Small and midsize businesses often can’t afford file servers, and struggle with the best way to provide their users with enough space to store data and keep it safe from hardware failure. Windows 8's new feature called Storage Spaces has three benefits: bringing the safety of RAID to the desktop, creating an expanding space to store files, and providing these features at lower cost than other hardware options.
How much disk space do you need, and how reliable is it? Storage Spaces addresses the problem that matter how much space you buy, odds are good that you’ll fill it. Disk space is cheap, and USB drives are easy. This generally results in an assortment of variously sized USB drives attached to your computer, requiring numerous drive letters you need to spread your data across. If you want disk space that's protected against hardware failure, mirroring two disks requires they be identically sized or else you lose the extra capacity of the larger disk. For a level-5 RAID, that strips data across more than two disks, and you lose the capacity of each disk larger than the smallest in the RAID.
1. Expandable Space
To avoid the hassle of having multiple drive letters to store your data on, StorageSpaces allows you to create a virtual drive that you can expand when needed. It behaves much like a virtualmachine, where you can create a disk that pretends to be 100GB in size, but initially may take up only 10GB of real space on your hard drive. As you add data to the virtual disk, the size of the real file grows as needed. Using thinprovisioning, which gives the appearance of more space than actually exists, Storage Spaces can do the same thing, allowing you to create a storage pool in which multiple Spaces can exist that use the space they need, as they need it. If the Space you created fills the maximum size you initially set, you can even reset it to a larger size, resulting in the equivalent of a bottomless disk.
2. Protected Space
Making a bunch of disks look like one is handy, but could be dangerous if one of them should fail. Storage Spaces incorporates RAID technology to provide protection, ensuring that at least one copy of all your data is available, even in the event of a hardware failure. Windows 8 isn’t the first to offer software RAID, as Windows 7, XP and even 2000 included this capability. The difference is that the older versions required a static, predefined assignment of disks, whereas Storage Spaces allows you to dynamically add disks of varying sizes to grow the storage pool while still retaining redundancy of your data.
3. Cheaper Space
What Storage Spaces offers isn’t new, Data Robotics provides a hardware RAID system called Drobo that offers the same benefits, and other vendors have similar offerings. Unfortunately, these can costs hundreds of dollars for the base device, require specific types of disks, and are limited in expandability to the number of slots in the device. Windows 8 Storage Spaces requires no extra hardware--you connect any internal or external disks that you have, and it uses them. This gives a business the flexibility to add space as needed, with an ever-expanding virtual disk that's protected from hardware failure, keeping its data safe.
Joseph Fieber has 25 years experience as an IT pro, with a background in computer consulting and software training. Follow him on Google+, Facebook, or Twitter, or contact him through his website, JosephFieber.com.