A First Look at Windows Server 2012 R2 Storage (Part 2)

by [Published on 15 Oct. 2013 / Last Updated on 14 Nov. 2013]

This article continues the discussion of Windows Server 2012 R2 storage by walking you through the storage pool and virtual disk creation process.

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

Introduction

In the first article in this series, I explained that there are some circumstances in which you may have to upgrade an existing storage pool before you will be able to use it with Windows Server 2012. In this article, I want to continue the discussion by showing you how to create a storage pool from scratch and how to create a virtual disk on top of the storage pool.

Creating a Storage Pool

To create a storage pool, open the Server Manager and click on File and Storage Services, followed by Storage Pools. When you do, you will be taken to a screen similar to the one shown in Figure A.

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Figure A: This is the Storage Pools screen.

As you can see in the figure, the Storage Pools, Virtual Disks, and Physical Disks areas are all completely empty. The only pre-existing object is the Primordial storage space, which exists solely for the operating system’s own needs. It isn’t really something that you can use.

To create a storage pool, select the New Storage Pool command from the Tasks drop down list found in the Storage Pools section. You can see what this looks like in Figure B.

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Figure B: Choose the New Storage Pool option from the Tasks drop down list.

At this point, Windows will launch the New Storage Pool Wizard. Click Next to bypass the wizard’s Welcome screen.

The next screen that you see prompts you to enter a name and an optional description for the storage pool that you are creating. I recommend using a name and a description that reflects the storage pool’s purpose. It is common in large scale environments to have multiple storage pools, so a good name and description can help you to tell the various storage pools apart.

As you can see in Figure D, there is also an option that asks you to choose the group of disks that you want to include in the storage pool. Normally the primordial pool will be displayed in this area, so you shouldn’t have to do anything beyond accepting the default configuration.

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Figure C: Enter a name and a description for the storage pool.

Click Next and you will be taken to the screen shown in Figure D. This screen asks you to select the physical disks that you want to include in the storage pool.

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Figure D: Select the physical disks that you want to include in the storage pool.

There are a few important things that you need to know about this screen. First, a disk can only belong to a single storage pool. The wizard only displays unused disks. This means that disks that already belong to another storage pool are not displayed. Likewise, disks containing data (such as the server’s boot drive) are not displayed.

Another important thing to know is that Windows wants you to add raw storage to the storage pool. Windows Server 2012 R2 storage pools are specifically designed to take advantage of commodity storage. As such, the operating system expects you to add JBOD storage (individual disks) to the storage pool rather than adding pre-configured disk arrays.

The third thing that I want to point out is that if you look at the media type column above, you can see that Windows Server 2012 R2 differentiates between HDD and SSD storage. This distinction will be very important for something that I am going to show you later on. The important thing to know for right now is that it is acceptable to mix match drives of varying types and capacities within a storage pool.

After selecting the physical disks that you want to include in the storage pool, click Next. You will now see a confirmation screen that displays the configuration options that you have chosen. Assuming that everything looks good, click the Create button. When the storage pool creation process completes, click Close.

The newly created storage pool will appear in the Storage Pools portion of the Server Manager. If you select the storage pool, the console will display the disks that exist within it. You can add additional disks to the storage pool at any time by selecting the Add Physical Disk command from the Task drop down list found in the Physical Disks section. This option is grayed out in Figure E because there are no new disks in my server.

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Figure E: You can add new disks to the storage pool at any time.

Creating a Virtual Hard Disk

Now that you have created a storage pool, you can create one or more virtual hard disks on top of it. To do so, select the storage pool and then choose the New Virtual Disk command from the Tasks drop down list found in the Virtual Disks section. You can see what this looks like in Figure F.

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Figure F: Choose the New Virtual Disk command from the Tasks drop down list.

At this point, Windows will launch the virtual disk wizard. The options that are displayed within the wizard can vary depending on the settings that you choose. Initially you must start out by clicking Next to bypass the wizard’s Welcome screen.

The next screen asks you to select the storage pool in which you want to create the new virtual disk. Select your storage pool and click Next.

Now you will need to enter a name and an optional description for the new virtual disk, as shown in Figure G. More importantly however, this screen also contains a check box labeled Create Storage Tiers on this Virtual Disk.

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Figure G: You have the option of creating storage tiers on the new virtual disk.

Storage tiers are a new feature in Windows Server 2012 R2. As you may recall, I showed you earlier how Windows differentiates between HDD and SSD storage. Storage tiers use SSD storage to cache hot blocks. Hot blocks are frequently accessed storage blocks. The caching of hot blocks can greatly improve storage performance.

Click Next and you will be taken to the screen shown in Figure H. This screen asks you how you want to lay out the virtual hard disk storage. Windows supports simple, mirror, and parity storage. The options that are displayed on this screen are affected by your hardware and by whether or not you chose to use storage tiers.

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Figure H: You can choose the storage layout for your virtual hard disk.

Keep in mind that the options that you choose apply specifically to the virtual hard disk that you are creating. If you choose to create a mirror for example, Windows will carve up the necessary storage from your storage pool. It is possible to mix and match storage layouts for disks that share a storage pool.

Depending on the storage layout you select, you may see a Resiliency Settings screen when you click Next. If you are creating a mirror then this screen will let you choose between a two way and a three way mirror. If you are using parity then you may be able to choose between single parity and dual parity.

Regardless of the options that you choose, you will eventually make it to the Provisioning screen. This screen lets you choose between thin provisioning and fixed provisioning. Thin provisioning makes more efficient use of disk space, but fixed provisioning offers better performance.

Click Next and you will see the Size screen, shown in Figure I. The options that appear on this screen vary depending on the options that you have selected. Notice in the Figure however, that you are able to specify sizes for your standard storage tier and for the high faster tier. This means that you can control SSD storage consumption on a per virtual hard disk basis. You might use a large faster storage tier on one disk, a small faster storage tier on another, and no faster storage tier on yet another virtual hard disk. Windows is very flexible and the storage tier structure is up to you.

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Figure I: You can set the sizes of the storage tiers independently.

Click Next and you will see a confirmation screen. Assuming that everything on the confirmation screen appears to be correct, click Create to create the virtual hard disk. When the process completes, click Close.

Conclusion

In this article, I have walked you through the process of creating a storage pool and a virtual hard disk. In the next article in this series, I will show you the virtual hard disk in more detail. I will also begin discussing some other Windows Server 2012 R2 storage options.

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

 

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