Windows Server

Windows Server 2008 : Configuring Storage

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10/29/2010 6:51:54 PM

In the mid- to late 1990s, storage was not a real issue because most organizations didn’t need to store large amounts of data or archives. This is not the case today, as there is a great need for storage and archiving. The demand for storage and archiving, coupled with the high availability of storage, has increased exponentially. Networked attached storage (NAS), storage area networks (SANs), and technologies such as Fibre Channels and others used to be available only in enterprise class storage devices; now you can get this functionality at the server level. Windows Server 2008 includes a massive number of improvements to its storage features, making storage decisions easier for the administrator and resulting in a more stable and more available infrastructure for users.

RAID Types

RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) provides higher levels of reliability, performance, and storage capacity, all at a lower cost. It compromises out of multiple disk drives (an array). These fault-tolerant arrays are classified into six different RAID levels, numbered 0 through 5. Each level uses a different set of storage algorithms to implement fault tolerance.

There are two types of RAID: hardware RAID and software RAID. Hardware RAID will always have a disk controller dedicated to the RAID to which you can cable up the disk drives. Software RIAD is more flexible and less expensive, but requires more CPU cycles and power to run. It also operates on a partition-by-partition grouping basis as opposed to hardware RAID systems, which group together entire disk drives.

RAID 0 is an array of disks implemented with disk striping. This means that if there are two disks in the array it will offer two times the speed of one disk, which offers no drive redundancy or fault tolerance. The only advantage it offers is speed.

RAID 1 is an array of disks implemented in a mirror; this means that one disk will be a copy of the other disk. Each time any data gets written to the disk, the system must write the same information to both disks. To increase system performance in RAID 1, you need to implement a duplex RAID 1 system. This means that each mirrored array of disks will have its own host adapter.

RAID 2 is an array of disks implemented with disk striping with added error correction code (ECC) disks. Each time any data is written to the array these codes are calculated and will be written alongside the data on the ECC disks to confirm that no errors have occurred from the time when the data was written.

RAID 3 is an array of disks implemented with disk striping and a dedicated disk for parity information. Because RAID 3 uses bit striping, its write and read performance is rather slow compared to RAID 4.

RAID 4 is an array of disks implemented with disk striping and a dedicated disk for parity information. It is similar to RAID 3, bit it performs block striping or sector striping instead of bit striping. Thus, with RAID 4 one entire sector is written to one drive and the next sector is written to the next drive.

RAID 5 is an array of disks implemented with disk striping and a disk for parity also striped across all disks. RAID 5 is handles small amounts of information efficiently. This is the preferred option when setting up fault tolerance.

RAID 6 is the same as RAID 5, with the added feature of calculating two sets of parity information and striping it across all drives. This allows for the failure of two disks but decreases performance slightly.

Nested RAID 01 and 10 combine the best features of both RAID technologies. RAID 01 is a mirror of two striped sets and RAID 10 is a stripe of mirrored sets.

RAID 3, RAID 4, and RAID 5 disk array designs allow for data recovery. When one of the drives in the array becomes faulty in any way, the parity disk is able to rebuild the faulty drive in the array.

Network Attached Storage

NAS is a technology that delivers storage over the network. An NAS will be attached directly to the organization’s network and will reduce the shortcomings previously experienced in a normal LAN. These shortcomings were:

  • The rise of storage capacity needs

  • The rise of protection and security to the data stored

  • Management complexity for the system administrator

The NAS could be seen as a solution to these challenges. With the added benefit of being attached directly to the organization’s IP network, it becomes accessible to all computers that are part of the network. NAS devices or servers are designed for their simplicity of deployment, plugged into the network without interfering with other services. NAS devices are mostly maintenance free and managing them is minimal due to their scaled-down functionality on the software side. The scaled-down operating system and other software on the NAS unit offer data storage and access functionality and management. Configuring the NAS unit is mostly done through a Web interface, as opposed to being connected to it directly. A typical NAS unit will contain one or more hard disks normally configured into a logical RAID layout. NAS provides storage and a file system with a file-based protocol such as Network File System (NFS) or Server Message Block (SMB).

The benefits that come with a NAS are as follows:

  • Extra networked storage capacity

  • Its own CPU, motherboard, RAM, etc.

  • Built-in RAID

  • Expandability

Potential drawbacks of NAS include:

  • Potentially too many input/output operations

  • More difficult to upgrade than a server

You can include an NAS as part of a more comprehensive solution such as a SAN. In an NAS, file serving is much faster as the file I/O is not competing for server resources compared to a file server hosting other solutions. You also can use NAS as centralized storage for managing backups or other operating system data.

