SMB 3.0. Best Feature of Windows Server 2012

I’m not exactly enamoured by Windows Server 2012.  I’m not sold on the UI and have not yet seen any killer features to make me, or customers, desperate to have it.

But….. looking closely at version 3.0 of Microsoft’s Server Message Block (SMB) protocol has me excited.  It looks the bizzo!

A year or two ago I wondered why Microsoft bothered developing SMB in the face of NFS. After all, Microsoft had a decent NFS stack, NFS was marching forward, and Microsoft was bleeding cash like never before. What was the point in throwing R&D at the development of “just another file sharing protocol” when they could just ride the wave of NFS…

Anyway, fast forward to today, and we’re on the verge of seeing major uptick in the SMB protocol.  An uptick that is really really interesting.

Windows Server. The Best File Serving Option

It’s my personal opinion that 64-bit Windows servers, with appropriately priced storage, make for a pretty compelling file server solution.  Usually better than the SMB based file server solutions offered by the likes of NetApp and EMC!

Microsoft tends to be ahead of the above vendors in the implementation of SMB features, as well as integrating better (or even at all) with other useful file based technologies such as DFS, Anti-Virus etc..

Many vendor based solutions ship either limited or zero support for things like DFS and are a lot later to market with features like BranchCache.  And when the do come to market, they often only implement a limited subset of features.  An example with BranchCache might be implementing only the Content Server role, but not Hosted Cache Server.

BTW BranchCache has also been improved in SMB 3.0!

As the author of the protocol, Microsoft will always be ahead of the EMC’s and NetApp’s of the world when it comes to implementation of the SMB features we want.

I remember one vendor telling me that even after asking SMB developers at Microsoft, they could not get a solid answer for exactly how a directory listing should be displayed.  Should the listing return contents in alphabetical order…  While those days are long gone, 3rd party vendors will surely always be behind MS.

SMB Moving Hyper-V Forward

Just about anyone, except may be for the most ardent fibre channel bigots, will tell you that VMware works like magic over NFS.  Its so simple to configure and has historically had a bunch of advantages over block (as well as some disadvantages).

Previous versions of Hyper-V were not ideal for running virtual environments over SMB, and previous versions of SMB weren’t as ideal as SMB 3.0 for Hyper-V.  Now, both Hyper-V 3 and SMB 3.0 are great for each other.

Hyper-V will now support SMB a la VMware and NFS. VHD files and virtual machine config files can be hosted on SMB 3.0 shares. Snapshots too as well as VSS and SMB 3.0 being tightly integrated.  All goodness.

This will be cracking or Hyper-V.  Bringing the simplicity and cost advantages that file protocols tend to have over block, without sacrificing much in the way of performance and reliability etc.

A large number of VMware customers love VMware over NFS and previously Hyper-V was lagging.  Hyper-V 3 with SMB 3.0 could well close that gap chasm.  Pretty exciting IMO.

SQL Server over SMB

SQL Server 2008 R2 over SMB 2.1 looked interesting.  User databases could be stored on/accessed over SMB shares.  SQL Server 2012 with SMB 3.0 promises to be even better.  Not only can the SQL system database now be stored on an SMB share, the performance improvements will make such configurations all the more compelling.

I speak to more and more Oracle customers doing Oracle over NFS. I expect to see the same in the SQL Server and SMB world.

SMB Encryption

Security is becoming more and more important, and more and more of a pain in my rear!  Secops guys are being handed bigger and bigger sticks to beat us with and encryption is showing its ugly face in more and more places in the stack and the data center.

Try kerberizing NFS 4 for privacy (encryption) and you will find that its complicated and has limited support from a lot of vendors.

According to the Windows Server Blog, enabling encryption on SMB 3.0 is as easy as checking a check box.  That’s great………. although I confess that I did enjoy the almost countless hours I spent in the lab kerberising NFS 4.0 in privacy mode Winking smile 

SMB Direct Confused smile

SMB Direct is SMB over RDMA.  Seriously, SMB over Remote Direct Memory Access via RDMA adapters like InfiniBand and RoCEE.

Now this is one that Im a little more sceptical about and not sure it’s a great place for SMB.  It sounds cool, but am unsure about the use cases and appetite folks will have for it.  I’m not expecting to see huge pick-up for a while.  But I’m open to being totally wrong.

