Diving Deep into DFS Replication: A Practical How-To

Published:25 July 2022 - 12 min. read

File sharing in an organization plays a critical role in the collaboration between users. Microsoft included in Windows Servers the DFS namespace and DFS Replication to help provide highly available resilience and traffic optimized shares.

These shares can be in multiple locations, and users won’t need to remember each shared content location or worry about its availability. And in this tutorial, you’ll learn how to configure a DFS infrastructure namespace and DFS replication.

Read on and start replicating your data automatically!

Prerequisites.

This tutorial comprises hands-on demonstrations. You can follow along by having the following in place:

Installing DFS Namespace and Replication

Distributed File System (DFS) allows the grouping of logical share resources between multiple servers and branches. Included in a Windows Server OS, DFS is a free and great option for data sharing and replication.

To take advantage of DFS, below are two of DFS’s components that you’ll have to install:

  • DFS Namespace (DFS-N) – DFS namespace allows the building of the namespace and the logical folder structure. These folders can be on multiple servers, as you’ll see later.
  • DFS Replication (DFS-R) – DFS Replication replicates folders to other members in the network.

Microsoft did a great job making almost everything a wizard-base, so a couple of clicks and you’re ready to go.

1. Log in to the first server (DCR1), and open Server Manager.

2. On the Server Manager, click on Manage (top-right) —> Add Roles and Features to initiate adding features to your server.

Initiating adding features to the server
Initiating adding features to the server

3. Tick the Skip this page by default option, and click Next. Doing so lets you skip this page when you add another feature in the future since this section is just an introduction to the wizard.

Acknowledging the wizard’s introduction
Acknowledging the wizard’s introduction

4. Now, select the Role-base or Feature-base installation and click Next since you’re working on a single server, not part of VDI.

Selecting an installation type
Selecting an installation type

5. In the Select destination server page, select the installation’s destination server from the list and click Next.

Selecting the installation’s destination server
Selecting the installation’s destination server

6. Next, expand File and Storage Services and File and iSCSI Services. Tick the boxes for the DFS Namespaces and DFS Replication.

Regardless of which box you tick first, you’ll get a pop-up window where you’ll confirm the features (step seven).

Select the required roles
Select the required roles

7. Click on Add Features, as shown below, to confirm the additional features.

Confirming additional features
Confirming additional features

8. Ensure both DFS Namespaces and DFS Replication options are ticked and click on Next.

Confirming selected roles
Confirming selected roles

9. On the Features page, leave the defaults and click Next.

Confirming selected features
Confirming selected features

10. Review your installation selections and click the Install button to install DFS Namespaces, DFS Replication, and the binaries on your server.

Installing DFS Namespaces and DFS Replication
Installing DFS Namespaces and DFS Replication

11. Once installed, click on the Close button to close the wizard.

Completing the installation
Completing the installation

12. Finally, log in to the other server (DCR), and repeat steps 2-11 to install DFS Namespace and Replication.

Configuring DFS Namespace and DFS Replication

Now that the binaries are installed and available on your server, you must configure the service and create the DFS infrastructure. You’ll build the namespace structure and the required folders.

1. Open the DFS Management console in the Administrative Tools.

2. On the DFS Management, right-click on Namespaces and select New Namespace.

Initiating creating a new namespace
Initiating creating a new namespace

3. Input the server’s name (DCR1), or click on Browse to locate the server hosting the namespace, and click Next.

Specifying the server to host the DFS namespace
Specifying the server to host the DFS namespace

4. Now, type Public as the namespace’s Name, and click Edit Settings. A pop-up window appears where you’ll define a shared folder location and the sharing permission (step five).

Setting the namespace’s name
Setting the namespace’s name

5. In the Edit Settings window, configure the settings of the shared folder with the following:

  • Point the Local path of the shared folder to whatever path you want. This tutorial’s choice is the C:\Public folder.
  • Select the shared folder permissions that fit your need, and click OK. For this tutorial, choose the Administrators have full access: other users have read and write permissions option.
Modifying the shared folder’s settings
Modifying the shared folder’s settings

Don’t manually create the shared folder and point the wizard to the folder. Doing so makes folder permission management harder. Why? The specified sharing permission in the Edit Settings window won’t apply. As a result, you’ll get the following error message.

Getting a duplicate shared folder error
Getting a duplicate shared folder error

6. After defining the shared folder’s location, click on Next.

Continuing with the defined shared folder location
Continuing with the defined shared folder location

7. Now you must select any of the namespace types below to create:

  • Domain-based – The namespace server settings are stored in one or more servers and Active Directory. Users can connect to the domain namespace to get the shared folder which looks like \\mydomain.local\MyShare.
  • Stand-alone namespace – The namespace settings are stored in a single server, making hosting the namespace server on a Failover Cluster.

