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Organizing Shares with Windows Server 2003 DFS

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Want to reduce administration time and user frustration? Streamline your network file sharing with DFS. Jesse Smith tells you how to set up a DFS root, and you'll learn some good practices for managing one or more DFS roots on your network.
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One of the biggest jobs an administrator of a large network has to do is manage user shares. Users need to be able to access certain shares on various file servers, or in some instances create shares on their own machine for sharing with other users. It is important to have an organized structure with which to manage files; otherwise, you introduce more ways for files to become lost, needlessly duplicated, or removed. This article tells you how to set up a DFS root, and you'll learn some good practices for managing one or more DFS roots on your network.

You can think of a DFS root as a centralized virtual file share structure. It is a hierarchy of shares across your network that is collectively brought together for easy access and administration. Each share in your DFS root that represents a share located somewhere on your network is referred to as a link. Much like a website contains links to other pages, a DFS root contains links to shared folders across your network. These shares do not even need to be Windows shares; they can be UNIX or Netware volumes, too! If your network is a hybrid of different operating systems, DFS can be a great tool to implement.

Windows 2003 DFS integrates with Active Directory. By having the root stored in Active Directory, the root is replicated and maintained across all domain controllers on your network. If one server serving the root should fail, another one immediately takes its place, and users are directed accordingly—which is transparent to them. What's more, with Windows Server 2003, you can use DFS with the File Replication Service in situations in which you have identical file shares on different servers that are linked to your DFS root.

Setting Up a DFS Root

To access the DFS Management Console, select Distributed File System from the Administrative Tools menu. Once the console is open, right-click Distributed File System in the left pane to initiate the New Root Wizard. You should see a screen similar to the one shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1Figure 1 Selecting the DFS root type

The first screen of the New Root Wizard asks you to choose between a domain root and a stand-alone root. If you manage a large network, a domain root is preferable because it replicates the root across the domain controllers on your network using Active Directory. A good choice if you want your shares available at all times with little or no down time.

A stand-alone root is a DFS root that does not use Active Directory. Unlike a domain root, it does not have to be installed on a domain controller. For smaller networks, this option is probably just as good and does not require Active Directory. Because I am using a domain controller, I will select the Domain root option. Click Next to continue; you'll see a screen like the one shown in Figure 2.


You will not see this screen if you chose the Stand-alone root option on the previous screen of the New Root Wizard.

Figure 02Figure 2 Selecting a host domain.

On this screen, you're asked which domain controller you want to publish the DFS root to. You can either type in a name or select from a list of trusted domains. Another advantage of hosting a root on a domain controller is that you do not have to point your users to a specific server on the network as you would with a stand-alone root. In other words, you simply have to only point them to the share using the domain path, as in <domain_name/share_name>. It can work this way because a specific server hosting the root is transparent to a client using a domain root. If the domain server where the DFS was originally published goes down, another domain controller will take over hosting of the root.

Click Next to give the server name that will be the original host for the DFS root. You can either browse or type in the name, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3Figure 3 Designating a server.

In the example, the primary domain controller is the same name as the first part of my primary DNS suffix. In any case, it should follow the DNS suffix naming convention. If you are not sure when typing it out, use the Browse button to find the server; it will automatically populate this field correctly for you. Click Next to name the DFS root and give a description, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4Figure 4 Naming the DFS root.

Each root name must be unique, which makes some sense. You wouldn't want two roots by the same name for the same domain (or on the same server, for that matter). After filling out the Root name field, you can see what tne UNC path to this root share will look like. You can use this path in login scripts if needed or to map a share drive on a client's machine to this new root. Click Next to define the share for the root, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5Figure 5 Defining the root share.

This share can be an existing share or a new share. If you type in a name for a new share, this share will be created for you. The share you define here will contain the links (or maps) to the user shares that will make up the root. Click Next and Finish to return to the DFS root management console snap-in. You should now see a screen similar to the one shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6Figure 6 The new root listing.

In the left pane, you can now see the root listed as the path to the root share using the DNS naming convention. Now it's time to add some links to this new root.

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