How to get started with Windows Server DFS

Microsoft Windows Server Distributed File System (DFS) brings multiple file and folder shares under one namespace, making it much easier to locate files because users don’t need to know what server a file physically resides on. In this article, I will show you how to perform a Windows server DFS deployment.

One of the first things you will need to do when deploying Windows Server DFS is to create a namespace server. The namespace server hosts a namespace root, which is basically a file share through which file data can be accessed. The root itself can contain multiple folders, which can be scattered across multiple file servers.

The other concept that you need to understand is that of replicas. Windows Server DFS provides you with the ability to create replica groups in which the replica servers are able to keep the replicated folders synchronized with each other.

To deploy Windows Server DFS, open Windows Server Manager and launch the Add Roles and Features Wizard. When you get to the screen that allows you to select the server the roles that you want to install, expand the File and Storage Services role, followed by the File and iSCSI Services role. Now select the DFS Namespaces role and the DFS Replication role. DFS Replication is optional and is beyond the scope of this article, but most organizations that use DFS also use DFS Replication.

Figure 1

Select DFS Namespaces and DFS Replication Roles.

After the various Windows Server DFS roles are installed, the next step in the process is to create a DFS namespace. To do this, select the DFS Management option from the Tools menu in Server Manager. This will cause Windows to open the DFS Management Console. Click the New Namespace option, located in the Actions pane. When you do, the console will launch the New Namespace wizard, shown in Figure 2.

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Figure 2

The New Namespace wizard will help you create a DFS Namespace.

The initial screen of the wizard asks you to enter the name of the server that will host the namespace. This server will become a namespace server. If you’re just getting started, you’ll usually want to designate your first DFS server as the namespace server.

Click Next and you will be prompted for a name for your new namespace, as shown in Figure 3. The name you provide will act as the file share through which the files are accessed. It should be noted that you will not need to create the file share manually. Windows will create it for you.

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figure 3

Enter a name for your namespace.

Click Next and you will be asked if you want to create a domain-based namespace or a stand-alone namespace. If your namespace server does not belong to the domain, you will need to choose the stand-alone option. The downside is that the stand-alone option limits you to using a single namespace server, whereas a domain-based namespace can consist of multiple namespace servers. Generally, if your namespace servers are joined to a domain, you should always use the domain-based namespace option. If you need to create a stand-alone namespace, you must host the server in a failover cluster for high availability.

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Figure 4

You will need to choose between a stand-alone name server and a domain name server.

Click Next and the wizard will display all of the configuration options you selected. Assuming everything looks good, click the Create button to create the namespace.

Now that the namespace has been created, you can start adding folders to the namespace. A folder is really just an SMB file share. Ideally, these folders should reside on Windows servers, but NAS appliances can also host SMB file shares (and these shares can also be used as Windows Server DFS folders).

To add a folder, right-click the namespace you just created and choose the New Folder command from the context menu, as shown in Figure 5. This will bring up the dialog box. New Windows folder.

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Figure 5

Right click on the namespace and choose the New Folder command.

Enter a name for the folder you are creating, then click the Add button to add one or more targets. In Figure 6, for example, I create a folder named File Data, and that folder points to a folder target residing in FileServer Files. Keep in mind that it is common to associate multiple targets with a single folder.

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Figure 6

This is how you create a folder.

Click OK and the new folder will be added to the console under the namespace you created. Figure 7 shows how the contents of the folder were made accessible in File Explorer through the DFS namespace.

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Figure 7

DFS redirects folder requests to the underlying file share.

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