The gold version of Windows Server 2012 was released to manufacturer (RTM) on August 1, 2012. Microsoft announced that general availability to the public is scheduled for September 4th. One of the most striking changes in this new OS is related to storage. In response to the proliferation of 10 GigE and faster networking, Windows Server 2012 introduces a paradigm shift towards using Server Message Block (SMB) 3.0 file shares as the basis for enterprise storage. SMB 3.0 is a quantum leap forward from version 2.1 with many improvements that make it a robust high performance alternative to a fiber channel and iSCSI appliances.
Feature 1: SMB Transparent Failover allows administrators to perform maintenance on clustered file server nodes without incurring any downtime. SMB 3.0 clients (i.e. Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012) transparently reconnect to another cluster node without interrupting access to file shares in the event of a cluster failover. This feature brings a new degree of reliability to the SMB stack.
Feature 2: SMB Scale Out leverages version 2 of Cluster Shared Volumes to publish file shares that provide simultaneous access to data through all nodes in a file server cluster. SMB clients are no longer limited to the bandwidth of a single cluster node, but can load balance between file server cluster nodes and use their aggregate resources. Consequently, organizations can now realize a greater return on investment because every server in a file server cluster is an active node serving content to clients.
Feature 3: SMB Multichannel increases network performance and reliability outside of Windows clustering. This new feature takes advantage of multiple network interfaces to provide multiple network paths to data on a SMB share. SMB clients with multiple network interfaces will then be able to use the servers’ aggregate bandwidth for higher throughput and fault tolerance. For example, a file server with two 10 GigE network interfaces would offer an aggregate bandwidth of 20 Gbps to an application server that also has two 10 GigE interfaces. However, a server with only one 10 GigE interface would not be able to use multiple paths to take full advantage of the available aggregate bandwidth.
Feature 4: SMB Direct is a new transport protocol for SMB introduced in version 3.0. It enables direct data transfers between servers with minimal CPU utilization and low latency when RDMA-capable network adapters such as InfiniBand, iWARP or RoCE are present. This enables a network file server to function like local storage for applications such as Microsoft Hyper-V and SQL Server 2012.
It should be noted the four features above work together to allow applications to take advantage of the low administrative overhead and expense of SMB storage while delivering an application storage solution that performs like traditional fiber channel and iSCSI solutions.
Feature 5: SMB Windows PowerShell cmdlets and WMI objects includes new PowerShell cmdlets which enable administrators to manage and monitor file servers and file shares as well as to write scripts that automate common file server administrative tasks. Developers also benefit from an accessible API offered by the new WMI objects that allow them to create automated solutions for file server configuration and monitoring.
Feature 6: SMB Encryption is a new file server option that protects data in motion from eavesdropping and tampering attacks without IPsec or dedicated hardware. Encryption may be configured on a per share or per file server basis. It is also useful for mobile workers accessing data from unsecured networks or for securing transmission of sensitive data on corporate networks. However, the best part is implementing SMB Encryption is as simple as checking a box.
Feature 7: SMB Directory Leasing provides faster access to documents over high latency WAN networks for branch offices using BranchCache, Microsoft’s document caching technology. Directory leases reduce roundtrips from client to server by enabling the client to cache directory and file meta-data in a consistent manner for longer periods. Clients are notified when directory information on the server changes and the data resynchronizes and updates the cache. This feature is designed to work with user home folders (read/write with no sharing) and published shares (read-only with sharing).
The takeaway from improvements to the SMB stack is that Microsoft has made enterprise storage available to small and medium size organizations. Microsoft has positioned Windows Server 2012 as a robust high-performance storage platform for other Windows Server 2012-based applications such as Hyper-V and SQL Server 2012.
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