Windows Powered Network Attached Storage (NAS) can increase your company's profitability and performance. About 2 years ago, Microsoft created Windows Powered NAS, a version of Windows 2000 Server that's optimized for file serving and storage management. Microsoft's OEM partners use Windows Powered NAS to build state-of-the-art storage systems that easily integrate into existing Windows infrastructures. The goals of Windows Powered NAS systems include ease of installation (30 minutes or less), high availability through advanced technologies and clustering, Web-based remote management, and support for all file systems and clients (e.g., UNIX, Linux, Macintosh, Novell Netware).

Originally, vendors positioned NAS as an OS-independent device that provides additional storage. Their message was that the OS doesn't matter. However, in production use, IT administrators ran into compatibility troubles with third-party virus scanners, integration difficulties with Active Directory (AD), and other problems. In reality, the OS does matter. Because Windows Powered NAS is based on Win2K Server, it works with most third-party applications that support Win2K Server.

Companies are drawn to Windows Powered NAS systems because of their cost savings and other benefits. A wide range of Windows Powered NAS hardware solutions and software options let companies use Windows Powered NAS systems for many purposes, including file-server consolidation, archiving and backup, as a file server, and as a front end to a Storage Area Network (SAN).

The Benefits
One of the biggest benefits of using Windows Powered NAS is that it can save you money. Zane Adam, director of product management and marketing enterprise for Microsoft's Enterprise Storage Division, cites the following scenario as an example. Suppose that a 1000-user company has 100 general-purpose Windows NT servers. Companies typically have one IT administrator for every 20 production servers, so five administrators tend to those NT servers. If the company consolidates the 100 servers into three 2-node clusters of Windows Powered NAS devices (i.e., six Windows Powered NAS servers), the company can reduce the number of administrators from five to one and save as much as $300,000 per year.

Windows Powered NAS can save you money another way: General-purpose NT boxes require Client Access Licenses (CALs) for file services. Because Windows Powered NAS doesn't require CALs, you can eliminate that cost. Other benefits include support for out-of-the-box clustering, deep (down to the file level) quota services, and other features that typically aren't part of Win2K.

The current version of Windows Powered NAS is 2.0. This version optimizes Win2K features for reliable, high-performance file and data serving. In addition, Windows Powered NAS 2.0 includes Columbia Data Products' (CDP's) snapshot technology. This feature lets you take as many as 250 snapshots of the file system at user-configurable points in time. If needed, you can roll back data to previous points in time based on these snapshots. Windows Powered NAS 2.0 also includes a portion of Precise Software Solution's Precise/StorageCentral SRM software under the name of Storage Manager. (At press time, VERITAS Software signed a definitive agreement to acquire Precise.) Storage Manager provides realtime quotas on shares and directories, file blocking by extension, and a limited number of reports.

About 90 days after Windows Server 2003 ships, Microsoft will make the next version of Windows Powered NAS available to its partners for inclusion in their products. Windows Powered NAS 3.0 will take advantage of several Windows 2003 features and functions, including Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS), multipath I/O support, virtual disk service, and additional storage APIs.

The inclusion of VSS is notable. VSS includes an API that lets applications initiate a snapshot. With Windows Powered NAS 2.0 devices, you can take a snapshot of data, but the application isn't aware of the snapshot and thus can't help create clean snapshots. This situation is one of the reasons that Windows Powered NAS 2.0 prevents you from running applications such as Microsoft Exchange Server. Although the snapshot management system in Windows Powered NAS 2.0 is good enough for file serving, Microsoft felt that the snapshot system would need to be enhanced significantly to provide an adequate platform for hosting Exchange.

Windows Powered NAS 3.0 provides these enhancements. The VSS snapshot capability lets backup software, for example, make a request to the Windows Powered NAS 3.0 device to take a snapshot of the current mail store in Exchange. The Windows Powered NAS 3.0 device can then ask Exchange to flush its cache to create a clean environment before the device takes a snapshot of the mail store and gives it to the backup software.

As Windows Powered NAS solutions gain more functionality, applications will become increasingly storage aware. In the future, applications will be able to perform functions such as adding storage on the fly or reconfiguring the hardware to match the current storage requirements.

