Sunday, January 8, 2012

Windows 8: Getting More ZFS'ish

Windows 8: Getting More ZFS'ish

Storage has always been a part of operating systems. Over time, storage capabilities have increasingly became more sophisticated in operating systems, consuming features from 3rd party partners. Occasionally, a vendor will release very sophisticated increments to their operating systems. Windows 8 is projected to receive more ZFS-like features, to make it more competitive with Solaris, when Sun release ZFS over a half-dozen years ago.

Intel based systems had relied upon a file system referred to as FAT since the late 1970's. Systems during this time period occasionally offered only upper case characters, FAT was case insensitive. During the 1980's, FAT16 was released, to deal with larger hard drives. The 1990's saw the introduction of FAT32, to deal with longer file names. These file system were, for the most part, primitive - targeting floppy disks and hard disks, identifying physical storage through a letter of the alphabet.

Microsoft, the key Intel based operating system vendor, promised an Object Oriented file system during the 1990's and a Relations Database filesystem during the 2000's. Both of these projects were canceled, with an interim file system called NTFS, to drag users out of the proverbial stone ages. NTFS was too proprietary bound to the Microsoft operating system) and too heavy to bring to portable storage devices, like camera flash cards and USB flash sticks, which still carry the baggage of the ancient FAT file system.

Most UNIX systems included file system management bound to individual disks during the late 60's and into the early 1970's, but they quickly moved to a virtual file system, allowing disks to be added (mounted) anywhere in a single tree, transparent to the applications. During the 1980's, Sun Microsystems extended this abstraction to virtualize the file system to network based devices, as well as physical devices. Third-Party vendors, like Veritas, created Logical Volume Management systems with their own third-party file systems, to consolidate multiple physical disks into a single virtualized physical device.

Sun Microsystems introduced in 2005 the first major advancement in file system technology, in decades. Gone was the forcing of users to use separate drive letters of DOS and NTFS to desgnate physical devices; gone was separate volume management system to virtualized multiple physical devices into a seeing device; gone was separate file system layer to sit on top of a virtual or physical device. ZFS was created to take operating systems into the next decade, with aspects consolidating a hybrid 64-128 bit internal structures.

Windows 8 Storage Spaces:
Microsoft quietly announced new features in a Windows 8 Beta via a blog post. The Register published a short article regarding Storage Spaces.
Microsoft will introduce in Windows 8 what it calls
Storage Spaces – a method of putting drives into a
virtual pool from which self-healing virtual disks
can be created, with some resemblance to ZFS features.

Details of these virtual disks – the aforementioned
Storage Spaces – were described in a 4,400-word
deep-dive blog poston Thursday, introduced by
Microsoft Windows Division head, Steven Sinofsky,
and written by a member of Redmond's Storage
and File System team, Rajeev Nagar.
How robust will the new system be, if it is released in Windows 8 Beta?
Storage Spaces is somewhat like ZFS, although it has no
deduplication and lacks other ZFS features. However, it is
a start – and Microsoft will probably add features such as
snapshots, replication, deduplication, and, maybe, compression.
The Register posted an article where Open Source OpenSolaris based Nexenta discusses Windows 8 Storage Spaces.
Windows 8 Storage Spaces papers over some previous
shortcomings, but does not solve a limit on the total
TB that a file system can store, which is 16TB. It
still lacks double or triple parity RAID, which means
your data is at risk since the odds of two failures
on a RAID group, and data loss, increases with large
drives that take more time to rebuild. There is also
no ability to snapshot and replicate your data.
Finally, there is no end-to-end data integrity -
there’s nothing like the cryptographic-strength
256 bit checksums of ZFS-based solutions like NexentaStor.
Will Microsoft's new Storage Spaces be able to displace NTFS or even FAT, or will Storage Spaces find itself in the company of former Microsoft Object or Relational file systems? This question will be ultimately answered in 10 more years.

Microsoft has a long history of trying to innovate and failing in storage. Microsoft has a long way to catch up. With virtually unlimited resources derived from a PC monopoly and constant inbound royalties from ancient FAT - they can not be counted out.

Network Management:
What will be the impact on Network Management? Nothing, if Storage Spaces follows other storage advancements.

Will Microsoft implement it's storage technologies with management extensions directly to SNMP, to make it truely network friendly?

Microsoft has the possibility to take leadership away from new ZFS owner, Oracle, on the Internet, if true SNMP management is taken into consideration. If not, Microsoft will be left a half-dozen year in the rears, continuing to play catch-up with the market leader.

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