Windows Server Summit

Stay Relevant

On Tuesday, June 26, 2018 Microsoft hosts a virtual Windows Server Summit. It will help you get up to speed with many important capabilities in Windows Server (2016 – 2019). This is very much needed as I see even many integrators & service companies not doing enough with these capabilities. In many cases they are out maneuvered by their customers who move fast in regards to their on premises need just like they do for their hybrid & public cloud needs.

As a service provider and integrator your days are numbered if you’re going to stick to slow cycles & slow down tactics when it comes to making money. The ecosystem is changing. As compute becomes a commodity you’ll need to re-think how to deliver value.

Windows Server Summit

This  virtual experience will help your with tips and tricks for modernizing your infrastructure and applications—regardless of whether you’re running it on-premises or in the cloud.The featured speakers are well know in the Wintel ecosystem and are well positioned to bring your up to speed.

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There are 4 track next to the keynote and I recommend you attend to “upgrade” your insights in Windows Server as there is a lot more to learn and investigate beyond what will be addressed here!

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  • Hybrid scenarios with Azure
  • Security
  • Hyper-converged infrastructure (Storage Spaces Direct/S2D)
  • Application platform (containers on Windows Server)

The Windows Server Summit, on June 26th, starts at 18:00 UTC +1 and goes on until +/- 22:00. If you attend live you’ll have the opportunity to engage in the Q&A. All sessions are recorded so you can watch them afterwards ass well. Grab the opportunity to stay relevant for your business and your customers. It’s free and registration is only need if you want to receive updates only. Come as you are when you want to.

ReFS Supported Deployment Scenarios Updated

Introduction

Some support statements for ReFS have been updated recently. These reflect well over a year of me, fellow MVPs and others testing and providing feedback to Microsoft. For all practical purposes I’m talking about ReFSv3, which was introduced with Windows Server 2016. Read up on this because that’s what I’m discussing here: Resilient File System (ReFS) overview

As many you know the ReFS supported storage deployment option has “fluctuated a bit. It was t limited ReFS to Storage Spaces and standalone disks only. That meant no RAID controllers, no FC or iSCSI LUNs via a SAN whether that was a high end one or and entry level one that you normally only use for backup purposes.

I was never really satisfied with the reasons why and I kept being a passionate advocate for a decent explanation as tying a files system with the capabilities and potential of ReFS to almost a single storage solution (S2D, and yes that’s a very good HCI offering) isn’t going to help proliferate the goodness of ReFS around the globe.

I was not alone and many others, amongst them fellow MVPs Anton Gostev (Senior Vice President, Product Management at Veaam and an industry heavy weight when it comes to credibility and technical skill), Cars ten Rachfahl and Jan Kappen (both at Rachfahl IT-Solutions) were arguing he case for broader ReFS support. Last week we go the news that the ReFS deployment documentation had been revised. Guest what? Progress! A big thank you to Andrew Hansen for taking the time to hear us plead or case, listen to our testing results and passionate feedback. He picked up the ball, ran with it and delivered! Let’s take a look.

ReFS Storage Deployment Options

Storage Spaces Direct

Deploying ReFS on Storage Spaces Direct is recommended for virtualized workloads or network-attached storage. This is well known and is used for a Hyper Converged Infrastructure and Converged (SOFS) solution (Hyper-V, IIS, SQL, User Profile Disks and even archival or backup targets). You can deploy it with simple, mirrored (2-way or 3-way), parity or Mirror accelerated parity volumes.

Storage Spaces

Storage Spaces supports local non-removable direct-attached via BusTypes SATA, SAS, NVME, or attached via HBA (aka RAID controller in pass-through mode). You can deploy it with simple, mirrored (2-way or 3-way) or parity volumes. Do note that this can be both non-shared as shared storage spaces (Shared SAS enclosures). This is the high available solution with storage spaces we have before Windows Server 2016 added S2D.

Basic disks

Deploying ReFS on basic disks is best suited for applications that implement their own software resiliency and availability solutions. Applications that introduce their own resiliency and availability software solutions can leverage integrity-streams, block-cloning, and the ability to scale and support large data sets. A poster child for this use case is and Exchange DAG.

Now it is important to note that basic disks with ReFS are supported with local non-removable direct-attached disks via BusTypes SATA, SAS, NVME, or RAID. So yes, you can have RAID 1, 5,6,10 and make the storage redundant. Now, be smart, ReFS is great but it is not magic. If your workload requires redundancy and high availability you should provide it. This is not different when you use NTFS. When you have shared PCI RAID controllers (which can be redundant like in a DELL VRTX) this can be uses as well to create high availability deployments with shared storage.

SAN Storage

You can also use ReFS with a SAN over FC or iSCSI, normally those are always configured with some form of storage redundancy. You can consume the ReFS SAN storage on stand alone, member or clustered serves for high availability. As long as you use that storage for supported use cases. For example, it is and remains not support to put knowledge worker data on SOFS shares, not matter what the underlying storage for ReFS or NTFS volumes is. For backups this can leveraged to build some very capable solutions.

What were the concerns that made ReFS Support so limited at a given point in time?

