Windows Storage Server 2012 is available to Microsoft’s hardware partners!


Windows Storage Server 2012, built using Windows Server 2012 technologies, is a platform for Network Attached Storage (NAS) appliances. The storage team is working with our hardware partners to bring new storage solutions to market based on Windows Storage Server 2012. Storage appliance manufacturers integrate the platform with their customized hardware and software solutions to create new NAS appliances that are complete end-to-end solutions.

The Microsoft storage team has been very busy the last few years delivering innovative changes for Windows Server 2012. We are very excited about the evolution of Windows storage during the Windows Server 2012 development cycle. This release delivers a whole new level of enterprise grade storage that will be easier to use than ever before.

Customers can now take advantage of the latest Windows storage innovations in highly available configurations, at significantly lower costs. I recommend keeping Windows Storage Server-based appliances in mind for your storage requirements, they offer great value. While Windows Storage Server is only available to our hardware partners, you can download evaluation versions from the download center and the full OEM versions and product keys are available on TechNet, MSDN, and MAPS.

OEM Partners: Find out more about Specialized Server Solutions and learn how to become an OEM Partner.
OEM Deployment Guide: See the Windows Storage Server 2012 OEM guide on TechNet.
Download Evaluation Editions: Now available on the download center, these editions will automatically activate and allow a 6 month evaluation.

NAS appliances are becoming a hugely popular way to buy storage and the NAS market continues to experience double digit growth. From my perspective, it makes a lot of sense, IT departments want to:

  • Simplify deployments with turnkey solutions that are ready to power-up.
  • Seamlessly perform network storage (via iSCSI, SMB & NFS) while maintaining continuous availability.
  • Cleanly integrate and operate the NAS within their existing infrastructure.

NAS appliances built on Windows Storage Server 2012 will be ideal solutions for unified storage. The nice thing about a pre-configured appliance is that you can plug in the power and network and get up and running in just a few minutes.

New Storage Innovations in Windows Server 2012

Windows Server 2012 brings a smorgasbord of new storage features to enjoy. The Windows Storage Server editions leverage the same storage infrastructure found in Windows Server 2012. The Single Instance Storage (SIS) filter is included so you can still read and write to SIS volumes created in previous versions of Windows Storage Server. There is a new deduplication feature to replace SIS that works at a sub-file level. The iSCSI Target and configuration OOBE from Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 have also been included in the Windows Server 2012 family.

Our goals for storage were to deliver innovations in four areas:

  • Reducing the cost of storage
  • Storage management efficiency
  • Performance and capabilities
  • Reliability and continuous availability

New capabilities:

Reducing storage costs and increasing cost effectiveness

Increasing storage management efficiency

  • Storage Spaces
  • ReFS
  • CSV v2
  • Thin Provisioning
  • Data Deduplicatìon
  • NFSv2, NFSv3, and NFSv4.1 support
  • Comprehensive Storage Management
  • New Windows PowerShell cmdlets
  • SMI-S and SMP support
  • Remote Storage Management
  • All from a single interface

Improving performance and capabilities

Maximizing reliability and availability

  • SMB Direct
  • SMB Multichannel
  • SMB Scale Out
  • SQL Server over SMB
  • Hyper-V over SMB
  • Offloaded Data Transfer
  • Live Storage Migration
  • Virtual Fibre Channel
  • Continuous Availability for SMB, iSCSI and NFS
  • Online scanning and repair in NTFS and ReFS
  • Faster CHKDSK in NTFS
  • Storage Spaces with ReFS
  • SMB Transparent Failover
  • Cluster-Aware Updating

To learn more about all of these features checkout these resources:

Cluster-able storage options:

There are three main options for creating cluster-able storage in Windows Storage Server 2012; external hardware RAID, internal hardware RAID, or Storage Spaces.

  1. External RAID Systems: The RAID smarts and dedicated processor are in the external storage array. An additional Host Bus Adapter (HBA) is required to connect it to Windows. This might include a relatively expensive Fiber Channel (FC) adapter or an inexpensive network adapter connecting to an iSCSI storage array over an IP network. External RAID can offer performance benefits, advanced RAID levels and array-based replication features. Configuring RAID levels and carving up LUNs usually requires entering a BIOS configuration utility, a specific storage-management application or a Web UI to do storage provisioning tasks. However, RAID array vendors can include an SMI-S or SMP-based storage provider to allow Windows storage management operations to get to the array. After installing a SMI-S/SMP based provider, users can do all of the storage provisioning, pooling, virtual disks and volume creation using PowerShell, Server Manager or calling the storage provisioning wizards directly from the OEM Appliance Out-of-Box-Experience (OOBE).

