Storage Server products are planned to be integrated with R2 in spring 2006, enabling HP NAS solutions that continue to provide customers with greater simplicity, agility and value.”

Branch offices
Remote locations connected to an organizational hub or headquarters over a network account for nearly 25 percent of the installed base of x86 servers in the United States. Such offices are largely reliant on Windows infrastructure and typically require extra resources and management to achieve network and application performance equivalent to that at their headquarters’ facilities. Through its faster data replication and advanced compression technologies, Windows Server 2003 R2 helps branch offices overcome wide area network bandwidth issues and limited IT resources.

The compression method is termed remote differential compression and means sending only file changes over the network link. This is similar to other wide area file system (WAFS) products such as Availl 3.0.

The remote office Windows server is under assault from WAFS vendors who would like to have it replaced by their WAFS front-end appliance. Microsoft would naturally prefer the branch office Windows server to remain in place and can be seen as responding to competitive pressure from the WAFS vendors. It has allied with Brocade and Tacit in this regard.

Storage management
Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 provides new storage management tools to help customers understand and address storage utilization, monitor and control disk space usage with directory quotas, prohibit selected file types on servers, and easily configure and provision Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI) or Fibre Channel storage area networks:

Storage Server has a File Server Resource Manager (FSRM) and Storage Manager for SANs. FSRM is entry-level reporting and provisioning software which can assign storage quotas to users. Storage Manager for SANs provides space on a Windows-based SAN.

Microsoft documentation states: "You can use FSRM to perform the following tasks:

• Create quotas to limit the space allowed for a volume or folder and to generate notifications when the quota limits are approached and exceeded.
• Create file screens to filter the files that users can save on volumes and in folders and to send notifications when users attempt to save blocked files.
• Create periodic or on-demand storage reports that allow you to identify trends in disk usage and to monitor attempts to save unauthorized files."

Storage Server R2 has the facility to manage both iSCSI and Fibre Channel (FC) equipment. It also has Microsoft's Services for Unix which include support for NFS. This means there is no need for the Samba product previously needed to have Windows CIFS interact with NFS. This is probably a benefitt of the coming together of Sun and Microsoft.

Other features
Microsoft has added namespace virtualisation to its Distributed File System (DFS). The DFS interface has also been improved to make it easier to use. Microsoft documentation states: "DFS Namespaces allow administrators to group shared folders located on different servers and present them to users as a virtual tree of folders known as a namespace. A namespace provides numerous benefits, including increased availability of data, load sharing, and simplified data migration. Users can navigate these virtual namespaces without having to keep track of the names of the physical servers or shared folders hosting the data."

Storage Server 2003 R2 will include some document collaboration capabilities. This is said to help users in different locations share and work on the same documents. The server export documents (files) to a SharePoint Services document library when they are changed.

What is not in Storage Server 2003 R2
There is no mention in this release of support for tiered storage or any information lifecycle management capabilities. It is possible that there will be a major release of Windows Storage Server in 2007 that will include technology addressing these issues. (R2 is a minor release of Storage Server.) This major release may also add the feature to have more than one file system.

The release also has no mention of the SNIA's SMI-S in it. It is probable that the next major release will remedy this and provide vastly improved storage device management as a result.

An informative Microsoft Reviewer's guide to the new products can be accessed here.