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Hour 6. Managing Hard Drives and Volumes

What You’ll Learn in This Hour:

Managing Disk Drives Using Windows Server 2008

An important aspect of configuring a server is setting up the hard drive or drives on the server so that the computer can successfully fulfill its role on the network. For example, a file server on the network needs appropriate storage capacity to provide data storage and access to users on the network. As the number of users on the network and the data on the server grow, it might be necessary to configure unused space on the drive or to add additional drives to the server.

Windows Server 2008 provides you with the Disk Management snap-in, which is used to configure and manage your drives. You can format drives and create drive volumes. You can also configure more advanced drive features such as Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) arrays by using the Disk Manager. RAID arrays can be used to add redundancy to network data storage, helping protect valuable network information and server configurations. Before you take a look at the Disk Management snap-in, a little background information related to how Windows Server 2008 manages drives from different vendors and how Microsoft approaches drive configurations is provided.

By the Way

Although server disk management is one aspect of protecting important network data, how data is shared and the level of access given to users are other important parts of your overall network resources plan. Working with network shares and permissions related to shared data discussed in Hour 12, “Working with Network Shares and the Distributed File System.” Share permissions and NTFS permissions are discussed in Hour 13, “Protecting Data with Permission and Encryption.” Hour 13 also looks at the new BitLocker Drive Encryption feature and how it relates to protecting data on your servers.

Windows Server 2008 Virtual Disk Service

As with all computer hardware, each component is available from different manufacturers. Hard drives and drive controllers are no different. Managing drives on different servers often has necessitated using a number of different utilities, with each utility specific to a particular drive array and its manufacturer.

In an attempt to provide a consistent approach to drive management, a new service has been added to Windows Server 2008 called the Virtual Disk Service (VDS). VDS is a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) that enable you to manage the configuration of different manufacturers’ hard disks while using the same Windows tools (the Windows Server 2008 Disk Management snap-in and the command-line DiskPart—DiskPart is discussed later in the hour).

By the Way

The burden of making disks manageable using the Windows disk tools is really on the manufacturer of the drives that you use in your servers. Each manufacturer must supply APIs to Microsoft to make the Virtual Disk Service a reality. There might be a time lag before all vendors’ drive configurations can be managed directly from Windows Server 2008.

Basic Drive Versus Dynamic Drives

Computers running Windows (even servers running Windows NT) have long embraced the MS-DOS model of disk configuration in which drives were partitioned and the various partitions were then formatted. Not until advances provided with the release of Windows 2000 Server were network administrators provided with an alternative way to divide, combine, and configure the storage capacity of hard drives.

Windows Server 2008 embraces two types of disk storage strategies (which originated with 2000 Server): basic storage and dynamic storage. These storage strategies are also available in Windows Server 2008.

Did you Know?

You can use only one storage type (basic or dynamic) on a physical disk.

Basic storage is the traditional standard for how hard drives are formatted and configured, and it is based on the way drives were configured with MS-DOS. A basic disk is a physical disk that contains a partition (Windows Server 2008 refers to a partition as a simple volume). A partition is a logical portion of a hard drive that is actually read by the computer’s operating system as a separate drive. Basic storage is the default for Windows Server 2008. Basic disks can be divided into a maximum of four partitions.

Dynamic storage allows for the creation of dynamic disks. A dynamic disk consists of one partition that can be divided into any number of volumes. A volume is a portion of an entire drive or parts of several drives that are assigned a single drive letter. Dynamic disks can be sized and resized without requiring a restart of Windows Server 2008.

Did you Know?

You can shrink and extend dynamic disks as needed. Technically, you can also shrink and extend basic disks; however, the basic disk is converted to a dynamic disk during the process of shrinking or extending it.

The use of dynamic disks allows for the creation of disk arrays that use RAID implementations. As mentioned earlier, the use of RAID allows for redundancy and fault tolerance on network drives, which helps to protect network data. Because basic drives are the default for Windows Server 2008, you must convert a drive or drives to dynamic. Converting a basic drive to a dynamic drive is discussed later in the hour.

GPT Drives Versus MBR Drives

Windows Server 2008 also provides you with the option of deploying GPT drives on your Windows 2008 servers. A GPT (GUID Partition Table) disk uses the GUID partition table (obviously) as opposed to the older Master Boot Record (MBR) partition table.

By the Way

GUID is an implementation of the Universally Unique Identifier (UUID) standard, which replaces the Master Boot Record (MBR) partitioning scheme on hard drives. Using GUID, drives can have up to 128 primary partitions and can also support volume sizes in excess of 2TB. The MBR standard provides for only four primary partitions and volumes cannot exceed 2TB. So, bottom line, GPT is an excellent option for very large disks that will be used for data storage and access. Be advised that GPT drives are not backward compatible with previous versions of the Windows server operating system.

GPT disks can enable you to create more partitions on a drive (up to 128) and also create very large drive volumes (greater than 2TB). When you initialize a new drive in the Disk Management snap-in you have the option of initializing the drive as an MBR or GPT disk (see Figure 6.1).

Figure 6.1. You can initialize new disks as MBR or GPT.

You can also convert raw MBR drives or empty MBR drives to GPT drives (right-click an MBR drive in the Disk Management window) and vice versa: Raw or empty GPT drives can be converted to the MBR format. Keep in mind that bootable drives containing system files cannot be initialized as GPT drives.

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