  2. (New!) Internal Clustered PCI RAID: One example of a PCI RAID adapter is the LSI “HA DAS”. In this configuration the RAID smarts are in the PCI cards inside each system, and the write-cache is kept synchronized using a SAS cable from one node to the other. After a failover event, the cache on the other node is identical and the hardware continues to operate with no downtime.

  3. (New!) Storage Spaces: This new software virtualization feature allows for spanned or mirrored volumes in a cluster and it supports persistent reservations, so it can failover between multiple nodes. Storage Spaces allows you to use different size drives and bus types to create reliable pools of storage. Then, you can use Server Manager to create pools, virtual disks and volumes. With an inexpensive JBOD and a SAS switch you could create some high-performing shared storage using SAS drives.

These new options will enable a lot of cool storage choices and I can’t wait to see some very cost-effective solutions hitting the market this year. We continue to leverage the strong support for external storage arrays and I am sure that Windows Storage Server 2012 will be a backbone for many high availability solutions at both small companies and large enterprises.

Top 15 features in Windows Storage Server 2012

Here are my personal top-15 new features that are going to help change the storage landscape:

1. SMB 3.0:   Support for RDMA network adapters, SMB multichannel, and SMB scale-out file servers allow for manageable and scalable active/active file shares.  New SMB 3.0 innovations will enable many new scenarios; my favorite is taking an existing Fibre Channel SAN and sharing out the storage over SMB 3.0. This configuration is known as “a gateway to a SAN” and it is a great way to extend your storage investments to other application servers without running Fibre.

2. NFSv2, NFSv3, and NFSv4.1: Fantastic NFS support with performance and resiliency gains. In addition to bringing Continuous Availability for NFSv3, the new NFS 4.1 Server support provides a state-full connection with more security, less network chatter, and it is very WAN friendly.

3. Continuous Availability for SMB 3.0, NFSv3 and iSCSI Software Target when running in a failover cluster. Client users and application servers never notice that a node has failed and their session handles have automatically reconnected in the event of a server malfunction.

4. Data Deduplication : Massively reduce primary storage footprint requirements on NTFS data volumes. 2:1 savings are common for a general file share and up to 20:1 for VHD libraries. You will save so much disk space that you will have to think about what to do with it all.

5. Storage Spaces : Create reliable storage pools using just a bunch of standard SAS or SATA disks and no hardware RAID controller. Storage Spaces in Windows Server 2012 enables cost-effective, optimally used, highly available, scalable, and flexible storage solutions for business-critical (virtual or physical) deployments.

6. Thin Provisioning : Allows storage pools to pretend they are big and grow as you need them. Windows Server 2012 now supports just-in-time allocations (also known as thin provisioning) and the ability to reclaim storage that is no longer needed (also known as trim).

7.Fast Disk Error Recovery (ChkDsk): Scanning drives can be done online now, making CHKDSK run in seconds instead of hours. This reduces potential risks associated with deploying high-capacity volumes.

8. PowerShell Cmdlets : There are a ton of new scripts and cmdlets to enable you to automate storage provisioning and you can do it all from the beach on a remote connection. J

9. Server Manager: Server Manager now provides new ways to manage your storage environment including a single ‘pane of glass’ experience for storage and file services on standalone and clustered servers. Create storage pools and easily allocate capacity with appropriate resiliency and performance. This brings a consistent storage management experience when configuring Windows Storage Spaces or hardware RAID subsystems.

10. iSCSI Software Target :   Now available in Server Manager, quickly create and share iSCSI LUNs over the network to heterogeneous application servers that run an iSCSI Initiator.

11. Cluster-Aware Updating (CAU): Enables secure, coordinated patching for all nodes of a cluster. CAU automates the software updating process on clustered servers while maintaining availability.

12. Central Access Policies :   Imagine setting a file-access policy that mirrored your exact intent, such as "allow access by the finance team, if document contains Confidential then only allow access by full-time employees."

13. Network adapter teaming : Team network adapters together to increase network performance and availability, regardless of which vendor or make the adapters are and do so independent of any third-party driver requirement.

