Enterprise Software

Configure a Distributed File System (DFS) environment in Windows Server 2003

Windows 2000 introduced Distributed File System (DFS), which allows you to consolidate file shares so users can access them from a single point on the network. Windows Server 2003 improved the technology to include WAN replication, allowing DFS points to exist across WAN links. Derek Schauland explains how DFS works and walks you through the steps of setting it up and configuring it in Windows Server 2003.

Windows 2000 introduced Distributed File System (DFS), which allows you to consolidate file shares so users can access them from a single point on the network. Windows Server 2003 improved the technology to include WAN replication, allowing DFS points to exist across WAN links. In this tip, I will explain how DFS works and walk you through the steps of setting it up and configuring it in Windows Server 2003.

In a DFS environment, you can consolidate shared folders and files that may exist on multiple servers to appear as though they all live in the same location. For example, on the file server in the corporate office in Chicago, each of the departments has its own share. The field office in Denver has a smaller file server for its local employees. Using DFS, the files in the Denver office appear to the Chicago users as though they live on the Chicago file server.

Follow these steps to configure a DFS environment:

  1. Configure your server to have the file server role. Open the Start menu and choose Administrative Tools.
  2. Select Configure Your Server Wizard.
  3. In the Roles wizard, select the file server role and click Next. (You may need to supply the Windows Server 2003 CD to complete this setup.)
  4. After the setup completes, click Finish.

Using DFS components does not depend on the file server role. If you do not wish to configure the file server role, you can install the DFS components by following these steps:

  1. Go to Start | Control Panel and open Add/Remove Programs.
  2. Select Windows Components from the left navigation bar.
  3. Check the box next to the desired DFS component. If you are not using multiple sites with replication requirements, you can select the DFS component and click Details to uncheck the DFS replication component.
  4. Go to Start | All Programs | Administrative Tools.
  5. Select Distributed File System.
  6. In the left pane of the DFS snap-in, right-click the Distributed File System node and select New Root.

Creating a DFS root

DFS environments create a DFS root, which is the location where all items within DFS live. For example, if the Chicago office calls the DFS root on its local file server "Departments," the root of Departments would list the shares included in the DFS.

  1. The New Root Wizard will open to assist you in creating the DFS root. Click Next on the Welcome screen to begin.
  2. The next screen in the New Root Wizard will ask you if you want to create a Standalone Root or a Domain Root. Select the root type and then click Next.

A domain root uses Active Directory (AD) to store the DFS information; it also allows the DFS information to replicate with AD, which allows DFS roots and shares to stay synchronized across sites. A standalone root stores DFS information on the file server itself and will not replicate.

The type of root you create will determine what you provide in the next portion of the New Root Wizard. If you select Domain Root, you will need to specify the domain name of your AD environment, as well as any trusting domains. If you select Standalone, you will enter the name of the file server that will host the DFS root.

  1. Enter the name of the Active Directory Domain (for a domain root) or the Server Name (for a standalone root) and click Next.

(For the remainder of this tip, I will use a standalone root for DFS. The difference between root types has to do with AD replication and does not affect the general configuration of DFS.)

  1. After you specify your file server name for the DFS root host, enter the root name and click Next. (In our example, the root name is Departments.)
  2. On the next screen of the wizard, browse to a folder you wish to share as part of the DFS environment. Select the folder and click Next. You can add additional shares to the DFS root at any time after the initial configuration.
  3. Click Finish to complete the DFS New Root installation wizard.

If you click on the DFS root you created in the DFS console, you will not see any shares because you have not added them yet. The shared folder specified when creating a DFS root serves as a starting point for the DFS environment. To add shares to your DFS root, you will need to link the shares to the root. Follow these steps to add a link to the DFS root:

  1. Right-click the DFS Root object under the Distributed File System node in the DFS console and select New Link.
  2. The system will ask for the UNC path to the share, as well as a name for the link. The New DFS Link dialog box also allows you to specify an amount of time for a client to cache the reference to the link. This reduces network traffic by reducing the attempts to constantly look up the DFS link.
  3. Enter the name of your link. After you do, it will appear in the Preview text box on the New Link dialog box. This will show you the path to the new link.
  4. Click OK to create the link.

Now that you have added the DFS root and a link, you can begin using your DFS environment. You can link all of the department shares to the Departments root (regardless of the shares' actual location); reduce the amount of overhead needed to manage these shares; and gain access to all the links added through the DFS root no matter which server the share lives on.

Using DFS will allow administrators to point network drive maps to a single location for access to all of the shares linked within the root. Reducing the number of drive mappings and maintenance which can be associated with managing these mappings.