If you select the Stand-alone namespace option, users can access the namespace root using the server name \\DCR1\Public.

Tick the Enable Windows Server 2008 mode option, and click Next to increase scalability, and enable access-based enumeration,

Domain-based or Stand-alone namespace
Domain-based or Stand-alone namespace

8. Review the settings you selected for the namespace, and click Create to finalize creating the new namespace.

Creating the namespace against the selected settings
Creating the namespace against the selected settings

9. Finally, click Close to close the wizard after successfully creating a new namespace.

Closing the wizard after successful namespace creation
Closing the wizard after successful namespace creation

Adding More Namespace Servers

The namespace server is ready, and that’s great. But right now, only one server is added as a namespace server. Why not add more servers to the namespace? The more servers you add, the better the availability.

To add more servers to your namespace:

1. Expand Namespaces, click on the newly-created namespace —> Namespace Servers tab, and click on Add Namespace Server in the Actions panel (right-most). Doing so opens a pop-up window where you can specify the server to add (step two).

Adding a new namespace server
Adding a new namespace server

2. In the Add Namespace Server window, input the server’s name to add, and click on Edit Settings to modify the shared folder’s settings.

Specifying the server to add to the namespace
Specifying the server to add to the namespace

3. Specify the shared folder’s path and permissions as you did in step five of the “Configuring DFS Namespace and DFS Replication” section, and click OK.

Configure the shared folder’s path and permissions
Configure the shared folder’s path and permissions

4. Now, click OK in the Add Namespace Server window to save the changes and add the new namespace server.

Saving the new namespace server
Saving the new namespace server

Once added, you’ll now see two namespace servers in the list below.

Verifying the newly-created namespace server
Verifying the newly-created namespace server

Configuring DFS Namespace Folder and Folder Target

Did you know you can aggregate multiple share resources in a single virtual share folder namespace? For instance, a company may have a shared folder for three different folders.

Even if these shared folders are on different servers and locations, the folder namespace aggregates so users can access them without remembering each folder location.

To configure the DFS Namespace folder and folder target:

1. In the DCR1 server, create two regular folders named UsersData, and ApplicationData in the domain namespace’s shared folder (\\Remote.local\Public).

Creating regular folders in a shared folder (DCR1 server)
Creating regular folders in a shared folder (DCR1 server)

2. Next, switch to the DCR server, and create a regular folder called Contracts in the \\Remote.local\Public.

Creating a regular folder in a shared folder (DCR server)

3. Open DFS Management in the DCR server, right-click on Namespaces, and select Add Namespaces to display.

Adding namespaces to display
Adding namespaces to display

4. Now, specify the domain (Remote.local), select the namespace, and click OK to display the namespace in the DFS Management.

Specifying domain and namespace to display
Specifying domain and namespace to display

5. Right click on the Public namespace, and select New Folder to initiate adding a new folder.

6. Click on Add, and a pop-up input box opens where you’ll target the shared folder path to add (step five).

Initiating adding a folder
Initiating adding a folder

7. Click on Browse, and a new window opens where you’ll locate a shared folder.

Browsing for a shared folder
Browsing for a shared folder

8. Next, expand the Public folder, select the UsersData folder, and click OK to select the folder to add.

The folders you see below are shared folders from the DCR1 server.

Adding the selected shared folder to the Public namespace
Selecting a shared folder

9. Set the folder’s name to UsersData, and click OK to add the folder as a shared folder.

Adding the selected shared folder to the Public namespace
Adding the selected shared folder to the Public namespace

10. Next, repeat steps five to nine to add the ApplicationData folder.

11. Switch to the DCR1 server, and follow the same steps five to nine to add the Contracts folder.

12. Finally, open File Explorer on both DCR and DCR1 servers and navigate to the Public namespace (\\Remote.local\Public).

Regardless of which server you’re in, you’ll see the three virtual folders (UserData, ApplicationData, and Contracts), as shown below.

Viewing the shared folders in the Public namespace
Viewing the shared folders in the Public namespace

Configuring the DFS Replication

You’ve just completed a milestone of creating one shared folder (Public) under the Remote.local namespace and adding multiple folders. But now, if you try adding contents to the namespace, those contents will remain on the same server.

As a solution, you’ll configure the DFS Replication to ensure the added content gets replicated to all other servers for high availability.

To configure the DFS Replication:

1. On the DFS Management in the DCR1 server, right-click on Replication, and select New Replication Group to initiate adding a new replication group.

Initiating adding a new replication group
Initiating adding a new replication group

2. Next, choose a replication type that fits your need; there are two replication types as follows:

  • Multipurpose replication group – Provides replication between two servers or more, usually used for file sharing.
  • Replication group for data collection– Provides replication between two servers in different locations, usually for backup purposes between a branch office and the main office. This way, the backup software performs a backup of the replicated data instead of running the backup over the WAN.

