SMB 3, ODX, Windows Server 2012 R2 & Windows 8.1 perform magic in file sharing for both corporate & branch offices


SMB 3 for Transparent Failover File Shares

SMB 3 gives us lots of goodies and one of them is Transparent Failover which allows us to make file shares continuously available on a cluster. I have talked about this before in Transparent Failover & Node Fault Tolerance With SMB 2.2 Tested (yes, that was with the developer preview bits after BUILD 2011, I was hooked fast and early) and here Continuously Available File Shares Don’t Support Short File Names – "The request is not supported" & “CA failure – Failed to set continuously available property on a new or existing file share as Resume Key filter is not started.”

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This is an awesome capability to have. This also made me decide to deploy Windows 8 and now 8.1 as the default client OS. The fact that maintenance (it the Resume Key filter that makes this possible) can now happen during day time and patches can be done via Cluster Aware Updating is such a win-win for everyone it’s a no brainer. Just do it. Even better, it’s continuous availability thanks to the Witness service!

When the node running the file share crashes, the clients will experience a somewhat long delay in responsiveness but after 10 seconds the continue where they left off when the role has resumed on the other node. Awesome! Learn more bout this here Continuously Available File Server: Under the Hood and SMB Transparent Failover – making file shares continuously available.

Windows Clients also benefits from ODX

But there is more it’s SMB 3 & ODX that brings us even more goodness. The offloading of read & write to the SAN saving CPU cycles and bandwidth. Especially in the case of branch offices this rocks. SMB 3 clients who copy data between files shares on Windows Server 2012 (R2) that has storage an a ODX capable SAN get the benefit that the transfer request is translated to ODX by the server who gets a token that represents the data. This token is used by Windows to do the copying and is delivered to the storage array who internally does all the heavy lifting and tell the client the job is done. No more reading data form disk, translating it into TCP/IP, moving it across the wire to reassemble them on the other side and write them to disk.

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To make ODX happen we need a decent SAN that supports this well. A DELL Compellent shines here. Next to that you can’t have any filter drives on the volumes that don’t support offloaded read and write. This means that we need to make sure that features like data deduplication support this but also that 3rd party vendors for anti-virus and backup don’t ruin the party.

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In the screenshot above you can see that Windows data deduplication supports ODX. And if you run antivirus on the host you have to make sure that the filter driver supports ODX. In our case McAfee Enterprise does. So we’re good. Do make sure to exclude the cluster related folders & subfolders from on access scans and schedules scans.

Do not run DFS Namespace servers on the cluster nodes. The DfsDriver does not support ODX!

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The solution is easy, run your DFS Namespaces servers separate from your cluster hosts, somewhere else. That’s not a show stopper.

The user experience

What it looks like to a user? Totally normal except for the speed at which the file copies happen.

Here’s me copying an ISO file from a file share on server A to a file share on server B from my Windows 8.1 workstation at the branch office in another city, 65 KM away from our data center and connected via a 200Mbps pipe (MPLS).

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On average we get about 300 MB/s or 2.4 Gbps, which “over” a 200Mbps WAN is a kind of magic. I assure you that they’re not complaining and get used to this quite (too) fast Winking smile.

The IT Pro experience

Leveraging SMB 3 and ODX means we avoid that people consume tons of bandwidth over the WAN and make copying large data sets a lot faster. On top of that the CPU cycles and bandwidth on the server are conserved for other needs as well. All this while we can failover the cluster nodes without our business users being impacted. Continuous to high availability, speed, less bandwidth & CPU cycles needed. What’s not to like?

Pretty cool huh! These improvements help out a lot and we’ve paid for them via software assurance so why not leverage them? Light up your IT infrastructure and make it shine.

What’s stopping you?

So what are your plans to leverage your software assurance benefits? What’s stopping you? When I asked that I got a couple of answers:

  • I don’t have money for new hardware. Well my SAN is also pré Windows 2012 (DELL Compellent SC40 controllers. I just chose based on my own research not on what VARs like to sell to get maximal kickbacks Winking smile. The servers I used are almost 4 years old but fully up to date DELL PowerEdge R710’s, recuperated from their duty as Hyper-V hosts. These server easily last us 6 years and over time we collected some spare servers for parts or replacement after the support expires. DELL doesn’t take away your access to firmware &drivers like some do and their servers aren’t artificially crippled in feature set.
  • Skills? Study, learn, test! I mean it, no excuse!
  • Bad support from ISV an OEMs for recent Windows versions are holding you back? Buy other brands, vote with your money and do not accept their excuses. You pay them to deliver.

As IT professionals we must and we can deliver. This is only possible as the result of sustained effort & planning. All the labs, testing, studying helps out when I’m designing and deploying solutions. As I take the entire stack into account in designs and we do our due diligence, I know it will work. The fact that being active in the community also helps me know early on what vendors & products have issues and makes that we can avoid the “marchitecture” solutions that don’t deliver when deployed. You can achieve this as well, you just have to make it happen. That’s not too expensive or time consuming, at least a lot less than being stuck after you spent your money.

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Update Your KMS Service Key To Activate Windows Server 2012 R2 And Windows 8.1


It’s a great day as Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows 8.1 bits have gone GA (“General Availability”). So it’s of to the Volume License Servicing Center to get the bits and the keys.

