ReFS and What it Means for Windows Users

NTFS, Fat32, Ext3, and ReFS — That’s a lot of acronyms, the first three are some of the most widely used system partitions today while the latter most is something new. Microsoft has developed the successor to the most widely used NTFS file system for Windows called the Resilient File System — You might be asking yourself: “How does this affect me?”

The short answer is — Aside from performance and stability improvements, you won’t notice a thing. The ReFS file system will maintain the crucial backwards compatiblity with the NTFS file system and your applications should remain in working order if you choose to make the switch.

ReFS will be released on Windows 8 however it’s initial launch will only support the next release of Windows Server in the 8 series, and while Microsoft has not confirmed or denied the possibility of it being added as a feature to the popular Windows 7 operating system, it is not out of the question.

Microsoft has laid out some key goals of what they want to accomplish by utilising this new file system:

  • Maintain a high degree of compatibility with a subset of NTFS features that are widely adopted while deprecating others that provide limited value at the cost of system complexity and footprint.
  • Verify and auto-correct data. Data can get corrupted due to a number of reasons and therefore must be verified and, when possible, corrected automatically. Metadata must not be written in place to avoid the possibility of “torn writes,” which we will talk about in more detail below.
  • Optimize for extreme scale. Use scalable structures for everything. Don’t assume that disk-checking algorithms, in particular, can scale to the size of the entire file system.
  • Never take the file system offline. Assume that in the event of corruptions, it is advantageous to isolate the fault while allowing access to the rest of the volume. This is done while salvaging the maximum amount of data possible, all done live.
  • Provide a full end-to-end resiliency architecture when used in conjunction with the Storage Spaces feature, which was co-designed and built in conjunction with ReFS.

So let’s break down each of these points. Microsoft is aiming to maintain a high level of compatibility with the current file structure — So most applications will be able to run on the new file system. Which is a win for everyone. They will however, be removing some features which are outdated, or not as widely used. That being the case, I wouldn’t worry about whether your applications will run or not.

Now the next bit, is something that I personally am glad to see. Microsoft will be introducing some features similar to the HFS file system used in OS X to automate and correct drive corruption to optimise drive performance. What this means for you: Less worrying, less problems, less defragging and waiting for your computer to free up hard drive usage, and best of all, less disk checking. The ReFS file system aims for a smoother, better performing operating environment from it’s  predecessor.

Isolation of corrupted data is another big selling point for ReFS — This means that if there is bad data on your hard drive it will most likely not interfere with the repair process. This means you will be able to identify, and repair the issue while the drive is still active and your session is still live. This means less downtime in critical situations, and in day to day use.

Lastly — ReFS is designed to work together with the Storage Spaces feature which will be introduced in Windows 8. Storage Spaces, in short combines all of your physical drives, SAS, RAID, internal, external, NAS, etc, and combines them in to one consistent virtual drive you can use for direct and organised storage.

Now that all the hefty reading is out of the way, I do have to break some bad news to everyone else who is looking forward to this — Initially ReFS will not be bootable. Microsoft intends on taking it in “evolving steps” to quote a Softpedia Article it will be implemented “…first as a storage system for Windows Server, then as storage for clients, and then ultimately as a boot volume…”

If you are looking forward to Windows 8, the beta will be available in mid, to late February.

Until next time, thanks for reading.

Sources: MSDN Blog, Softpedia

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