Remember that only two servers can be in this replication group type, not more.

For this tutorial, select the Multipurpose replication group option and click Next since you share folders between two servers.

Selecting the multiple replication group for replication type
Selecting the multiple replication group for replication type

3. Input a unique name for the replication group (Public Replication), and click Next.

Setting the replication group name
Setting the replication group name

4. Now, on the Replication Group Members page, click on Add to locate the servers to add as members in the replication group, and click Next.

Adding servers as replication group members
Adding servers as replication group members

5. Choose a topology to set how servers replicate the contents from one server to another.

There are three topology options as follows:

  • Hub and Spoke – This option requires at least three servers. One is the initial master Hub, and the other servers are the Spoke. This option is handy when the data originates from the Hub and should be replicated in multiple locations.

Each replica is a two-way replication with the Hub but spoke servers don’t replicate content between each other. But with this option, all replication stops until the Hub is up again when the Hub is down.

Since you’re only working on two servers, this option is disabled by default.

  • Full Mesh – This option lets all servers replicate everything with each other.
  • No Topology – With this option, no replication will be placed until you configure the replication topology.

For this tutorial, select the Full Mesh topology, and click Next. This topology works well regardless if you have ten or fewer replication group members,

Make sure to evaluate your network and connectivity speed between branches, as the replication can exhaust the bandwidth.

Selecting the full mesh topology
Selecting the full mesh topology

6. Next, select the Replicate continuously using specified bandwidth option to perform replications continuously. Keep the Bandwidth at default (Full), and click Next to create a bandwidth throttle.

But if you prefer a specific schedule for replications to execute, choose the Replicate during the specified days and times option instead.

Setting a replication schedule and bandwidth
Setting a replication schedule and bandwidth

7. Select the primary member (DCR), and click Next. The immediate member is the server that initializes the replication and sends the content to all other members.

Ensure the destination folder on different nodes is empty as the content from the primary member is authoritative during the initial replication.

Setting the primary replication group member
Setting the primary replication group member

8. On the Folder to Replicate page, click on Add, and a pop-up window appears where you can select a folder to replicate.

Initiating adding a folder to replicate
Initiating adding a folder to replicate

9. Click on Browse to locate the folder to add for replication, which is the primary source of the content to replicate to other nodes, and click OK.

Note that you can only add a folder from the primary member you selected in step seven.

You can customize and change the NTFS permission (not the folder sharing permission) as you want by clicking on Permissions

Locating a folder to add for replication
Locating a folder to add for replication

10. After adding the folder to replicate, click on Next.

Verifying the folder to replicate
Verifying the folder to replicate

11. Now, click on Edit, which opens a window where you can specify the location to store the replicated content in the other member server.

If you’re using the DFS Management console and configuring the setting remotely, the Local path of folder is the local path, such as C:\Public, and not a UNC.

Editing the local replication path
Editing the local replication path

12. Edit the replication settings with the following:

  • Select the Enable option to enable the replication for this server
  • Click on Browse and locate the local path to store the replicated data.
  • Click on OK to save the modified settings.
Click on OK to save the modified settings.
Click on OK to save the modified settings.

13. After setting the local path, click Next to confirm the modified settings.

Confirming modified local path settings
Confirming modified local path settings

14. Review the selected settings, and click on Create to finalize creating the new replication group.

Creating the new replication group
Creating the new replication group

15. Finally, click on Close once the replication group is created to close the wizard.

Congratulation! You’ve successfully created your DFS Replication.

Closing the replication group wizard
Closing the replication group wizard

Testing the Replication

Everything has been set into place, and all that’s needed is to test the replication. How? You’ll create multiple files on different folders from different servers and see if each replicates in all servers.

To test the replication:

1. Navigate to \\Remote.local\Public in File Explorer, and you’ll see the namespace folders created all under the root.

Verifying the namespace folders
Verifying the namespace folders

2. Next, inside \\Remote.local\Public, create a new folder called CompanyData and place a few files inside the folder.

Creating a folder (CompanyData) in the \\Remote.local\Public namespace
Creating a folder (CompanyData) in the \\Remote.local\Public namespace

3. Lastly, navigate to C:\Public\CompanyData on each server, and you’ll see the same content on both servers.

Below, you can see the file name change replicates from one server to another almost instantly, which indicates the replication is working as expected.

Verifying replication works on both servers
Verifying replication works on both servers

Conclusion

In this tutorial, you’ve learned how to keep data high availability with DFS Replication. DFS provides a great way to help in solving common content sharing issues, including availability, scalability, and the ability to support different connectivity speeds.

Having an automatic replication system truly comes in handy. But as a fail-safe, why not backup your entire system?

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