Thursday, August 2, 2018

Getting Started with StorMagic SvSAN - A Product Review

Getting Started with StorMagic SvSAN - A Product Review

Recently, I had the opportunity to try out StorMagic SvSAN in my home lab to see how it stacks up. The following is an introduction to SvSAN, a description of the deployment, testing, testing results and my findings. 

What is StorMagic SvSAN 6.2?

StorMagic SvSAN provides a Hyperconverged solution that has been designed with the remote office/branch office in mind. Two host nodes with onboard storage can be utilized in a shared storage style deployment in locations where a traditional 3 tiered architecture would prove to be difficult to manage or too cost prohibitive.  SvSAN is vendor agnostic so it can be deployed onto existing infrastructure without the need to acquire additional hardware. The two storage nodes can scale out to support up to 64 compute-only nodes. Licensing is straight forward: perpetual license per pair of clustered storage nodes as one license per pair. Initial pricing is also very accessible, starting at approximately $4,000 for the first 2TB license. Licensing and capacity can scale beyond the initial 2TB.

When asked about their typical customer base, StorMagic provided the following response: "StorMagic SvSAN is designed for large organizations with thousands of sites and companies running small data centers that require a highly available, two-server solution that is simple, cost-effective and flexible. Our typical customers have distributed IT operations in locations like retail stores, branch offices, factories, warehouses and even wind farms and oil rigs. It is also perfect for IoT projects that require a small IT footprint, and the uptime and performance necessary to process large amounts of data at the edge."

Technical Layout of SvSAN

A typical SvSAN deployment consists of the following base components: hypervisor integration, Virtual Storage Appliances, Neutral Storage Host. In my lab environment, I used VMware vSphere, but StorMagic does offer support for Hyper-V as well. A plugin is loaded into the vCenter Server and provides the dashboard for management and deploying the VSAs. Following the wizard, a Virtual Storage Appliance is deployed on each host and the local storage is presented to the VSA. Before creating storage pools the witness service (Neutral Storage Host) must be deployed external to the StorMagic cluster. The NSH can be deployed on a server, Windows PC, or Linux. It is light weight enough that it can run on a Raspberry Pi.

SvSAN 6.2 introduced the ability to encrypt data. A key management server is required for encryption. For this evaluation, I installed Fornetix Key Orchestration as the KMS. Encryption options available include encryption of a new datastore, encryption of an existing datastore, re-keying a datastore, and decrypting the datastore. As I was curious to as what kind of performance hit encryption may have against the environment, I ran my tests against the non-encrypted datastore, then again after encrypting it.

Deployment and Testing

The overall installation process is fairly straight forward. StorMagic provides an Evaluators guide which outlines the installation process, and their website has ample documentation for the product. I had to read through the documentation a couple of times to fully understand the nuances of the deployment. I did encounter a few hiccups during deployment, one IP issue which I resolved and a timeout on the VSA deployment. I did need to contact support to release the license for the Virtual Storage Appliance which timed out, but support was responsive and resolved my issue quickly. The timeout may have been tied to the IP issue as the VSA deployed successfully on the second attempt.

With the underlying infrastructure in place, a shared datastore was deployed across both host nodes. Now the testing could begin. A Windows Server 2012 R2 virtual machine was deployed on the SvSAN datastore to run performance testing against. The provided Evaluation Guide gives many suggested tests to put the SvSAN environment through its paces. As I mentioned previously, I ran the tests against an encrypted datastore, a non-encrypted datastore, and a local datastore.

Following the guidelines set forth by the Evaluation Guide, Iometer was the tool of choice for performance benchmarking. Below is a chart of the metrics used. Outside of the suggested performance testing I also ran various tests to see what the end user experience could feel like on a SvSAN backed server. These tests included RDP session into the VM, continuously pinging locations internal and external to the network, and running various applications.

The final tests ran against the SvSAN cluster included failure scenarios and how it would impact the virtual machine. Drives were removed, connectivity to the Neutral Storage Host was severed, iSCSI & cluster networking were removed. An interesting aspect to the guide is that it gives you testing options to cause failures that will affect VMs running on the SvSAN datastore so you can see first-hand how the systems will handle the loss of storage.

SvSAN Results & Final Thoughts

Performance testing ran against the VM on the SvSAN datastore provided positive results. I was curious as to whether passing through an additional step in the process would affect IOPS, but there were only nominal differences between the local storage and the SvSAN datastore. I found the same to be true when it came to running an encrypted versus a non-encrypted datastore. IOPS performance held steady across all testing scenarios.

