SMB 3, ODX, Windows Server 2012 R2 & Windows 8.1 perform magic in file sharing for both corporate & branch offices

SMB 3 for Transparent Failover File Shares

SMB 3 gives us lots of goodies and one of them is Transparent Failover which allows us to make file shares continuously available on a cluster. I have talked about this before in Transparent Failover & Node Fault Tolerance With SMB 2.2 Tested (yes, that was with the developer preview bits after BUILD 2011, I was hooked fast and early) and here Continuously Available File Shares Don’t Support Short File Names – "The request is not supported" & “CA failure – Failed to set continuously available property on a new or existing file share as Resume Key filter is not started.”

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This is an awesome capability to have. This also made me decide to deploy Windows 8 and now 8.1 as the default client OS. The fact that maintenance (it the Resume Key filter that makes this possible) can now happen during day time and patches can be done via Cluster Aware Updating is such a win-win for everyone it’s a no brainer. Just do it. Even better, it’s continuous availability thanks to the Witness service!

When the node running the file share crashes, the clients will experience a somewhat long delay in responsiveness but after 10 seconds the continue where they left off when the role has resumed on the other node. Awesome! Learn more bout this here Continuously Available File Server: Under the Hood and SMB Transparent Failover – making file shares continuously available.

Windows Clients also benefits from ODX

But there is more it’s SMB 3 & ODX that brings us even more goodness. The offloading of read & write to the SAN saving CPU cycles and bandwidth. Especially in the case of branch offices this rocks. SMB 3 clients who copy data between files shares on Windows Server 2012 (R2) that has storage an a ODX capable SAN get the benefit that the transfer request is translated to ODX by the server who gets a token that represents the data. This token is used by Windows to do the copying and is delivered to the storage array who internally does all the heavy lifting and tell the client the job is done. No more reading data form disk, translating it into TCP/IP, moving it across the wire to reassemble them on the other side and write them to disk.

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To make ODX happen we need a decent SAN that supports this well. A DELL Compellent shines here. Next to that you can’t have any filter drives on the volumes that don’t support offloaded read and write. This means that we need to make sure that features like data deduplication support this but also that 3rd party vendors for anti-virus and backup don’t ruin the party.

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In the screenshot above you can see that Windows data deduplication supports ODX. And if you run antivirus on the host you have to make sure that the filter driver supports ODX. In our case McAfee Enterprise does. So we’re good. Do make sure to exclude the cluster related folders & subfolders from on access scans and schedules scans.

Do not run DFS Namespace servers on the cluster nodes. The DfsDriver does not support ODX!

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The solution is easy, run your DFS Namespaces servers separate from your cluster hosts, somewhere else. That’s not a show stopper.

The user experience

What it looks like to a user? Totally normal except for the speed at which the file copies happen.

Here’s me copying an ISO file from a file share on server A to a file share on server B from my Windows 8.1 workstation at the branch office in another city, 65 KM away from our data center and connected via a 200Mbps pipe (MPLS).

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On average we get about 300 MB/s or 2.4 Gbps, which “over” a 200Mbps WAN is a kind of magic. I assure you that they’re not complaining and get used to this quite (too) fast Winking smile.

The IT Pro experience

Leveraging SMB 3 and ODX means we avoid that people consume tons of bandwidth over the WAN and make copying large data sets a lot faster. On top of that the CPU cycles and bandwidth on the server are conserved for other needs as well. All this while we can failover the cluster nodes without our business users being impacted. Continuous to high availability, speed, less bandwidth & CPU cycles needed. What’s not to like?

Pretty cool huh! These improvements help out a lot and we’ve paid for them via software assurance so why not leverage them? Light up your IT infrastructure and make it shine.

What’s stopping you?

So what are your plans to leverage your software assurance benefits? What’s stopping you? When I asked that I got a couple of answers:

  • I don’t have money for new hardware. Well my SAN is also pré Windows 2012 (DELL Compellent SC40 controllers. I just chose based on my own research not on what VARs like to sell to get maximal kickbacks Winking smile. The servers I used are almost 4 years old but fully up to date DELL PowerEdge R710’s, recuperated from their duty as Hyper-V hosts. These server easily last us 6 years and over time we collected some spare servers for parts or replacement after the support expires. DELL doesn’t take away your access to firmware &drivers like some do and their servers aren’t artificially crippled in feature set.
  • Skills? Study, learn, test! I mean it, no excuse!
  • Bad support from ISV an OEMs for recent Windows versions are holding you back? Buy other brands, vote with your money and do not accept their excuses. You pay them to deliver.

