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Storing in Storage Spaces

For people who want to make sure that they never suffer a data loss - in spite of dying hard drives or backup routines that don't run properly - the Windows Storage Spaces feature may, in and of itself, justify buying, installing, and using Windows 10.

If you're using Drobo, ReadyNAS, or some other, expensive, network-attached storage device for file mirroring, you can toss your old hardware. Windows 10 handles it all as part of the operating system itself.

Some people prefer to back up to the cloud, but even if you do stick backups on the Internet, you'll feel a whole lot better knowing that the data you have here on earth is not going to disappear if a hard drive spins its last. On the other hand, if all your data is in the cloud, all the time, you don't need to worry about local drives failing, and you can give this tutorial a pass.

Windows 10 approach to drive virtualization and how it enables Storage Space to work. Then you walk through setting up Storage Spaces and the tips and tricks you need to know to make Storages Spaces work for you. Using Storage Spaces for backup is quick and easy, and it works.

Understanding the Virtualization of Storage

You're going to get sick of the term virtualization sooner or later. People who want to sell you stuff use the term all the time. But if you'll pinch your nose and wade through the offal, there's a solid core of real-world good stuff in this particular kind of virtualization technology.

Windows Storage Spaces takes care of disk management behind the scenes so you don't have to. You'll never even know (or care) which hard drive on your computer holds what folders or which files go where. Volumes and folders get extended as needed, and you don't have to lift a finger.

You don't have to worry about your D: drive running out of space because you don't have a D: drive. Or an E: drive. Windows just grabs all the hard drive real estate you give it and hands out pieces of the hard drive as they're required.

As long as you have two or more physical hard drives of sufficient capacity, any data you store in a Storage Spaces pool is automatically mirrored between two or more independent hard drives. If one of the hard drives dies, you can still work with the ones that are alive, and you never miss a beat - not one bit is out of place. Run out and buy a new drive, stick it in the computer, tell Windows that it can accept the new drive into the Storage Spaces borg, wait an hour or two while Windows performs its magic, and all your data is back to normal.

When your computer starts running out of disk space, Windows tells you. Install another drive - internal, external, USB, eSATA, whatever - and, with your permission, it's absorbed into the pool. More space becomes available, and you don't need to care about any of the details - no new drive letters, no partitions, no massive copying or moving files from one drive to another, no homebrew backup hacks. For those accustomed to Windows' whining and whining, the Storage Spaces approach to disk management feels like a breath of fresh air.

When you add a new hard drive to the Storage Spaces pool, everything that was on that new hard drive gets obliterated. You don't have any choice. No data on the drive survives - it's all wiped out. That's the price the drive pays for being absorbed into the Storage Spaces borg.

Here's a high-level overview of how you set up Storage Spaces with data mirroring:

  1. Tell Windows that it can use two or more drives as a storage pool.
    Your C: drive - the drive that contains Windows - cannot be part of the pool.
    The best configuration for Storage Spaces: Get a fast solid-state drive for your system files, and make that the C: drive. Then get two or more big, hunking drives for storing all your data. The big drives can be slow, but you'll hardly notice. You can use a mixture of spinning disks and solid-state disks, if you like.
  2. After you set up a pool of physical hard drives, you can create one or more Spaces.
    In practice, most home and small business users will want only one Space. But you can create more, if you like.
  3. Establish a maximum size for each Space, and choose a mirroring technology, if you want the data mirrored.
    The maximum size can be much bigger than the total amount of space available on all your hard drives. That's one of the advantages of virtualization: If you run out of physical hard drive space, instead of turning belly up and croaking, Windows just asks you to feed it another drive.
  4. If a drive dies, you keep going and put in a new drive when you can. If you want to replace a drive with a bigger (or more reliable) one, you tell Windows to get rid of (or dismount) the old drive, wait an hour or so, turn off the PC, yank the drive, stick in a new one, and away you go.
If you've ever heard of RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Discs) technology, you may think that Storage Spaces sounds familiar. The concepts are similar in some respects, but Storage Spaces doesn't use RAID at all. Instead of relying on specialized hardware and fancy controllers - both hallmarks of a RAID installation - all of Storage Spaces is built in to Windows itself, and Storage Spaces can use any kind of hard drive - internal, external, IDE, SATA, USB, eSATA, you name it - in any size, mix or match. No need for any special hardware or software.

