Configure Local Storage

Windows Server 2012 introduces a new feature called Storage Spaces, however before going any further with explanation of this new feature let’s review the basics.

In Windows 2012 to be able to use a new hard disk you first need to:

Initialize the disk, bring the disk Online. Choose a partition style, and disk type. Create a volume, and select the file system.

Partition Style

You can initialize the hard disk by opening the Server Manager. On the Tools menu, click on Computer Management. This will open the Computer Management tool windows.

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On the Computer Management windows, select Disk Management node in the left navigation pane.

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On the Disk Management, right click the disk that you want to Initialize (Not Initialized) and select Initialized Disk.

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The Initialize Disk windows will open. There you can select the Partition Style.

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Partition style refers to the method that Windows operating systems use to organize partitions on the disk, x64-based computers can use either the Master Boot Record (MBR) partition style or the GUID partition table (GPT) partition style.
The GUID partition table (GPT) disk partitioning style supports volumes up to 18 exabytes in size and up to 128 partitions per disk, compared to the master boot record (MBR) disk partitioning style, which supports volumes up to 2 terabytes in size and up to 4 primary partitions per disk. Unlike MBR partitioned disks, data critical to platform operation is located in partitions instead of unpartitioned or hidden sectors. In addition, GPT partitioned disks have redundant primary and backup partition tables for improved partition data structure integrity.

Note that if you are using a disk which size is over 2TB, you cannot use the MBR partition style. You can only use the GPT partition style.

You can convert between partition styles after you choose a partition style for your disk.

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Disk Type and Volumes

There are two types of disks: basic disks and dynamic disks.

Basic disks are the storage types most often used with Windows. Basic disks provide a simple storage solution that can accommodate a useful array of changing storage requirement scenarios. Basic disks also support clustered disks, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 1394 disks, and universal serial bus (USB) removable drives.

The following operations can be performed only on basic disks:

  • Create and delete primary and extended partitions.
  • Create and delete logical drives within an extended partition.
  • Format a partition and mark it as active.

Dynamic disks provide features that basic disks do not, such as the ability to create volumes that span multiple disks (spanned and striped volumes) and the ability to create fault-tolerant volumes (mirrored and RAID-5 volumes).

The following operations can be performed only on dynamic disks:

  • Create and delete, spanned, striped, mirrored, and RAID-5 volumes.
  • Extend a simple or spanned volume.
  • Remove a mirror from a mirrored volume or break the mirrored volume into two volumes.
  • Repair mirrored or RAID-5 volumes.
  • Reactivate a missing or offline disk.

The operations common to basic and dynamic disks are the following:

  • Support both MBR and GPT partition styles.
  • Check disk properties, such as capacity, available free space, and current status.
  • View partition properties, such as offset, length, type, and if the partition can be used as the system volume at boot.
  • View volume properties, such as size, drive-letter assignment, label, type, Win32 path name, partition type, and file system.
  • Establish drive-letter assignments for disk volumes or partitions, and for CD-ROM devices.
  • Convert a basic disk to a dynamic disk, or a dynamic disk to a basic disk. You can do this by right clicking the disk and choosing Convert to Dynamic Disk or Convert to Basic Disk.
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  • Both basic disk and dynamic disk can create and delete simple volume.
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Disk Volumes

Simple volume a portion of a single disk, a simple volume can be assigned either a single drive letter or no drive letter and can be attached (mounted) on zero or more mount points.

Spanned volume combine areas of unallocated space from multiple disks into one logical volume. The areas of unallocated space can be different sizes. Spanned volumes require two disks, and you can use up to 32 disks.

Striped volume improve disk input/output (I/O) performance by distributing I/O requests across disks. Striped volumes are composed of stripes of data of equal size written across each disk in the volume. They are created from equally sized, unallocated areas on two or more disks. Striped volumes cannot be extended or mirrored and do not offer fault tolerance. If one of the disks containing a striped volume fails, the entire volume fails, and all data on the striped volume becomes inaccessible. The reliability for the striped volume is less than the least reliable disk in the set.

Mirrored volume is a fault-tolerant volume that provides a copy of a volume on another disk. Mirrored volumes provide data redundancy by duplicating the information contained on the volume. The two disks that make up a mirrored volume are known as mirrors. Each mirror is always located on a different disk. If one of the disks fails, the data on the failed disk becomes unavailable, but the system continues to operate by using the unaffected disk.

RAID-5 volume is a fault-tolerant volume that stripes data and parity across three or more disks. Parity is a calculated value that is used to reconstruct data if one disk fails. When a disk fails, Windows Server 2003 continues to operate by recreating the data that was on the failed disk from the remaining data and parity.

