DELL Compellent Storage Center 7.1 Certified for Windows Server 2016

When it comes to selecting storage, especially when it comes to a “traditional” SAN, you all know that price performance wise I’ve been using the DELL Compellent series with great success for many years now. It’s a very capable solution that also has some other benefits when it comes to Windows Server and Hyper-V. It has one of the better hardware VSS providers, way better than average support for ODX  and UNMAP etc. but it’s also very good at delivering fast support for new versions of Windows Server. This has allowed us to move from Windows Server 2008 R2 to 2012 and from there to Windows Server 2012 R2 very fast.

In that regards I’m very happy to see that Storage Center 7.1 is already in the catalog as certified for Windows Server 2016.

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Customers that have up to date hardware and want to move fast to benefit from and leverage the new and improved capabilities in Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V, Clustering, Networking, …are ready to do so. Nice Smile.

Dell Compellent SCOS 6.7 ODX Bug Heads Up

UPDATE 3: Bad and disappointing news. After update 2 we’ve seen DELL change the CSTA (CoPilot Services Technical Alert)  on the customer website to “’will be fixed” in a future version. No according to the latest comment on this blog post that would be In Q1 2017. Basically this is unacceptable and it’s a shame to see a SAN that was one of the best when in comes to Hyper-V Support in Windows Server 2012 / 2012 R2 decline in this way. If  7.x is required for Windows Server 2016 Support this is pretty bad as it means early adopters are stuck or we’ll have to find an recommend another solution. This is not a good day for Dell storage.

UPDATE 2: As you can read in the comments below people are still having issues. Do NOT just update without checking everything.

UPDATE: This issue has been resolved in Storage Center 6.7.10 and 7.Ximage

If you have 6.7.x below 6.7.10 it’s time to think about moving to 6.7.10!

No vendor is exempt form errors, issues, mistakes and trouble with advances features and unfortunately Dell Compellent has issues with Windows Server 2012 (R2) ODX in the current release of SCOS 6.7. Bar a performance issue in a 6.4 version they had very good track record in regards to ODX, UNMAP, … so far. But no matter how good your are, bad things can happen.

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I’ve had to people who were bitten by it contact me. The issue is described below.

In SCOS 6.7 an issue has been determined when the ODX driver in Windows Server 2012 requests an Extended Copy between a source volume which is unknown to the Storage Center and a volume which is presented from the Storage Center. When this occurs the Storage Center does not respond with the correct ODX failure code. This results in the Windows Server 2012 not correctly recognizing that the source volume is unknown to the Storage Center. Without the failure code Windows will continually retry the same request which will fail. Due to the large number of failed requests, MPIO will mark the path as down. Performing ODX operations between Storage Center volumes will work and is not exposed to this issue.

You might think that this is not a problem as you might only use Compellent storage but think again. Local disks on the hosts where data is stored temporarily and external storage you use to transport data in and out of your datacenter, or copy backups to are all use cases we can encounter.  When ODX is enabled, it is by default on Windows 2012(R2), the file system will try to use it and when that fails use normal (non ODX) operations. All of this is transparent to the users. Now MPIO will mark the Compellent path as down. Ouch. I will not risk that. Any IO between an non Compellent LUN and a Compellent LUN might cause this to happen.

The only workaround for now is to disable ODX on all your hosts. To me that’s unacceptable and I will not be upgrading to 6.7 for now. We rely on ODX to gain performance benefits at both the physical and virtual layer. We even have our SMB 3 capable clients in the branch offices leverage ODX to avoid costly data copies to our clustered Transparent Failover File Servers.

When a version arrives that fix the issue I’Il testing even more elaborate than before. We’ve come to pay attention to performance issues or data corruption with many vendors, models and releases but this MPIO issue is a new one for me.

Dell Storage Replay Manager 7.6.0.47 for Compellent 6.5

Recently as a DELL Compellent customer version 7.6.0.47 became available to us. I download it and found some welcome new capabilities in the release notes.

  • Support for vSphere 6
  • 2024 bit public key support for SSL/TLS
  • The ability to retry failed jobs (Microsoft Extensions Only)
  • The ability to modify a backup set (Microsoft Extensions Only)

The ability to retry failed jobs is handy. There might be a conflicting backup running via a 3rd party tool leveraging the hardware VSS provider. So the ability to retry can mitigate this. As we do multiple replays per day and have them scheduled recurrently we already mitigated the negative effects of this, but this only gibes us more options to deal with such situations. It’s good.

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The ability to modify a backup set is one I love. It was just so annoying not to be able to do this before. A change in the environment meant having to create a new backup set. That also meant keeping around the old job for as long as you wanted to retain the replays associated with that job. Not the most optimal way of handling change I’d say, so this made me happy when I saw it.

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Now I’d like DELL to invest a bit more in make restore of volume based replays of virtual machines easier. I actually like the volume based ones with Hyper-V as it’s one snapshot per CSV for all VMs and it doesn’t require all the VMs to reside on the host where we originally defined the backup set. Optimally you do run all the VMs on the node that own the CSV but otherwise it has less restrictions. I my humble opinion anything that restricts VM mobility is bad and goes against the grain of virtualization and dynamic optimization. I wonder if this has more to do with older CVS/Hyper-V versions, current limitations in Windows Server Hyper-V or CVS or a combination. This makes for a nice discussion, so if anyone from MSFT & the DELL Storage team responsible for Repay Manager wants to have one, just let me know Smile 

Last but not least I’d love DELL to communicate in Q4 of 2015 on how they will integrate their data protection offering in Compellent/Replay manager with Windows Server 2016 Backup changes and enhancements. That’s quite a change that’s happing for Hyper-V and it would be good for all to know what’s being done to leverage that. Another thing that is high on my priority for success is to enable leveraging replays with Live Volumes. For me that’s the biggest drawback to Live Volumes: having to chose between high/continuous availability and application consistent replays for data protection and other use cases).

