Storage UPDATE--December 22, 2003
Storage UPDATE <Storage-UPDATE@list.winnetmag.com>
by Mark Smith, mark@elucidator.net

Windows Future Storage

Cataloging, sharing, and finding documents have always been
problems, but these problems are becoming increasingly difficult as
the number of stored documents increases. Microsoft is working on a
solution by making significant changes to the Windows file system. The
new file system, called Windows Future Storage (WinFS), will debut
with Longhorn, the next major release of Windows that's expected to
arrive in late 2005. WinFS will have a big effect on how we deal with
and store documents.

WinFS is a database layer that sits on top of NTFS. The database
will contain information about each document that will let WinFS-aware
applications find, relate, and act on those documents in a way that
isn't possible with NTFS alone. To use the WinFS capabilities,
application developers will need to upgrade from the Win32 API to the
new WinFX API set, which contains the commands necessary to manipulate
the WinFS database.

With WinFS, you'll be able to use a natural-language query to find
data. For example, you might type "Show me all the documents written
by Mark Smith on the subject of storage," and the WinFS query engine
would retrieve those documents. You'll also be able to expand your
search to include users who work on documents as a project team or
department. These formal and informal relationships provide key
information regarding document sharing and utilization. For example,
you might type "Find all PowerPoint documents for the road show
project" to produce a list of documents created by anybody who's part
of the road show project group. WinFS will let you act on those files
and relationships. For example, you might type "Send all Excel files
that are part of the road show project that have been updated this
week to my management team," and WinFS will be able to understand the
various parts of the query and act on it.

WinFS will have implications on how you store documents. Today, we
think of Microsoft Office documents as flat files that are stored in
shares. We typically store such documents on Direct Attached Storage
(DAS) or a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. Database files are
much larger files that are stored on DAS or Storage Area Network (SAN)
devices. Under WinFS, the flat file documents and the database that
describes them will be tightly coupled. A record in the WinFS database
will exist for each underlying file, and whenever a document is
created, modified, deleted, backed up, or restored, WinFS will
manipulate the document and the WinFS database together. As a result
of this document/database marriage, storage management applications
will have to be optimized for WinFS.

Because the WinFS specification is still under development, I can
only speculate on its effects on storage management, but here's my
early take on the subject. First, WinFS will require a
WinFS-database-aware backup process. Most likely, a company will have
one WinFS database that describes all documents across the enterprise.
When the database is backed up, the backup program will need to look
at individual WinFS records to make sure that the underlying documents
are also being backed up. Because WinFS will support document version
control, all versions of the underlying documents will need to be
backed up.

Second, to maximize performance in this database/file scenario,
backup architectures will need to be optimized for both flat files and
large database files. Using today's storage technology, the ideal
WinFS storage device would be a SAN with a NAS head. This combination
device would provide the optimization for large database files as well
as the performance necessary for small document files. And you can
easily expand the SAN as the company's document storage needs grow.

Finally, a WinFS-aware backup will need to understand the nature of
the underlying files. This understanding will let backup and recovery
vendors provide much more granular recovery schemes because restore
applications will understand the underlying file type and structure.

For example, you'll be able to put the WinFS query engine into an
end-user recovery application, which will let the user type an
instruction such as, "Restore the previous version of the building
project Word files that were created by the legal department into a
directory called 'restored legal docs.'" The WinFS query engine will
be able to deconstruct the components of this instruction and provide
the recovery application with a list of the files that need to be
recovered. And because most data will be backed up to disk, these
restores will take only seconds to perform.

The goal of WinFS is to make the collection of knowledge located in
an enterprise's documents more accessible to everyone in the
organization. Pulling this off will require a storage infrastructure
that's optimized for WinFS database queries, real-time backup and
recovery, easy expandability, and data security. Administrators who
have experience running highly active database servers in a SAN
environment will have an advantage when planning for a future WinFS
storage infrastructure.

Copyright 2003, Penton Media, Inc.

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Copyright 2008 Art Beckman. All rights reserved.

Last Modified: March 9, 2008