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How to Set up Windows Storage Replication

Here’s what you need to know about Windows storage replication--and how to set it up.

Ever since the days of Windows Server 2003, the preferred method for replicating file data between Windows Servers was the Distributed File System (DFS). However, DFS can’t replicate open files, nor does it allow for synchronous replication. DFS volumes also tend to undergo time-consuming and disruptive consistency checks following a power failure or a loss of connectivity. Microsoft’s Windows Storage Replica service overcomes these DFS issues, but it has its own limitations. Here’s what you need to know about Windows storage replication and how to set it up.

Microsoft Windows Storage Replication Limitations

While Microsoft Windows Storage Replica provides some benefits over DFS, it also comes with its own limitations.  

First, Windows storage replication supports only one-to-one storage volume replication. Second, users cannot access the data on the replica, so that makes storage replication a poor choice for those who want to use replication as a tool for boosting performance.

To use Windows storage replication, you will need two Windows servers running Windows Server 2016 or higher. For each replicated volume, you will need a logging volume and an identical volume pair (replicated volumes and log volumes) on the destination server. Both of these servers will need to be domain joined. You will also need to install the Remote Administration Tools and the Windows Admin Center on a Windows 10 machine. You won’t be able to set up storage replication from Server Manager, nor can you use a copy of the Windows Admin Center that is installed on Windows Server.

To get started, you will need to install the File Server role and the Storage Replica feature on your source and destination servers. While you are at it, go ahead and format the data disks and the log disks on both servers. You will need to create GPT partitions because MBR partitions are not supported. If you are setting up storage replication for use in a production environment, the log volumes need to be on flash storage.

Screen shot of Windows Storage Replica's Initialize Disk function, with GPT (GUID Partition Table) enabled

Figure 1

You will need to initialize the disks with GPT partitions.

Once you have completed the basic setup as described above, it’s time to configure storage replication. Open the Windows Admin Center, and, when prompted, click the Add button found in the Servers section. Enter the name of your source server, and then repeat the process to add your destination server.

Screen shot of Windows Admin Center

Figure 2

Add your source and destination server to Windows Admin Center.

Now that the source and destination servers have been added to Windows Admin Center, click on the source server. Next, locate the list of tools and click on the Windows Storage Replica option. You can see what this looks like in Figure 3.

Screen shot of Storage Replica tab in Windows Admin Center

Figure 3

Click on the Storage Replica tab.

The next thing that you need to do is to create a replication partnership. To do so, click on the New icon shown in the figure above. Upon doing so, you will be asked if you want to use an existing server (or virtual machine), or if you prefer to create a new Azure VM. Select the option to use an existing server and click Next.

At this point, you will be prompted to enter the information for your source and destination servers. You will need to enter the names of both servers, as well as provide a replication group name. You also will need to specify the data volume and the log volume that you want to use on both servers. You can see what this looks like in Figure 4.

Screen shot of Storage Replica's function in Windows Admin Center, with Replicate With Another Server function specified

Figure 4

You must provide details about your source and destination servers.

Click the Create button, and you will see a message stating that the Credential Security Service Provider (CredSSP) needs to be enabled. Click Yes to enable CredSSP, and then enter your credentials. After a brief delay, replication will be enabled. There is a chance that you might initially see a message indicating that replication is suspended. If that happens, just refresh the console and you should see that replication is enabled, as shown in Figure 5.

Screen shot of Storage Replica in Windows Admin Center, showing replication enabled

Figure 5

Replication is now enabled.

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