File system

A file system is used to control how data is stored and retrieved. Without a file system, information placed in a storage area would be one large body of data with no way to tell where one piece of information stops and the next begins. Windows makes use of the FAT, NTFS, FAT32 and ReFS file systems (ReFS is only supported and usable in Windows Server 2012 and Windows OS cannot boot from it).

  • File Allocation Table (FAT), Volumes size up to 4 GB. Does not support domains. Maximum file size is 2 GB.
  • FAT32,Volume size up to 2 TB. Does not support domains.Maximum file size is 4 GB.
  • NT File System (NTFS), NTFS provides performance and reliability, and includes built-in security features, such as file and folder permissions. NTFS also provides support for volumes up to 256 TB in size, support for disk quotas and compression, and support for mounted drives.The list below describes some of the practical applications in which NTFS should be used as the file system.
    1. Increasing reliability. NTFS uses its log file and checkpoint information to restore the consistency of the file system when the computer is restarted in the event of a system failure. In the event of a bad-sector error, NTFS dynamically remaps the cluster containing the bad sector and allocates a new cluster for the data, as well as marking the cluster as bad and no longer using it.
    2. Increasing security. NTFS allows you to set permissions on a file or folder, and specify the groups and users whose access you want to restrict or allow, and then select the type of access.
    3. Limited space on a volume. If your organization has limited space on a volume, NTFS provides support for increasing storage on a server with limited disk space.
      – Disk quotas allow you to track and control user disk space usage for NTFS volumes.
      – NTFS supports compression as well as adding unallocated space from the same disk or from another disk to increase the size of an NTFS volume.
      – Mounted volumes allow you to mount a volume at any empty folder on a local NTFS volume if you run out of drive letters or need to create additional space that is accessible from an existing folder.
    4. Supporting large volumes. NTFS allows you to create an NTFS volume up to 16 TB using the default cluster size (4 KB) for large volumes. You can create NTFS volumes up to 256 TB using the maximum cluster size of 64 KB.
  • Resilient File System (ReFS) is a new local file system. It maximizes data availability, despite errors that would historically cause data loss or downtime. Data integrity ensures that business critical data is protected from errors and available when needed. Its architecture is designed to provide scalability and performance in an era of constantly growing data set sizes and dynamic workloadsThe key features of ReFS are:
    1. Integrity: ReFS stores data so that it is protected from many of the common errors that can cause data loss. File system metadata is always protected. Optionally, user data can be protected on a per-volume, per-directory, or per-file basis. If corruption occurs, ReFS can detect and, when configured with Storage Spaces, automatically correct the corruption. In the event of a system error, ReFS is designed to recover from that error rapidly, with no loss of user data.
    2. Availability: ReFS is designed to prioritize the availability of data. With ReFS, if corruption occurs, and it cannot be repaired automatically, the online salvage process is localized to the area of corruption, requiring no volume down-time.
    3. Scalability: ReFS is designed for the data set sizes of today and the data set sizes of tomorrow; it’s optimized for high scalability.
    4. App Compatibility: To maximize AppCompat, ReFS supports a subset of NTFS features plus Win32 APIs that are widely adopted.
    5. Proactive Error Identification: The integrity capabilities of ReFS are leveraged by a data integrity scanner (a “scrubber”) that periodically scans the volume, attempts to identify latent corruption, and then proactively triggers a repair of that corrupt data.

Storage Pool and Storage Space

As mentioned before, Windows Server 2012 introduces a new feature called Storage Spaces. This feature enables you to:

  • Organize physical disks into Storage Pools, which can be easily expanded by simply adding disks. Physical disks can be connected either through USB, SATA (Serial ATA), or SAS (Serial Attached SCSI). A Storage Pool can be composed of different sized physical disks accessible via different storage interconnects. The figure below illustrates the concept of a storage pool.
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  • Use Virtual Disks (also known as Spaces), which behave just like physical disks for all purposes. Spaces also have new capabilities associated with them such as thin provisioning, and resiliency to failures of underlying physical media.

