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Top Windows storage improvements for cutting costs in '09

One of the exciting things about working in the tech industry has to do with the new products and features that come out every year. With the current state of the economy, companies are interested in any new features that can save them money down the line. That being the case, lets take a look at the features that I currently see as the top five improvements to Windows storage. Some of these features were introduced in Windows Server 2008, and others are on the radar for the latter half of 2009.

File virtualization

File system virtualization has been around in one form or another for several years now. The basic idea behind file system virtualization is that files can be presented within a common folder, regardless of where they are actually located. For example, if your organization had multiple file servers, file system virtualization would allow users to browse files across all of the servers without having to know the physical location of individual files.

Windows 7, however, is going to implement file virtualization in a new way, as it will be the first Windows operating system to introduce the concept of libraries. A library is a collection of physical locations that appear as a single virtual folder in the navigation pane. Windows 7 will allow admins to use libraries for browsing the file system, and federated searches can be run against an individual library as a way of narrowing the results.

What exactly is federated search? Glad you asked…

Federated search

Every year, the amount of data stored on enterprise file servers grows exponentially. For users, locating specific information amidst all that data can be a problem. Enter federated search.

Federated search is another new feature that will be introduced with Windows 7. The idea behind federated search is that users will no longer be limited to performing searches on their own computers. Search results can include data from any number of locations, and all of the results are presented in a single window. Best of all, this window features a one-click auto preview.

BranchCache

As I'm sure you know, most of the time, branch offices are tied into the main office using either a VPN connection or a leased line. In either case, the connection isn't nearly as fast as a standard Ethernet connection, which means that access to files stored at the main office may be slow.

BranchCache, which again is set to debut in Windows 7, solves this problem by setting up caching on the VPN server. That way, if a user downloads a file from the main office, and then later on another user needs to download that same file, the second download won't take nearly as long because the file has already been cached on a local server. Quite frankly, I am really surprised that it has taken Microsoft so long to come up with this feature.

BranchCache not only improves efficiency, but it may also have a direct impact on costs in some organizations. Some leased line providers' rates are based on the amount of data transmitted across the line. By using caching to decrease the amount of data that is flowing, companies can potentially decrease costs in a big way.

Right now, the word on the street is that BranchCache was primarily designed for branch offices, but it can be configured to work in peer-to-peer environments as well.

Self-healing NTFS

Self-healing NTFS is a Windows Server 2008 feature and, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated storage features in existence.

Although disk corruption doesn't happen every day, it is extremely disruptive when it does, even if the corruption on a network server is minor. This is because CHKDSK cannot repair a volume that is in use. Therefore, if you needed to repair a volume, you'd have to tell CHKDSK to repair it and then reboot the server. Prior to Windows fully loading, CHKDSK runs and repairs the volume.

The problem with this is that it requires a server reboot, and CHKDSK can sometimes take a while to run. Furthermore, you really need to run CHKDSK a second time to verify that the problem has been completely fixed.

This is where self-healing NTFS comes into play. In Windows Server 2008, Windows monitors the NTFS file system for corruption. When minor corruption is detected, Windows is often able to correct the problem automatically, without forcing you to run CHKDSK or reboot the server. The result? Less downtime.

BitLocker to Go

Another Windows 7-based storage improvement is a new feature called BitLocker to Go. As you may recall, BitLocker was originally introduced in Windows Vista and provided administrators with a way to encrypt the system drive on network workstations.

In Windows 7, BitLocker has been extended so that USB flash drives can now be encrypted as well. In fact, you will even be able to create Group Policies that prevent users from writing any data to a flash drive until that drive has been encrypted. That way, if a user loses a flash drive, there is no risk of the data stored on the drive being compromised.

Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional Award four times for his work with Windows Server, IIS and Exchange Server. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities, and was once a network administrator for Fort Knox. You can visit his personal Web site at www.brienposey.com.


This was first published in December 2008

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