Storage Area Networks

A SAN is architecture connected to the organization’s LAN. This architecture could consist of numerous types of vendor and/or sizes of disk arrays, or even tape libraries. Connecting disk arrays to the organization’s LAN using a high-speed medium (Fibre Channel or Gigabit Ethernet) typically through SAN using Fibre Channel switches to servers benefits the organization by increasing storage capacity, as multiple servers can share the storage for common file sharing, e-mail servers, or database servers. Large enterprises have been benefiting from SAN technologies in which the storage is separate, from being physically connected to servers to being attached directly to the network, for many years. SANs are highly scalable and provide flexible storage allocation, better storage deployment, and higher efficiency backup solutions which can span over a WAN.

Traditionally, SANs have been difficult to deploy and maintain. Ensuring high data availability and optimal resource usage out of the storage array connected to switches in the middle, as well as monitoring the physical network, has become a full-time job and requires different skills than managing storage on a server. As a result, small to medium-size businesses have started to need SAN technology, and with the different set of skills required it has proven difficult to implement and manage. Fibre Channel, being the established storage technology during the past decade, made this almost impossible for smaller businesses. With this in mind, other well-known IP technologies are now becoming a viable option when using iSCSI. Simplifying a SAN does not mean removing the current SAN infrastructure. It means hiding the complexity of managing such a storage solution by implementing a technology such as iSCSI.

Figure 1 shows the differences between Direct Attached Storage (DAS), NAS, and SAN.

Figure 1. Differences Between DAS, NAS, and SAN

SAN benefits include the following:

  • Simplified administration

  • Storage flexibility

  • Servers that boot from SAN

  • Efficient data recovery

  • Storage replication

  • iSCSI protocols developed to allow SAN extension over IP networks, resulting in less costly remote backups

The core SAN Fibre Channel infrastructure uses a technology called fabric technology. This is designed to handle storage communications and it provides a reliable level of data storage compared to an NAS. In addition, it allows many-to-many communication in the SAN infrastructure. A typical fabric is made up of a number of Fibre Channel switches.

Fibre Channel

The Fibre Channel Protocol (FCP) is the interface protocol used to talk to SCSI on the Fibre Channel. The Fibre Channel has the following three topologies, just like in a network topology design. The topologies designate how ports are connected. In Fibre Channel terms, a port is a device connected to the network.

  • Point-to-Point (FC-P2P) Two networked devices connected back to back.

  • Arbitral loop (FC-AL) All networked devices connected in a loop. This is similar to the token ring network topology, and carries the same advantages and disadvantages.

  • Switched fabric (FC-SW) All networked devices connected to Fibre Channel switches.

The line speed rates for Fibre Channel can be anything from 1 GB per second up to 10 GB per second, depending on the topology and hardware implemented. The Fibre Channel layers start with a Physical layer (FC0), which includes the cables, fiber optics, and connectors. The Data Link layer (FC1) implements encoding and decoding. The Network layer (FC2) is the core of the Fibre Channel and defines the protocols. The Common services layer (FC3) could include functions such as RAID encryption. The Protocol Mapping layer (FC4) is used for protocol encapsulation. The following ports are defined in the Fibre Channel:

  • N_port The node port

  • NL_port The node loop port

  • F_port The fabric port

  • FL_port The fabric loop port

  • E_port An expansion port used to link two Fibre Channels

  • EX_port A connection between the router and switch

  • TE_port Provides trunking expansion, with e_ports trunked together

  • G_port A generic port

  • L_port The loop port

  • U_port A universal port

The Fibre Channel Host Bus Adapter (HBA) has a unique World Wide Name (WWN); this is comparable to a network card’s Media Access Control (MAC) address. The HBA installs into a server, like any other network card or SCSI host adapter.


Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI) is a very popular SAN protocol, utilizing attached storage with the illusion of locally attached disks. It is unlike Fibre Channel, which requires special fibre cabling. You can use iSCSI to use storage located anywhere in the LAN as part of the SAN over an existing infrastructure VPN or Ethernet. In essence, iSCSI allows a server and a RAID array to communicate using SCSI commands over the IP network. iSCSI requires no additional cabling, and as a result, iSCSI is the low-cost alternative to Fibre Channel.

iSCSI Initiators and Targets

iSCSI uses both initiators and targets. The initiator acts as the traditional SCSI bus adapter, sending SCSI commands. There are two broad types of initiator: software initiator and hardware initiator.