Setting Up Storage Spaces

Even though you can set up Storage Spaces with just two hard drives - your C: system drive, plus one data drive - you don't get much benefit out of it until you move up to three drives. So in this section, I assume that you have your C: drive, plus two more hard drives - internal, external, eternal, infernal, whatever - hooked up to your PC. I further assume that those two hard drives have absolutely nothing on them that you want to keep. Because they will get blasted. Guaranteed.

Here's how:

  1. Hook up your drives, log in to Windows using an administrator account and then go into File Explorer and verify that Windows has identified three drives.
  2. Bring up the Control Panel (right-click the lower-left corner of the screen and choose Control Panel); tap or click System and Security, and then tap or click Storage Spaces.
    Or go type storage spaces in the Cortana search box.
    If you choose either Storage Spaces or Manage Storage Spaces, you see the Storage Spaces dialog box.
  3. Tap or click the Create a New Pool and Storage Space link.
    You have to create a storage pool first - that is, assign physical hard drives to Windows available pool of hard drives. Windows offers to create a storage pool.
  4. Select the check boxes next to the drives that you want to include in the storage pool. Note that if you accidentally select a drive that contains useful data, your data's going to disappear.
  5. Tap or click Create Pool.
    Windows whizzes and wheezes and whirs for a while, and displays the Create a Storage Space dialog box.
  6. Give your Storage Space a name and a drive letter.
    You use the name and the letter in the same way that you now use a drive letter and drive name - even though the Storage Space spans two or more hard drives. You can format the Storage Space drive, copy data to or from the drive, and even partition the drive, even though there's no real, physical drive involved.
  7. Choose a resiliency.
    For a discussion of your four choices - no mirroring, two-way, three-way, and parity - see the sidebar "Mirroring technologies in Storage Spaces" earlier in this tutorial.
  8. Set a logical size for the Storage Space.
    As mentioned, the logical size of the Storage Space can greatly exceed the available hard drive space. There's no downside to having a very large logical size, other than a bit of overhead in some internal tables. Shoot for the moon. In this case, I turned less than 1 terabyte of actual, physical storage into a 32TB virtual monstrosity.
  9. Tap or click Create Storage Space.
    Windows whirs and sets up a freshly formatted Storage Space.
  10. Go back out to File Explorer, and verify that you have a new drive, which is, in fact, an enormously humongous Storage Space.

Working with Storage Spaces

First, realize that to the outside world, your Storage Spaces looks just like any other hard drive. You can use the drive letter the same way you'd use any drive letter. The folders inside work like any other folders; you can add them to libraries or share them on your network. You can back it up. If you have a cranky old program that requires a simple drive letter, the Storage Spaces won't do anything to spoil the illusion.

That said, Storage Space drives can't be defragmented or run through the Check Disk utility.

Here's the grand tour of the inner workings of your Storage Spaces:

  1. Bring up the Control Panel (right-click the lower-left corner of the desktop screen and choose Control Panel); tap or click System and Security, and then tap or click Storage Spaces.
    Or go to the Metro Start screen, type storage spaces, and look under Settings.
    If you choose either Storage Spaces or Manage Storage Spaces, the Storage Spaces dialog box appears, this time with a Storage Space.
  2. At the bottom, tap or click the down arrow next to Physical Drives.
    The full Storage Spaces status report appears.

The Storage Spaces report tells you how much real, physical hard drive space you're using; what the Storage Space looks like to your Windows programs; and how your physical hard drives have been carved up to support all that glorious, unfettered space.

It's quite a testament to the Storage Space designers that all this works so well - and invisibly to the rest of Windows. This is the way storage should've been implemented years ago.

Storage Space Strategies

You can save yourself some headache by following a few simple tricks:

  • Use your fastest hard drive as your C: drive. (If you have a solid-state drive, use it for C:!) Don't tie it into a Storage Space.
  • If a hard drive starts acting up - you see an error report, in any of a dozen different places - pro-actively remove it from the Storage Space. See the Take Offline option. Replace it at your earliest convenience.
  • Remember, in a three-drive installation, where two drives are in the Storage Space, the two-way mirror option limits you to the amount of room available on the smallest Storage Space drive.
  • When you need to add more drives, don't take out the other drives. The more drives in Storage Space, the greater your flexibility.

More: Windows 10 Tutorials