From the storage pool, you are free to create one or multiple Spaces. (Note that once physical disks have been added to a pool, they are no longer directly usable by the rest of Windows –as they have been virtualized, that is, dedicated to the pool in their entirety). And although we call this “virtualized,” the storage and reliability provided is very real. The available storage capacity can be utilized though creation of spaces from this pool. The figure bellow illustrate this concept.
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This virtual disk is usable just like a regular physical disk – you can partition it, format it, and start copying data to it. From the figure above you will notice, that the space has a couple of interesting properties:

  • Its logical capacity is listed as 10TB although the underlying physical disks in the pool have only 4TB of total raw capacity.
  • Resiliency is built in by associating the mirrored attribute, which means that there are at least two copies of all data contained within the space on at least two different physical disks. Because the space is mirrored, it will continue to work even if one of the physical disks within the pool fails.

The function that allows us to create a 10TB mirrored space on 4TB of total raw capacity is called Thin Provisioning. Thin provisioning ensures that actual capacity is reserved for the space only when you decide to use it. With thin provisioning, you can augment physical capacity within the pool on an as-needed basis. As you copy more files and approach the limit of available physical capacity within the pool, Storage Spaces will pop up a notification telling you that you need to add more capacity. You can do so very simply by purchasing additional disks and adding them to your existing pool.
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Another capability associated with a space is resiliency to failure of the physical disks comprising the storage pool. There are three options for the Spaces Layout: Simple Spaces (No resiliency), Mirror Spaces (Resiliency through mirroring), and Parity Spaces (Resiliency through parity).

  • Simple spaces are designed for increased performance when resiliency isn’t very important. They are best suited for temporary data, such as video rendering files, image editor scratch files, and intermediary compiler object files. Simple spaces require a minimum of one physical disk.
  • Mirror spaces are designed for increased performance and increased resiliency. Mirroring refers to creating two or more copies of data and storing them in separate places, so that if one copy gets lost the other is still available. Mirror spaces use this concept to become resilient to one or two disk failures, depending on the configuration. Two-way mirror spaces can tolerate one disk failure and three-way mirror spaces can tolerate two disk failures. They are well suited to storing a broad range of data, from a general-purpose file share to a VHD library. When a mirror space is formatted with the Resilient File System (ReFS), Windows offers automatic data integrity maintenance. This is a layer of resiliency is above and beyond the resiliency achieved from maintaining multiple data copies to tolerate drive failure. This storage layout requires at least two disks to protect you from a single disk failure, or at least five disks to protect you from two simultaneous disk failures.
  • Parity spaces are designed for capacity efficiency and increased resiliency. Parity leverages computation to recover data from a failed disk. One of its columns (explained Bellow) in this type of storage space is used to store a parity-bit, which can be used to reconstruct data from a failed disk. Storage Spaces utilizes rotating parity which means that the parity bit for all stripes does not reside on a single disk, but that it rotates from stripe to stripe across different disks. In essence, every disk in a parity space contains data as well as parity information.
    (Columns: The number of columns specifies how many physical disk data is striped across and has an impact on performance regardless of stripe and block size. Storage Spaces intelligently scales the column count up to eight by default, but you can adjust this parameter by using Windows PowerShell.)In the diagram below, a 768 KB stripe of data is written across disks 1 through 3 (A1, A2, A3), while the corresponding parity bit (AP) is placed on disk 4. For the second stripe of data, Storage Spaces writes the data on disks 1, 2 and 4, thereby rotating the parity to disk 3 (BP). Since parity is striping across all but one disk in the storage space it has good read performance while still providing resiliency to a single disk failure. Capacity utilization is more efficient than a mirror space.
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    Parity spaces are best suited for archival data and streaming media, such as music and videos. This storage layout requires at least three disks to protect you from a single disk failure and at least seven disks to protect you from two disk failures.

Storage Spaces: Benefits and Limitations

Some of the goals of Storage Spaces include the ability to:

  • Obtain and easily manage reliable and scalable storage with reduced cost
  • Aggregate individual drives into storage pools that are managed as a single entity
  • Utilize simple inexpensive storage with or without external storage
  • Provision storage as needed from pools of storage you’ve created
  • Grow storage pools on demand
  • Use PowerShell to manage Storage Spaces for Windows 8 clients or Windows Server 2012
  • Delegate administration by specific pool
  • Use diverse types of storage in the same pool: SATA, SAS, USB, SCSI
  • Use existing tools for backup/restore as well as VSS for snapshots
  • Designate specific drives as hot spares
  • Automatic repair for pools containing hot spares with sufficient storage capacity to cover what was lost
  • Management can be local, remote, through MMC, or PowerShell

Below are some limitations:

  • Not supported on boot, system, or CSV volumes
  • Drives must be 10GB or larger
  • When you introduce a drive into a storage pool, the contents of the drive being added will be lost.
  • Add only un-formatted/un-partitioned drives
  • A simple storage pool must consist of at least one drive
  • A mirrored pool must have at least 2 drives. For 3-way mirroring there is an obvious need for more
  • Three drive minimum for using Parity
  • All drives in a pool must use the same sector size
  • Fibre-channel and iSCSI are not supported
  • Storage must be storport.sys compatible
  • Virtual disks to be used with a failover cluster that emanate from a storage pool must use the NTFS file system. ReFS or third-party file systems may be used for other purposes.

