Windows 2016 Storage Spaces Direct

Storage Spaces Direct for Windows Server 2016 is a software defined storage solution providing pooled storage resources across industry standard servers with attached local drives. Storage Spaces Direct (S2D) is able to provide scalability, built-in fault tolerance, resource efficiency, high performance, simplified management, and cost savings.

Storage Spaces Direct is a feature included at no extra cost with Datacentre editions of Windows Server 2016. S2D can be deployed across Windows clusters comprising of between 2 and 16 physical servers, with over 400 drives, using the Software Storage Bus to establishe a software-defined storage fabric spanning the cluster. Existing clusters can be scaled out by simply adding more drives, or more servers to the cluster. Storage Spaces Direct will automatically detect additional resources and absorb these drives into the pool; redistributing existing volumes. Resiliency is provided across not only drives, components, and servers; but can also be configured for chasis, rack, and site fault tolerance by creating fault domains to which the data spread will comply. The video below provided by Microsoft goes into more detail about fault domains and how they provide resiliency.

Furthermore volumes can be configured to use mirror resiliency or parity resiliency to protect data. Using mirror resiliency provides resiliency to drive and server failures by storing a default of 3 copies across different drives in different servers. This is a simple deployment with minimal CPU overhead but a relatively inefficient use of storage. Alternatively we can use parity resiliency, where parity symbols are spread across a larger set of data symbols to provide both drive and server resiliency, but also a more efficient use of storage resources (requires 4 physical servers). You can learn more about both these methods at the Volume Resiliency blog by Microsoft.

The main use case for Storage Spaces Direct is a private cloud (either on or off-premises) using one of two deployment models. Hyper-Converged where compute and storage reside on the same servers, in this use case virtual machines would sit directly on top of the volumes provided by S2D. Using a Private Cloud Storage or Converged deployment method S2D is disaggregated from the hypervisor, providing a separate storage cluster for larger-scale deployments such as Iaas (Infrastructure as a Service). A SoFS (Scale-out File Server) is built on S2D to provide network-attached storage over SMB3 file shares.

Storage Spaces Direct is configured using a number of PowerShell cmdlets, and utilises Failover Clustering and Cluster Shared Volumes. For instructions on enabling and configuring S2D see Configuring Storage Spaces Direct – Step by Step, Robert Keith, Argon Systems. The requirements are as follows:

  • Windows Server 2016 Datacentre Edition.
  • Minimum of 2 servers, maximum of 16, with local-attached SATA, SAS, or NVMe drives.
  • Each server must have at least 2 solid-state drives plus at least 4 additional drives, the read/write cache uses the fastest media present by default.
  • The SATA and SAS devices should be behind a HBA and SAS expander.
  • Storage Spaces Direct uses SMB3, including SMB Direct and SMB Multichannel, over Ethernet to communicate between servers. 10 GbE or above is recommended for optimum performance.
  • All hardware must support SMB (Server Message Block) and RDMA (Remote Direct Memory Access).

s2ddeployments

Windows 2016 Containers

Containers are portable operating environments which typically utilise the same kernel whilst isolating applications. Software developers use containers to build, ship, and run applications. To the application the container gives the illusion of a totally isolated and independent operating system, in much the same way that a virtual machine doesn’t know it shares compute with other virtual machines; applications within containers are unaware they share a base operating system with other containers.

Using namespace isolation the host projects a virtualised namespace containing all the resources that an application can interact with, such as files, network ports, and running processes. Namespace isolation is extremely efficient since many of the underlying OS files, directories and running services are shared between containers. If and when an application makes changes to these resources then those changes are written to a distinct copy of that file or service using copy-on-write.

Containers house everything an application needs to run, and that gives it greater portability; allowing for exact copies between development and production environments. By using containers software developers and IT professionals can also benefit from improved efficiency in use of existing infrastructure, standardised environments, and simplified administration. This is evident from the Microsoft images below.

Deploying applications using traditional virtual machines:

containers2

Deploying applications using containers:

containers1

The user of containers isn’t new technology, it has been around for years in Linux before the toolset was properly utilised by Docker. Docker is a container technology which automates and simplifies the creation and deployment of containers to build, ship, and run distributed applications from any environment. Docker have partnered with Microsoft to develop a Docker engine for Windows 2016 and Windows 10, enabling users to take advantage of container functionality with Windows.

Windows containers run in two different formats; Windows Server containers which isolate applications using namespace isolation technology, and Hyper-V Containers which run containers inside optimised virtual machines.

Hyper-V containers have identical functionality to their Windows counterparts, the only difference is the isolation of the kernel. Whereas Windows containers share the same kernel with other containers and the host, Hyper-V containers provide kernel level isolation by provisioning individually optimised virtual machines for each container. A use case for such isolation could be a secure environment such as PCI compliance. Hyper-V containers need nested virtualisation to be enabled and this is currently only compatible with Intel processors.

Windows containers require installation of the Containers feature, and installation of the Docker engine. Once these two components are installed you can go ahead and begin building Windows server containers.

containers

Microsoft Azure are offering a free trial with £125 credit, to deploy a Windows 2016 virtual machine and try containers out for yourself see Azure Virtual Machine Deployment.

See also VMware Container Projects.