With the release of Windows Server 2008, Microsoft is making a number of improvements to the server's underlying storage mechanisms. I'll talk about four of these improvements and explain what they mean for the typical IT organization. I'll discuss more of the underlying storage improvements in future posts.
First shipped with Windows Vista, SMB 2.0, also known as the Common Internet File System (CIFS) is also included in Windows Server 2008 and sports a number of improvements over its predecessor. Most immediately noticeable in SMB 2.0 is support for symbolic links, a powerful feature that UNIX admins have enjoyed since the beginning of time. SMB 2.0 also supports the sending of multiple SMB commands in a single network packet, thus significantly reducing the network overhead required for communication. Also increased in SMB 2.0 are the buffer sizes and the number of concurrent allowed file handles, resulting in increased scalability for a pure Windows environment. To work with older systems, Windows Server 2008 supports both SMB 1.0 and SMB 2.0 and automatically uses the version most appropriate for communication. SMB 2.0 is used only between Windows Server 2008 systems and with Windows Vista systems. SMB communication with all other operating systems uses SMB 1.0.
BitLocker Drive Encryption
Included in Windows Server 2008 is Microsoft's BitLocker Drive Encryption software. BitLocker is also included in Windows Vista Enterprise and Ultimate editions, but for Windows Server 2008, Microsoft has made improvements to the technology (which will likely be extended to Vista when Vista SP1 is released). Under Vista, BitLocker can be used to encrypt the contents of the operating system volume. If you have multiple volumes of data on your desktop computer, however, BitLocker-at present, anyway-cannot be used to protect anything except the OS volume. In Windows Server 2008, this limitation has been removed and all server volumes can be protected via BitLocker. Full-disk encryption is usually considered primarily for mobile computers that can be easily stolen, but consider this technology for use in branch offices or areas in which physical security cannot be guaranteed.
It's a bad day when you have to reboot a file server just to run chkdsk.exe to correct a minor corruption in NTFS. You have to schedule downtime for a server, maybe come in after-hours or, worst case, interrupt your users while you perform this task during the day. No more. With Windows Server 2008 comes an online NTFS corruption repair tool. While it is not a silver bullet for volume repair, it does correct many problems without having to reboot the server to run chkdsk. Self-healing NTFS is enabled by default in Windows Server 2008 installations. We'll check back in the future to see how well this feature has delivered on its promise of less downtime due to minor file system corruption.
Earlier, I mentioned that SMB 2.0 supports symbolic links. The fact that SMB 2.0 has this feature is great, but it would be utterly useless without the same feature being included in the operating system. As such, symbolic links have been added to Windows Server 2008...and this feature is long overdue. A symbolic link is simply an object in the file system that points to another object in the file system. A symbolic link appears as a normal file or directory object and can be used by an application as if it were the actual object. UNIX and Linux users have had the ability to use symbolic links for a very, very long time, and this feature can make it much easier to administer a system and share data.
Windows Server 2008 includes a massive number of improvements to its storage underpinnings that will result in a more stable and more available infrastructure for users.