Microsoft's SMB grows up

Microsoft's SMB grows up

Summary: Long the moody loner of network file services, Microsoft's SMB protocol is growing up and learning to play nice. This is one time "new & improved" really means something.


Long the moody loner of network file services, Microsoft's SMB protocol is growing up and learning to play nice. This is one time "new & improved" really means it.

Fixing the old The most common version of SMB/CIFS (Server Message Block/Common Internet File System) - and the most commonly used network protocol today - was introduced in 1993. Yep, when we were all on dial-up if we were online at all.

Microsoft introduced the protocol to head off competition from NFS (Network File System), the Unix-based protocol developed by Sun. Undocumented and subject to unannounced changes - among other issues - SMB/CIFS was costly to reverse engineer.

The European Commission ruling against Microsoft in 2004 forced the company to publicly document SMB/CIFS. After more legal foot-dragging, the doc set arrived here and here.

Network nirvana? Hardly. SMB/CIFS is showing its age and origin: clumsy; bloated; and slow.

In with the new The coming thing - introduced with Vista - is SMB2. SMB2 makes important improvements:

  • Loses aged DOS and OS/2 semantics
  • Commands reduced from 75 to 19
  • Better performance over WANs
    • Reduced chattiness.
    • Longer command chains.
    • Supports Microsoft's new BranchCache that handles remote caching for improved performance.

  • IPv6 support.

The average user won't know or care about all this. But if you're a sys admin tired of "slow network" complaints, this is for you.

IPv6? The IPv6 folks have been predicting address space disaster for at least a decade, leading some to think it will never happen. But it will.

As Moore's Law marches on for another decade, more and more devices will have the power to connect to the web - at ever lower prices. Our best hope is to make the migration a non-issue by building IPv6 into everything now.

Microsoft has done their part, supporting IPv6 since XP. They added Active Directory support over IPv6 in Vista, but not for XP.

SMB for the rest of us Does any of this matter to the sturdy yeomanry of Linux and Mac OS users? You bet it does.

The open source project Samba has been laboring for years to bring a sullen SMB into the larger community. It's part of Mac OS and the Linux kernel.

The new SMB2 documentation and architecture will make the Samba team's work much easier. For example, they've developed a clustered SAMBA server with good scaling.

Update: Samba team leader Jeremy Allison suggested noting the Samba Unix extensions project and I'm happy to do so. Samba 3.6.0 will ship with full SMB2 support integrated. End update.

The Storage Bits take Bottom line: integrating Windows and the fast growing non-Windows world - iOS and Android - is becoming easier, faster and more reliable. Regardless of your OS religion, that's a Very Good Thing.

But there's a larger lesson. Microsoft would never have done this without the EU forcing the matter.

Free market idiots ideologues tell us that government intervention in "free" markets is bad, but that isn't true here. Microsoft didn't care about customers who had both Unix and Windows even though they bought billions worth of MS product.

But Microsoft's behavior imposed large costs on the non-Microsoft world and impeded competition and innovation. The network-using public has an interest too, and it is good that the EU forced Microsoft to behave.

Comments welcome, of course. A tip of the hat to Ubiqx Consulting, to whose SNIA Storage Developers Conference presentation this post owes its impetus.

Topics: Microsoft, Networking, Telcos

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  • RE: Microsoft's SMB grows up

    So what your saying is we can thank Microsoft the building out the networks we have today and in the future! Its really too bad that the EU wasn't happy with any solution that Microsoft proposed. If I remember correctly, Microsoft went above and beyond what the EU asked for and they still weren't happy. You won't be seeing me thank the EU any time soon.
    Loverock Davidson
    • RE: Microsoft's SMB grows up

      @Loverock Davidson
      Not at all. We'd have all been better off if MS had jumped on NFS bandwagon and made it ubiquitous. But no-o-o, like IBM before them with Token Ring they had to invent their own thing to create a walled garden. Phooey!
      Robin Harris
      • RE: Microsoft's SMB grows up

        @Robin Harris
      • RE: Microsoft's SMB grows up

        @Robin Harris
        I don't understand how we would have been better off. Microsoft systems worked great with other Microsoft systems because you are staying within the same network, so all the protocols work with each other. Sounds like a win to me.
        Loverock Davidson
    • No toeing the party line :-).

