Time to upgrade to StarWind Virtual SAN V8

While I was upgrading my Home lab to the latest vCloud Suite with all the new nice goodies that VMware has just released like vCAC 6.1, vSphere 5.5U2, vCenter 5.5U2, ESXi 5.5U2, vCenter Orchestrator 5.5U2 and so on. I was really excited about these new arrivals and rushing to do the upgrade, but I had some resource constrain in my home lab and it was about time to do some cleanup of all those machines that I have spawn when testing vCAC and vCO. VMware vCOPs was such a great tool to point out idle VMs and oversized VMs in the environment which has helped me extend the life of my home lab.

While  cleaning up and deleting unneeded VMs, I have came up across an interesting VM that at first glance seemed pretty idle on CPU & Mem respective while doing some good amount of I/O. The name of the VM did not remind me of anything, in fact the name was VT001(I know not the greatest name, but it seems to be the first VM in a lab environment). My first thought was it is a VM I have spawned by an old instance of vCAC and forgot to delete it, but I decided to look into the VM and see what is running inside of it & I am definitely  glad I did. This VM was running an ancient version of StarWind iSCSI Free SAN that hosts my full test environment.  I have tossed it there a couple years back and been using it since then without maintenance or thinking where all the storage of my lab is being hosted for two year with zero upgrade and maintenance. It drive me nuts to think I was about to destroy my home lab as it has been that long since I have touched that machine.

I thought it might be time to upgrade my StarWind iSCSI Free SAN to the latest version of StarWind Virtual SAN to benefits of their new features (In particular HA and being able to coupe up with deleting one instance just in case I hit delete the next time around). I have reached out to StarWind and they were kind enough to issue me an NFR license for my home lab for being a vExpert. I am sure many of you are wondering why I did not move my lab to VMware Virtual SAN, as I could easily put my hand on a free license for our great Virtual SAN.  I have definitely considered VMware Virtual SAN to be my home lab SAN, but I was not ready for the extra investment or all the none supported work around to get it to host my home lab environment.  Below is few VMware Virtual SAN requirements that I could not meet in my home lab:

1- It requires a minimum of three hosts <== I only had two hosts in my current home lab, if anyone want to pay for my third one let me know and I will send you my paypal account.

2- It required at least a SSD per host <== I don’t have any SSD in my home labs at the moment, although I would love to invest into few sometime in the future. Again see my paypal comment on point number 1.

3- All hardware used for a Virtual SAN deployment must be on the VMware HCL. All I/O Controllers, HDD and SSD must be on the Virtual SAN HCL. <== Ooops I am using white boxes and my I/O Controllers are not supported by Virtual SAN at the moment. Not to mention many components in my white boxes are not officially supported by VMware at the moment.

For the above reasons, I have decided to stick with StarWind Virtual SAN as it has been reliable since I have started my home lab, and delivered all the IOPs I needed without any issue. Further, I have been impressed by all the new features that they have introduced with their new release, not to mention the biggest advantage in my case that it did not require any special hardware and the ability to use it with only two hosts. If you have a smaller environment that could not meet VMware Virtual SAN requirements at the moment, you might find an escape in StarWind Virtual SAN. Did I mention that they have a free version, that allow you to use it with unlimited storage as long you don’t need to configure HA, but if you need HA you will get up 128GB. If it is for your home lab and you are a vExpert, you probably can get a free NFR license, all you need is to ask them nicely :).

I am still working on upgrading my home lab StarWind iSCSI to their new StarWind Virtual SAN, but I have completed a new install and will be using Storage VMotion to do my migration. I wanted to setup and test all the new features I like before moving my VMs to the new StarWind Virtual SAN (Lookup for a future post with how I have set it up). I have moved only few VMs to it at the moment, but it seems promising already. Below are the features I am looking to further test and hear others feedback on it if you have been using it for a while:

– High Availability with two nodes, where it will always keep a safe replica of my data on the other host.

– Server-Side Cache  where StarWind Virtual SAN can reduces I/O latency and eliminates much of the network traffic by utilizing distributed RAM and flash-based caches(only RAM is used in my case).  I am looking forward to see how much improvement will I  get over my old version of StarWind iSCSI. My initial VMs seemed to run snappier after moving them to my new Virtual SAN, but I will need to run an IOMeter against it after the full migration is complete to get a more definite answer. Further, It is nice to know that caches are kept coherent between multiple hosts so that write back policy is safe and achievable with commodity hardware.

– Deduplication and Compression will be a nice feature to free up some more space for new upcoming test VMs!

The only thing, I wish StarWind has done differently is offering their software as an appliance rather than a Windows install-able, just not to worry about maintaining and licensing that extra instance of Windows. Beside that it’s a great piece of software.

At last if you are looking to download StarWind Virtual SAN V8 Trail, you can access it at: Download StarWind Virtual SAN V8.

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