Q&A: Microsoft’s Pfenning talks storage, SMB 2.2 in Windows Server 8

Microsoft is improving storage capabilities in Windows Server 8 as well as adding support for the SMB 2.2 protocol. General Manager Thomas Pfenning explains the importance of these changes to IT shops.

Windows Server 8 figures to be one of the most significant updates to the venerable operating system. The upcoming version is laced with a number of new virtualization technologies, many of which help improve the product’s enterprise storage capabilities including support for the SMB 2.2 File Sharing protocol. 

SearchWindowsServer.com sat down with Thomas Pfenning, Microsoft’s General Manager of the Server and Cloud Division, to discuss why the company placed such strong emphasis on storage in Windows Server 8.

SearchWindowsServer: In putting together the blueprint for Windows Server 8, there was a heavy focus on storage objectives to accomplish. Why?

Thomas Pfenning: When you look at the cost structure of an IT department, it is interesting to analyze budgets to see how much of it is spent on servers, server software and storage. What we found was storage is more than doubling every year, while cost of storage is not falling. The relative percentage of cost attributed to storage has really grown a lot. De-duplication was one answer from the storage industry. They were saying, ‘if we can get you to spend a little more money, we can save you even more.’ So we looked at that problem and asked how we can move our customer base forward by delivering the same level of reliability, scalability and performance in a storage sub-system that doesn’t come with a big price tag. We wanted to commoditize the storage world in the same way the server world has been commoditized. When you look inside many dedicated storage arrays, they are built around standard CPUs and components, which has a very different price tag. So we invested in figuring out how we could build a really competitive storage system using just standard components.

What is the focus of Microsoft’s support of SMB 2.2 in Windows Server 8?

Pfenning: In versions 2.0 and 2.1we added a lot more features for things like branch offices and information worker workloads. But with 2.2, this is the first time we focused on supporting server applications. The three applications we picked are Hyper-V, SQL Server, IIS, as well as the file server built into Windows Server 8. 

Why does this version 2.2 appear to be a big deal for developers, particularly the file server?

Pfenning: Looking at storage options for supporting server apps, particularly in high availability configurations, today you need shared storage where multiple nodes in a cluster can see all the disks. That means having either a fiber channel SAN array or iSCSI array. Doing that in a Windows environment means you have the cost of Hyper-V plus the cost of that shared storage backend. It turns out that the storage options we support in our clustered virtualization solutions are very price competitive. When you use a file server for the storage backend, suddenly the equation changes. You no longer need a fiber channel network, you can use your existing network infrastructure and you don’t need a storage admin that understands all the idiosyncrasies of block storage. There are a lot of Cap X and Op X costs, too, that drop quite a bit if you use a file server.

Some developers believe the support of SMB 2.2 protocol inside Windows Server 8 is as important as Windows Server 8 itself in term of its success. How do you react to that?

Pfenning: We did share some of our plans (with developers) for getting SMB 2.2 to where we can run SQL Server and the other apps really well on top of it. Both Net App and EMC, for instance, are actively developing and shooting for launching at the same time we deliver Windows Server 8.

Will SMB 2.2 help IT shops better manage physical and virtualized servers across environments?

Pfenning: Yes. We have been spending a lot of time not just bringing out a new file server, but making sure the support for that file server is deeply embedded into the whole virtualization stack as well as future versions of the virtual machine manager.  One of the areas we invested heavily in is storage migration. So with Windows Server 8 Hyper-V you not only can live migrate the compute workload, but also migrate storage live. Live migration today requires you run on top of a Hyper-V cluster running on top of clustered shared volumes. But with Hyper-V 3.0 you can easily migrate in and out of clusters, as well as migrate to and from any storage backend onto an SMB 2.2 Filer Server.

How might Windows Server 8 with SMB 2.2 help users better manage big data?

Pfenning: SMB 2.2 is an access protocol for server applications, but it may not be the right protocol for a farm of 10,000 servers crunching through complex problems. But then 2.2 is not the only thing we did in Windows Server 8 to address storage. We also made a big investment in the local storage stack. We have modernized the local file system stack with a new virtual layer for abstracting storage away and made it more part of this concept of pools. Interestingly, there is quite a bit of interest in running Big Data apps in the Azure cloud, where you don’t have all the capital outlay upfront to just build a system that can do that. And with the elasticity of the cloud you can run on demand Big Data apps.

Ed Scannell is Executive Editor with SearchWindowsServer.com. He can be contacted at escannell@techtarget.com.

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