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Before we start the roll out we need to either bring up a Windows Server 2012 R2 (or Windows 8.1) KMS host or upgrade the existing one that runs Windows Server 2012 or lower. In this example our KMS Service is running on Windows Server 2008 R2 so we need to do a couple of things.

Install the following update: KB 2885698: Update adds support for Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 clients to Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2012 KMS hosts (see Windows Server 2012 R2 & Windows 8.1 KMS Service Activation).  If you don’t install this hotfix registering a Windows Server 2012 R2 KMS key will throw an error:

0xc004f015: The Software Licensing Service reported that the license is not installed.
SL_E_PRODUCT_SKU_NOT_INSTALLED

So grab the hotfix and install it from an elevated command prompt. Just follow the instructions and you’ll be fine Smile

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Once you’ve clicked “Yes” the installation will start

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When the installation has finished you will be asked to restart the server. You need to do so. Just restarting the KMS service ("net stop sppsvc" and "net start sppsvc") doesn’t seem to suffice.

When your server comes back up you’ll be ready to install and activate the Windows Server 2012 R2 KMS key.

First we take a look at the current situation:

slmgr.vbs /dlv => clearly the Windows 2012 KMS key
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Uninstall the current KMS key using slmgr.vbs /upk, please use an elevated command prompt Winking smile

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Now you can install the new Windows 2012 R2 KMS key. If you run in to any issues here, restarting the KMS Service can help (("net stop sppsvc" and "net start sppsvc") . Try that first.

slmgr.vbs /ipk PIRAT-ESARE-NOTGE-TTING-AKEY!

Be patient, it’s not instantaneous.

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The key listed here is for all you wannabe pirates out there, sorry, this is the navy. If you’re, looking for illegal keys, cracks, keygens, activators or dodgy KMS virtual machine for Windows  8.1 activation and such this is not the place Winking smile.

You now need to activate your brand new KMS key running slmgr.vbs /ato

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Show what’s up and running now by running slmgr.vbs /dlv again and as you can see we’re in business to activate all our Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows 8.1 hosts. I’m happy to report that our users will be enjoying Windows 8.1 on the clients in 2014 & the infrastructure in the data center will be benefiting form the goodness Windows Server 2012 R2 brings.

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Windows Server 2012 R2 & Windows 8.1 KMS Service Activation


As with all new versions of Windows since 2008 / Vista we need to set up the KMS (Key Management Service) to support the newest versions. Our KMS servers are running on Windows Server 2012 now. But perhaps yours are still running on a Windows Server 2008, 2008 R2 or even a Windows 7 or Windows 8 host That’s not a problem.

Microsoft just released KB 2885698 Update adds support for Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 clients to Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2012 KMS hosts 

This update extends the Key Management Service (KMS) for Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2012 to enable the enterprise licensing of Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2.
KMS provides support for the following KMS client activations:

  • Windows Vista
  • Windows Server 2008
  • Windows 7
  • Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Windows 8
  • Windows Server 2012
  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows Server 2012 R2

KMS uses a KMS host key to activate itself on a KMS host and to establish a local activation service in your environment. This update extends support for KMS to provide activation for Windows 8.1 and for Windows Server 2012 R2.

Just grab the package you need via the links in this KB article.

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Install it before you update the KMS key to avoid any error thrown at you. When our KMS keys are available I’ll be doing an upgrade and will blog about it. For now you can read how this went for us with Windows Server 2012 here.

UPDATE: Well Windows Server 2012 R2 has gone GA on October 17th 2013 and you can read about updating the KMS Service key for that and Windows 8.1 right here.

KMS Client Setup Keys For Windows Server 2012 R2 & Windows 8.1

For those of you looking for the client setup keys; you can find them here:
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj612867.aspx as they have already been added to our trusted Appendix A: KMS Client Setup Keys in the Volume Activation documentation on TechNet.

Automatic Virtual Machine Activation With Windows Server 2012 R2 Datacenter

One more thing. If you’re doing lots of virtualization in various scenarios please take note of Automatic Virtual Machine Activation. Basically this means that your VMs will automatically activate if you’ have the hosts activated properly. Just one more improvement that will make live a bit easier for legal use in certain scenarios. I support that 100%. I just don’t like it when I, the paying customer, have to jump through hoops. I like it when I get great service, easily accessible. Compare it to shopping in  a supermarket. Make it to hard for the paying customers to fend of theft and you’ll see them leave for place where there are more welcome and have a better experience.

Windows Server 2012 R2 & Windows 8 .1 RTM Available on TechNet & MSDN Today


The Windows 8.1 (Pro) and Windows Server 2012 R2 RTM builds are available right now to the IT Pro & Developers communities via MSDN and TechNet subscriptions. Windows 8.1 RTM Enterprise edition will be available later this month.

Microsoft has decided to get the bits into our hands earlier due to our feedback that we need them to prepare for roll outs & test applications. This is great news and I’m happy Microsoft acted on the feedback they got from us.

So I’m already downloading …

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So it seems the next weeks will get even busier than we had bargained for. Happy testing and remember, we weren’t born to follow Winking smile

See Microsoft’s announcement here