As Microsoft prepares to launch its Windows Server 2003 on April 24, some of the product's biggest benefits will come from a workhorse part of the server software that rarely gets noticed for its contribution to OS efficiency.
Microsoft has made a number of improvements to the Distributed File System (DFS) in the new operating system. The revamped DFS promises to deliver far greater performance gains than the DFS of Windows 2000.
A file system is not a glorious thing, but it does a lot of heavy lifting, said William Hurley, a senior analyst at the Enterprise Application Group, a consulting firm in Portland, Ore.
The job of DFS is to make multiple Windows and non-Windows file servers look like one big logical computer. This task is growing in demand particularly as customers consolidate their servers or storage while at the same time requiring these servers to behave the same as always to end users and to the networks, Hurley said.
Atul Patel Hirpara, program manager at Microsoft, said that the DFS in Windows Server 2003 is more scalable and smarter than the version in Windows 2000 and Windows NT. Perhaps most important are its site awareness features, including its ability to send the client to the closest available file server, following the site cost matrix defined in the Active Directory, which improves network efficiency and speeds up customer access to files.
In this case, a client will access files located on the server that is closest to the client. If the closest server is unavailable, it will choose the next closest, and so on.
Customers used to have problems with clients going to slower sites, but now they will have higher availability with reduced network costs, Hirpara said.
A second addition is called root scalability. One of the limitations to Windows 2000 is that customers cannot have more than 16 servers acting as DFS root target servers for a domain DFS name space. Root scalability mode lets customers have much more than 100 root "targets" per domain DFS name space.
If a company using Windows 2000 DFS has many sites, the client would have to go through a DFS root target which could be in the hub site. With Windows Server 2003, you can have one root "target" in each site, so that the client doesn't have to go through a slow link to reach a distant site.
"If your company is spread over hundreds of geographical locations, this feature will really improve the scalability of DFS," he said.
A third benefit is that Windows 2003 lets customers of Windows Advanced Server edition and Datacenter edition have more than one DFS root on one server. In the past, if customers had five name spaces, they needed at least five servers. Now they can save on hardware by placing more DFS name spaces on fewer servers.
Hirpara said the DFS features will go a long way to reducing the total cost of ownership of the software, perhaps as much as 75%, according to a Gartner study. The fact that multiple file servers that used to have their own UNC (Universal Naming Convention) name can now use one unique intuitive name space means customers can simplify their server administration. In addition, the administration can upgrade, replace or remove their file server at any time while keeping the user oblivious to these changes.
"The DFS will provide you a long-living file server namespace, and you can maintain it even if you change all your file servers everyday," Hirpara said.
Windows Server 2003 DFS offers powerful command-line tools which can be used for "scripting" the DFS administrative tasks. This has made backup and restore of the DFS namespaces easier for customers. The feature existed before, but Microsoft claims that it's been greatly improved. "With one command line stroke, the DFS namespace information can be backed up into a file or restored from a file," Hirpara said.
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