After listening to the many discussions and seeing several demonstrations about Windows Server 2012 Essentials (“S2012E”) at the 2nd Annual Home Server Show Meet-Up I decided it was time to get more serious by testing S2012E in a live environment with live data in a HP N40L ProLiant Microserver (“MicroServer”).
HP N40L ProLiant MicroServer
- Parts List of MicroServer
- Installation of the OS
- Server Folder Warning
- Two Mirrored Pairs set up in Computer Management
- 1 Mirror via Computer Management and 1 Mirror via Storage Spaces
- 1 Mirror via Computer Management and 1 Parity Pool via Storage Spaces
- 1 Mirror via Computer Management and 1 2-way Mirror (w/3 drives) in Storage Spaces
- Setting up Server Backup for Critical Data and Bare Metal Restore
- 1 2-way Mirror (w/5 drives) in Storage Spaces
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HP N40L ProLiant MicroServer
I began with the HP N40L ProLiant MicroServer with a Icy Dock DuoSwap MB971SP-B that I had originally described in The Icy Dock 5.25” Hot Swap Drive Caddy for a 2.5” and a 3.5” SATA Drive – DuoSwap MB971SP-B (“DuoSwap”).
Parts List of MicroServer
· 16GB RAM – G.Skill F3-1333C9D-16GAO – 16GB of RAM wasn’t necessary for this build with S2012E but this is what I had in the MicroServer that is my “play box”. For a Production environment I would suggest looking at the Kingston 8GB KVR1333D3E9SK2/8G
· 18” SATA Cable
· OS Drive: Crucial M4 128GB SSD
· Data Drives: 5*ST3000DM001 – These drives were in various configurations but ultimately I’ve settled on the 5 drives in Storage Spaces 2-way mirror.
· Backup Drive: STBV3000100
· Host OS: Server 2012 Essentials
Installation of the OS
Because S2012E only occupied about 18.4GB of the OS drive I assumed it would be possible to install S2012E on a 60GB OS Drive as I had done with WHS-2011 in Installing Windows Home Server 2011 on a SSD in a HP MicroServer N40L. The effort failed and the install became stuck on the following screen:
Hitting restart just took me through a reboot and back to the screen above. No doubt there is a workaround but IMHO I think I'm better off just going with a SSD or spindle drive bigger than 90GB and not have to mess with it.
I switched to a Crucial M4 128GB SSD for my OS drive for S2012E and the install went without a hitch.
During all of my installs I would choose a Custom Install of S2012E and would remove all of the partitions from the target OS drive before selecting that drive for a clean installation of the S2012E OS.
Performance of the Crucial M4 128GB SSD that is my OS drive for S2012E. The Crucial M4 is a SATA III drive so the Read performance would be substantially higher if attached to a SATA III Port. All of the SATA Ports in the MicroServer are SATA II Ports which limits the top performance of SSD drives.
Server Folder Warning
I installed S2012E while only the Crucial SSD was in the MicroServer. This prompted a warning from S2012E that my server folders were on my OS drive – This is something I would have to address once I had decided on how to configure my Hard Drive storage.
I found that moving the Server folders is a very easy process via the Server DashBoard once I had decided where to move them.
Two Mirrored Pairs set up in Computer Management
My first idea was to configure two mirrored pairs (two RAID1 drive pairs). The first mirror pair would be for my critical data that would also be backed up to an external USB 3.0 drive while the 2nd mirror pair would hold less critical data. Both of these mirrored pairs were configured through Computer Management in the S2012E software.
The 2nd Mirror is slower, as I expected, because I have one ST3000DM001 that is slower than all the others and by using that ST3000DM001 in this Mirror impacted the performance, as I expected. I considered Mirror2 to be the baseline for what I did next which was to break the Mirror and create a 2-way Storage Spaces with the 2 ST3000DM001’s.
1 Mirror via Computer Management and 1 Mirror via Storage Spaces
My next idea was to configure two mirrored pairs like before but this time the first mirror would be configured through Computer Management in the S2012E software while the 2nd mirror pair would be set up through Storage Spaces 2-way Mirror. The first mirror pair would again be for my critical data that would also be backed up to an external USB 3.0 drive while the 2nd mirror pair would hold less critical data.
The performance with the Storage Spaces 2-way Mirror is comparable if not slightly better than the earlier Mirror2.
1 Mirror via Computer Management and 1 Parity Pool via Storage Spaces
My next idea was to keep the 1st Mirror configured through Computer Management in the S2012E software while setting up my next Volume as a Parity Pool in Storage Spaces with the 2 drives that had been in the 2nd Mirror plus a 3rd drive I would add to the MicroServer. The mirror pair would again be for my critical data that would also be backed up to an external USB 3.0 drive while the Parity Pool would hold less critical data.
I added an additional ST3000DM001 to Port 5 that was the 3.5” drive bay in the DuoSwap.
Above is the performance of that single drive added in the DuoSwap Port 5 of the MicroServer.
I deleted the 2-way Mirror I had created in Storage Spaces and using Storage Spaces I built a Parity Pool with the 2 ST3000DM001’s that had been Mirror2 and the ST3000DM001 in the 3.5” DuoSwap.
