TechEd: 2012 R2 StorageSpaces Grows Up

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StorageSpaces appeared in Server 2012 and it reminded everyone in the S part of the SMB market of Home Server. Well, big Server may have gotten the idea from Home server but that’s the extent of it. StorageSpaces is a completely rewritten technology. What does Microsoft intend to do with it? I’m going to speculate that they intend to eliminate RAID controllers and SANS. In the presentation yesterday at TechEd, they showed how StorageSpaces can do just that. Why would they want to do that? Just put yourself in their shoes. You have giant data centers and SAN companies want to charge you $100,000 for a small SAN, multiply that by the scale that Microsoft has to operate at and SANS can bankrupt datacenters. RAID sets fail with certainty the bigger you make them. On our SMB scale where we have 4-5 disks per RAID set, the odds of a disk failing are small enough that the controller protects us from that failure rate. Scale that up to 40, 50, 400, 500 disks and the odds no longer matter, your RAID will always be in a failure state. This means that both RAID and SANS have to go. StorageSpaces is the replacement.

So what does this mean for SMB?  RAID works for us. Should we care about StorageSpaces?


People that don’t know about StorageSpaces usually think that it is software RAID. It’s not so it is best to put that idea out of your head. It will be a hindrance to think of it that way. You need to make room in the brain for a new concept all together.

A StorageSpace is just a bunch of disks. These disks can include can of any mix of physical disk types and sizes and can also be virtual hard drives. You can mix and match what ever you’ve got. Further you can thin provision the StorageSpace, call it many TB’s bigger than you’ve got disks for now and simply add them later when you need and storage is cheaper. Further you can remove a disk, or two or three and nothing happens except that you lose space and the database pointers move around. Database pointers are what keeps track of where the files are actually stored. StorageSpaces still works with FSRM and Quotas.  StorageSpaces give you the option of 2 or 3 times Mirror with optional Parity. Remember that we’re not thinking RAID when the terms Mirror and Parity are used. 2 and 3 times Mirror mean how many copies of the file are saved on different physical disks. Although you have 1 StorageSpace, Windows knows that it is made up of different physical disks and so if you’ve enabled 3 times mirror it makes sure that it saves that file 3 times on different physical disks within the StorageSpace.

Like giant data centers, SMB’s will find that implementing a StorageSpace is cheaper than implementing RAID. How much cheaper would your server be if it didn’t have a RAID controller in it? That’s the point of StorageSpaces.

In R2 there’s a boat load of new StorageSpace features. Most revolve around SMB3, RSS enabled NICs, write back caching and the concept of Tiered Storage. SMB3, Write back caching and RSS enabled NICs allow for lightening quick file access and while cool it’s probably not as important for smaller deployments as Tiered Storage is. Microsoft invented Tiered Storage to solve the problem of a lot of VDI machines all starting up at the same time as everyone arrives to work in the morning. I think I can use it to solve a problem my clients have with disk I/O for simultaneous access of enormous CAD files all day long. Tiered Storage allows the use of SSD disks in your StorageSpace (SS). The SSD are set up in their own Tier and SS recognizes that that is what they are and that they are faster. So we can have a lightening fast tier and a slower tier. SS will move frequently used files to the faster Tier and less frequently used files to the slower Tier automatically. We also have the option of pinning some files to the faster Tier if we want to.

So JBODS with StorageSpaces are the future and RAID and SANS are out. Get ready to learn some new technology and save your clients some money. Big or small everyone can benefit from this technology. I think it is one of the more exciting parts of 2012 R2 for the small and medium business VAR.

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