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Experimenting with ReFS on External USB Backup Drive


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#1
NoelC

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I had a spare Western Digital MyBook drive, a model WD 10EACS with 1 TB of space, so rather than have it sit around and gather dust I decided to set up some additional file backup operations.

 

I initially tried formatting it to NTFS and plugging it into my Cisco/Linksys E4200 router (a couple of years old), which claims to support serving a USB drive in that format - but as is all too common it doesn't actually work right when it comes to the nitty gritty.  I got it to serve the drive and I was able to copy some tens of gigabytes of data to it but then it would just lock up after a few hours of use.  Additionally, the copied data had permissions problems - I could write new files, but not overwrite existing files.  Several attempts to update the router firmware resulted in a bricked router, which (fortunately) responded to the secret "hold it in 10 seconds" recessed reset switch, which restored the prior firmware.  My conclusion:  The Cisco/Linksys implementation is rinkydink (I smell undisciplined Unix under the covers), and so a selling-point feature printed on the box to sell the product doesn't actually work.  At least it works okay as a router.

 

I decided to plug the drive into a Windows 8.1 Pro system instead, and serve it from there.  It occurred to me that ReFS is supposed to deliver great data integrity, so I figured "why not?"  What better to use ReFS on than an external drive?  I've been running ReFS on an internal backup drive for months with great results.

 

Initially, indications were that Windows 8 can't format an external drive with ReFS, but it turns out (as with so many things) that it actually IS possible with a registry tweak (seems like Win 8 is substantially just Windows Server with much of the functionality dormant).  Specifically, this page over on WinAero describes how:

 

http://winaero.com/b...-8-1-with-refs/

 

Here it is, all formatted up:

 

DiskMgtReFS.png

 

Of course I have to use it for a while to ensure the promise of integrity behind this is solid...

 

CHKDSK_ReFS.png

 

Anyway, so far so good. I've copied hundreds of gigabytes to it and so far it works fine. 

 

The data rate for writing averages something over 50 MB/sec with peaks to over 70 MB/sec - which isn't bad for a USB 2 drive that's not exactly new.

 

Most importantly, I don't feel any stress on the system at all while it's copying data.  The mouse and UI are smooth, music plays without dropouts, and Task Manager shows nothing out of the ordinary for resource usage (CPU sits at 0% most of the time).  Save for the quiet seeking sounds from the drive you wouldn't know any data is being copied at all.  I'd call that good.

 

-Noel




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#2
NoelC

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800 GB copied and no problems whatsoever.

 

-Noel



#3
NoelC

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Follow up:

 

Make SURE to remove the MiniNT key after having formatted the drive.  The WinAero site does not specifically suggest doing that, but it's necessary...  Upon a reboot after updating some other software, the system did not come back up right with the "MiniNT" registry setting still in place.

 

Some problems noted:

 

1.  Drive letter H: ended up assigned to my System Reserved partition instead of the USB drive, which could not be seen.

 

2.  Some applications failed to start with messages like "The procedure entry point _ftol2 could not be located in the dynamic link library C:\Windows\SYSTEM32\comdlg32.dll".

 

3.  The system had trouble accessing the event logs with error -50.

 

4.  CHKDSK showed some problems on drive C:, but could not correct them.

 

Removal of the MiniNT key restored proper operation, and the ReFS formatted external drive is still accessible.

 

  

-Noel



#4
ptd163

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I still use Windows 7. It seems that ReFs is the successor to NTFS. Would you recommend that if I ever move to Windows 8.1 to use ReFs on my data drive? Because you currently can't boot from ReFs.



#5
NoelC

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At this point I have both internal and external drives formatted ReFS, and I've seen no problems.

 

That said, I've really seen no advantages, in a practical sense...  I haven't had any failures that required resiliency so it's hard to say I've gotten any advantage out of using the newer system.  Mostly I'm just experimenting to get to know the new system.

 

The one takeaway I've had from doing these experiments is that, while getting a drive formatted is a bit funky (Microsoft specifically made it difficult), using drives formatted with ReFS has been completely trouble-free.