The performance of the Parity Pool in Storage Spaces was dismal in write performance though in all fairness to MicroSoft their documentation had stated Parity Pool/Parity Spaces are designed for capacity efficiency and increased resiliency. Parity spaces are best suited for archival data and streaming media, such as music and videos. Parity Pool/Parity Spaces Read Performance does support Microsofts statement in their documentation.
1 Mirror via Computer Management and 1 2-way Mirror (w/3 drives) in Storage Spaces
My next idea was to keep the 1st Mirror configured through Computer Management in the S2012E software while setting up my next Volume as a 2-way Mirror in Storage Spaces with the 3 drives that had been the Parity Pool above. The mirror pair would again be for my critical data that would also be backed up to an external USB 3.0 drive while the 2-Way Mirror in Storage Spaces would hold less critical data.
I deleted the Parity Pool and used the 3 ST3000DM001’s to create a 2-way Mirror in Storage Spaces.
The performance of the 3 ST3000DM001’s in a Storage Spaces 2-way Pool was substantially better than a Parity Pool. Note that this compares well with the baseline Mirror2 created in Computer Management.
It is interesting to compare this performance to what I achieved with StableBit’s DrivePool with three 3TB drives in WHS-2011 (below):
StableBit DrivePool Performance in WHS-2011
Setting up Server Backup for Critical Data and Bare Metal Restore
At this point I move the Server Folders that would hold critical Data to Drive D and the less critical Data folders to Drive E. In my current plan: while Folders on D: and E: are both duplicated only the folders on D: would be backed up to an external drive for off site storage.
After attaching the USB Seagate external drive it was pretty simple to step through the Server Backup menu and pick off those items I wanted backed up to an external drive for off site storage.
1 2-way Mirror (w/5 drives) in Storage Spaces
While the last configuration above felt safe it was also wasteful. My critical data would probably never amount to more than a few hundred GB even with some expected growth in the future with pictures and videos of my grandson and family. Yet, I was allocating 2 3TB drives in a Mirror that was also being backed up to this critical data. After all, this was also a test build with data that was a duplicate of what was on my WHS-2011 Server that was also backed up on my V1 Server. To fully test the capabilities of S2012E I decided I should go all-in with Storage Spaces and break the 1st Mirror I had created in Computer Management and move those 2 3TB drives to the 2-Way Mirror in Storage Spaces. I also chose to do this after setting up the final configuration earlier that had included setting up the Server Backup Settings to only back-up Drives C: and D: but not E:
I moved all of my Server Folders on D: to E:. When you move Server Folders that are in the Back-up Pool the Wizard would prompt me to check the Back-up Pool settings to be sure the Server Folders I wanted were being backup up – which I did. Then I broke the 1st Mirror and going into Storage Spaces I added those 2 3TB drives to the existing Storage Spaces 2-way Mirror for a total of 5 3TB drives in the Storage Pool.
After that I renamed the Storage Pool from Drive E: to Drive D: -- this action caused the S2012E DashBoard to “loose” where the Server Folders were (still showing them on Drive E: even though they were on Drive D: and could be accessed through File Explorer). I rebooted S2012E and went back to the Dashboard where I had S2012E recreate the Server Folders that it had lost. S2012E recreated the Server Folders on Storage Spaces Drive D: and where it found the folders of the same name pre-existing it just merged them together. Went through the Server Backup settings and made sure that only the Server Folders I considered critical would be backed up like I had earlier planned.
Overall, I was pretty impressed how relatively easy it was to do what I wanted without messing up S2012E in the process. I was impressed with how very Robust this Server software package S2012E appears to be, IMHO.
My Storage Spaces 2-way Mirror with 5 3TB (ST3000DM001) drives.
A snapshot of Computer Management showing my Storage Spaces Pool as well as the Back-up Drive.
The following are Snapshots from Server Manager:
Performance (above) of a Storage Spaces 2-way Drive Pool with 5 ST3000DM001’s in the Pool.
After going down the DashBoard check list the next step is to begin connecting computers (both VMs and physical machines) and compare to my experiences in WHS 2011 and V1.
Note: When transferring my files to the S2012E build I experienced slower than anticipated file transfer rates that I was able to correct by following the instructions in Slow File Transfers Between Client and Server by Joem and Disable SMB signing on Windows 2012 Essentials by SBS-Diva.
Performance Comparison of baseline Mirror2 created in Computer Management to Storage Spaces Pools of 2-way Mirrors and Parity:
I believe the optimal configuration to continue testing S2012E in the MicroServer is with a Storage Spaces 2-way Mirror Pool made up of five 3TB drives plus the utilization of an external 3TB USB 3.0 drive for critical data backup.
The external USB 3.0 drives are labeled by S2012E and in a production environment the external drive(s) could be rotated with an off-site backup location. Additional data security could be provided with a “cloud storage” solution for critical data such as CrashPlan. With an available USB 3.0 port still open and an available PCIe slot still open additional external storage could be added to the Storage Spaces 2-way Mirror Pool if additional storage was needed.
Windows Server 2012 -- Unleashed -- See Chapter 28 “File System Management and Fault Tolerance”
Chapter 11 of Windows 8 Secrets has a discussion of Storage Spaces