Four Categories of Hardware Solutions
Windows Powered NAS solutions are essentially hardware (i.e., a file server) optimized for performance, reliability, and scalability. You can break down Windows Powered NAS solutions into four categories based on their scalability.

Remote office. Remote-office Windows Powered NAS devices typically feature less than 1TB of storage. Key features include quick installation (typically 15 minutes), support for antivirus software, support for backup software, and a persistent Storage Manager. The sidebar "Use Windows Powered NAS Remotely" describes how remote offices might use a Windows Powered NAS device.

Workgroup and departmental. Workgroup and departmental Windows Powered NAS solutions typically feature 7TB or less of storage. These solutions also typically feature SCSI devices, cluster support, front-loading hot-swappable drives, and redundant power supplies.

Small enterprise. Small-enterprise Windows Powered NAS solutions typically feature more than 7TB of storage. These devices also typically feature rack-mounted storage devices and replication across a WAN for disaster recovery.

Ultra enterprise. Ultra-enterprise Windows Powered NAS solutions are geared toward integrating Windows Powered NAS devices and SANs. Windows Powered NAS devices store data in file format; SANs store data in block format. Combining Windows Powered NAS and a SAN provides an optimized data solution in one package.

Table 1 lists the Windows Powered NAS hardware vendors and the solutions they offer. Because all the solutions in Table 1 use Windows Powered NAS, you can assume that all the vendors will take advantage of Windows Powered NAS features as they become available. So, how do you differentiate between solutions? You need to look for hardware innovation, price, brand, and add-on software. Some questions to ask vendors include the following:

  • What software utilities do you offer beyond what comes with Windows Powered NAS?
  • Do you offer consulting services to help with planning and installation?
  • Can I call customers who use your products in a situation similar to the one I'm proposing?

Optional Software Solutions
As I just mentioned, some vendors include software utilities in their Windows Powered NAS solutions. You can also purchase and install add-on software. For example, here are some vendors' optional software solutions that provide migration services, email management, storage management, and business continuity.

Aelita Software. Aelita Software offers a suite of tools that help make reporting, migration, and consolidation easy. For example, you can use the Controlled Migration Suite to migrate from an NT to a Win2K AD environment. The Server Consolidation Wizard helps you move data from existing locations to a new Windows Powered NAS environment. Aelita claims that you can perform consolidations without any system downtime and with no impact on users.

LEGATO SYSTEMS. LEGATO makes several products that enhance the use of a Windows Powered NAS solution. For example, you can run EmailXtender on your Exchange server. EmailXtender automatically captures and indexes all outgoing and incoming messages and moves the data to a Windows Powered NAS device, which serves as a secondary storage device. The result is fast access to stored email, quick email restoration after virus attacks, and reduced server backup time. DiskXtender 2000 automatically moves data from primary to secondary storage devices based on usage, thus helping you efficiently use your storage devices.

NSI Software. NSI Software provides two disaster-recovery products for the Windows Powered NAS environment: Double-Take and GeoCluster. Double-Take provides realtime replication of a Windows Powered NAS device across a WAN. GeoCluster provides realtime replication of clustered Windows Powered NAS devices across a WAN. Both products provide recovery and failover in the event of a primary device failure.

Precise. Precise has a product called Precise/StorageCentral SRM that offers additional reporting and management features beyond what's built into Windows Powered NAS 2.0 solutions.

Quest Software. Quest Software offers the FastLane Suite of tools to help you manage your Windows Powered NAS environment. FastLane Migrator, FastLane Consolidator, and FastLane Reporter are a few of the tools in the suite. FastLane Migrator helps you migrate from NT or Novell to a Win2K environment and from Exchange Server 5.5 to Exchange 2000 Server. FastLane Consolidator can save you time and money when you need to consolidate many file servers to a Windows Powered NAS environment. FastLane Reporter provides a comprehensive set of reports that are helpful when planning a migration or consolidation.

The Bottom Line
Do you need to consolidate a bunch of old NT systems, change backup tapes in dozens of remote offices, or implement a disaster-recovery solution? Windows Powered NAS can be the cost-effective answer to these and many other storage solutions. Windows Powered NAS can save you time and money.