The software initiator implements iSCSI, using an existing network stack and a network interface card (NIC) to emulate a SCSI device. The software initiator is available in the Windows 2008 operating system. Figure 2 shows the iSCSI Initiator Properties page.

The hardware initiator uses dedicated hardware to implement iSCSI. Run by firmware on the hardware, it alleviates the overhead placed on iSCSI and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) processing. The HBA is a combination of a NIC and SCSI bus adapter within the hardware initiator. If a client requests data from a RAID array, the operating system does not have to generate the SCSI commands and data requests; the hardware initiator will.

Figure 2. The iSCSI Initiator Properties Page

The iSCSI target represents hard disk storage and is available in the Windows Server 2008 operating system. A storage array is an example of an iSCSI target. A Logical Unit Number (LUN) symbolizes an individual SCSI device. The initiator will talk to the target to connect to a LUN, emulating a SCSI hard disk. The iSCSI system will actually have the functionality to format and manage a file system on the iSCSI LUN.

When iSCSI is used in a SAN it is referred to by special iSCSI names. iSCSI provides the following three name structures:

  • iSCSI Qualified Name (IQN)

  • Extended Unique Identifier (EUI)

  • T11 Network Address Authority (NAA)

An iSCSI participant is usually defined by three or four fields:

  • Hostname or IP address (e.g.,

  • Port number (e.g., 3260)

  • iSCSI name (e.g., the IQN

  • Optional CHAP secret (e.g., chapsecret)

Now that the iSCSI initiators and targets have names, they have to prove their identity; they do this by using the Challenge-Handshake Authentication Protocol (CHAP). This prevents cleartext identity from taking place. In addition to using CHAP for securing identity handshaking, you can also use IPSec over the IP-based protocol. To ensure that traffic flowing between initiators and targets is as secure as possible, the SAN is run in a logically isolated network segment.

Additionally, as with all IP-based protocols, IPSec can be used at the network layer. The iSCSI negotiation protocol is designed to accommodate other authentication schemes, though interoperability issues limit their deployment. This eliminates most of the security concerns for important data traveling on the IP LAN. The other security concern is for servers to initiate to the storage array, without it being authorized. Regular audits and checks have to be put in place to ensure that initiators that are authenticated to an array are legitimately initiated to a LUN.

Targets can be much more than a RAID array. If a physical device with a SCSI parallel interface or a Fibre Channel interface gets bridged by using iSCSI target software, it can also become part of the SAN. Virtual Tape Libraries (VTLs) are used in a disk storage scenario for storing data to virtual tapes. Security surveillance with IP-enabled cameras can be the initiator targeting iSCSI RAID as a target to store hours of quality video for later processing.

Mount Points

One of the benefits of using NTFS is having the ability to use volume mount points. A volume mount point is essentially placed in a directory on a current volume (hard disk). For example, this means that a folder on the C: drive called “removable” can be made the mount point to the new hard drive you have added to the computer. The “removable” folder will be the gateway to store data on the newly added volume. The volume to be mounted can be formatted in a number of file systems, including NTFS, FAT16, FAT32, CDFS, or UDF.

To better understand volume mount points, consider this scenario. A user has installed the computer operating system on a relatively small C: drive and is concerned about unnecessarily using up storage space on the C: drive which will be needed by the Windows operating system itself. The user works with large motion graphics files. Knowing that these files can consume a lot of storage space, the user creates a volume mount point to the C: drive called “motion”. The user then configures the motion graphics application to store the motion graphic files under c:/motion. This means that the files are not using up valuable storage space on the C: drive, but are actually using storage space on the new volume mount point.

Mounting a New Volume to the C: Drive

Create an empty folder on the NTFS formatted C: drive, called “mount point” (this folder name can be whatever you want; it doesn’t have to be mount point).

Open Computer Management and select Disk Management.

Right-click the new volume (e.g., the newly added 40 GB partition or physical drive) and select Change Drive Letter and Path, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Adding a Mount Point

Click Add, and select Mount into the following empty NTFS folder.

Browse to the empty NTFS folder on the C: drive and select OK.

Figure 4 shows what the result will look like. The “mount point” folder in the C: drive with a drive icon is a mount point to the physical drive or partition that was selected in Disk Management. The result is that now you have an extra 40 GB of storage mounted to the C: drive that you can use.

Figure 4. The New Mount Point

To remove the mount point from the selected folder, follow the same steps and choose Remove from the menu in step 4. Removing the mount point does not remove the folder originally created, nor does it remove the files stored in the physical disk. You can mount the drive again, or you can assign another drive letter to the drive to access the files on the drive.
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