Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2008 R2 : Performing postinstallation tasks (part 3) - Configuring disk drives - Basic disks versus dynamic disks, Dynamic disk volumes

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4. Configuring disk drives

As a Windows administrator, it is important that you understand how to manage and configure disk drives. You can initially set up disk drives and partitions during the installation of the OS; however, you may want to add disk drives or provide more advanced disk functionality after installation. We will now take a look at different disk configuration and management features in Windows Server 2008 R2. After the OS is installed, disk drives can be managed via the command prompt using the diskpart utility or the GUI Disk Management MMC found in Server Manager. You can access Disk Management by opening Server Manager, by expanding the Storage node, and by selecting the Disk Management node.

Basic disks versus dynamic disks

Windows Server 2008 R2 disk drives can be set up as Basic Disks, the default, or Dynamic Disks which provide more advanced features, such as the ability to create a RAID set for increased performance and fault tolerance. If you want to perform software-based RAID, opposed to hardware-based RAID, you will need to change the disks that will be part of the RAID array to Dynamic. You can convert a basic disk to dynamic by right clicking on the disk in Disk Management and then choosing the option Convert to Dynamic Disk… as seen in Figure 3.

Notes from the field

Hardware RAID and disk drives

Most server hardware vendors recommend that disk drives be set up as basic disks when using hardware-based RAID configurations. Refer to your server hardware documentation prior to changing disk drives to dynamic.


Figure 3 Convert Disk Drive to Dynamic.

Dynamic disk volumes

Once disks are converted to dynamic, they can be configured to support the following types of volumes:

  • Simple Volume: A simple volume is the same as a single partition when using basic disks. A simple volume does not provide redundancy.

  • Spanned Volume: A spanned volume is one that can span multiple physical disk drives that logically appear to the OS as a single drive.

  • Striped Volume: A striped volume provides software RAID level 0 functionality. RAID level 0 does not provide redundancy in the event of disk failure but does enhance the performance of multiple disks via striping data across two or more disk drives.

    Notes from the field

    Disk striping

    Disk striping is a technology that has been around for years now. It allows data to be “striped” across multiple disks to enhance disk performance. Instead of one disk read/write head being used to write data, multiple heads from multiple disk drives can be used to write data, thus increasing the performance. Typically, the more disks added to the stripe set, the faster the performance.

  • Mirrored Volume—A mirrored volume provides software RAID level 1 functionality. Two disk drives are set up as a mirror set, and data that is written to the primary drive is also written to the secondary drive. In the event that the primary disk drive fails, the second disk drive contains the “second copy” of the data and can become the new primary disk drive in the RAID configuration. This technology ensures data fault tolerance and redundancy, but you lose the performance enhancements gained by disk striping.

  • RAID-5 Volume—A RAID-5 volume provides software-based disk striping with fault tolerance. A RAID-5 volume contains three or more physical disks to create one logical disk drive as seen in Figure 4. A RAID-5 volume gives you the performance benefits of a stripped set as seen in striped volumes, while providing disk fault tolerance as seen in mirrored volumes. In RAID-5 volumes, any single disk can fail in the array without any loss of data.


    Figure 4 RAID-5 Volume.

Notes from the field

Disk hot spares

Some servers provide the ability to add a “hot spare” disk drive. Hot spares provide additional redundancy by providing a standby drive dedicated to replacing a failed drive in a disk array. Traditionally, if a disk drive failed in a disk mirror or RAID-5 array, the administrator would need to immediately replace the failed drive, as failure of a second drive would result in loss of data on the disk array. By using a hot spare, the server will automatically add the standby “spare” drive to the mirror or RAID array and start rebuilding that array.

Best practices

Backups and disk fault tolerance

Disk drive fault tolerance technologies, such as mirroring and RAID-5, should never be used to replace traditional backups. These technologies are great to ensure that you do not always have to restore data in the event of a single disk failure; however, they do not protect you from multiple disk failures or total server failure. Good backups are always a must whether disk fault tolerance technologies are used or not.

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