Windows Server 2012 64TB NTFS Volumes and the Flush Command

As you might very well have read or even tried you can use 64TB volumes in Windows Server 2012 in a supported scenario. You can do more, NTFS is quite capable of this. I created a 300TB LUN once that I could format up to 256TB Smile But as no one can realistically stress test this for real, it’s not supported.

That’s a lot of storage and data. It’s also expensive and incurs some risk … all that data on one volume. Windows 2012 tries to address the cost issue with commodity storage in combination with the excellent resilience of storage space to reduce both cost and risk.

Apart from introducing ReFS they also did some work on NFTS to help with reliability:

  • A new approach for detecting and repairing corruptions in NTFS which optimizes uptime through on line repair and with spot fixing that keeps off line repairs minimized and very short.
  • Using the flush command instead of FUA.

In this post this we’ll focus on the flush command.

Flushing Your Data

No, not that kind of flushing Smile You have always been able to “throw” data away with some very bad practices and unreliable technology, no need for much innovation there.

I’m talking about the fact that NTFS in Windows Server 2012 has switched to the flush command instead of relying on Forced Unit Access (FUA) to increase reliability for SATA disk and performance with SCSI disks. The good news is you don’t lose anything and gain on both fronts. Especially making cheaper SATA disks more reliable is a big one. It allows SATA disks to be used in business/enterprise scenarios and as such helps reduce costs.

What is Forced Unit Access (FUA)?

Well it’s a flag that indicates a given write should go directly to media, writing through a devices write cache. The NTFS Journaling File System uses FUA to guarantee write ordering which is important to maintain its metadata integrity. It was  implemented in the SCSI (T10) specification but not in the original  ATA (T13) specification. This was added in the 2002 version of the ATA specs but FUA has never been guaranteed to implemented on all ATA devices and as such Windows could not rely on it being there with ATA/SATA disks. As a result it was never used by Windows with SATA disks.

That meant that with SATA disks there is a bigger change of corruption due to a power failure or the likes as NTFS was designed to rely on FUA implementation for robust metadata writes.With ever increasing capacity needs an larger SATA disk being needed and used for business purposes something had to be done. So with Windows Server 2012 (and Windows 8) NTFS switched to using a  flush command to the drives write cache instead of using FUA.

The Benefits

  1. The switch to using the flush command for all operations that require write ordering to ensure file system metadata integrity realizes better reliability and robustness when using commodity SATA storage as it reduces possibility of corruption due to power loss
  2. It Improves performance on SCSI devices because it allows the disk to cache data for as long as safely possible instead of having to do write-through using FUA