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SMB 2.2 in Windows Server 8 could help Microsoft’s cloud fortunes

Ed Scannell

By supporting the Server Message Block 2.2 file sharing protocol in Windows Server 8, corporate and third-party developers believe Microsoft can bolster its position in the virtualization and cloud markets.

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Developers believe Server Message Block (SMB) 2.2 will allow compliant applications to deliver significantly faster performance, along with greater scalability and reliability, in virtualized and cloud environments. Given the vast majority of workloads running on host-based systems today are Windows-based, they believe Microsoft can gain a leg up on some of its platform competitors.

“If you look at application workloads running on existing virtualized infrastructures, a tremendous amount, something like 90% are Microsoft-based running on VMware servers,” said Jerry Carter, CTO of Likewise Software. “And if you look at what Microsoft has done with SMB 2.2, they are really gearing it toward high-volume, concurrent I/O workloads.”

As competitors VMware’s agenda is to virtualize the operating system and the hypervisor, while Microsoft’s agenda is to better enable application workloads, which serves to drive business value, Carter adds. No matter what company emerges the winner of that, it is more important that SMB 2.2 succeeds, he said.

“In Microsoft’s case, for instance, it’s important that Windows Server 8 succeed, but I think the more critical to the data center that SMB 2.2 succeeds,” Carter said.

While Microsoft supported SMB versions 2.0 and 2.1, version 2.2 marks the first time the company’s core server-based applications will support the protocol.

“We picked Hyper-V, SQL Server, IIS (Internet Information Services) and the file server built into Windows 8. We supported the file server before, but it was targeted towards having an SQL database or having Hyper-V using an SMB file server as its back-end storage,” said Thomas Pfenning, general manager of Microsoft’s Server and Cloud Division.

Typically in today’s environment IT shops require shared storage that allows multiple nodes in a cluster can see all the disks, which means having either a fiber channel SAN array or iSCSI array, according to Pfenning. This can prove to be an expensive proposition for many Microsoft shops.

“The price for doing that in a Windows environment includes the cost of Hyper-V plus the cost of the shared storage back end,” Pfenning said. “But when we allow you to use a file server as that storage back end, that cost equation changes. You don’t need a fiber channel, you can use your existing infrastructure and you don’t need to hire an expensive storage admin who knows all the idiosyncracies of block storage.”

The significance of SMB 2.2 is heightened by the ongoing industry trend of moving from block to file storage. The limitations of previous versions of the Common Internet File System (CIFS) protocol led to the widespread adoption of block-based storage for both applications and virtualization. It is hardly a well-kept secret that the performance of back-end storage has long been a major choke point to scaling virtualization and cloud infrastructures.   

But with the arrival of SMB 2.2, file-based storage now becomes a more credible option for provisioning Microsoft-based workloads, some believe.

“It looks like a smart technology move and makes sense from a cost standpoint. The fewer specialists you have to take care of the more complex storage back ends the better. I also like that [SMB 2.2] is supported with Windows Server 8,” said Eugene Lee, a senior systems administrator with a large national bank in Charlotte, N.C.

Besides Likewise Software, EMC, Net App and HP have thrown their support behind SMB 2.2, saying they plan to deliver products around the time Microsoft ships Windows Server 8. Microsoft has backed away from naming a specific date for delivery, but company officials said it would be sometime in 2012.

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


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