Partitioning hard-disk drives

Posted: May 21, 2010 in Server, Server 2008, System Information
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Give Windows Server 2008 a hand, and it takes an arm . . . or at least another drive. Installation assesses all the hard-drive resources in the system, and if you have two drives (or partitions), the OS attempts to use both. The first active partition gets snagged for the system files . . . the minimum required to raise the system to a point where you can run recovery tools or the Recovery Console. Windows Server 2008 calls this the system volume.

Windows Server 2008 then snags a second drive or partition and uses it for the boot files, the files needed to boot the rest of the operating system all the way to the desktop on which you can log in. Windows Server 2008 calls this volume the boot volume. (This is a reversal of the old naming convention for boot and system partitions.)

Two reasons exist for the dual-disk consumption. First, Windows Server 2008 is optimized to use more than one hard-disk drive. Second, a minimum boot disk can be configured to hold just the boot files and can be formatted as FAT or FAT32 instead of NTFS. The theory is that if you lose the base operating system — that is, if you cannot boot to the desktop — you can atleast boot to a DOS diskette and then, from DOS, copy new base files over the corrupt ones (or replace a defective drive). Many NT and NetWare systems have been configured this way. However, a well-designed and managed system need not retain a FAT boot disk, which, because of its poor security, is a risk to the entire system because it does not support file-level security.

Windows Server 2008, however, enables you to boot to the Boot Options console (whenever it detects a disaster). Here you have several options, such as Safe Mode with Networking, and from there you can attempt to boot without certain services and debug the problem after you have the OS up and running. You can also boot the Recovery Mode Console, which takes you to a command line that you can use to access NTFS partitions and the boot disks. The practice of leaving boot or system files on FAT volumes is old-fashioned — the result of bad memories from Windows NT days. We recommend the partition arrangement options described in the following sections.

Option 1: One HDD

This arrangement uses one hard-disk drive, which forces Windows Server 2008 to put both boot files and system files onto the same drive and partition. To use this option, follow these steps:

1. Configure the system with one hard-disk drive of about 12GB in size. (Microsoft’s official recommendation is to supply at least a 10GB partition, but with roles and features to be added, as well as patches and fixes and new features coming down the road, you need to leave room for expansion.)

2. Format the partition during the install as NTFS.

3. Have Windows Server 2008 choose the default partition name.

The pros of this partitioning option are as follows: First, you save on hard-disk drives. Second, you can mirror this disk for fault tolerance. (Unfortunately, you can mirror the disk only under hardware disk mirroring because Windows Server 2008 does not enable you to mirror a disk that was installed as a basic partition . . . even if you make the disk a dynamic disk.)

The negatives of this partitioning option are that, if you must format the system or boot volumes as FAT, you end up with a disk consisting of numerous partitions. This is not necessary on a server and can later lead to problems, such as no capability to mirror or diminishing hard-disk space and the advanced features of dynamic disks. You may also have trouble providing dual-boot capability, but dual boot is not recommended, and besides, you have no need to provide dual boot on a production server.

Option 2: Two HDDs

This arrangement uses two hard-disk drives: Windows Server 2008 puts boot files on one disk and system files on the second disk. To use this option, follow these steps:

1. Configure the system with two hard-disk drives of about 2GB each in size.

2. Format the drives as NTFS during the install.

3. Have Windows Server 2008 choose the partition names and the default and put the files where it needs to.

The positive aspect of this partitioning option, as far as we can tell, is that you have the option of leaving the boot volume formatted as FAT (or FAT32) and formatting the rest of the partitions and drives as NTFS.

The negatives of this partitioning option are that you use up a second drive for a small amount of hard-disk space, but if you are bent on dual or multi-boots, the second drive can hold the additional OS.

Although you have a performance incentive to use a second hard disk, the increased performance is not worth the effort and the second drive, considering the speed and response of modern hard disks. We are also talking about Server Core here and not Active Directory, LOB servers, SQL Server, or Exchange, which are built to take advantage of additional drives. You would be better off using a second drive as a mirror of the first to gain a fault-tolerance feature.

  1. Johan says:

    Thank you for information that you post in this site.

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