Configuring Disk Quotas in Windows 2003

Looking for a means to manage the amount of network storage space users receive? Disk Quotas are the way to go. In this article we will look at what disk quotas are, when they should be used, and how to configure them in Windows 2003.

About Disk Quotas

Unfortunately, in Windows NT Disk Quotas didn’t exist, which was much to the disappointment of Windows Administrators. Along came Windows 2000 and with the introduction of Disk Quotas it meant Administrators had the ability to track and control user disk usage. The only problem was that they didn’t really have a sufficient way of managing disk quotas. Scripting, reporting and remote usage methods were somewhat limited and ambiguous. Windows 2003 offers better all round functionality and easier enterprise-wide disk quota manageability.

Disk quotas are used in conjunction with NTFS, Group Policy and Active Directory technology. NTFS is the file system on which disk quotas can be set, Group Policy is what is used to set disk quotas on a specific set of users and computers, and Active Directory is used to gather a list of users to which the disk quota group policy will be set. It is important to note that disk quotas can only be used with NTFS; setting them up on FAT or FAT32 drives is not possible.

Disk quotas are configured on a per volume basis and cannot be set on a file or folder level. Each volume would have its individual settings which do not affect any other volumes. You may have a single disk partitioned into two volumes (drives C and D for example) with each having their own quota settings. Disk quotas can also be configured on a per user basis and different groups of users can have different limits set. Administrators are the only ones to whom a disk quota does not apply; by default there are no limits for an Administrator.

There are numerous reasons you may wish to make use of disk quotas. Based on the requirements of your organization you might choose to configure disk quotas if you have a restricted amount of disk space on a specific server, a limited number of servers, or perhaps the need to monitor user disk space usage without actually enforcing a quota. You might be wondering why you’d want to just monitor user disk space usage. Well, let’s say you have a fileserver set up with multiple users in your organization using it everyday to store temporary files. As time goes by and perhaps people forget to delete the files from the server, the amount of available disk space will continue to decrease. If nothing is done about it then users will be denied the right to add more files on the server (until some old files are removed). By monitoring user disk space usage with Microsoft’s disk quotas, you can be notified of when space is running out and then increase the allocated space on the server accordingly or notify your users that they need to delete their files from the server. Additionally, setting a quota warning level will allow for a system event log to be written for your review.

Setting a Group Policy

The most practical means of configuring disk quotas on a large scale would be through a domain-level group policy. This will configure the settings automatically on any of the volumes you wish to have disk quotas enabled, saving you the need to have to configure each volume independently.

Open the Group Policy Object Editor (gpedit.msc) and navigate to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > System > Disk Quotas. On the right hand pane you will see a list of policies that can be applied. Double click the “Default Quota Limit and Warning Level Properties” setting.

Figure 1: The Default Quota Limit and Warning Level Properties Dialog

The default quota limit is the maximum amount of space assigned per default quota, whereas the warning level is the amount of space at which a warning is triggered. Normally 90-95% of the total value is a good limit to set as a warning.

Now configure any other settings you wish to be applied by selecting them from the right hand pane. To have your changes applied immediately you can enable the “Disk Quota Policy Processing” policy and choose “Process Even If The Group Policy Objects Have Not Changed” from Administrative Templates > System > Group Policy.

Figure 2: The Disk Quota Policy Processing Dialog

You may also want to manually force a group policy update using the gpupdate utility. Simply go to Start > Run and type gpupdate followed by the return key. This will refresh both the computer and user policies.

Whatever changes you make in the group policy will be reflected on the Quota properties tab of each volume you wish to configure in your domain. The options will appear grayed out and non-editable.

Configuring Disk Quotas and Disk Quota Entries

Using the Computer Management console, you can configure disk quotas for a local or remote volume from a central location. To open Computer Management, you have three choices; either right click My Computer and select Manage, type compmgmt.msc in the Run bar or select Computer Management from the Administrative Tools folder.

Select which computer you wish to manage from the root node. To select a remote machine right click the “Computer Management” node, select “Connect to another computer…” and choose the computer you wish to manage. Now, navigate to Storage > Disk Management and select the volume you want to configure from the right hand pane and open the properties dialog. Click the Quota tab and enable the options you want to be enforced.

Figure 3: The Disk Quota Properties Dialog

The traffic lights icon at the top indicate the status of the disk quota; red means quotas are disabled, orange signifies a changeover is taking place (while it rebuilds the disk information), and green means disk quotas are enabled. A textual representation of the status is shown on the right of the image.

Check “Deny disk space to users exceeding quota limit” to have Windows restrict users from adding more data to their allocated disk space when the quota limit has been reached. Users will be unable to add more data until some space is freed up.

As you can see from Figure 3 above, the quota limit for new users is greyed out. This is because we have already set it from the group policy, which overrides any customizable settings on the quota tab of a volume. In this case we have limited the user’s disk space to 500MB and set a warning level to 450MB.

You may choose not to limit disk usage and just enable quotas to track disk space usage on a per volume basis by leaving the “Deny disk space to users exceeding quota limit” checkbox unchecked and logging a warning when a user exceeds the warning level defined as part of the quota limit. Whenever a user exceeds this limit a Warning event log will be written to the Application Event Log and shown in the Event Viewer.

Figure 4: A warning event log for disk quotas

As per there is a known issue in the pre service pack version of Windows 2003 in that the Warning event log is incorrectly shown as an Information log in Event Viewer. In the Quota Entries application however, it is correctly displayed as a Warning.

When you press the Apply button on the Disk Quota Properties Dialog you are notified that the volume will be rescanned to update the statistics and that this operation may take several minutes. Simply press OK to continue and have disk quotas enabled on that volume.

Quota Entries

Click the Quota Entries button on the Disk Quota Properties Dialog to view a list of individual disk quota entries. From this section you can create, delete and manage quota entries for specific users or groups. If a user requires more space than others then you can set this from here.

Go to Quota > New Quota Entry and the Active Directory User Picker will appear. Choose a user from Active Directory and press OK. You will be given the option to limit disk space and set a warning level or not limit disk usage at all.

Figure 5: Adding a new quota entry

Once you have chosen your preferred settings, press OK and the user will be added to the list. You can monitor a user’s disk usage by looking at the properties of each of the columns. ‘Status’ indicates whether the user is within their limit, if a warning has been logged or if the limit has been exceeded; the icon will change accordingly.

Figure 6: Viewing a list of Quota Entries


This article has given you an overview of Disk Quotas in Windows 2003. We’ve looked at why they would be used and how to configure them.

Some Administrators will find they won’t need to utilize Disk Quotas, but for those who do I have no doubt that you will find them very useful indeed.

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