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About

Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

14 comments
bhruegsh
bhruegsh

my big question is whaen im connecting to my shares at in the morning it work for one attempt only but after second time i m ligin to my account it says u have no permission to acess the account i m confused what to do

pbuzzette
pbuzzette

For those of you who aren't aware, DFS does NOT work with SBS2003.

tpsnyder
tpsnyder

We make fairly extensive use of DFS and this article is a grossly misleading oversimplifiction of DFS deployment. There are substantial complexities to using DFS in practice which are not mentioned here. Microsofts documentation of this service is quite poor from a practical prespective. While DFS can be made to work in W2003 R2, you use it at yoru peril if you fail to understand (through labs) - The problems DFS has with MTU limitations and black hole routers. That these problems will occur in DFS despite other services working fine across the same WAN connection. - the need to implement relevant hot fixes on all Windows XP computers to ensure proper failback behavior - the need to implement relevant hotfixes on the servers to resolve problems with prestaged files not being recognized - the need for adequate bandwidth management and appropriate design for bandwdith requirements - problems Backup Exec has backing up DFS shares - Problems quickbooks and other programs can have accessing files on DFS shares. - the fact that acess databases are no replicated by default, reason for this. - Risks of data loss from the flawed initial sync logic which can identify the wrong server as authoritative for initial replication. And so on. Our deployment SOP is 16 pages long, and it needs to be. Tom Snyder COO, Xantrion IT Consulting

angeld
angeld

How is a domain root DFS share accessed by a client? Is it "\\domainname\share" so that the real location can be completely abstracted?

NaotaKunBr
NaotaKunBr

Consider this a newbie question: With DFS i can abstract (or hide) from users all the details of network shares/repositories. It is "something like" a SAN/NAS solution? In this line of thought: using DFS is cheaper (came with Windows, hardware adjustments is low etc) but it is reliable? At this time the company are thinking about the storage structure, how to make it grow-up? Thanks in advance! (Sorry about something poorly written above: still improving my English). Fabio Carvalho

AYJE
AYJE

I did this project for my senior project at school this year and I just want to add that when you are looking for information about DFS just pay attention to the Windows server you are using. I did this project in Server 2003 STD and the information I found was for Server 2003 R. It was a little bit different. It took me sometime to realize that the instruction I have was for the wrong version of Windows, once that was solved DFS worked fine. I even implemented at home as a backup solution for my files.

thomas_biedinger
thomas_biedinger

Hi, what would be your recommendation instead, if the decision will be not to use DFS-R. Thanks Thomas

lamlamz
lamlamz

We had issues before with this although some of them were fixed by vendors. For Veritas Backup Exec there is a hot fix that address the issues. There is also a concern about Anti-Virus software interaction with DFS and may cause lots of unecessary replication. Not sure this issues are addressed by AV vendors. I agree that for simple for replication (ONE WAY) it works really well. Remember to take into consideration that DFS-R is not meant for collaboration where most people failed to understand. i.e. Same file are opened and edited in two locations... This was mistake learnt from the past and will result lost of file. I am wondering if there is any third party solution to complement and simplify the mgmt of DFS and DFS-R.

ginkep
ginkep

Must agree in all aspects. One should "get foot's wet" to see what DFS is not some kind of headache-free panacea.

jmorris6
jmorris6

Spot on. So for example, \\domainname\linkname would point to \\servername\$sharename.

DWRandolph
DWRandolph

DFS seemed like a good idea, and we got quite a few of our customers using. Then the other shoe dropped, the client has be in the AD domain. That just locked out the many other client OS'es in the company, now we are trying to shut DFS down so we do not need two sets of instructions for attaching to a share depending on OS and domain membership.

owen
owen

When DFS was first introduced I set it up t to replicate corporate software installs worldwide to 6 locations. London, Arlington, Atlanta, Sacramento, Menlo Park and Hong Kong. On the first replication it failed and filled up the volume at the primary site (Sacramento). After troubleshooting I found out that before starting replication DFS made a copy of itself on the local system. Now at that time I could not convince management to upgrade the volume to support the replication so I took care of it manually. Today with drives being so inexpensive this should not be a problem. Once we worked past this issue it was very useful for deploying software installs to all offices. I used Share Point Services to create a web site of software approved to work in our enterprise then used NTFS to grant access to group / users that were allowed to install. Occasionally the DFS Root would malfunction and users would be pointed to site halfway around the world. The typical fix was to delete the Root and rebuild. Sometime the command line DFS utilities would work but not all the time. Also I found the documentation to be week from MS.

nathan_e_king
nathan_e_king

Brocade StorageX, but it uses it's own replication engine.