Well one of them was confusion and concerns around how data gets flushed and persisted with non-storage spaces and simple disks. A valid concern but one you have with any file system so any storage array or controller needs to handle this well. As it turns out any decent piece of storage hardware/controller that’s on the Microsoft Hardware Compatibility List and is certified does its job well enough to guarantee this happens correctly. So, any certified OEM SAN, both entry level ones to high end enterprise grade gear is supported. Just like any good (certified) raid controller. Those are backed with battery backed caches that can survive down time for days to many weeks. You just pick the one that fits your needs, use case and budget form the options you have. That can be S2D, a SAN, a raid controller, or even basic directly attached disks.

My take on things

Why do I like the new supported options? Well because I have been testing them for backup targets, both high available one as non- high available one. I can have the benefits of ReFS that can be leveraged by backup software (Veeam Backup & Replication 9.5 for example) and have better performance, data protection with more type of storage than S2D. I like to have options and choices when designing as solution.

It is important to note one thing when you do not use ReFS in combination with Storage Spaces (S2D, Shared storage Spaces or “stand alone” storage spaces) with any form of data redundancy (2-way or 3-way mirror, parity, mirror accelerate parity). You will not have the built-in capability to repair data corruption than can occur while data sits on disk (bit rot) by leveraging the redundant copies in storage Spaces. That only comes when ReFS is combined with redundant Storage Spaces. Not with Simple Storage Spaces or any other storage array, redundant or not. The combination of ReFS with Storage Spaces offers this capability and is one of its selling points.

Other than that, the above ReFS storage deployment options let you leverage the benefits ReFS has to offer and yes, for some use case that will be preferred over NTFS. But don’t think NTFS should now only be used for the OS and such. That’s not the case. It is and remains very much the dominant file system for Windows. It’s just that now we get to leverage the goodness of ReFS for suitable scenarios with a lot more storage deployment options. This has a reason. For example, if you are going to do Hyper-V with a SAN the supported file system is NTFS, not ReFS. Mind you ReFS works but it’s not supported. I have tested this and while it works one of the concerns is the redirect IO traffic this incurs. With S2D the network fabric to deal with this is there by design: SMB Direct (RDMA) over 10Gbps or better. With a SAN that’s not necessarily so and as a result the network leveraged by CSV traffic might take a beating. The network traffic behavioral patterns are also different with ReFS versus NTFS on SAN based CSV than what you are used to with NFTS when it comes to owner and non-owner nodes. While I can make things work I must consider the benefits versus the risk of being unsupported. On a good SAN with ODX support that’s not worth the risk. Might this ever change? Maybe, but for now that’s it.

That said, when I design my ReFS LUNs and fabric well with a SAN and use them for a supported uses case like backup targets I am supported and I get to leverage the benefits of ReFS as it fits the use case very well (DPM, Veeam).

A side note on mirror accelerated parity

Mirror accelerated parity is only supported with S2D. That’s the only thing that, in regards to backup an archive targets that I want to keep testing (see Hyper-V Amigos Showcast Episode 12 – ReFS and Backup )and asking Microsoft to support at least on non-shared Storage spaces. I know shared storage spaces is being depreciated, no worries. That would make for some great, budget, archival and backup targets due to the fact you get bit rot protection due to the combination ReFS with redundant Storage Spaces. I even have some ideas on how to add tuning capabilities to the mirror / parity movement of data based on data age etc. I can dream right ?

Conclusion

To all the naysayers, the ones that bashed me when I discussed options for and the potential for ReFSv3 outside of S2D, take note, this is where we are today.

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And I like it. I like the options ReFSv3 offers with variety of storage solutions to design and implement backup targets for many different needs and budgets. That’s what I like as I’m convinced that one size fits all solution are an illusion. Even at economies of scale and with commodity materials understanding the context in which to design and implement a solution matters, as it allows you to chose the proper methods for the given needs when you genuinely understand the challenge.

If you need help with this there are quite a number of highly skilled, experienced people with the right mindset to make help you maximize your ROI and TCO in an effective and efficient way. Many of these are MVPs and have their own business or work for IT firms where customers are not milked like cattle but really do provide high value services. Just reach out.

Storage Migration Service or MSFT adds WorkingHardInIT like skills in Windows Server 2019

As readers of my blog will know very well is that one of my track records is that I’m fairly successful in keeping technology debt low. One of the workloads I have always moved successfully over the years are file servers. Right now, almost all, almost everywhere, are the goodness of SMB3 and are high available clustered file server roles. You can read about some of those efforts in some of my blogs:

Sometimes this cans quite a challenge but over the years I have gained the experience and expertise to deal with such projects. Not everyone is in that position. This leads to aging file services, technology debt, security risks, missed opportunities (SMB3 people!) and often even unsupported situations in regards to hardware and software. While since the release of Windows Server 2016 this image has shifted a bit, you can clearly see the pretty depressing state of file services. Windows rules the on premises server world but the OS versions are aging fast.

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Image courtesy of SpiceWorks: Server Virtualization and OS Trends

The operating systems are ancient, old or aging and we all know what this means in regards to the SMB version in use.

