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2 min read

Storage Transformation for your Datacenter

A few weeks ago, we addressed storage transformation in this blog – and how onsite storage, cloud storage, and recovery options are evolving.  Below is a brief video overview of some of our key storage solutions.  In this post, we will explore how storage is changing inside your datacenter, and how we transform industry standard disks into reliable, high-performance onsite storage for you datacenter.

A common model today is for new deployments of important workloads like virtualization and line of business applications to utilize a storage-area network (SAN) to achieve the performance and reliability the workload needs.

In this model, the virtual machines running on the physical hosts access virtualized volumes of storage over the network.  These volumes are provided by the SAN, which contains a set of physical disks, some hardware, and software that work together to provide performance, reliability, and a level of storage virtualization.

If you have a significant investment in a SAN infrastructure, you can rest assured Microsoft is continuing to integrate key technologies into products like Windows Server to keep it the best operating system to use with SANs.  We’ve introduced Offload Data Transfers (ODX) and virtual fibre channel adapter support to help increase the performance of physical and virtual workloads.  We also have TRIM/UNMAP support for thin provisioning and flexible and efficient storage utilization.

But there are other options.  Historically Windows Server file-based storage was a great option for user data – workloads like file servers and SharePoint.  But starting with Windows Server 2012, we dramatically improved the performance and reliability of the file server, enabling it to serve as a direct replacement for more traditional storage options.

In this model, the Windows Server cluster contains the disks, hardware, and software to provide high-performance, reliable virtualized storage volumes over the network.  Storage Spaces, introduced in Windows Server 2012, aggregates the physical disks into these virtual volumes.

The performance needed for this solution is delivered by a host of features – including improvements in the SMB protocol, such as SMB Direct and SMB Multichannel which make use of multiple network connections and RDMA.  Performance is further enhanced with Windows Server 2012 R2 which adds storage tiering capabilities to Storage Spaces.  SSDs and spinning disks can both be part of the virtualized volumes, and Windows Server automatically stores the more frequently accessed data on the faster physical storage for dramatically higher total performance.  You can read more about the storage performance of Windows Server 2012 in an ESG Lab report.

An additional upcoming report includes additional performance validation, such as the table below, which compares 2, 4, 6, and 8 VM SQL workload transactions per second across various storage architectures.

Windows Server 2012 also improved the reliability of File and Storage Services clusters.  Such clusters no longer suffer the brief downtime previously associated with failover scenarios.  Instead, the failure of one node is detected immediately, and service is provided by another cluster node so quickly, the virtualization hosts are not disrupted – they retain access to storage.

The benefits of such a solution are clear.

  • While it’s always been possible to achieve high levels of performance and reliability, in the past, this required higher costs and proprietary storage management solutions.
  • As both hardware and software technologies have evolved, these capabilities can be delivered with industry-standard hardware, at lower costs.
  • These solutions are easy to scale out as needs grow – as opposed to making bulk investments in proprietary solutions.
  • Your traditional IT administrators can manage familiar file shares with ease

You can explore these storage capabilities in your own environment.  The Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview  is now available for download.  Try it out for yourself.