      Oh Loverock, you're going to have to report back to the mothership for better astroturfing instructions. Remember, the new party line is "we love open source and we're friends with Samba" :-).

      Seriously, in my chats with Microsoft engineers they're delighted with the documentation that got produced, no matter how it had to happen. It's making their lives easier too (imagine that ! :-).

      • RE: Microsoft's SMB grows up

        The problem is they did one better than documentation, they gave up the full source but that didn't seem to be good enough. So screw the EU.
        Loverock Davidson
      • Loverock delusion.

        (Replying here as Loverock's post is too low in the comment hierarchy to be replied to).

        Loverock Davidson wrote:

        > The problem is they did one better than
        > documentation, they gave up the full source but that
        > didn't seem to be good enough.

        I hope you know this is completely false. Microsoft were never asked, and never agreed, to give up any source code to anyone. And of course they have not done so.

        They occasionally license Windows source code to such "freedom loving" governments like China and the UK and the USA, but that's just part of doing business. They don't give out source code to competitors, nor should they be required to.


      • RE: Microsoft's SMB grows up

        @JeremyAllison - Haven't you figured out that LD is a troll? You really shouldn't feed the trolls, it only encourages them.
    • RE: Microsoft's SMB grows up

      Never fails to amaze how tech writers seem to thing the world as a whole has the right to the property of companies. This argument that somehow Microsoft is required morally or ethically to provide details of what they developed. While I think that Microsoft was stupid not to provide the information to increase their technology sphere, that is a private, corporate decision. If you don't like how they do it, purchase other technology. Governments do not have the right to expropriate knowledge, which is what the EU did. Apple was available, Linux was available. All people had to do was use a different technology - that is what all the writers want people to do. People chose with their dollars and Windows won, so those who picked other technologies want governments to save them. Like I said, I think Microsoft should have opened up their environment more. But Microsoft allowed a lot of people to make a lot of money without Government intervention.
      • RE: Microsoft's SMB grows up


        You need to remember that the EU is a socialist organization and, as such, private businesses that operate in the EU collective are required to follow the socialist rulings put into place.

        Interesting note about EU "anti-trust" law: EU "anti-trust" has nothing to do with protecting the consumer, it's about leveling the playing field for businesses so that all businesses operate on the same mediocre level. If any one business is TOO successful, then the EC (European Commission, the anti-trust arm of the EU) will step in and "level the playing field".

        This is why the European community has no problems with the EU subsidizing Airbus to keep it operating to be in competition with Boeing for worldwide aircraft sales.
      • RE: Microsoft's SMB grows up

        @tgueth@... <br>Microsoft has been legally determined to be a monopoly in their core OS market. As a monopoly - which is perfectly legal - they are held to higher standards than non-monopoly firms. Governments DO have the right, and the responsibility, to enforce rules of conduct.<br><br>Microsoft has repeatedly violated those rules of conduct in both the US and Europe. That's why they've been prosecuted and convicted. <br><br>You should brush up on the history of anti-trust. It was Republican president Teddy Roosevelt who made trust-busting a central plank of his presidency over a century ago. You might want to find out why.
        Robin Harris
      • RE: Microsoft's SMB grows up

        @tgueth@... me thinks me likes Robin Harris, it sucks when your opinions get blasted by the facts doesnt it? I mean even Loverock gave up after the facts came out. No where does it say that the source code was required to be released, but the fuctionality of the protocol was so that interoperability could be obtained, Obviously most of the posters are windoze users and in spite of the fantastic job the SAMBA team has done with linux, its still not the best, but by documenting the protocol then that means it will be that much better, and in my world the more windows works with *nix the better the chances I might adopt it with more open arms.
  • Great summary !

    Great overview of what is going on. You might also want to mention the SMB2 UNIX extensions project:

    Samba 3.6.0 will ship with full SMB2 support integrated.

    • Thanks

      @JeremyAllison Thanks for contributing here. You're a real asset to this site. And thanks to you and your team for your work. Please know it is greatly appreciated!
      Real World
  • EU did us all a favour

    Now the operations are documented, we all win. Microsoft will now have fewer security problems to fix; lack of, and bad, documentation.
    For the uneducated, the EU is neither a government nor a socialist organisation. Its main purpose is to create a single market by removing artificial barriers to trade. That means a level playing field for businesses large and small.