Now I work hard, effective and efficiently but I cannot be everywhere. Luckily for you Microsoft has a great new capability coming up in Windows Server 2019, the Windows Server Storage Migration Service.

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Figure2: the WorkingHardInIT feature officially known as the Windows Server Storage Migration Service. Image courtesy of Microsoft.

Thanks to Ned Pyle and his team’s efforts you can no aspire to me as successful as me when it comes to migrating file services to newer environments. It’s like having WorkingHardInIT in a Windows feature. Isn’t that cool?! If they sold that separately they would make a pretty penny but they luckily for you include it with their new server OS version.

Storage Migration Servers deals with many of the usual problems and intricacies of a storage / file service migration. It will handle things like share settings, security settings, network addresses and names, local accounts, encrypted data, files that are in use etc. To handle you project you have a GUI and PowerShell automation at your disposal. Windows Server 2019 is still being perfected and you can still provide feedback while testing this feature.

Things to note for now (bar the requirements for testing as described in Ned Pyle’s blog) are:

Supported source operating systems VM or hardware (to migrate from):

  • Windows Server 2003
  • Windows Server 2008
  • Windows Server 2008 R2
  • Windows Server 2012
  • Windows Server 2012 R2
  • Windows Server 2016
  • Windows Server 2019 Preview

Supported destination operating system VM or hardware (to migrate to):

  • Windows Server 2019 Preview*

* Technically your destination for migration can be any Windows Server OS, but we aren’t testing that currently. And when we release the faster and more efficient target proxy system in a few weeks it will only run on Windows Server 2019.

In my humble opinion that almost has to be Storage Replica technology being leveraged. Something that has been proven to be very much more efficient that copying files. Microsoft already promotes Storage Replica to other server or itself as a way of moving data to a new LUN.

Anyway, this is a cool feature that should grab your attention. Thank you Ned Pyle and team! And while you’re busy putting this great capability into Windows Server 2019 (Standard and Datacenter) consider doing the same for full featured Storage Replica in Windows Server 2019 Standard .

Storage Replica Standard

Introduction

You probably have read by now that is  Storage Replica will be available on Windows Server 2019 Standard Edition. Until now with Windows Server 2016 and 2019 Previews it was a Datacenter Edition only feature. If you haven’t go read up on it over at

Announcing Windows Server 2019 Insider Preview Build 17639. This is good news and I’m very curious to see what use cases and solutions people will leverage this capability for.

Storage Replica on Standard Edition has 2 major limitations:

  • SR replicates a single volume (instead of an unlimited number of volumes).
  • Volumes can have one partnership (instead of an unlimited number of partners). Volumes can have a size of up to 2 TB (instead of an unlimited size).

My first use case

This is why I’m a bit disappointed right now as I had hoped it would help me with some data protection use cases. As part of my roles and expertise lies in building creative, cost effective data protection solutions adhering to at least the 3-2-1 rule in both on premises as well as in private, hybrid and public cloud setting or any combination of the above.

On of the challenges is getting backup data off site. One solution is to replicate the backups. This mostly doesn’t require synchronous replication as most of the time the bandwidth isn’t there or there is no need. Many cost effective storage solutions don’t have storage replication or it comes a significant license cost. The backup software often has this but it works a per definition less effective layer than Storage Replication.

Cost effective but effective backup targets don’t always need to be high available, that depends on the needs and you can cluster a backup target file server role with Windows Server standard edition.

So for my use case I would rather have seen asynchronous only in Windows Server 2019 Standard Edition but without the volume size and number limitation and be done with it.

This would give me off site data protection of my backups via storage Replica which is tremendously efficient.  It doesn’t rely on backup software or other solution operating at the file level and as such that are inherently less efficient.  But backups often mean more then one target volume and larger volume sizes than 2TB. The beauty of Storage Replica is that it’s completely storage agnostic solution and we can build the solution on top of whatever is at hand.

Some data protection use cases where the limits might not matter

With the current limits it might fit in with some SOHO/ ROBO scenario’s perhaps. When you have 10 branch offices with Standard Edition you could potentially replicate a volume to a central datacenter edition for safe keeping off site. But in those scenarios we’re also looking at Azure File Sync and offload the data protection to the cloud if/when possible.

Also remember that “pure” MPLS isn’t the only answer anymore to many connectivity challenges anymore but SDWAN/local Internet breakouts are eating part of their cake . MPLS costs versus VPN is also a reality which limits bandwidth (let’s face it, it’s a cost issue), perhaps further reducing desirability Storage Replica for this use case. SD-WAN could be helping address “old school” network cost optimization limitations for this use case by delivering more and better than VPN without the need for MPLS or express route etc. Just thinking out loud here. It’s a cloud first world, where servers still have a role to play, but for that they need to be flexible and allow for many possible permutations. It’s a missed opportunity I’d say. My opinion, but there is hope. Microsoft states the following on Storage Replica Standard

We will continue to listen to your feedback and evaluate these settings through our telemetry during Insider previews of Windows Server 2019. These limitations may change several times during the preview phase and at RTM.

So if my use case make enough sense to them they might change something still but we’ll  see. Anyway, my 5$ cents on the subject.