With Windows Server 2016 quickly gaining maturity and looking on the horizon to the next Windows Server operating system, Windows Server 2019, there are certainly a great number of new enhanced features soon to come with the latest Microsoft Windows Server operating system. Especially exciting from a hypervisor standpoint when thinking about Hyper-V, new enhancements related to the software defined storage front are certainly at the top of the list of new features that administrators will be checking out. With Windows Server 2016, Microsoft introduced Storage Spaces Direct software defined storage solution that allows aggregating locally attached disks contained in Hyper-V cluster nodes as a shared storage volume between cluster nodes.

In this post we will take a look at New Features in Windows Server 2019 Storage Spaces Direct and see how these bring about exciting new changes to Microsoft’s software defined storage solution for Hyper-V converged infrastructure.

Evolution of Storage Spaces Direct

Storage Spaces Direct in Windows Server 2016 was an exciting new feature as it brought about software defined storage to Windows Server Failover Clusters. This was especially exciting for Hyper-V environments and the possibilities this opened up for flexibility, scalability, and performance when used in conjunction with ReFS. While Storage Spaces Direct was a major step forward in hyperconverged infrastructure in the Microsoft world, there were certainly areas of the technology that could improve.

Microsoft has certainly taken many of these things into consideration with the architecting and engineering of the newest evolution of Storage Spaces Direct in Windows Server 2019. Many of the limitations with Windows Server 2016 Storage Spaces Direct have been removed in Windows Server 2019 S2D.

What are some of the new enhancements that are worth taking note of in this latest iteration of Storage Spaces Direct? We will look at the following:

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  • ReFS is no longer Limited with Deduplication
  • New True Two-Node Configuration
  • Maximum Storage Pool Size
  • New Windows Admin Center Dashboards
  • New Physical Health and Performance Checks

ReFS is no longer Limited with Deduplication

One of the extremely disappointing aspects of the new ReFS file system with Windows Server 2016 is that you could not use deduplication with ReFS. When thinking about using a Storage Spaces Direct Hyper-V cluster utilizing ReFS, the potential space savings could have been tremendous. However, it just simply was not supported or possible to use the two together. This was a major advantage of VMware’s vSAN technology as you can use deduplication even with two node clusters, yielding significant space savings.

This has all changed with Windows Server 2019. With Windows Server 2019, the new Storage Spaces Direct cluster making use of ReFS (which is the recommended file system for S2D) can see as much as a 10X space savings improvement with Hyper-V environments. This is especially true due to the number of duplicated blocks that exist between guest operating systems that are running the same Windows Server OS.

The ease of implementing deduplication in Windows Server 2019 is as easy as flipping a switch in the properties of the storage volume. This new enhancement certainly evens the playing field with VMware vSAN and other HCI solutions that are able to utilize deduplication for space savings.

New True Two-Node Configuration

With Windows Server 2019, Microsoft is set on making the creation of a two-node Storage Spaces Direct cluster easier than ever and with less resources than ever before. Two-node clusters are configured by having a third tie-breaker vote that makes quorum. This is generally accomplished by one of three ways – having a third node to break the tie, a witness share on-premises, or a witness share in the cloud with Windows Server 2016. However, with Windows Server 2019, Microsoft has now introduced the ability to use a USB key mounted in a commodity grade router to serve as a witness share. This enables the ability to create a witness share with little cost, requiring no additional server hardware or additional infrastructure to support quorum on a two-node Windows Server 2019 cluster. Microsoft calls this “true two-node” clustering.

Extended Maximum Storage Pool Size

Microsoft has certainly gone above and beyond in extending the configuration maximums of Windows Server 2019 Storage Spaces Direct. While the configuration maximums in Windows Server 2016 were certainly not anemic, Windows Server 2019 Storage Spaces Direct in many cases quadruples the configuration maximums of Windows Server 2016. One of the notable configuration maximums that has been greatly extended from Windows Server 2016 is the maximum storage pool size. In Windows Server 2016, the maximum storage pool size was 1 PB or Petabyte. However, in Windows Server 2019, Microsoft has extended this configuration maximum to 4 PB. The 1 Petabyte maximum in Windows Server 2016 will most likely cover most environments, however, there may be some cases in extremely large environments where the extra storage pool size will be beneficial.

New Windows Admin Center Dashboards

Microsoft has invested a tremendous amount of development into the new Windows Admin Center management platform. The Windows Admin Center is certainly the direction Microsoft has taken moving forward with a management tool to be utilized by Windows admins to manage Windows Server environments. With Storage Spaces Direct, Microsoft has developed an additional HCI dashboard that is dedicated to displaying all the pertinent information needed in monitoring and managing a Storage Spaces Direct cluster. Windows Server administrators can now see the performance information for the Storage Spaces Direct cluster for the day, week, month, or year as this is collected directly from the Storage Spaces Direct cluster. By hovering over the graphs and information displayed, administrators can drill down further into the information for troubleshooting and other purposes. The great thing about the Windows Admin Center is it is freely available from Microsoft and requires no additional licensing charge. The power of the Windows Admin Center is akin to having system center dashboard functionality available for free. Microsoft is certainly intent on helping Windows Server administrators to have the information needed to effectively manage and administer the Storage Spaces Direct infrastructure.

New Physical Drive Health and Performance Checks

To go along with the additional HCI dashboard now available in the Windows Admin Center for Windows Server 2019 Storage Spaces Direct clusters, Microsoft has given attention to specific requests to know what is going on with individual physical disks within the Storage Spaces Direct infrastructure. Up until now, it is a bit of a “black box” trying to see the health of individual physical disks making up the Storage Spaces Direct storage pools on each server. Microsoft has now added additional functionality to see the health of the individual physical disks within the Storage Spaces Direct cluster. A new PowerShell cmdlet has been added, Get-PhysicalDiskIOReport, that allows Windows Server admins to have visibility at the individual physical disk level as to the health of a particular physical disk. The new cmdlet can display the average IO latency for the physical disk, providing tremendous visibility to health metrics for each disk.

However, one might think, even though that is great, I don’t want to have to query the physical disks constantly to see if there is a potential problem. Microsoft has added a new capability in Windows Server 2019 called Proactive Outlier Detection that groups drives by media and usage. This way the Windows operating system can evaluate disks of the same type and usage to see if a particular disk stands out as far as latency is concerned which could indicate a problem. These “outlier” disks are flagged and the administrator is notified via the Windows Admin Center.

Read to know more : Windows Server 2019 Storage Spaces Direct Best Practices

Concluding Thoughts

Microsoft has certainly made tremendous strides with the upcoming release of Windows Server 2019 which will most likely be released later this year. The new Storage Spaces Direct capabilities enable Windows Server 2019 to be relatively on par with the other powerful software defined storage solutions out on the market and in some ways have capabilities not found in competing solutions. The new true two-node S2D cluster functionality leveraging a USB key and a commodity router allows a truly cheap way to provision a witness share for the quorum mechanism without having any other server infrastructure. This is certainly a game changer for edge environments that are lacking in infrastructure, Active Directory or other connectivity. Microsoft is also adding the tools that administrators need to managing the S2D infrastructure from a performance and health perspective with continued advancements in the Windows Admin Center, new PowerShell cmdlets, and Proactive Outlier Detection. Windows Server 2019 is shaping up to be a game changer for Microsoft in the software defined storage space as they are showing true commitment to this and other functionality for tomorrow’s enterprise datacenter.

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