Microsoft reveals virtualised storage with Windows 8 – but is it too little too late?

By Derek du Preez
09 Jan 2012 View Comments
Preview of Windows 8 homescreen

Microsoft has revealed details of its next generation storage capabilities, dubbed Storage Spaces, which will be released with Windows 8.

A Microsoft blog details how Storage Spaces will improve on its Next Technology File System (NTFS), which was released pre-2000 and only allows storage on physical disks in isolation, making management more difficult.

Further reading

With NTFS, if additional physical disks are added to increase storage, you would need to format the storage space as a drive and potentially move files across from other drives that were reaching capacity.

Through virtualisation, Storage Spaces now pools these physical disks, which can be different sizes and can be accessible via different interconnects, into a new ‘logical space' that is larger in size.

This 'logical space' allows users to add physical drives as and when needed, without having to purchase all the physical assets up front.

This is an attempt to save the management hassles of formatting drives and assigning files when new physical disk space is needed.

For example, a system may have only two 2TB physical disks, but once virtualised have a logical space of 10TB, which is the system's storage potential in the long term.

Although this reduces management complexity, it does not mean companies will be able to store 10TB of data onto 4TB of physical disk, explains Mike Thompson, analyst at Ovum.

"Storage Spaces allows you to assign 10TB of logical space to 4TB of physical space. When you get to 3.9TB on the hard disk, all you have to do is plug in another 2TB disk – you don't need to do anything else," said Thompson.

"You don't need to assign it a drive letter or move files around – it is automatically managed in the logical space, which means easier management of your physical storage," he added.

Thompson argues that this is useful as it allows you to create a virtual disk of whatever size you want, without needing to worry about managing the physical disks, but he also believes this is a long time coming from Microsoft.

"This technology is hardly wonderful and has been around since about 2008. This isn't new and, to be honest, Microsoft has been promising us a new file system since 2000," he said.

Microsoft also describes the use of "mirrored resiliency", which means that duplicates of the data stored in the logical space will be shared across the numerous physical disks, creating a backup if one of the physical disks fails.

However, Thompson argues that companies are already using this technology in their datacentres, and he is unsure whether or not enterprises will replace their current virtualisation tools for tools provided by Microsoft.

"Mirroring is just a back-up routine and has been around for a long time. It's a standard database administration trick and the technology isn't new," he said.

"Whether or not enterprises will use Storage Spaces in the datacentre is arguable, as companies are already doing these things with other tools," he added.

"Microsoft might make it easier with a wizard to help you do it, but if you are running a datacentre and you can't write the scripts for this sort of thing, then you shouldn't be running the datacentre."

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