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Creating the Ideal SMB SAN with StarWind and vSphere

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Published: December 18, 2011

SHARED STORAGE – IT’S REQUIRED

Traditionally, business applications were siloed with their associated physical servers and direct-attached storage. The positive side to this is that it is easy to calculate the hardware needs (and associated cost) for that application. If the application requires more resources, then the server and storage can be replaced, for that application, entirely. Server virtualization requires a new way of thinking. This implementation method is still especially prevalent at small and medium-size businesses who have had trouble justifying the large capex cost for a storage area network (SAN).

Server virtualization, in general, offers many features that benefits businesses of all sizes:

Hardware independence – allows virtual machines to be portable and not tied to specific hardware. Once a machine is virtualized, it can be easily moved from one server to another making server swaps and disaster recovery easy.

Simplified disaster recovery – once machines are virtualized, the one overwhelming disaster recovery planning becomes much easier. Virtual machine backups can be replicated offsite less expensively and be run on just about any server available.

Lower cost and easier administration – server virtualization is the undoubtedly the best way to lower IT costs and ease the administrative burden on IT admins. Once servers are virtualized, you will be able to administer more server with the same staff and tremendously reduce hardware, power, and datacenter costs.

Virtualization, in itself, doesn’t require shared storage but many of the most powerful virtualization features do. These powerful features include:

Move running VMs from one host to another (vMotion) – when a host is over loaded or you need perform server maintenance, with features like VMware’s vMotion you can move a running virtual machine, from one host to another, with no downtime to the end users.

High availability (VMHA) – when a physical server fails, the virtual machines running on it can be automatically restarted on another host with only minutes of downtime to end users and no intervention from the admin.

Load balancing (distributed resource scheduler / DRS) – virtual machine resource demand can be automatically balanced across all the hosts with no intervention from the admin. This way, virtual machines always receive the resources that they need to perform well.

• And many more…

All of these features require shared storage.

With all of the advanced features listed above (and many more that weren’t), the virtual machines running on all hosts are stored on the shared storage – it’s required. Without shared storage, most of the features that you really want from server virtualization aren’t possible.

 

STARWIND iSCSI IS THE BEST SOLUTION

Whether you’re new to server virtualization, building a test/dev lab, or are just looking for a “smarter SAN”, you need to look at what StarWind has to offer.

Traditional SAN solutions are proprietary physical hardware with software installed that provides the storage services. By creating this proprietary physical hardware and software combination (the SAN) and selling it to you, the vendor has you locked into their proprietary solution. They can charge you a lot more, both up front and on maintenance/support, than they could if they had just sold you software that you run on your own hardware.

You run all your company’s applications on Windows or Linux installed on servers of your choosing, right? So why do you have to buy an expensive proprietary solution for your storage?

StarWind’s iSCSI SAN is software, running in your Windows OS, and installed on your own server. That makes sense and it’s much more affordable.

Unlike Fibre Channel (FC) SANs, iSCSI SANs use your existing Ethernet network. You don’t have to buy special switches (FC switches), special adaptors in your servers (FC host bus adaptors, HBAs), or FC cables. By using an iSCSI SAN, you won’t have to purchase any specialized equipment and that will save your company a fortune on shared storage.

So why StarWind? Other than StarWind’s iSCSI being a pure software solution. Here are 5 reasons that StarWind is the best iSCSI software solution for vSphere shared storage:

• StarWind has 30,000 users in 100 countries using VMware vSphere and StarWind iSCSI SAN

• StarWind iSCSI SAN offers advances features like high availability, data mirroring, remote replication, deduplication, caching, and thin provisioning

• StarWind provides the best value SAN you’ll find for vSphere

 

WHAT YOU NEED

To run StarWind in production you would need a physical server with the following requirements:

• CPU – Intel Xeon E5620 (or higher) or AMD Opteron

• Memory – 4GB RAM

• Storage – ranges from a local SATA disk to RAID arrays using SATA, SAS, or SSD

• Operating system – Windows 2008 R2

However, what if you just want to evaluate StarWind iSCSI in a lab environment to test, learn, or create a proof of concept? You could use a low-end physical server or, even better, you could run StarWind on a virtual machine inside VMware Workstation, ESXi free edition, or on your existing vSphere environment (in fact, in the steps below, this is exactly how I ran StarWind).

 

CREATING A SAN WITH STARWIND

To get started with StarWind, download the 30-day free evaluation version on the StarWind download page. All you’ll need to do is:

• Register to get a username & password (free)

• Download the StarWind.exe universal installer

 

Install StarWind

Once I had the StarWind installer and license key, I began the install of StarWind on a Windows 2008 R2 virtual machine running on an ESXi server in my lab. On my Windows 2008 R2 server, I executed the StarWind.exe installer and had it installed in a few minutes.

You will need to ensure that the Microsoft iSCSI initiator is installed as it is required to use StarWind. You can do this by going to your services MMC and starting the Microsoft iSCSI Initiator Service. You should also reconfigure this server for automatic instead of manual.

Connect StarWind Management Console to StarWind iSCSI Server
Once installed, you’ll find the StarWind management console in the taskbar.

You’ll use the management console to connect to your new Starwind iSCSI server. To do this on the console, you’ll click Add StarWind Server to the local StarWind host. You’ll use the default of 127.0.0.1 (the local StarWind server) and click Scan StarWind Servers. You’ll enter the username / password for the Starwind server (which you see below).

 

Create a device

Next, create a StarWind storage device for servers to access. To do this, click the Add Target icon and select that you want to add a Hard Drive as a basic virtual disk. You’ll create an Image File Device instead of a RAM Disk and opt to create a new virtual disk.

Congrats! Your new StarWind iSCSI SAN is ready to be used by vSphere!

 

CONNECTING vSPHERE TO THE SAN

Connecting vSphere to an iSCSI SAN involves the following steps:

• Enable iSCSI (if not already enabled) on the server

• Point the ESX/ESXi server to the IP address of the new iSCSI SAN server

• Scan for new storage devices and VMFS volumes

• Add the new disk/LUN to the server (format if necessary)

• Place virtual machines on the LUN

Connect ESX/ESXi to the iSCSI SAN
Go to the ESX/ESXi host Configuration in the vSphere client and under Storage Adaptors, select the iSCSI software adaptor. Click on Properties. Ensure that the iSCSI adaptor is enabled. Go to Dynamic tab and add the IP address of the StarWind SAN server, then click OK. Rescan the host bus adaptors and you should see the new StarWind iSCSI LUN in the storage device list.

Now, go to the Storage configuration for the host and click Add Storage. Use the Add Storage Wizard to add the new Disk/LUN and format it with the VMFS file system.

At this point, your new LUN has been formatted with a VMware VMFS datastore and it is ready to use!

For your final step, migrate your virtual machines to the new StarWind SAN datastore and it will be in production.

 

CONCLUSION

No matter your scenario, if you’re using virtualization you need shared storage. Opting for a software-based solution that runs on your existing x86 servers is a smart (and low cost) option as compared to proprietary SAN solutions. StarWind’s iSCSI SAN offers a free 30 day evaluation and allows you to test how a software SAN can serve your vSphere virtual infrastructure. Now that you have the knowledge of what a software iSCSI SAN can do for you, how to obtain the best one available in eval form, install it, and test it with your vSphere infrastructure, you have no excuse but to get started with StarWind iSCSI SAN today!