The Windows Build Team at Microsoft is responsible for delivering current versions of the Windows operating system to development and test teams across the company. It needs 2 petabytes of storage to perform up to 40,000 Windows installations
a day and had assembled a mix of traditional data center storage technologies for the job. However, costs were high and resilience and capacity in short supply. The team upgraded its Windows build environment to the Windows Server 2012 operating system and
used the Storage Spaces feature to switch to industry-standard storage and consolidate its storage servers. By using Windows Server 2012 features like Storage Spaces and data deduplication, the Windows Build Team gets far more performance and resilience for
its storage budget and has been able to triple storage capacity. All these benefits help Microsoft launch new versions of Windows sooner.
The Windows Build Team, part of the Windows engineering group at Microsoft, makes new versions of the latest Windows source code available to development and quality assurance (QA) teams across the Windows engineering team. The Windows Build Team compiles
and builds 220 terabytes of data, which feeds 5,000 to 40,000 installs a day.
The team kept 2 petabytes of storage on hand for its work, but the cost was high. Roughly 1.5 petabytes was spread across 120 servers with local direct-attached storage, and 700 terabytes was in older storage area network (SAN) technology. Each of the 120
servers costs about US$25,000, so maintaining an optimal refresh frequency was a fiscal challenge. The SANs were also aging and expensive to maintain; any SAN outage or support incident cost up to $50,000 to resolve.
Resilience was another concern. While the team had no single point of failure with its distributed storage architecture, it had dozens of individual failure points. When a disk in one of the older servers failed, which happened about once a month, the developers
or testers using it lost days of work. “When we lose a server, we lose the test content or the Windows image itself, which can set testing back a couple of days,” says Jeremy Russell, Senior Development Lead, US Windows Engineering Team at Microsoft. “If the
debug symbol storage failed, for example, a developer had to spend time finding another build to use and install, which could take an hour or two, and then they could triage the break. With 5,000 developers, dozens of teams could be similarly impacted by any
||With Storage Spaces, we have the functionality of a SAN without the cost of a SAN. We’re able to use commodity hardware to achieve the same functionality at a far lower cost.
| Jeremy Russell
Senior Development Lead, US Windows Engineering Team, Microsoft
Capacity was another problem. Even though the team had more than 2 petabytes of storage, this was still not enough to support more than five days’ worth of data; internal teams wanted longer data retention, but budget constraints and the high cost of storage
made that unfeasible. This meant that the image with the bug might not be available, which caused triaging and issue fixes to take longer.
The Windows Build Team decided to upgrade its Windows-build infrastructure to the Windows Server 2012 Datacenter operating system to take advantage of the Storage Spaces feature set. This feature set enables organizations to use industry-standard storage—notably
“just a bunch of disks” (JBOD) devices—to build highly scalable, continuously available storage solutions at a substantial cost reduction.
The Windows Build Team used Storage Spaces to manage a RAID Inc. Serial Attached SCSI JBOD containing 60 disks. On these 60 disks are 75.5 terabytes of usable data storage. The team has 14 of these Storage Spaces servers, which provide 1.1 petabytes of storage,
and will ultimately have 20 of these servers to provide a total of 1.5 petabytes of storage.
The Windows Build Team augments Storage Spaces with other Windows Server 2012 features to improve storage efficiency and availability. It uses the data deduplication feature to store data more efficiently. Data deduplication finds and removes duplicate data
without compromising data integrity. This enables the team to store more data in less physical space—a big benefit for mirrored configurations, which reduce the amount of available storage space. “Our deduplication rates are at worst about 45 percent and at
best 75 percent,” Russell says. “We can get up to 75 percent if we ensure greater data affinity by storing the same kind of data on the same servers—which is easy for us to do. So even in a worst-case scenario we recover almost all of the physical space lost
due to mirroring and in the best case, deduplication increases the amount of data we can store.”
