Getting Used to Using Windows Storage Spaces (Part 1)

by [Published on 15 Nov. 2012 / Last Updated on 15 Nov. 2012]

In this article series, you will learn what Windows Storage Spaces are and how this new feature is used.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

Introduction

For many years now, the primary mechanism for managing storage in a Windows has been to use the Disk Management Console. Although the Disk Management Console still exists in Windows Server 2012, the preferred mechanism for managing storage is a new feature called Windows Storage Spaces. In this article, I will introduce you to Windows Storage Spaces and show you how to use it.

Installing the File and Storage Services

Before you can use the Windows Storage Service you will have to install the File and Storage Services role. This role should be installed by default, but if the role is missing then you can install it by opening the Server Manager and choosing the Add Roles and Features command from the Manage menu. When you do, Windows will launch the Add Roles and Features Wizard.

Click Next to bypass the wizard’s Welcome screen and you will be taken to a screen that asks you if you want to perform a Role based or feature based installation or a Remote Desktop Services Installation. Choose the Role-Based or Feature-Based Installation option and click Next.

At this point you will see a list of servers. Make sure that the local server is selected and click Next.

You will now be presented with a list of server roles. Select the File and Storage Services check box and click Next. When you do, Windows will display a list of features that you can install. We don’t need to install any extra features, so just click Next. You should now see a confirmation screen indicating that the File and Storage Services role is about to be installed. Take a moment to verify that the correct role is about to be deployed and then click the Install button.

Accessing Windows Storage Spaces

The easiest way to access Windows Storage Spaces is to open the Server Manager and then the File and Storage Services link. If you look at Figure A in the screen capture below, you will notice that the portion of the Server Manager that is shown in the screen capture follows a hierarchical layout. The bottommost layer of this hierarchy is Storage Pools.


Figure A: Windows Storage Spaces are accessible through the Server Manager.

Storage Pools

Storage pools are a new feature in Windows Server 2012 that allow physical storage to be abstracted from logical storage. To put this into simpler terms, a storage pool is really nothing more than just a collection of physical disks that have been grouped together into a pool of resources.

If you look at Figure B, you can see the Storage Pools interface. On this particular server I have created one storage pool and named it My Storage Pool. If you look at the lower right portion of the screen capture, you can see that this storage pool consist of three physical disks.


Figure B: Storage pools are a new logical structure in Windows Server 2012.

At first it might not seem that there is anything new going on. After all, Windows Server has long had the ability to group multiple physical disks into a single logical resource. For example, the Disk Management Console can be used to create stripe sets or spanned volumes. Both of these structures treat multiple physical disks as if they were a single logical piece of storage.

Storage pools are different however. A storage pool is nothing more than a collection of physical disks. Creating a storage pool is not the same thing as creating a disk volume.

In order to help you understand why storage pools are so important, I need to take a step back and talk about the way that disks were provisioned using the Disk Management Console (which still exists in Windows Server 2012 by the way).

The Disk Management Console, which is shown in Figure C, allows you to create various types of volumes that span multiple physical disks. In order to do so, each disk in the volume set has to be converted to a dynamic disk. After doing so, you can create a disk mirror, a stripe set, a spanned volume, or a stripe set with parity.


Figure C: This is the Disk Management Console.

Even though Windows does give you a number of different options, there is still one big drawback to using the Disk Management Console. That drawback is the console’s lack of flexibility.

To show you what I mean, consider the RAID 5 volume shown in the figure above. Even though this is a relatively large volume, it will eventually run out of space. When that happens there is no easy way to increase the volume’s capacity. If I wanted to add an extra hard disk to the stripe set, I would actually have to delete the volume, and break the RAID array just so that I could add an extra disk to the array.

Another inconvenience to using this particular approach to create storage volumes is that the disk space on the physical disks is dedicated solely to the volume. For example, in this particular case the RAID 5 volume is 8383.18 GB in size. Of the 8000 plus gigabytes of space in the volume, less than 3000 GB is actually being used. This isn’t a problem if the volume of stored data is expected to steadily increase, but it is an issue if the data that is being stored is relatively static because it means that the disk space is locked away and is not available to use for other purposes.

This is simply not the case with storage pools. Storage pools are flexible in that you can add disks to the storage pool on an as needed basis. Keep in mind however, that adding disks to a storage pool is different from adding disks to a volume. Even so, the underlying storage pool has a direct impact on the size and functionality of the volumes that you create.

Of course I am getting a little bit ahead of myself, because you can’t create a volume directly on top of a storage pool. Instead, you create virtual disks on top of the storage pool, and then create volumes on the virtual disks.

The virtual disks that you can create on top of a storage pool are really no different than the virtual disks that are used by Hyper-V. In fact, if you look back at Figure B, you can see that a virtual disk has already been created.

Conclusion

In this article I have shown you what storage pools look like in Windows Server 2012. I have also explained that virtual disks are created on top of the storage pool. In the next article in this series, I plan to talk about the structure of the virtual disks as well as your options for creating them.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

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