Windows 8 introduces a new way for you to protect your data using what is essentially a software configured RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) technology. Called Storage Spaces, this new Windows 8 feature is extremely easy to use and really does a nice job of making the complex, and often intimidating, job of implementing RAID on a desktop system, very simple.
In this week’s edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I’ll introduce you to Windows 8’s Storage Spaces. As I do, I’ll walk you step-by-step through the process of setting up a Storage Spaces configuration.
To begin with, it is important to understand that Storage Spaces is not designed to provide protection to your main system disk - it will only work on secondary disks used to store data. To protect your main disk you will still want to use a system image or a standard backup. The ability to create a system image or a standard backup is still available in Windows 8.
Windows 8’s new Storage Spaces will allow you to pool multiple physical disks together into one logical drive. The disks can be of any capacity and can be connected to the system either internally or externally by USB, SATA, or Serial Attached SCSI. The physical disks are grouped together into pools, which are then configured into Spaces. The Spaces are then formatted with a regular file system, such as NTFS, and can then be used just like a regular data drive.
To protect your data via redundancy, you can choose a Resiliency Type, either mirrored or parity. Using the mirrored resiliency type, a copy of every file in the pool is stored on at least two different physical drives. Using the parity resiliency type some drive space in the pool is dedicated to store redundancy information, which in the event of a drive failure will be used to rebuild the data on a lost drive.
(Keep in mind that using the parity attribute has a higher random I/O overhead and as such may reduce performance. Microsoft recommends that that the parity resiliency type is best used for large sequential files or less-frequently-accessed content.)
A really nice feature in Windows 8’s Storage Spaces is that is uses thin provisioning, which means that drive capacity is only reserved as you store data to the drive rather than all at once. In other words, when creating a new Storage Space, you can specify a maximum size larger than the capacity of the currently pooled physical drives. If at a later date, the amount of data is getting ready to exceed the actual pool capacity, Storage Spaces will prompt you to add another drive. You can even expand the maximum size of the Storage Space at a later point if necessary.
One more thing to keep in mind is that once the physical disks have been added to a pool, they are no longer individually available from within Windows as they are now virtualized and entirely dedicated to the pool.
To test Windows 8’s Storage Spaces, I rummaged through my closet of old computers and salvaged four hard disks - three 20GB disks and one 10GB disk. I then put them all in a SilverStone CFP51 drive bay and connected them to the system with Vantec IDE to USB connectors. Probably not the most conventional way to implement Storage Spaces, but I was able to use what I had laying around and it worked.
Once I had them connected, I went to Windows Explorer and it showed all the drives, as shown in Figure A.
When you connect the drives, all of them will show up in Computer.
Creating the storage pool
To access Storage Spaces in Windows 8, just press the [Windows] key, type Storage, select Settings, and click Storage Spaces to launch it, as illustrated in Figure B. As you can see, not having the Start menu around isn’t really that debilitating. (For an alternative idea, see my blog post Make the Windows 8 Start Screen work like the Start Menu.)
Accessing Storage Spaces from the Start screen is easy.
Once Storage Spaces launches, you’ll see the introductory window as shown in Figure C. To continue, click Create a new pool and then work through the UAC that appears.
In order to begin the procedure of creating a storage space, you must work through a UAC prompt.
You’ll then see a list of the available drives and be prompted to select the ones that you want to use in the storage pool. Since the drives that I connected to my system were formatted, I received a warning message, as shown in Figure D. But since I knew that the drives didn’t contain any data, I selected all four check boxes and clicked the Create pool button.
If your drives are already formatted, you’ll see a warning message when you select them for the storage pool.
It took a moment or two to prepare the drives but I soon saw the Create a storage space window and set about configuring the settings, as shown in Figure E. I named the storage space with the computer name and selected drive letter E. I then selected a Resiliency type.
Once the drives are prepared, you can begin configuring your storages space.
From the drop down menu I could choose any one of the following
- Simple (no resiliency): A simple storage space writes one copy of your data, and doesn’t protect you from drive failures. A simple storage space requires at least one drive.
- Two-way mirror: A two-way mirror storage space writes two copies of you data, helping to protect you from a single drive failure. A two-way mirror storage space requires at least two drives.
- Three-way mirror: A three-way mirror storage space writes three copies of you data, helping to protect you from two simultaneous drive failures. A three-way mirror storage space requires at least five drives.
- Parity: A parity storage space writes your data with parity information, helping to protect you from a single drive failure. A parity storage space requires at least three drives.
I decided on the Two-way mirror Resiliency type and set the maximum size to 120GB. I then clicked the Create Storage space button and sat back while the system configured and formatted the storage space.
When the operation is complete, you’ll see the Manage Storage Spaces window, as shown in Figure F, where you can find detailed information about your newly configured storage space as well as alter it. As you can see, under the Storage pool heading you can see the amount of disk space being used in the pool and you can Create a new storage space, Add drives or Rename the pool. Under the Storage spaces heading, you can see the status (marked with a green check mark and with word Okay), select View files, which opens Windows Explorer, Change the storage space settings (size or drive letter), or delete the storage space.
As soon as the operation is complete, you’ll see the Manage Storage Spaces window.
At this point, I copied about 7GB of photos and music files to the new storage space and then returned to the Manage Storage Spaces window. As you can see in Figure G, the Storage pool information is now showing that 16GB of the 61.7GB pool capacity is being used - this includes the data and other storage overhead. The Storage spaces information is showing that 14.5GB of the 120 GB pool is being used.
After copying data to the storage space, you can see the amount of space being used.
Under the Physical drives heading you can you can see the status (Okay) of each drive, and you can also see a percentage of how much space is used on each drive. Note that the majority of the links are disabled. In order to be able to make any changes you have to click the Change setting button and work through the UAC.
If you go back to Computer, you’ll see the pooled drives as a single drive letter. In Figure H, you can see that in my example the storage space pool is set as drive E and is configured as a 120GB drive.
If you go back to Computer, you’ll see the pooled drives as a single drive letter.
What’s your take?
Of course, Windows 8 is still in beta and so some things may change in Storage Spaces between now and when the final product is released sometime in October. However, for the time being Storage Spaces is stable and very impressive.
What do you think about the way Storage Spaces implements a RAID system? Will you use Storage Spaces to protect your data when you begin using Windows 8? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.