The team uses the Windows Server 2012 failover cluster feature to help protect data across its storage cluster. If one of the servers fails, another node in the cluster can take over its workload without any downtime. Also, the team is able to use the Windows
PowerShell command-line interface and scripting language to manage its storage environment, rather than using specialized SAN management software. And it is able to use the Operations Manager component of Microsoft System Center 2012 to automatically monitor
its storage system.
By upgrading to Windows Server 2012 and taking advantage of Storage Spaces and related technologies, the Windows Build Team gains more storage, resilience, and performance for its storage budget and can retain more data for longer periods of time. These
benefits help Microsoft launch new versions of Windows sooner.
Get More Capabilities for Every Storage Dollar
When its Windows Server 2012 Storage Spaces infrastructure is complete, the Windows Build Team will be able to reduce the total number of servers that manage storage from 120 to 20. Plus, it is able to buy more storage with its budget and gain new capabilities.
“We are using data deduplication to optimize our storage and provide greater utilization and availability,” says Russell. “In one of our storage sets, I currently have 745 terabytes of data though I only have 453 terabytes of physical storage. We’re able to
allocate more storage than we physically have.”
||With Storage Spaces, we get the same disk I/O on one machine that we got on 10 servers previously. The only other way to get that level of performance would have been to invest in a high-end SAN.
| Jeremy Russell
Senior Development Lead, US Windows Engineering Team, Microsoft
The team can scale out its storage infrastructure as needed without the need to buy expensive SANs and overprovision; it only buys hardware as needed. “With Storage Spaces, we have the functionality of a SAN without the cost of a SAN,” Russell says. “We’re
able to use commodity hardware to achieve the same functionality at a far lower cost. We’re paying about $0.45 per gigabyte of storage versus the $1.35 per gigabyte that we were paying previously and getting more for our money. It was pretty impactful to my
management that while I was given a certain budget to replace a third of my storage, I was able to replace all of it.”
Storage management costs are also lower, partly because the Windows Build Team has only 20 servers to manage instead of 120. Additionally, the team can now manage its storage environment using standard Windows tools such as Windows PowerShell and Operations
Increase Test-Server Resilience
While increasing test-content resiliency wasn’t a goal at the outset, it has been a serendipitous benefit of moving to Storage Spaces. It was very expensive for the team to build resilience into its distributed infrastructure, but by using Storage Spaces,
the Windows Build Team has been able to consolidate its storage servers from 120 to 20, which reduces points of failure. “We have fewer single points of failure, and with Windows Server 2012 failover clusters, we are able to protect all those servers,” Russell
says. “We can put all 20 machines on power backup, which was not practical with 120 servers, and provide a higher level of service to our internal customers. We can also deliver resiliency at the individual server level, which was not practical before.”
Improve Performance per Storage Dollar
The team has also gained more performance per gigabyte/dollar of storage. “With Storage Spaces, we get the same disk I/O on one machine that we got on 10 servers previously,” Russell says. “The only other way to get that level of performance would have
been to invest in a high-end SAN. We’re getting 3.6 gigabytes of reads per second and almost 1.9 gigabytes of writes per second. Those numbers are close to the theoretical maximum of a dual-SAS connection.”
Speed Development Work, Product Launches
By using Storage Spaces and data deduplication, the Windows Build Team has been able to make far more test data available to Microsoft test and development teams. The team has increased debug symbol retention by three times and thinks it can ultimately
realize a five-times symbol retention improvement. “When software bits are available to testers and developers for a longer period of time, they can fix code bugs faster and ultimately get Windows releases out the door sooner,” Russell says.
Windows Server 2012
Windows Server drives many of the world’s largest data centers, empowers small businesses around the world, and delivers value to organizations of all sizes in between. Building on this legacy, Windows Server 2012 redefines the category, delivering hundreds
of new features and enhancements that span virtualization, networking, storage, user experience, cloud computing, automation, and more. Simply put, Windows Server 2012 helps you transform your IT operations to reduce costs and deliver a whole new level of
For more information, visit:
For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing
can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to: