Reliable and affordable storage systems are essential for today’s data-driven world. In fact, we take these storage systems for granted now because they’re readily available and are an integral part of our businesses. However, this was not the case a few years back. In the past, erratic data storage and retrieval problems created critical issues such as poor customer service, loss of a potential sale, and collaboration issues that proved to be costly for organizations. Network Attached Storage, or NAS in short, emerged as the perfect solution for an organization’s growing storage needs. These are storage devices that are connected to a network, so storage and retrieval are easy for authorized users. At the same time, it’s flexible and scalable. When NAS starting becoming popular, most of these devices were powered by Linux operating systems. Even those that were powered by Windows came with a big price tag that pretty much put it out of reach for many small businesses. To address these challenges and to reach out to businesses of all sizes, Microsoft introduced something called Windows Storage Server to bring enterprise-class storage features at affordable rates.
What is Windows Storage Server?
Windows Storage Server (WSS) is a Windows server version that’s optimized for network-attached devices. However, it’s sold only through Microsoft’s OEM partners as a complete storage appliance, so the hardware and software are optimized for the best storage capabilities.
WSS is the perfect choice when you want to:
- Integrate storage in an existing Windows infrastructure.
- Have an unlimited number of users on the Active Directory Support.
- Centrally manage all Windows servers.
- Create a scalable solution.
- Set up a device that can also function as an iSCSI target.
It also comes with the following advantages:
- Reduces an IT admin’s work, especially if the company has more than 20 employees.
- Allows you to create domain forests and subdomains.
- Comes with a full-featured print server.
- Runs on the well-known Windows operating system.
- Works seamlessly with all Windows products.
- Deployment is easy, quick, and simple.
- Fully customizable to meet your specific requirements.
- Option to have a full active directory integration including policies and security.
- No limitation on users.
Due to these advantages, WSS continues to be a popular choice among IT network administrators.
Windows Storage Server versions
WSS has come a long way since it was first introduced more than a decade ago. Let’s look at the key features in its popular versions.
Windows Storage Server 2003 R2
In December 2005, Microsoft announced a significant update to its WSS 2003 and called it WSS 2003 R2. It came with a ton of new features such as single instance storage (SIS), storage manager for SANs, DFS replication, and improvements in SMB and NFS. It was available in four editions, namely, express, workgroup, standard, and enterprise.
Windows Storage Server 2008 R2
Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 was designed to provide file storage capabilities for computers in a network. So, it was mostly used in failover clusters to provide high levels of availability and storage.
It has the following features:
- It comes with a wizard to set up an automated two-node failover cluster. This way, you can have a high-availability ICSI within just 20 minutes.
- Its single instance storage (SIS) creates logical links to a single source copy, so identical copies don’t have to be duplicated. Up to 128 volumes can be stored in one server. You can manage SIS through a set of Windows PowerShell cmdlets.
- Server Message Block (SMB) and Network File System (NFS) are used to provide access over the network.
- You can administer this server remotely using Internet Explorer with ActiveX controls or through a Java RDP on other browsers.
It comes in four editions: basic, workgroup, standard, and enterprise.
Windows Storage Server 2012 R2
This version comes with enhanced features when compared to the previous versions, with some of them being:
- Reliable file storage.
- High performance.
- Option for shared storage.
- Flexible and cost-effective.
- Continuously available, especially for critical enterprise operations.
- Single instance storage.
- Microsoft iSCSI software target.
- Domain join.
- Active directory lightweight directory services (AD LDS).
- BranchCache peer-to-peer cache and hosted cache.
- Support for up to two virtual machines.
WSS 2012 also comes in two versions — WSS workgroup edition and WSS standard edition. Here are the differences between these two editions.
WSS workgroup edition
WSS standard edition
|50 connections maximum||No limit|
|Not available||Failover clustering|
|Socket for a single processor only||Multiple processor sockets available|
|Memory limit is 32 GB||You can add as much as you want. No limit|
|Six disks only and no external SAS||No limit|
|Not available||BranchCache hosted cache|
An interesting point to note is that there are no specific features that distinguish Windows Server 2012 and Windows Storage Server 2012. In other words, both are same in terms of storage features. However, Windows Storage Server 2012 is sold exclusively through Microsoft’s hardware partners while Windows server is available directly for customers.
Windows Storage Server 2016
WSS 2016 is the latest version. As with the previous versions, it’s not sold directly to the public but is available only as a part of an integrated hardware product.
WSS 2016 supports upgrades from previous versions such as Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2012 R2.
That’s not all. It also comes with a host of new features.
Data deduplication was not so easy in the previous versions. You’ll have to specifically size data for expected churn, and that was not fun. Also, deduplication was not effective for any data size above 10TB.
In this version, you can do data deduplicaiton for up to 64TB and individual file sizes can be up to 1TB. This is sure to save you tons of time and effort.
You can back up all your data on Azure. The biggest advantage is you can store all your data in the cloud instead of relying on just off-site and on-premises backup solutions.
Work folder sync
In Windows Server 2012, clients have to wait 10 minutes to get notifications on changes made to work folders. In this version, notifications are immediate, as file changes are synced right away.
WSS 2016 comes with PowerShell 5.1. The new features in this version of PowerShell such as advanced security and support for new classes, allow you to control and manage your Windows environment better.
Improvements made to Win32 time and Hyper-V time synchronization services help WSS 2016 to adhere to the latest guidelines which require a 1ms accuracy to UTC.
Storage quality of service
You can use storage quality of service (QoS) to monitor the storage performance. You can also create policies using Hyper-V and assign them to different virtual disks spread across Hyper-V virtual machines.
Besides introducing these new features, Microsoft has also removed some features that we saw in the previous versions because they’re either redundant or not required. The most notable of those are:
- Storage spaces direct.
- Domain controller.
- Volume replications.
- Network policy server.
- Remote desktop services.
- Rights management.
- Federation services.
- Certificate services.
As with the earlier versions, WSS 2016 also comes in two editions — workgroup and standard.
In short, Windows Storage Server is a family of storage-appliance operating systems from Microsoft. Ever since it was introduced, WSS has been one of the pillars of IT infrastructure and has helped millions of businesses to have access to a reliable and affordable storage system.
Have you tried WSS? Do you like it? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
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