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Windows Server 2022 storage features address security, speed

Microsoft's release of Windows Server 2022 brings several notable updates to its storage and file services functionality to give new life to on-premises server systems.

Many enterprises rely on an on-premises Windows Server for its file server capabilities. Despite its constant cloud push, Microsoft recognizes this situation and extended several storage features in Windows Server 2022 to assist these organizations.

File servers have not moved to the cloud as many have expected. Some companies worry about security or availability as the drivers that keep data local, but for many it's just too expensive to forklift a file server into the cloud. Clouds can support different data retention and access levels, but it still requires an IT staff to set it up. Local disk is a cheaper alternative; when you factor in the control and security, it's easy to see why file servers continue to stay in the data center. Microsoft released Windows Server 2022 to little fanfare due to the company's focus on Azure, but there are several storage features in the newest server operating system that make the case to upgrade to Windows Server 2022 a solid one.

Server Message Block compression could be a boon for busy networks

Data constantly moves from one location to another -- and it's growing all the time. One way to speed up this process is to compress the file or files into a .zip file to shrink the size, send the file to the destination then unzip it. One way to reduce transfer times is to increase bandwidth and make the network faster so the wait time shortens. There are limits to what can be done when costs are a factor, and this is especially true for organizations that rely on wireless networks.

Microsoft introduced Server Message Block (SMB) compression in the Windows Server 2022 SMB protocol 3.1.1 version. This feature compacts the data before it goes on the network and then decompresses it at the destination. This is a novel concept and could be a game changer for some organizations. With virtual machines and user data continuing to grow, SMB compression has a massive potential for already overcrowded networks.

Like any type of compression, this feature affects CPU performance on the server hardware. But the number of cores on server processors have grown to the point where the impact is minimal at best. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft expands this compression technology further to take advantage of SmartNICs and offload that CPU workload.

How this compression affects system performance will vary depending on the type of data and what type of CPUs are on the source and destination machines. Microsoft demonstrated the technology, showing a 20 GB data transfer decreasing from 3 minutes to 30 seconds with SMB compression. Because this is the first version of this feature, I expect there is room for improvement with updates to tune the service based on hardware and usage patterns.

Storage bus cache squeezes out more performance on standalone servers

Microsoft brings technology normally associated with larger storage arrays to the single file server world with the storage bus cache for standalone servers.

Storage bus cache is a read and write caching technology that attempts to speed up transfers through a tiering system that uses faster drives, such as SSD, on the server for the cache. Storage bus cache can bring a big performance boost at a minimal cost by giving new life to a Windows file server by using existing hardware more efficiently.

Resilient File System gets file snapshots, encryption enhancement

Resilient File System (ReFS) is a unique product from Microsoft. The company's goal for ReFS was to eventually replace NTFS with a more reliable and scalable file system with better performance. The first few versions lacked key features, such as backward compatibility and enterprise-grade encryption, but the main drawback is Windows cannot boot from an ReFS partition. While it might be lacking in some regard, ReFS is the clear choice when it comes to scale, being able to support a file and volume size of 35 PB compared to 256 TB in NTFS.

New in ReFS in Windows Server 2022 are file snapshots, which are useful to back up virtual hard drives. Microsoft said it updated ReFS to improve performance with block cloning and storage mapping.

ReFS in Windows Server 2022 also comes with a security boost for SMB with 256-bit encryption while maintaining backward compatibility with legacy 128-bit encryption.

ReFS has a place in the data center, most likely for large VMs, but it's not ready to replace NTFS for day-to-day Windows Server workloads.

Microsoft boosts the Storage Migration Service capabilities

All data is not equal, so some consideration of where to place certain files needs to take place. Storage Migration Service attempts to make this process less painful by handling some of the troublesome aspects of data migration, such as carrying over permissions and share names.

The Storage Migration Service is one of the bigger storage highlights that Microsoft updated for Windows 2022 Server. A new feature in Storage Migration Service gives the admin more ways to manage data and place it on a variety of locations, such as pulling data from older NetApp storage frames to place it on newer ones that run the newest version of OnTap 9 or even Azure cloud tiers. This migration feature assists admins who want to take advantage of lower-cost storage offerings or add additional protection from ransomware attacks.

Besides the NetApp and Azure migration capabilities, the Storage Migration Service also moves data from Linux servers using Samba to Windows file servers. The Storage Migration Service can be ideal to gather a company's distributed data pockets while using Azure's tiering ability to preserve the performance and capacity requirements.

The real benefit for many admins might be the Azure piece. A cloud migration normally requires extensive planning and a generous budget. File-server migration to the cloud is a bit of a misnomer; the data is copied, not moved, from the on premises source. This makes a cloud migration less risky because the on-premises file-server decommission does not have to happen immediately. There are third-party tools to perform this type of migration, but having the functionality built into Windows Server has advantages, such as preserving the account access provided everything remains in the same domain.

Another new addition to the Storage Migration Service in Windows Server 2022 is the adjustable storage repair speed. A RAID rebuild is typically taxing on the hardware and causes major slowdowns on production systems until the repair completes. Admins now have the option to shift the priority of the system from the repair process to the running workloads on the cluster to minimize the impact on the business, then make priority adjustments to speed up the repair process in off-hours.

This Window Server 2022 storage feature might make it worth the upgrade

Windows Server 2022 has more than enough new or updated features in overall security, firmware protection, virtualization, performance and Azure integration to interest most admins in a Windows shop.

But the biggest advances in this Windows Server version just might be in the storage area, particularly from SMB compression and how it will make an immediate difference to improve network speeds and overall bandwidth. This feature can help some organizations get off the usual network upgrade cycle and use the existing infrastructure for a longer time. It also has the potential to give wireless users much better levels of performance.

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