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.
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
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.
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….