I have some more things on my wish list but these are out of scope in regards to the subject of this blog post.

SMB 3, ODX, Windows Server 2012 R2 & Windows 8.1 perform magic in file sharing for both corporate & branch offices

SMB 3 for Transparent Failover File Shares

SMB 3 gives us lots of goodies and one of them is Transparent Failover which allows us to make file shares continuously available on a cluster. I have talked about this before in Transparent Failover & Node Fault Tolerance With SMB 2.2 Tested (yes, that was with the developer preview bits after BUILD 2011, I was hooked fast and early) and here Continuously Available File Shares Don’t Support Short File Names – "The request is not supported" & “CA failure – Failed to set continuously available property on a new or existing file share as Resume Key filter is not started.”

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This is an awesome capability to have. This also made me decide to deploy Windows 8 and now 8.1 as the default client OS. The fact that maintenance (it the Resume Key filter that makes this possible) can now happen during day time and patches can be done via Cluster Aware Updating is such a win-win for everyone it’s a no brainer. Just do it. Even better, it’s continuous availability thanks to the Witness service!

When the node running the file share crashes, the clients will experience a somewhat long delay in responsiveness but after 10 seconds the continue where they left off when the role has resumed on the other node. Awesome! Learn more bout this here Continuously Available File Server: Under the Hood and SMB Transparent Failover – making file shares continuously available.

Windows Clients also benefits from ODX

But there is more it’s SMB 3 & ODX that brings us even more goodness. The offloading of read & write to the SAN saving CPU cycles and bandwidth. Especially in the case of branch offices this rocks. SMB 3 clients who copy data between files shares on Windows Server 2012 (R2) that has storage an a ODX capable SAN get the benefit that the transfer request is translated to ODX by the server who gets a token that represents the data. This token is used by Windows to do the copying and is delivered to the storage array who internally does all the heavy lifting and tell the client the job is done. No more reading data form disk, translating it into TCP/IP, moving it across the wire to reassemble them on the other side and write them to disk.

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To make ODX happen we need a decent SAN that supports this well. A DELL Compellent shines here. Next to that you can’t have any filter drives on the volumes that don’t support offloaded read and write. This means that we need to make sure that features like data deduplication support this but also that 3rd party vendors for anti-virus and backup don’t ruin the party.

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In the screenshot above you can see that Windows data deduplication supports ODX. And if you run antivirus on the host you have to make sure that the filter driver supports ODX. In our case McAfee Enterprise does. So we’re good. Do make sure to exclude the cluster related folders & subfolders from on access scans and schedules scans.

Do not run DFS Namespace servers on the cluster nodes. The DfsDriver does not support ODX!

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The solution is easy, run your DFS Namespaces servers separate from your cluster hosts, somewhere else. That’s not a show stopper.

The user experience

What it looks like to a user? Totally normal except for the speed at which the file copies happen.

Here’s me copying an ISO file from a file share on server A to a file share on server B from my Windows 8.1 workstation at the branch office in another city, 65 KM away from our data center and connected via a 200Mbps pipe (MPLS).

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On average we get about 300 MB/s or 2.4 Gbps, which “over” a 200Mbps WAN is a kind of magic. I assure you that they’re not complaining and get used to this quite (too) fast Winking smile.

The IT Pro experience

Leveraging SMB 3 and ODX means we avoid that people consume tons of bandwidth over the WAN and make copying large data sets a lot faster. On top of that the CPU cycles and bandwidth on the server are conserved for other needs as well. All this while we can failover the cluster nodes without our business users being impacted. Continuous to high availability, speed, less bandwidth & CPU cycles needed. What’s not to like?

Pretty cool huh! These improvements help out a lot and we’ve paid for them via software assurance so why not leverage them? Light up your IT infrastructure and make it shine.

What’s stopping you?

So what are your plans to leverage your software assurance benefits? What’s stopping you? When I asked that I got a couple of answers:

  • I don’t have money for new hardware. Well my SAN is also pré Windows 2012 (DELL Compellent SC40 controllers. I just chose based on my own research not on what VARs like to sell to get maximal kickbacks Winking smile. The servers I used are almost 4 years old but fully up to date DELL PowerEdge R710’s, recuperated from their duty as Hyper-V hosts. These server easily last us 6 years and over time we collected some spare servers for parts or replacement after the support expires. DELL doesn’t take away your access to firmware &drivers like some do and their servers aren’t artificially crippled in feature set.
  • Skills? Study, learn, test! I mean it, no excuse!
  • Bad support from ISV an OEMs for recent Windows versions are holding you back? Buy other brands, vote with your money and do not accept their excuses. You pay them to deliver.

As IT professionals we must and we can deliver. This is only possible as the result of sustained effort & planning. All the labs, testing, studying helps out when I’m designing and deploying solutions. As I take the entire stack into account in designs and we do our due diligence, I know it will work. The fact that being active in the community also helps me know early on what vendors & products have issues and makes that we can avoid the “marchitecture” solutions that don’t deliver when deployed. You can achieve this as well, you just have to make it happen. That’s not too expensive or time consuming, at least a lot less than being stuck after you spent your money.