14. Online Backup : With just a few clicks, Administrators can enable online backups to Windows Azure or other cloud providers that have registered an agent in the Windows Server Backup.

15. OEM- Appliance OOBE : This new feature can be customized by OEMs or Enterprise IT to help deploy 2-node clusters in less than 20 minutes.

Why use Windows for NAS?

Customers buying NAS devices quickly discover that it takes more than a drive and a network interface to satisfy the demands of IT. They often find out later that some features they needed were missing. Usually the simple ones make the biggest difference, like the ability to join a domain, use Active Directory features or run anti-virus software. Windows Storage Servers have everything you need in the box and all the protocols and in-box services you need for a NAS can be easily loaded in Server Manager.

Here are my key reasons for loving Windows NAS devices built on Windows Storage Server:

Low Cost Hardware:

  • Industry standard hardware now has all the capabilities required to deliver high-performance, reliable storage infrastructure.
  • OEMs make it quick and easy to deploy the servers by delivering an optimized hardware and software package.
  • No Client Access Licenses (CALs) required: Can be deployed into any environment
  • Run security, anti-virus and storage management apps right on the server. Frameworks and application compatibility on Windows makes it easy to install and use storage-related applications.
  • Use Storage Spaces to build resilient storage pools using inexpensive SAS or SATA hard disk drives

File storage for Virtualization & Apps:

  • High-speed, resilient storage for applications. You can now offer the same resilience and performance of a Fibre Channel SAN using file-based storage over SMB3.0.
  • Use existing Fibre Channel SAN storage and re-serve it up using the SMB 3.0 protocol to application servers running SQL Server or just about any workload that needs high-performance storage.
  • Manage storage for Virtualization (Hyper-V), Databases (SQL Server) and Web Servers (IIS) in the same manner as you manage storage for traditional file serving.

Loads of applications, hardware devices and services are supported:

  • Thousands of storage management applications, HSM apps can be loaded.
  • New storage devices and acceleration hardware can be plugged right in.
  • Domain Join, Active Directory, Group Policy, System Center are all supported.

Superior technical support:

  • OEMs offer a range of support options, including on-call pager support for failed drives.
  • Microsoft consulting services are available around the world, including the Microsoft OEM Engineering Services team, which will help storage partners bring embedded solutions to market and support them throughout the product lifecycle.
  • 24x 7 Windows Update for critical patches and worldwide security monitoring centers.

Familiar Windows UI and integrated storage provisioning experiences:

  • These devices offer simple deployment and integrate into existing IT.
  • The new Server Manager makes it easy to do all your management tasks in one place. IT generalists can run our task wizards and immediately understand how it works. Instrumentation and usability studies make things consistent and easier to use.
  • Using PowerShell for storage management makes it even easier and repeatable. I like this Laminate-worthy PowerShell cheat-sheet.

OEM Value and Cluster-in-a-box

In addition to the great features you get in the box, our OEM partners can add additional value to the solutions by including hardware acceleration, customized deployment applications, anti-virus, replication, hierarchical storage management and advanced hardware RAID capabilities.

One example of OEM value is the new “Cluster-in-a-box” (CiB) server design, which is a self-contained failover cluster appliance that comes in one chassis and is pre-configured and tuned. Delivering high availability requires the right hardware. Microsoft has been working with the server industry to enable our partners to create a new generation of simpler, lower-cost high-availability systems. These systems fill a gap in the market that exists today between single-node servers and enterprise-level scale-out servers. These systems combine multiple server nodes and storage in a pre-packaged, pre-connected chassis that can use the OEM Appliance OOBE to deliver an appliance experience for customers. They are designed to survive a failure and repair of most single components with minimal downtime. Small to medium organizations need these kinds of solutions that deliver high-availability within their limited budget and IT expertise. Attaching a CiB to your network and deploying it into your domain in about 20 minutes is pretty sweet and there are no storage PHDs required. Here are some examples of the new CiB designs that were highlighted during TechEd 2012 and the new Quanta and HP datasheets highlight their support for Windows Storage Server 2012.


I’m jazzed about Windows Storage Server 2012 and I can’t wait to see all the solutions coming to market. I have a good feeling about this release and I’d love to hear your feedback on the bottom of this blog.

Scott M. Johnson
Program Manager II
Windows Storage Server