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Choosing the Cluster Model

Updated: March 28, 2003

Applies To: Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Server 2003 with SP1, Windows Server 2003 with SP2

The term cluster model refers to the manner in which the quorum resource is used in the server cluster. Server clusters require a quorum resource, which contains all of the configuration data necessary for recovery of the cluster. The cluster database, which resides in the Windows Server 2003 registry on each cluster node, contains information about all physical and logical elements in a cluster, including cluster objects, their properties, and configuration data. When a cluster node fails and then comes back online, the other nodes update the failed node’s copy of the cluster database. It is the quorum resource that allows the Cluster service to keep every active node’s database up to date.

The quorum resource, like any other resource, can be owned by only one node at a time. A node can form a cluster only if it can gain control of the quorum resource. Similarly, a node can join a cluster (or remain in an existing cluster) only if it can communicate with the node that controls the quorum resource.

Servers negotiate for ownership of the quorum resource in order to avoid split-brain scenarios, which occur when nodes lose communication with one another and multiple partitions of the cluster converge with a well-defined set of members, each partition believing that it is the one and only instance of the cluster. In such a case, each partition would continue operating in the belief that it had control of any cluster-wide shared resources or state, ultimately leading to data corruption.

The concept of a quorum ensures that only one partition of a cluster survives a split-brain scenario. When the cluster is partitioned, the quorum resource is used as an arbiter. The partition that owns the quorum resource is allowed to continue. The other partitions of the cluster are said to have lost quorum, and Cluster service — along with any resources hosted on the nodes that are not part of the partition that has quorum — is terminated.

The Cluster service stores cluster configuration data in a quorum log file. This file is usually located on a shared disk that all nodes in the cluster can access, and it acts as the definitive version of the cluster configuration. It holds cluster configuration information such as which servers are part of the cluster, what resources are installed in the cluster, and the state of those resources (for example, online or offline). Because the purpose of a cluster is to have multiple physical servers acting as a single virtual server, it is critical that each of the physical servers has a consistent view of how the cluster is configured.

A quorum resource can be any resource that:

  • Provides a means for arbitration leading to membership and cluster state decisions.

  • Provides physical storage to store configuration information.

  • Uses NTFS.

The quorum resource you choose is dictated by the server cluster model you deploy (number of servers, number of sites, and so on). Do not build your server cluster around a particular type of quorum resource; instead, design the cluster that best supports your applications, and then choose one of the cluster models described in the following sections.

Three types of cluster models are available for deployment with server clusters:

  • Local quorum

  • Single quorum device

  • Majority node set

For more information about the cluster database and the quorum resource, see "Quorum resource" in Help and Support Center for Windows Server 2003.

Local Quorum Cluster

This cluster model is for clusters that consist of only one node. This model is also referred to as a local quorum. It is typically used for:

  • Deploying dynamic file shares on a single cluster node, to ease home directory deployment and administration.

  • Testing.

  • Development.

Single Quorum Device Cluster

The most widely used cluster model is the single quorum device cluster (also referred to as the standard quorum model), which is illustrated in Figure 7.19. The definitive copy of the cluster configuration data is on a single cluster storage device connected to all nodes.

Figure 7.19   Single Quorum Device Cluster

Single Quorum Device Cluster

Majority Node Set Cluster

With Windows Server 2003, Microsoft introduces the majority node set cluster. The majority node set quorum model is intended for sophisticated, end-to-end clustering solutions. Each node maintains its own copy of the cluster configuration data. The quorum resource ensures that the cluster configuration data is kept consistent across the nodes. For this reason, majority node set quorums are typically found in geographically dispersed clusters. Another advantage of majority node set quorums is that a quorum disk can be taken offline for maintenance and the cluster will continue to operate.

The major difference between majority node set clusters and single quorum device clusters is that single quorum device clusters can survive with just one node, but majority node set clusters need to have a majority of the cluster nodes survive a failure for the server cluster to continue operating. A majority node set cluster is illustrated in Figure 7.20.

Figure 7.20   Majority Node Set Cluster

Majority Node Set Cluster

A majority node set cluster is a good solution for controlled, targeted scenarios as part of a cluster solution offered by an independent software vendor (ISV) or independent hardware vendor (IHV). By abstracting storage from the Cluster service, majority node set clusters provide ISVs with much greater flexibility for designing sophisticated cluster scenarios.

There are strict requirements to adhere to when you deploy majority node set clusters. The deployment of majority node set clusters is appropriate in some specialized configurations that need tightly consistent cluster features and do not have shared disks, for example:

  • Clusters that host applications that can fail over, but that use other, application-specific methods to keep data consistent between nodes. Database log shipping and file replication for relatively static data are examples of this kind of application.

  • Clusters that host applications that have no persistent data, but that need to cooperate in a tightly coupled manner to provide consistent volatile state.

  • Multisite clusters, which span more than one physical site.

For more information about majority node sets and geographically dispersed clusters, see "Protecting Data from Failure or Disaster" later in this chapter.

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