SolutionBase: Get familiar with Windows Storage Server administration tools

For large storage needs, Microsoft provides the Windows Storage Server. Here's a tour of the administration interface you'll have to deal with when you install it.

This article is also available as a TechRepublic download.

When you're considering a Windows-based NAS and Windows Storage Server (WSS), one of the things you're probably most worried about is how difficult it is to connect it to the network, as well as its maintenance and administration overhead. Simple administration is apparently a hot buzzword these days; but who wouldn't want a network device to be easy to take care of? WSS is certainly that and I will show you the particulars of WSS Web-based administration.

Administrative Web interface

Windows Storage Server is designed to be managed via a secure Web page, providing access to all needed features. All features can be maintained online, making the administration of this device very simple and efficient. The different sections of the management site are conveniently tabbed. Figure A shows the main page for WSS administration after login.

Figure A

The WSS administration interface

Note: WSS servers are added to the network and Active Directory just like any other member server. You can configure AD logins in the local administrators group to simplify login by adding Domain Admins to the Administrators group. Logging in to the Web interface without this will require a local account, or identifying your account as a domain account at login.

Each piece of the administration console has several tabs and options associated with it; as we look at each tab of options available, I will cover each of these sub-tabs. You can also configure the start tab of the administration pages; as you can see, this Dell PowerVault was programmed to use the status page as its default.

The status section of the administrative site contains messages from WSS about the health of the system. It will post informational error and other alert messages as the system is used. You can also see how many shared files are open at any time, and if the UPS is on AC or battery power.

System Information

System Version provides information about the version of Windows and WSS running on this server. The next set of options available in the administrative site is the Network options tab, shown below in Figure B.

Figure B

Network information for a WSS server

As the image displays, there are many settings available to assist in managing the connection of your WSS server to the network.

The first page of each tab serves as its home page, providing an options list of things that can be determined by each sub-tab. On the network page, the following items are available for configuration:

  • Identification: the server name and domain membership settings
  • Interfaces: manage the properties of all of the network cards in the server
  • Administration Site: configure the IP addresses of the server's administration site
  • Global Settings: manage the settings of items applying to all network adapters in the server
  • Administrator: manage the administrator account password

The network tab controls items that are server and network related.

You can also manage the disks within the server from the administration pages using the Disks tab. These options are shown below in Figure C.

Figure C

The Disks Management tab

The options available for disk management allow the settings Windows 2003 uses to effectively serve files to be managed. You will also be configuring shadow copy settings from the Disks panel.

Options you can configure here include:

  • Disks: disk options allow settings for individual disks to be configured and changed, as needed
  • Volumes: settings for the volumes configured on the WSS server
  • Shadow Copies: settings for the availability and manageability of shadow copies

The Disks option will start a remote desktop ActiveX control to allow direct management of this feature within the Windows operating system. Some server items cannot be managed externally from their usual Windows management interfaces, so WSS provides remote desktop sessions to manage these as needed. For the Disks Management option, the Computer Management snap-in is loaded in an embedded remote desktop session.

The next tab, Users, lets you manage all the local user and local group items you would expect in a Windows Server system. You can add local users and groups to the server, allowing them access to the interface and the files on the system. Figure D shows the Users page of the administration site.

Figure D

Administering users in WSS

Many of the features and options available via the WSS administration interface allow changes to be made via a Web page. Those that do not support Web-based changes will open a remote desktop session, as described earlier for Disks Management. The Groups configuration applet provides a look at some of the Web-based configuration screens.

If your WSS server is joined to an Active Directory domain, the group and user applets will list the groups or users contained in Active Directory. You can view the complete list by scrolling through the list, or you can search available groups by name or description. Adding new groups is as easy as clicking New and completing a simple form. Doing so will add a local group or user to your WSS server.

The Shares tab, shown in Figure E, allows the primary configuration of WSS to take place. Administering the available shares, removing unneeded shares, and managing a distributed file system occur here.

Figure E

Shares administration in WSS

As shown, the shares tab contains quite a few options for file and folder sharing:

  • Folders: creates folders, allows attributes and permissions to be managed
  • Sharing protocols: allows the administrator to enable and disable various file-sharing protocols (such as AppleTalk, FTP, or HTTP)
  • Storage reports: creates and generates reports to streamline WSS share management
  • Shares: allows administrators to create, remove, and edit actual file shares and all of their properties
  • Directory Quota: allows administrators to place restrictions on the amount of disk space a share can consume
  • File Screening: allows administrators to manage and allow specific file types stored on a WSS server (e.g., disallowing the saving of MP3 files)

These options are Web configurable. The storage reports available are as follows:

  • Best Practices
  • Directory Quota Usage Summary
  • Duplicate Files
  • File Type Summary
  • Files Not Being Backed Up
  • Large Files
  • Most Commonly Used Files

Reports can make the management of shares within WSS much simpler by taking the guesswork out of day-to-day tasks. For example, using the duplicate files report can assist in eliminating unnecessary copies of files stored on your network.

The Maintenance tab, shown in Figure F, provides many of the options usually associated with Windows Server manageability in the form of Management Console Snap-ins. These are used to administer day-to-day server operations like restarting services or changing the server's date and time. You can even shut down or restart the server from the maintenance tab.

Figure F

Maintenance via the management Web site

Some of the features allowed do require the use of remote desktop, which launches when an option that needs it, such as computer management, is clicked. You can also choose the remote desktop sub-tab to launch a desktop session on the WSS server.

Other features of the maintenance tab are the availability of alerts. You can tell WSS Server to inform you via e-mail of critical (or other) items noted as alerts, and then e-mail your staff. There's also a logs section under maintenance that provides Web-based access to the following logs on the server:

  • Application Log
  • Web Administration
  • FTP Log
  • System Log
  • NFS Log
  • Security Log
  • Web (HTTP) Shares Log

These can be useful in tracking usage and access to information on your WSS Server.

WSS allows for its UPS to be monitored with the Windows UPS Service, which can be configured via the UPS section of the maintenance tab. Consider that the UPS service isn't always perfect, but it can give you a quick glance at the system to show if the UPS is on battery or AC power. Some of these items can be placed on the status screen as well to allow an overview to be displayed from any Web browser.

The Server Administrator tab under maintenance will take you to the server hardware maintenance utility provided with your server, such as Dell's Open Manage Utility, which is beyond the scope of this article.

The last main tab for managing Windows Storage Server is the Help tab as shown in Figure G. This provides an online searchable help database to assist administrators in managing WSS or Windows functions.

Figure G

Help in WSS

Administration made easy

Microsoft seems to have done Web administration very well in WSS, and may want to consider bringing it to other Server applications to improve manageability. Using WSS is very easy and manageable for any administrator.

When managing a WSS, the Web interface can be a very useful tool, both for information about the server and easier access to utilities to get things back on track again. One thing I noticed when researching this article: Internet Explorer 7 will inform you of missing certificates unless configured to ignore these messages for this group of pages. Not a huge problem, but it did pop up once or twice.

About Derek Schauland

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.

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