 

-Noel



#6
jaclaz

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It seems to me like there are two main issues :ph34r: (which DO NOT apply to this nice "experiment", as long as it is an "experiment").

  1. The good MS guys that developed this filesystem seem to imply (like it is being written EVERYWHERE) how this filesystem is intended for "storage spaces" (whatever they are) ONLY and not for "single" disks/drives (being them internal or external)
  2. there is seemingly NO visible advantage to ReFS (not speed, not reliability, nothing really) when compared against NTFS, but of course you can access with it  262,144 Exabytes or maybe 1 Yottabyte (as opposed to the mere 16 Exabytes of NTFS)

http://blogs.technet...d-i-use-it.aspx

http://blogs.technet...erver-2012.aspx

 

While the whole idea of "storage spaces" is in  itself nice in theory, it seems like not particularly appealing practically:

http://helgeklein.co...d-design-flaws/

and, if I may, it is not really revolutionary, in the sense that good bad ol' Dynamic Disks were not that much different and they never went "mainstream", and as well the "previous attempt" with the drive pools or Drive Externder (or whatever) in Windows Home Server 2011:

http://arstechnica.c...uldnt-mourn-it/

was far from being as good as it seemed in theory.

 

Of course ReFS has its fans, like:

http://www.petri.com...r-than-ntfs.htm

the fact that at least two out of the four reasons provided make no sense whatever is not IMHO a good sign, however[1].

 

Very nice thing to play with :yes:, but at the moment very little beyond that :unsure:.

 

jaclaz

 

 

[1] Guess which ones?



#7
NoelC

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Right, interesting to play around with.  I figure I'll have more to go on should a future version of Windows offer the ability to format the boot volume ReFS and I am faced with the choice.

 

Seems odd that Microsoft has been shying away from the use of ReFS on just plain disks, as you say jaclaz, by touting it as for use with Storage Spaces only.  I would not venture anywhere close to Storage Spaces, frankly, but that's another subject.

 

I have been pleasantly surprised that the implementation of ReFS in Windows 8.1 has not been quirky at all.

 

-Noel



#8
HarryTri

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"Storage Spaces" are RAID arrays or I am wrong?


I always love Windows XP!


#9
jaclaz

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"Storage Spaces" are RAID arrays or I am wrong?

Yes and no.

Meaning that they can use both striping and mirroring (or none) see the linked to article:

http://helgeklein.co...d-design-flaws/

http://blogs.technet...erver-2012.aspx

but UNLIKE Raid they are easily "expandable" and, like Raid, the use of "same sized disks" is the only sensible way to use them.

 

Since it is not automatically rebalancing, additionally there may be issues with "distributing"  the files across them.

 

So yes, they are a form of Raid, but have some advantages (but also some drawbacks).

 

 

What is not clear is that they seem aimed to the "enterprise" (and much less to "home users"), but "enterprise level" customers will need (and use) higher level (please read as "better") solutions.

 

 

jaclaz 


Edited by jaclaz, 23 June 2014 - 03:12 PM.


#10
NoelC

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I've read altogether too many horror stories about folks just losing all their data on the Microsoft forums.

 

Do folks lose data off just plain disks?  Regular RAID arrays?  Sure, but somehow the Storage Spaces reports just seem more like the typical almost-right implementation by Microsoft rather than user-caused failures or hardware failures.  I don't remember the specifics right now, but I've read just enough of them to want to stay with more traditional array setups.

 

-Noel



#11
jaclaz

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But that could be the consequence of two different (separate) causes:
  • a wrong idea/concept
  • a wrong implementation of a "righteous" concept
The issue here is that, long before getting to the practice, the theory has more than one flaw.
 
First thing the "intended target" and "expected usage" is not clear.
 