Summary

As I said at the very beginning…. I’m not exactly enamoured by Windows Server 2012.  I’m not sold on the UI and have not yet seen any killer features to make me, or customers, desperate to have it.  However, dont let that take away from the promise of SMB 3.0.  SMB is maturing and maturing at pace!

While SMB 3.0 might not be a headline grabber like a fancy touch-screen friendly UI or Hyper-V, it looks like SMB 3.0 will be absolutely fundamental to many improvements in Windows Server going forward.  And I kind of like it when a low level, non-headline-grabbing technology like SMB steals the show.

The big emphasis on using SMB for server applications like SQL Server, as well as Hyper-V show that SMB is way more than just a protocol for file servers.  SMB 3.0 sheds light on the future of networked storage in the Microsoft world.

Back in the day… File server protocols were for boys.  Block protocols were for men. If you wanted low latency, decent IOPS, or remote direct memory access you need block.  May be the world is changing….

7 comments for “SMB 3.0. Best Feature of Windows Server 2012

  1. TimC
    May 7, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    Given that there was support in ONTAP for SMB 2 BEFORE MS had it in Windows Server, I'd say it's more than a slight reach to claim that MS will always be ahead.  EMC and NetApp both have access to the working development code nearly real-time.  The fact they are generally more conservative with their code drops is simply another example of why they are considered enterprise.  The days of "don't upgrade until SP1" are not gone yet, and for a reason.

  2. May 7, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Hi Tim.

    I agree with the SP1 statement and almost included a like-comment when briefly men tioning SMB Direct.

    However, I would argue was is meant by vedors when they make statement like “support in ONTAP for SMB 2″.

    I’ve had it with most vendors over which features are “supported”. None have ever been able to produce a list of supported SMB features. Each time I get a response such as this “can the customer tell us which feature they require and we can tell them if it is supported or not”. This is no use in RI type situations where you might be comparing VNX vs FAS etc…

    Making it harder, the SMB documentation (as Im sure you will know) does not list anywhere a full list of features such as “Op locks, BranchCache, compound RPC’s…..”

    So when vendors state that they “support” SMB 2 or SMB 2.1 what they have always meant in my honest personal experience is “we support some features of SMB XYZ”.

    Microsoft have, in my opinion, been the most fully feature rich and been there first. there may be occasions where that is not the case. But almost overwhelmingly in my experience.

  3. Nicholas Schoonover
    May 9, 2012 at 12:39 am

    Nice write-up, Nigel. It's nice to see the new features since SMB has felt stale for more than a few years.
    However, the SMB 3.0 SOFS architecture looks bizarre to me since it adds two Win8 file servers in front of your storage to perform scale-out. They're supposedly targeting the SMB (Small Medium Business, not the protocol in this case) market with this architecture, but I question the cost savings since you still need the highly available storage back-end. Thus, why not just connect the iSCSI/FC storage directly to the application servers? Perhaps further commoditizing the storage connectivity layer the way that iSCSI does with FC?
    It also seems that MS is taking the road of only supporting SSD as a tier versus a cache. It would seem that SMB 3.0 could make very good use of SSD as a cache, especially when front-ending SAN storage. BTW, Good job running the panel at SSD Symposium.
    Nicholas Schoonover
    Technical Marketing - Nimble Storage

  4. TimC
    May 10, 2012 at 7:32 am

    I guess I’ve had a very different experience. I’ve never had an issue getting a list of supported and unsupported features from vendors, but perhaps it’s all in who you ask. There’s a pretty clear understanding day 1 about which features they will and won’t support, so there is no veil of secrecy. Support in ONTAP for SMB 2 included just about everything BUT branch cache and DFS-R. Mainly because both features relied on functionality outside of SMB to work.

    I guess all I can say is keep asking, there’s plenty of folks out there who can answer your questions, they may just be less willing if you don’t own, or aren’t in the market to purchase their gear.

  5. Rich
    September 13, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Just a FYI, BranchCache is supported in Data OnTap.
     
    https://fieldportal.netapp.com/Core/DownloadDoc.aspx?documentID=73728&contentID=76049
     

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