The same was true with the user experience performance testing. While running Iometer, Firefox, a popular chat application, and pinging a website the following failures were introduced to no impact:

  • hard drives were remove
  • a Virtual Storage Appliance was powered down
  • an ESXi host was shut down
  • Connectivity to the Neutral Storage host was severed

I was impressed with my experience with StorMagic's SvSAN. From no prior exposure to running production ready datastores in approximately an hour. The solution performed well under duress. Overall, StorMagic SvSAN is an excellent choice for those in need of a solid remote office/branch office solution that is reliable and cost effective.

Lab Technology Specifications:

  • Two Dell R710s
  • 24 GB RAM each
  • 2x X5570 Xeon 2.93 GHz 8M Cache, Turbo, HT, 1333MHz CPU Each
  • One 240 GB SSD drive for caching in each host
    • Presented as a single 240 GB pool from the RAID controller
  • 5 x 600 10k SAS drives configured in RAID 5
    • Presented as two pools; 400GB & 1.8 TB
  • VMware vCenter Server Appliance 6.5
  • VMware ESXi 6.5 U2 Dell Custom ISO
  • Cisco Meraki MS220 1GB Switching 

Further reading on StorMagic:
SvSAN Lets You Go Sans SAN 
This blog was originally published at Gestalt IT as a guest blog post. 

If you'd like to continue the conversation about vSphere upgrades, do not hesitate to contact me via any of the channels provided below. Do you have an idea or a topic for the blog? Would you like to be a guest on the ExploreVM podcast? If so, please contact me on Twitter, Email, or Facebook.

Monday, June 4, 2018

VMware ESXi 5.5 End of Support: What Does That Mean for You?

On September 19th, 2018, VMware vSphere ESXi 5.5 reaches End of General Support. But what exactly does that mean? Well, after the 19th, VMware will no longer provide new security patches, bug fixes, maintenance updates, upgrades, or new hardware support. Also, you may no longer open phone support tickets with Global Support Services (GSS) for severity 1 outage issues.

That's not to say all is lost, but your environment is in a precarious state. VMware will maintain Technical Guidance for vSphere 5.5 until September 19th, 2020. Support requests can only be opened via the self service portal for severity 2 and lower issues, so if you experience an outage, you are on your own. These tickets only apply to supported configurations as well.

As a VMware Support and Subscription (SnS) customer, you need to upgrade before September 19th to avoid losing the full protection of a supported vSphere platform.


"You're right, we need to upgrade... But what does that all entail?". The vSphere platform has a very specific upgrade path you need to follow to ensure no service interruptions during the process. Before we dive into the VMware aspects, there are other variables to consider. Let's start with the host servers; the hardware ESXi calls home. Validate that the hardware is compatible with the version of ESXi you are upgrading to via the VMware Compatibility Guide. Take a look at host BIOS and firmware as well. The host hardware vendor may also provided information about compatible versions of ESXi on their website.

Even in the event that the existing BIOS and firmware is compatible with ESXi 6.0 or higher, now is a great time to upgrade. This helps to keep your hardware secure and up to the manufacturers recommended levels. One of the first things the vendor's tech support engineer is going to tell you to do is to upgrade the BIOS to troubleshoot any problems you may call in with. I know this from many calls to *insert hardware vendor here*.

So the host hardware is taken care of, what's next? Think about other systems that interact with vSphere. Is your storage platform compatible? What about your backup solution?  Are there any vCenter plugins in use? Potentially many systems could be impacted by a VMware upgrade that's not properly planned.

"Alright, the hardware and peripheral systems are ready to go, time to move on to VMware!". Well, almost. Before diving into upgrading vSphere, take inventory of what vSphere editions and VMware programs you have deployed in your environment. Certain versions of vSphere and vCenter Server cannot be upgraded directly to 6.5+, so be sure to check the VMware Product Interoperability Upgrade Matrix first.

vCenter Upgrade Path taken from
Calling back a few paragraphs, I pointed out that vSphere has a very specific order of operations for upgrades. Now that you have the full list of VMware products in play in your environment ready to go, you can map out your next steps. A quick search of VMware KBs will provide the upgrade sequence for the specific version of ESXi to which you have chosen to upgrade. Here is the KB for ESXi 6.5. You'll notice that services such as vRealize Operations, NSX, and the Platforms Services Controller (PSC) must be upgraded before vCenter.

It's worth noting that hosts are upgraded AFTER vCenter. Older versions of ESXi can connect to newer vCenters, but it does not work the other way around. I have encountered many people in my days attending VMUG meetings where they were unaware of this requirement and upgraded the hosts first.