As IT professionals we must and we can deliver. This is only possible as the result of sustained effort & planning. All the labs, testing, studying helps out when I’m designing and deploying solutions. As I take the entire stack into account in designs and we do our due diligence, I know it will work. The fact that being active in the community also helps me know early on what vendors & products have issues and makes that we can avoid the “marchitecture” solutions that don’t deliver when deployed. You can achieve this as well, you just have to make it happen. That’s not too expensive or time consuming, at least a lot less than being stuck after you spent your money.

Windows Server 2012 R2 Cluster Reset Recent Events With PowerShell

I blogged before about the fact that since Windows Server 2012  we have the ability to reset the recent events shown so that the state of the cluster is squeaky clean with not warnings or errors. You can read up on this here. Windows Server 2012 Cluster Reset Recent Events Feature.

You can also do this in PowerShell like in the example below:

As you may notice, the RecentEventsResetTime is displayed in UTC when read form the cluster after connecting to it. Right after you set it it displays the time respectful of the time zone you’re in right until you connect to the cluster again. We demonstrate this in the 2 screenshots below (I’m at GMT+1).

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This comes in handy when writing test, comparison & demo scripts. Often you do things with the network that causes network connectivity to be lost when the NIC gets reset (disabled/enabled) and such. Also when something fails as part of the demo or tests scripts it’s nice to start the rerun or the next part of the demo/test with a clean cluster GUI when you’re showcasing stuff. Unfortunately an already GUI doesn’t refresh these setting if the reset is not done in the GUI. So you need to open a new one. For scripting you don’t have this issue. EDIT: In Windows 2012 R2 you can use the $MyCluster.Update() to reflect the new value of RecentEventsResetTime in UTC without having to reconnect to the cluster. In Windows Server 2012 this Update method isn’t available but it seems to happen automatic.

Moving Clustered Virtual Machines to Windows Server 2012 with the Cluster Migration Wizard

As you might remember I did a blog post on transitioning from a Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V cluster to Windows Server 2012 (well I was using the beta at the time, not the RC yet):

  1. Part 1 Upgrading Hyper-V Cluster Nodes to Windows Server 2012 (Beta) – Part 1
  2. Part 2 Upgrading Hyper-V Cluster Nodes to Windows Server 2012 (Beta) – Part 2
  3. Part 3 Upgrading Hyper-V Cluster Nodes to Windows Server 2012 (Beta) – Part 3

Microsoft has now blogged about the process themselves and they use the migration wizard in Failover Cluster Manager to get the job done where I did this using the Import, “register only” functionality.

This is the first step by step that describes the official way. You can read about the process here:

How to Move Highly Available (Clustered) VMs to Windows Server 2012 with the Cluster Migration Wizard

Windows Server 2012 Cluster Reset Recent Events Feature

There are various small improvements in Windows Server 2012 Failover Clustering that make live a little easier. When playing in the lab one of the things I like to do is break stuff. You know, like pull out the power plug  of a host during a live migration or remove a network cable  for one or more of the networks, flip the power of the switch off and on again, crash the vmms.exe process and other really bad things …Smile Just getting a feel for what happens and how Windows 2012 & Hyper-V responds.

As you can imagine this fills up the cluster event logs real fast. It also informs you in that you’ve had issues in the past 24 hours. Those recent cluster events could not be cleared or set to “acknowledged” up to Windows 2008 R2 except by deleting the log files. Now this has to be done on all nodes and is something you should not do in production and is probably even prohibited. There are environments where this is indeed a “resume generating” action. But it’s annoying that you can leave a client with a healthy looking environment after you have fixed an issue.

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For the lab or environments where event log auditing is a no issue I used to run a little script that would clear the event logs of the lab cluster nodes not to be dealing with to much noise between tests or to leave a GUI that represents the healthy state of the cluster for the customer.

This has become a lot easier and better in Windows Server 2012 we now have a feature for this build in to the Failover Cluster Manager GUI. Just right click the cluster events and select “Reset Recent Events”.

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The good thing is this ignores the recent events before “now” but it does not clear the event log. You can configure the query to show older events again. This is nice during testing in the lab. Even in a production environment where this is a big no-no, you can’t do this you can now get rid of noise from previous issues,focus on the problem you working on or leave the scene with a clean state after fixing an issue without upsetting any auditors.

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