Create a Storage Pool

You must first group available physical disks into one or more storage pools.

  1. To create a Pool first open the Server Manager
  2. On the Console tree select File and Storage Services and navigate to Storage pools. If you haven’t created any Pool, you will the Primordial Pool which represents all of the disks that meet acceptable criteria for Storage Spaces. By selecting the Primordial Pool you can see the physical disks available.
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  3. Under Storage Pool pane, click on TASK list and select New Storage Pool. The New Storage Pool wizard will appear.
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  4. On the Before you begin page, click Next.
  5. On the Specify a storage pool name and subsystem page, write a name for your storage pool. Click next.
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  6. On the Select physical disks for the storage pool page, select the physical disks you want to add to your pool, and the Allocation type for each disk (Automatic, Hot Spare, and Manual). (Disks allocated as hot spares are used to automatically replace failed disks).
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  7. On the Confirm selections page, verify that the settings are correct, and then click Create.
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  8. On the View results page, verify that all tasks completed, and then click Close.
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Create a Virtual Disk (Space)

Next, you must create one or more virtual disks from the storage pool. When you create a virtual disk, you can select how the data is laid out across the physical disks. This affects both reliability and performance.

  1. Under VIRTUAL DISKS, click the TASKS list, and then click New Virtual Disk. The New Virtual Disk Wizard opens.
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  2. On the Before you begin page, click Next.
  3. On the Select the storage pool page, click the desired storage pool, and then click Next.
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  4. On the Specify the virtual disk name page, enter a name and optional description, and then click Next.
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  5. On the Select the storage layout page, click the desired layout (Simple, Mirror, or Parity), and then click Next.
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  6. If you selected Mirror as the storage layout, and you have five or more disks in the pool, the Configure the resiliency settings page appears. Select one of the following options: Two-way mirror, or Three-way mirror.
  7. On the Specify the provisioning type page, click one of the following options:
    Thin: With thin provisioning, space is allocated on an as-needed basis. This optimizes the usage of available storage. However, because this enables you to over-allocate storage, you must carefully monitor how much disk space is available.
    Fixed: With fixed provisioning, the storage capacity is allocated immediately, at the time a virtual disk is created. Therefore, fixed provisioning uses space from the storage pool that is equal to the virtual disk size.
    Then click Next.
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  8. On the Specify the size of the virtual disk page, do the following:
    If you selected thin provisioning in the previous step, in the Virtual disk size box, enter a virtual disk size, select the units (MB, GB, or TB), and then click Next.
    Local_Storage_14If you selected fixed provisioning in the previous step, click one of the following:
    Specify size (To specify a size, enter a value in the Virtual disk size box, and then select the units (MB, GB, or TB)), orMaximum size (Select this option to create a virtual disk that uses the maximum capacity of the storage pool).
    and then click Next.
  9. On the Confirm selections page, verify that the settings are correct, and then click Create.
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  10. On the View results page, verify that all tasks completed, and then click Close.

Create a New Volume

Next, you must create a volume from the virtual disk. You can assign an optional drive letter or folder, and then format the volume with a file system.

  1. If the New Volume Wizard is not already open, on the Storage Pools page in Server Manager, under VIRTUAL DISKS, right-click the desired virtual disk, and then click New Volume. The New Volume Wizard opens.
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  2. On the Before you begin page, click Next.
  3. On the Select the server and disk page, do the following:
    In the Disk area, click the virtual disk on which you want to create the volume.
    In the Server area, click the server on which you want to provision the volume.
    Then click Next.
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  4. On the Specify the size of the volume page, enter a volume size, specify the units (MB, GB, or TB), and then click Next.
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  5. On the Assign to a drive letter or folder page, configure the desired option, and then click Next.
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  6. On the Select file system settings page, do the following:
    In the File system list, click NTFS or ReFS.
    In the Allocation unit size list, either leave the setting at Default or set the allocation unit size.
    Optionally, in the Volume label box, enter a volume label name.
    Then click Next.
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  7. On the Confirm selections page, verify that the settings are correct, and then click Create.
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  8. On the View results page, verify that all tasks completed, and then click Close.
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