The thingy has been initially (Home Server) targeted to "common" end users, which may make some sense, the average Joe gets a message that his storage space is next to full, and simply plugs in the first hard disk he finds around.
No hassles, No need to understand the inner workings. <- (in theory, practice as we have seen has been different)
In a normal house having a modular, theoretically infinitely expandable filesystem designed to resist accidents like blackouts and/or accidental hot-unplugging :ph34r: sounds almost too good to be true, and possibly when the past issue will be (or maybe already are) solved, practice may become similar to theory.
And an average home user normally has not any *need* for quotas, nor actual need for "top speed", though I believe that choosing initially the mirroring vs. parity (I would instinctively exclude the "none redundancy" though possibly the average Joe would go for it because it allows to store "more" data on the same set of devices) and the actual "base" devices is not something that easy or at least not as easy as the good MS guys try to make it look.
On the other hand, NTFS is more than adequate for the volumes of data that one could logically expect to have in a home and "home" (RAID) NAS devices usually work fine (though they are a PITA to setup and configure and are not as cheap as one might like them to be).
 
Later it has been targeted towards "enterprise" (Server 2012) where it makes IMHO much less sense, as there are seemingly no particular advantages in such an environment (and using ReFS is a no/no because of the missing quotas) if not the alleged self-healing (limited to ReFS) and the saving of some bucks.
Of course it greatly depends on the actual use of the storage, in many environments having quotas is not needed, and the (still theoretical) advantage of "no downtime" (because of self-healing ReFS) may be a distinct advantage, as well as the size limit.
On the other hand, in an enterprise environment, cases of a storage device exceeding the NTFS limits are I believe rather rare, and the storage is "managed" by IT personnel anyway, and everything is (or should be) under UPS's, so the advantages seems thin.

This other article:
http://betanews.com/...-raid-for-good/
has a rather interesting set of considerations and actual (though preliminary/small scale) tests on the thing and has what I believe a "sane" view on the matter in it's conclusions:
 

Unless I run into something wild in my own Storage Spaces adventure to move off a NAS, then I will tentatively say that yes, it's a technology worth trying. I would wade into Storage Spaces with one foot forward and test it before you convert any production systems, as my above test scenarios were far from real-world situations. But my preferred Storage Spaces type, a mirror, treats all file data as a kosher ReFS volume that can be plugged into any Windows 8 or above system in an emergency. Two thumbs up from me on that as an IT pro.

And the performance numbers, especially on how a mirror SS just destroyed my hardware RAID-1 on writes specifically, was quite impressive. I don't think there is anything tangible I would be losing by moving away from hardware RAID if these performance figures consistently follow through on my formal Storage Spaces array for my company. I'm a bit disappointed to see parity Spaces working at such sluggish speeds, as I found out first hand, but as I mentioned, I always found RAID-5 unrealistic for my client needs, so I doubt I would lose any sleep over the Storage Spaces alternative.

On the topic of ReFS, is this newfound filesystem ready for day to day usage? I'll say this much: I wouldn't put a customer volume onto it yet, but I am surely going to use ReFS for my Storage Spaces setup at my business. I see nothing concrete holding me back so far. Microsoft may not be done with ReFS yet, but then again, isn't all software a perpetual beta test anyway? I've got nothing to lose as we will be using rsync to make copies of all critical data back to our old trusty QNAP NAS, so I really don't have any qualms with being a guinea pig of sorts here.


It is a good thing that someone has the possibility (and capability) to be a guinea pig :thumbup for these technologies, personally, I will patiently wait for a wider adoption of the thing and for a drop in related "horror stories" before even thinking of getting anywhere near a "storage space", I simply do not have a valid reason/need to change my current storage.

jaclaz

#12
NoelC

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Well said.

 

NTFS, by the way, is reputed to have gained some self-healing capabilities in recent times.  SOMETHING's slowing it down.

 

-Noel



#13
NoelC

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By the way, SSD manufacturers have been fond of saying that they have tremendous proprietary technology in their SSD controllers that watches the file system and what's going on with free space, etc. - all in an attempt to be smarter about managing the flash blocks.  That's always seemed like a REALLY BAD idea to me, but if it's true it's not hard to imagine that a completely different file system could upset that delicate dance and cause all kinds of havoc.

 

I haven't tried ReFS on an SSD yet.

 

-Noel



#14
NoelC

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BY the way, occasionally my system accesses its ReFS volumes for no direct reason.  Background scrubbing?  Could be.

