TechEd Europe 2013 – Storage   Leave a comment


Microsoft on storageOnwards and upwards (or, if using a logical depiction of infrastructure, downwards) to storage.

It should be obvious by now that Microsoft is very serious about storage and they’re using the term Software Defined Storage throughout their sessions. Windows Server 2012 introduced a number of great storage features and 2012 R2 expands on them.

The main point driven home by the sessions, and pretty much everything else Microsoft communicates, is that they want to enable you to build scalable enterprise solutions based on standardized, commodity hardware. The image to the right, taken from these slides, illustrate this vision.

Unlike the Hyper-V post I’m not quite sure on how to divide this post into sections so I’ll just rattle through the features to the best of my abilities.

The fact that Windows Server and System Center now has a synchronized release schedule means that VMM 2012 R2 is able to to a lot more when it comes to storage.

One of the bigger items is that it now can manage the entire Fibre Channel stack, from virtual HBAs in a VM to configuring a Cisco or Brocade SAN switch.

VMM 2012 R2 and Windows Server 2012 R2 uses a new management API called SM-API that is not only a lot faster but covers SMI-S, Storage Spaces as well as older devices. This means that VMM 2012 R2 also manages the entire Storage Spaces stack instead of just simple management of shares as in VMM 2012 SP1.

VMM 2102 R2 uses ODX, if possible, to deploy a VM from library to a host but not for anything else (we’ll see what happens until the product is released though).

VMM 2012 can bare metal deploy Hyper-V hosts and that functionality is extended to Scale Out File Servers now as well in 2012 R2. It sets up the entire thing for you, totally automated.

In VMM 2012 R2 you can classify storage on a per share level if you wish. A volume can be Silver, for instance, but a share can have additional features that increases the classification to Gold. These classifications are user configurable. Beyond this the actual fabric can now also be classified.

As mentioned in my previous post Windows Server 2012 R2 allows you to set a per VM Quality of Service for IOPS and the VM also has a new set of metrics (that follows the VM around) that should make it a lot easier to design a solution based on facts instead of more or less qualified guesses.

Also mentioned previously is the shared VHDX (I’ll abbreviate that to sVHDX from now on) but I’d like to expand a bit on the feature. As with previous guest clustering methods you can’t back up a guest cluster using host level backup, even with sVHDX.

Something else that doesn’t work with sVHDX is Hyper-V Replica and neither does Live Storage Migration. When I mentioned this to Ben Armstrong it was quite clear that Microsoft is very well aware of these limitations. Reading between the lines; working as hard as possible to remove them.

VMM can only create a sVHDX by using templates but the Hyper-V manager exposes this functionality as well if needed.

A VM can have a Write Back Cache in 2012 R2, also persistent with the machine. Differencing disks are also cached, leading to much faster deployment of VMs. The CSV cache can now be up to 80% of the RAM.

And, just to include it, you can now expand a VHDX online.

On to the actual file server in Windows Server 2012 R2.

A lot of work has been put into enhancing performance and demos showed 1.000.000+ IOPS with randomly read 8 KB packets. Even with 32 KB packets 2012 R2 delivers 500.000+ IOPS but, most importantly, 16+ GB/second of data transfer. Note that this is with Storage Spaces on standard hardware. SMB Direct has seen a performance boost overall – especially over networks faster than 10 Gbit.

De-duplication has been improved as well and now supports CSV volumes and live de-dupe for VHDX in a VDI scenario. Counter intuitive to what you might think the VMs actually boot faster in this scenario, thanks to efficient caching. If your Hyper-V host is directly attached to the storage you should never activate de-dupe though. Save that CPU for your VMs. Also, don’t enable de-dupe of VHDX for anything else than VDI scenarios if you want support from Microsoft.

The de-duplication is handled by the node that owns the CSV-volume where the VHDX resides and demos showed that is possible to put 50 VDI VMs on a low-cost, commodity SSD, giving them great boot performance.

One feature that I really like is the automatic tiering in Storage Spaces between SSD disks and mechanical disks (no other distinction is made) that makes sure that hot bits are migrated to SSD according to schedule, or manually if you so wish. Killer feature.

2012 R2 includes a SMB Bandwidth Manager that differentiates between traffic for Live Migration, VM storage and everything else. Similar to existing QoS but for SMB.

A Scale Out File Server cluster in 2012 R2 automatically balances the ownership and access of both CSV volumes as well as shares. This in conjunction with the fact that clients now connect to a share, instead of a host, means that a guest can leverage the SOFS cluster capacity much more efficiently.

There’s a new instance in a 2012 R2 SOFS cluster that is dedicated to managing CSV traffic, improving reliability of the cluster.

If you install the iSCSI role on a 2012 R2 server you get the SMI-S provider for iSCSI as well, instead of having to install it from VMM media as it is now.

When chatting briefly with Hans Vredevoort he mentioned that NetApp has a feature that converts VMDK (VMware hard drives) to VHDX in 30 seconds by simply changing the metadata for the disk, leaving the actual data alone. Sounds amazing and I’ll try to get some more information on this.

Finally, on a parting note, I’d like to mention that when I asked José Barreto if it’d be worth the effort to convince a colleague that works solely with traditional enterprise storage to come to TechEd 2014 he thought for a while and then said that yes, it’d be worth the effort.

To echo my opening statement; if should be obvious by now that Microsoft is serious about owning the storage layer as well and based on the hint that José gave I’m sure that if nothing else next year will be even more interesting.

For more on SMB3 and Windows Server 2012 R2 storage, visit José Barretos post on the subject.

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Posted 30 June, 2013 by martinnr5 in Elsewhere, FYI, Operating system, Technical

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