Windows Server 2012 R2 - Storage Spaces (Part 1)

by [Published on 1 Aug. 2013 / Last Updated on 18 Aug. 2013]

In this article we'll create a storage pool and begin the process of creating a virtual disk.

If you would like to read the next part of this article series please go to Windows Server 2012 R2 - Storage Spaces (Part 2).

Introduction

Microsoft first introduced Storage Spaces in Windows Server 2012 and it’s an impressive technology, which, once it’s a truly trusted teammate in the Windows Server family, administrators may warm up to its use, particularly as Microsoft continues to add new features to the service.

Preamble

Before I get started discussing the creation of a storage space in Windows Server 2012 R2, bear in mind that I’m using the Preview version of the operating system that Microsoft made available. Further, I wanted to comment on the overall installation experience for the new operating system. I’ve installed Windows Server 2012 R2 as a virtual machine running under Fusion on a MacBook Pro Retina. I carry a spare solid state drive and Thunderbolt cable with me and I use that drive to store all of my “mobile lab” virtual machines. I still have other virtual machines running in my more complete home lab, but as I travel a lot, and was writing this article from the beach, my mobile lab was more than sufficient.

I’m extremely impressed as just how fast the overall install process performed. While I didn’t expect it to be slow since I’m using all solid state storage on my system, I was still surprised that the time from the beginning of the installation to first login was only seven minutes. Microsoft has made good progress on making the installation experience a lot faster than it used to be!

Create a Storage Space

You may already know a bit about Storage Spaces. It was introduced in Windows Server 2012 as a new way of thinking about how to pool and manage storage using just Windows. Storage Spaces is basically a storage virtualization technology that aggregates all supported storage into a pool of storage that can be managed as a single entity. Once storage is aggregated, an administrator can create volumes that leverage the space. With Storage Spaces, Microsoft seems to be pushing into the world of the storage array a bit more aggressively than they have in the past. While it remains to be seen whether or not enterprise customers will accept Storage Spaces, for lab and development use, Storage Spaces is a clear choice.

With Windows Server 2012 R2, Microsoft is doubling down on Storage Spaces and has added an impressive array of features, including:

  • Storage tiering. A common method by which data is stored on different kinds of drives to meet performance targets.
  • Deduplication. An enterprise-grade feature that eliminates copies of data and saves disk space.
  • Write-back cache. Helps to control random spikes in I/O.

You may not be replacing your SAN quite yet with Storage Spaces, but the growing feature set may make it an eventual contender in the storage decision.

At this point, I’ve installed a brand new Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview system and I’ve added two additional virtual disks – one 30 GB in size and one 20 GB in size – to this virtual machine, but I have not yet performed any configuration against these disks. You can see these disks in Figure 1. Note that one of the disks – Disk 0 -

The high level process goes like this:

  • Create a storage pool. This consists of physical disks or physical arrays.
  • Create a virtual disk.
  • Create a volume and choose your file system.

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Figure 1:
The disks present inside my virtual machine

To get started with the overall process, from the Tasks menu shown in Figure 2, choose New Storage Pool. The “primordial” storage space listed simply refers to disks that are present on a physical server but that have not yet been added to a storage space. Note also that no virtual disks have been created yet.

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Figure 2:
Create a new storage pool

Next up, provide a name for your new storage pool and, if you like, provide a description. Further, choose the primordial storage pool from which you’d like to choose physical disks to include in your new storage space.

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Figure 3:
Name your storage pool and choose the set of primordial disks

Now, choose the physical disks you’d like to include in the new storage pool. In the Allocation column, you can choose from one of three options:

  • Automatic. This is a disk that will play an active role in the Storage Space.
  • Hot spare. A hot spare idles quietly in the background and then jumps into action in the event that a storage space suffers a disk failure. Hot spares are a very common element in the world of storage.
  • Manual. If you specify a drive as manual at the creation of a storage space, it is used. Otherwise, it can be used for specific storage spaces.

You can see that I’ve selected my two spare disks and the wizard presents back to me the total aggregated raw capacity for those disks. Take a look at Figure 4.

Note that there are certain kinds of devices that can’t be included in your pool, including existing RAID arrays and iSCSI targets.

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Figure 4:
Select the disks that you'd like to include in your new storage pool

Once you’ve made all of your choices, it’s time to review those choices to make sure that you haven’t overlooking something. When you’re ready, click the Create button.

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Figure 5:
Review your selections

There are multiple steps that the wizard performs to accomplish your administrative goals. You can track their progress on the results screen shown in Figure 6. This process typically goes pretty quickly.

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Figure 6:
Make sure everything goes well:

Create a Virtual Disk

Creating the storage space is just part one of a three part process. You have now aggregated together a bunch of physical storage, but now you have to create a virtual disk upon which you can then create disk volumes. That’s the step we’ll discuss now.

To get started, right-click your newly created storage space and, from the shortcut menu, choose New Virtual Disk. Take a look at Figure 7 if you need a pointer.

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Figure 7:
It's time to create a new virtual disk!

The first question you’re asked in this phase is to choose the storage pool on which you’d like to create the new virtual disk. As you can see in Figure 8, I’m using the Test Pool that I created in the previous section.

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Figure 8:
Choose the storage pool you'd like to work with

Like pretty much everything else, your new virtual disk needs a name. I’ve opted to use the crazy original name of Test vdisk for this article.

In Figure 9, take note of the checkbox that is grayed on in my environment. Entitled Create storage tiers on this virtual disk, this option requires that at least one solid state disk and one hard disk drive exist. In my installation, the drives I’ve created are not passed through to my virtual machine as SSDs, but they are passed through as hard drives, hence the unavailability of this option.

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Figure 9:
Name your new virtual disk

Summary

At this point, you’ve created a storage pool and begun the process of creating a virtual disk. In part two, you will complete the virtual disk creation process and learn about the various options at your disposal when you create a volume.

If you would like to read the next part of this article series please go to Windows Server 2012 R2 - Storage Spaces (Part 2).

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