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Rethinking Storage Management

Jonathan Hassell, Consultant & Author | 8/29/2013 | 16 comments

Jonathan Hassell
Storage has always been, as we say in the South, a "big hairy deal" in IT. It's been expensive, temperamental, and always out of date -- seemingly from the moment of purchase. But that appears to be changing, at least in the Windows world. Storage has undergone a reimagining.

Part of the design philosophy behind storage improvements and technologies in Windows Server 2012 was the ability to use commodity-grade hardware rather than going out and paying huge sums of money for big iron, enterprise-grade storage area networks (SANs) and network-attached storage (NAS).

For example, Storage Spaces is a feature in the currently shipping server OS that lets you create pools of physical disks to use for storage. Fault tolerance and expandability is built right in. You can put together a JBOD -- an informal acronym for just a bunch of disks -- and create a pool of storage that you can later expand. Windows handles the striping and error correction among the data on those physical disks, and the storage space itself shows up as a single entity within the OS and to your applications.

It gets better with Windows Server 2012 R2, as Microsoft has put even more emphasis on squeezing performance out of cheap, disposable hardware that fits within most IT budgets. A new feature known as "storage tiering" will allow administrators to use fast but relatively expensive solid-state drives to store data that is very frequently accessed.

These drives can be put into a Storage Spaces pool, and Windows will automatically move files and objects to the SSDs in this tier so that users can get to them very quickly. Files that are accessed less frequently, and files that were previously in the fast tier but are accessed less frequently, can then be automatically moved to a lower speed tier of spinning disks that are cheap and more cost-effective for storing archived data that does not require the fastest access possible.

Additionally, Microsoft has tried to improve the performance of its regular file sharing protocol, Server Message Block (SMB), over regular Ethernet connections. Typically, storage area networks operate over very fast but tremendously expensive interconnects like Fibre Channel or Infiniband. This is because most storage traffic deals in big blocks that were not efficient to transmit.

But in the upcoming Windows Server 2012 R2, Microsoft has done a lot of work making SMB transmission perform better. Virtual machines can host their virtual hard disk files, or VHDs, on a standard Windows server operating over a simple SMB file share over Ethernet without any noticeable degradation in performance. This opens up a number of opportunities to consolidate virtual machines on cheaper hosts and reduce the investment you are making in expensive storage hardware solely for the purpose of hosting VM workloads.

There is a lot to like about storage in the future of Windows -- it is all about rethinking the traditional wisdom of the kind of storage you need, what that storage should cost, and what sort of performance you get for that money. Put simply, you can get away with cheaper gear that will get you more performance. What's not to like?

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batye   Rethinking Storage Management   5/6/2014 12:42:10 AM
Re: Storage
yes, I everything this days get integrated/connected one way or other...
batye   Rethinking Storage Management   5/6/2014 12:41:24 AM
Re: Storage
it must be with idea keep it simple... other way it no solution only problems on the long run... how I see it...
batye   Rethinking Storage Management   5/6/2014 12:39:32 AM
Re: Storage
agree, in this case it a bit too much...
Skr2011   Rethinking Storage Management   2/26/2014 1:49:57 PM
Re: Storage
I agree. I think CIO's get cought up in fancy options that are unnessary for daily use.
J-Lo   Rethinking Storage Management   10/10/2013 10:18:48 AM
Re: Storage
Susan, in previous versions of server admin were required to power down the VM while exporting a virtual machine. This always was encountered with down time. Now Hyper-V has been updated updated in windows server R2 release to support exporting of virtual machines to their check points while its still running. This adds to the efficiency and quality of services. 
J-Lo   Rethinking Storage Management   10/10/2013 10:13:50 AM
Re: Storage

The biggest leap R2 has taken is in storage service (QoS). It allows user to specify minimum and maximum I/O load for each virtual disk. This ensures that the storage throughput of one VHD does not impact the throughput of another VHD.

J-Lo   Rethinking Storage Management   10/9/2013 10:53:18 PM
Re: Storage

Microsoft seems to understand that we are using more than PC to do our jobs in professional worlds. The new win server has wider support for iOS, Android and Window devices. In addition i also provides added controls to IT admins to access and protect information.

Tuscany   Rethinking Storage Management   9/21/2013 8:09:59 PM
Re: Storage

@anthony.nima   I agree.  Let's hope it does not add any additional  complexity to storage management. 

Tuscany   Rethinking Storage Management   9/21/2013 8:07:59 PM
Re: Storage

I really like the improvements to storage management in WS2012.  This certainly help many companies get the most from their current hard drives. 

An idea whose time has been long overdue.

RPatrick   Rethinking Storage Management   8/31/2013 8:54:32 PM
Re: Storage
"A company surely does not need the lastest and best technology for information that it only accesses in a blue moon"


So true! It's storage we're talking about here.
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