 

-Noel



#15
NoelC

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Now that my backups have filled the external ReFS USB drive, I've been reading hundreds of gigabytes of backup data back in and comparing it with the original data from my SSD array.  I'm seeing no problems at all.

 

Per Resource Monitor, read speeds on mixed files from the ReFS volume are averaging consistently about 40 MB/sec with peaks in the 60s and 70s on big files.  This is about what I saw with NTFS on it though the peaks may be higher.

 

Another observation:  Since the drive is normally spun down to save power, I've seen that the first attempt to access it is delayed as expected while the drive spins up.  Other than the application attempting access during this time nothing else is blocked, which is good.  As I mentioned before, I'm feeling no system impact at all from the disk activity.  Everything's smooth as butter.  It's a surprisingly good and well-behaved implementation for something touted as not ready for prime time.

 

-Noel



#16
jaclaz

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That (devices been much smarter than what they appear from the outside) is a known (you decide) issue or feature, that has been noticed since the advent of IDE disks and exacerbated by the the "solid state devices", beginning with flash  disks and CF cards, but easily extendable to SSD's.

The "feature" side is that everything is managed by the hardware+firmware, and as such it is undoubtedly faster and more reliable (as long as the firmware is well programmed/stable).

 

The "issue" side is that since a few years we are the proud owners of "black boxes" which have completely undocumented internal behaviours and that can go "beserk" (by pure chance) in which case your only chances to recover data is through the services of the manufacturer of the "black box" (when and if they provide such services) or through the use of specialized tools that are nothing but (well done and "high quality level") a form of reverse engineering or - in some cases - pure "hacks".

 

A hard disk (or USB bridge, SSD, etc. ) controller is to all effects a rather powerful computer in itself, see this interesting hack:

http://spritesmods.com/?art=hddhack

that exposes in an unprecedented way the capabilities of a common (not particularly new) hard disk.

 

Till now we had thus a "dumb" filesystem and a "smart" device.

 

With SSD's we have even "smarter" devices. (at least in theory)

 

If you apply to SSD's a "smart filesystem" there is the risk that the two intelligences will come into a conflict of some kind. :ph34r:

 

From time to time I have nightmares about these families of disks :w00t: malfunctioning (that hopefully have not been "common" and I believe are not even manufactured anymore):

http://www.forensicf...opic/p=6560563/

or however (hopefully) coinfined to niches like security/intelligence, wtc.

http://www.pcworld.c...a_Security.html

http://storage.toshi...ity-hard-drives

as well as those nightmares about BYOD and remote wiping of devices :ph34r::

http://www.msfn.org/...nions-whatever/

http://www.forensicf...wtopic/t=10567/

 

jaclaz



#17
NoelC

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Well, knock on silicon, I've been relying on 4 SSDs in RAID 0 since April 2012 and they haven't even hinted at a single glitch.  I am thinking I accidentally coupled the right level of in-box smarts with on-RAID-card smarts with file system smarts.  :)

 

-Noel



#18
HarryTri

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Thanks for the information about storage spaces, they are available in Windows 8 Home (or just Windows 8 in contrast with Windows 8 Pro) but you need some more drives. I suppose that you can use virtual drives for the job too but I don't have much initiative to experiment on it at the moment.


I always love Windows XP!


#19
NoelC

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Just to follow up, my ReFS formatted drives (one internal, one external) have been working flawlessly, going through terabytes of backup data without a glitch night after night.

 

-Noel



#20
jaclaz

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Good news. :)

 

jaclaz



#21
NoelC

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I've read that the system maintains the ReFS system, including checking for "bit rot" (degradation of data stored on the disk but which is not accessed for a long time).

 

Today I caught the System reading all the files on my backup drive.  It appears it was doing a (scheduled?) check for bit rot, just as documented.

  • The activity was not intrusive in any way.  Only reason I noticed it was because of some fairly relaxed seeking sounds from my backup drive.
     
  • My USB connection is capable of carrying about 60 MB/second, based on observations of deliberate copies of large files.  Yet this activity was only about 15 to 20 MB/second.
     
  • It wasn't sending the data anywhere, just reading it.

 

I think it's pretty cool to see the new technology in action.

 

-Noel






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