The Pros and Cons of Storage Spaces

Storage Spaces is a new capability that was introduced for the first time in Windows Server 2012 and will soon be available in all other Windows editions. Using Storage Spaces you can combine various storage devices in pools and then create different virtual disks – mirror, simple, or parity. In January 2012, Microsoft introduced Storage Spaces in a public beta version of Windows 8 that since then was available for anyone interested in trying it out. We being data recovery specialists were most interested in the component of data storage in Windows 8 – a new ReFS filesystem and a new Storage Spaces capability. In anticipation of the official release of Windows 8, we want to discuss the main advantages and disadvantages of Storage Spaces.

Pros

Flexibility

A new thin provisioning feature is implemented in Storage Spaces that allows creating a volume with the size larger than total capacity of all physical disks in the pool. In short, you can create a volume of, say, 30 TB having only 1 TB of physical free space. Further, as the free space runs out, Storage Spaces will just ask you to add more disks.

Adding disks to the pool is also extremely simple and flexible – you can mix and match directly connected and USB drives of different flavors and sizes.

Small rebuild time

Imagine that one of the disks dropped out of the pool due to some reason, for example USB cable got unplugged; in a short time you noted this and brought the disk back to the pool. As for the data, little has changed; however, a regular fault-tolerant dynamic disk would still require a full rebuild. Storage Spaces keeps a log of events and modifications so it will synchronize only the latest changes. Note that in case of failure of one of the disks, Storage Spaces will synchronize only areas with data while dynamic disk requires a full rebuild.

Better quality fault tolerance

Microsoft believes that the maximum performance will be achieved when Storage Spaces is used in conjunction with ReFS on a mirrored volume. Apart from a typical mirror, starting with five disks pool there is a possibility to create even a three-way mirror that was impossible in previous Windows versions. ReFS in turn is able to checksum user’s data stored on mirrored volumes thus providing even greater fault tolerance.

Cons

Low-quality hardware issue

On the one hand, Storage Spaces makes it easy to add disks to the pool; on the other hand, it will provoke people to bring all hardware they have including low-quality parts. This can be compared to the situation when laptops became available – surely they allowed people to work at any place; however, in a short time people faced a side effect – obligation to work anywhere.

Excessive faith in fault tolerance

Storage Spaces offers users better quality and user-friendly fault tolerance; however, a side effect of this is that people will tend to use less and less quality hardware until the reserve of fault tolerance is exhausted. For example you can create a mirror virtual disk on the Storage Spaces pool with one of the disks of dubious quality and still don’t lose the data. But if there is more than one suspect disk in the pool, the possibility to lose data is much greater.

Complexity of recovery

You should be aware that at the moment there is no software which is capable of recovering data in case Storage Spaces itself fails. So you should think twice before placing important data on Storage Spaces volumes without backup.

Low performance

Storage Spaces shows relatively low performance as compared to hardware controllers. Especially it concerns write operations on parity volumes since data blocks are located at the different offsets on the physical disks that requires additional disk head movements.

Lack of visibility of warning messages

If one of the disks in Storage Spaces pool has some problems, it is hard to see by the user. The only thing happening in this case is that the action center icon on the taskbar changes its color. Of course you can go to the Manage Storage Spaces panel and see the warning message there but agree that you do not open it every day.

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