One more thought on vSphere upgrades: in-place versus a clean install. I'm not going to tell you which way is best. Everyone has their own options and experiences. What I will say is that, from my experiences, in place upgrades to vSphere 6.5 have been successful. I've encountered some issues going from 5.5 to 6.0, mainly around Site Recovery Manager, but 6.0 to 6.5 appears to be more stable than in place upgrades past. (Again, this is my experience, your may vary.)

Finally, be sure to have backups before upgrading your environment and read the release notes for each product before proceeding. Watch out for any known issues that may trip you up during your upgrade or daily operations.

The key to a successful vSphere upgrade is planning. With the clock ticking on ESXi 5.5, you need to start planning as soon as possible to ensure a smooth transition and to stay protected.

Further Reading:
End of General Support for vSphere 5.5 (51491)
VMware Lifecycle Policies
VMware Extened Support

If you'd like to continue the conversation about vSphere upgrades, do not hesitate to contact me via any of the channels provided below. Do you have an idea or a topic for the blog? Would you like to be a guest on the ExploreVM podcast? If so, please contact me on Twitter, Email, or Facebook.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

ExploreVM Podcast - Nutanix .Next 2018 Review

On this episode of the ExploreVM podcast, we take a look back at the Nutanix .Next conference. New Orleans played host to the 2018 Nutanix .Next conference. This year marked my 3rd consecutive year attending, and 2nd as a Nutanix technology champion. Communities manager Angelo Luchiani had plenty of surprises lined up for us, including having myself and other NTCs arrive at the Opening Keynote in a Mardi Gras float. He's also done an excellent job expanding a communities area, creating lightning tech talks, and providing an area for podcasters. I made sure to take full advantage of the space and pin down a few interviews for a short wrap up podcast.

In the first two segments, I chat with Angelo and Mike Gelhar about what's going on in the world of Nutanix followed by a discussion on Nutanix certification. The final segment is a bit of a one off, but it's relevant to those of us who do a lot of travel for work. There were several major product announcements made at the conference. My personal favorite is Beam. I've linked a few blog posts from fellow NTCs about these announcements in the show notes, and I will have my own post up in the near future. I hope you enjoy.

Listen to "2018 Nutanix .Next Wrap Up" on Spreaker.

Here I am giving my Lightning Tech Talk. 
My Guests:
Angelo Luciani
Mike Gelhar
René van den Bedem
Ken Nalbone
Brandon Graves

NTC Nutanix .Next Announcement Posts


Do you have an idea or a topic for the show? Would you like to be a guest on the ExploreVM podcast? If so, please contact me on Twitter, Email, or Facebook.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

ExploreVM Podcast Short - Camp Rubrik: Insiders Edition

This special episode of the ExploreVM Podcast was recorded live at Camp Rubrik - Insiders Edition at the Rubrik Headquarters in Palo Alto, California. I was one of 15 influencer "Campers" to participate in this day long event featuring unprecedented access to the Rubrik Staff. In this round table discussion, I am joined by Byron Schaller, Brett Guarino, and Matt Crape as we chat about the day's events. Watch for a full blog post about the event to follow soon!

Listen to "Camp Rubrik: Insiders Edition" on Spreaker.

Photo Courtesy of Sean Massey

My Guests:
Twitter: Matt Crape
Twitter: Brett Guarino
Twitter: Byron Schaller


Do you have an idea or a topic for the show? Would you like to be a guest on the ExploreVM podcast? If so, please contact me on Twitter, Email, or Facebook.

Monday, April 30, 2018

ExploreVM Podcast - Introducing Skylines Academy

Continuing to educate yourself in new technologies has been a recurring topic on this show. Today we're going to chat with a group that went a step further and started their own academy.

Use coupon code ExploreVM for half off your Skylines membership during the month of May.

Listen to "Introducing Skylines Academy" on Spreaker.

I strongly suggest taking a look at skylines academy to begin your Azure journey.
And hey, half off with code ExploreVM isn't too shabby either.
Also, what do you think of the new theme music? A long time friend of mine, Matt Carlson, sent over a song he felt was techy and nerdy, so a perfect fit for the show.

Show Links:
Skylines Academy
kylines Academy on YouTube
Nick Colyer on Twitter
Amy Manley on Twitter
Brette Bossick on Twitter
2 Ninjas 1 Blog

Do you have an idea or a topic for the show? Would you like to be a guest on the ExploreVM podcast? If so, please contact me on Twitter, Email, or Facebook.