Continuous available general purpose file shares & ReFSv3 provide high available backup targets

Introduction

In our previous two blog posts on Veeam and SMB 3 we’ve seen how and when Veeam Backup & Replication can leverage SMB Multichannel and SMB Direct. See Veeam Backup & Replication leverages SMB Multichannel and Veeam Backup & Replication Preferred Subnet & SMB Multichannel.The benefits of this are more bandwidth, high availability, better throughput and with RDMA low latency and CPU offload. What’s not to like, right? In a world where the compute and networks need keeps rising due to the storage capabilities (flash storage) pushing the limits this is all very welcome.

We have also seen earlier that Veeam B & R 9.5 leverages ReFSv3 in Windows Server 2016. This provides clear and present benefits in regards to space efficiencies and speed with many backup file related operations. Read Veeam Leads the way by leveraging ReFSv3 capabilities

When it comes to ReFSv3 in Windows Server 2016 most of the focus has gone to solutions based around Storage Spaces Direct (S2D). That’s a great solution and it is the poster child use case of these technologies.

But what other options do you have out there to build efficient and effective high available backup targets creatively except for S2D? What if you would like to repurpose existing hardware to build those? Let’s take a look together at how continuous available general purpose file shares & ReFSv3v3 provide high available backup targets

CSV, S2D, ReFSv3 & Archival Data

In Windows Server 2016, traditional shared storage (iSCSI, FC, Shared SAS, Shared RAID) with CSV are not recommend to be used with ReFSv3. Why isn’t exactly clear. The biggest impact you’ll see is the performance difference when not writing to the owner node of the CSV in this use case. Even with a well configured RDMA network that difference is significant. But that doesn’t mean that the performance is bad. It’s just that many of the super-fast meta data operations are relatively and significantly slower when compared each other, not that any of these two are slow.

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Microsoft does state that an S2D with ReFSv3 and SOFS shares can be used for archival data. Storage spaces and ReFSv3 also have the benefit of offering automatic repair of corrupt data from a redundant copy on the fly even when needed. So yes, the best know supported scenario is this one.

Continuous available general purpose file shares and ReFSv3 provide high available backup targets

But what if we need a high available backup target and would love to leverage ReFSv3 with Veeam Backup & Replication 9.5? Well, you can have 95% of your cookie and eat it to. All this without ignoring the cautions offered.

We could set up SOFS shares on a Windows Server 2016 Cluster with ReFSv3 with traditional shared storage. Some storage vendors do state this is supported actually.

That only means you don’t have the auto repair functionality ReFSv3 combined with storage spaces offers. But perhaps you want to avoid the risk of using ReFSv3 with CSV in a non S2D scenario all together. What you could do is forgo ReFSv3 and use NTFS. How well this will work for archival data or backup is something you’ll need to test and find out how well this holds up. There is not much info is out there, only other cautions and warnings that might keep you up at night.

There is another scenario however and that is using Windows Server 2016 failover clustering to set up continuously available general purpose file shares that leverage SMB3 transparent failover.

The good news is that general purpose file shares (no CSV) do work consistently with ReFSv3 because such a share/LUN is only exposed on one cluster node at the time, the owner. By having multiple shares and setting preferred owners we can load balance the workload across all cluster nodes.

Thank to continuous availability for general file shares and SMB 3 transparent failover we can still get a high available backup target this way. The failover is fast enough to make this happen and all we see with Veeam Backup & Replication is a short pause in throughput before it resumes after failover. To put the icing on the cake, you can leverage SMB multichannel SMB Direct for both backup and restores.

I would take a sizeable whitepaper to walk through the setup so instead I’ll show you a a quick video of a POC we did in the lab here https://vimeo.com/212886392.

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If you want to learn more come to the community & other conferences I’m speaking at and will be around for Ask The Experts time opportunities. I’ll be at the German Hyper-V community meet up, The Cloud & Datacenter Conference in Germany 2017, Dell EMC World 2017 and last but not least VeeamON 2017 (see  May 2017 will be a travelling month). 

Conclusion

What do you lose?

Potentially there is one big loss in regards to the capabilities of ReFSv3 with this solution when you are not using storage spaces. This is that you lose the capability to automatic repair of corrupt data. The ability of ReFSv3 to do so is tied into the redundant copies of Storage Spaces (parity/mirror).

What do you get?

That’s fine, the strength of this design is that you get the speed and space efficiencies of ReFSv3and high available backup targets in way more scenarios than “just” S2D. After all, not everyone is in a position to choose their storage fabric for backup targets green field or at will. But they might be able to leverage existing storage and opt to use SMB 3 for their data transport.

So even if you can’t have it all, you can still build very good solutions. It offers ReFSv3 benefits and high availability for your backup target via transparent failover with SMB transparent failover on continuous available general purpose file shares. This also only requires Windows Server 2016 Standard Edition, which is a cost saving. You get to leverage SMB Multichannel and SMB Direct. All this while not ignoring the cautions of using ReFSv3 in certain scenarios.

On top of that, if you use NTFS with this approach it will also work for Windows Server 2012 (R2) as the OS for the backup target cluster hosts.

Disclaimer

I do not work for or at Microsoft, nor am I perfect or infallible just because I’m an MVP. You’ll have to do your own testing and validation. From our testing and without ReFSv3 bugs ruining the show, to me this is a very valid and cost effective approach.

Veeam Backup & Replication leverages SMB Multichannel

Introduction

Is it true that Veeam Backup & Replication leverages SMB Multichannel? That is a question that I was asked recently. The answer is yes, when you have a backup design and configuration that allows for this. If that’s the case it will even happen automatically when possible. That’s how SMB 3 works. That means it’s a good idea to pay attention to the network design so that you’re not surprised by the route your backup traffic flows. Mind you that this could be a good surprise, but you might want to plan for it.

I’ll share a quick lab setup where SMB 3 Multichannel kicks in. Please don’t consider this a reference guide for your backup architectural design but as a demo of how SMB multichannel can be leveraged to your advantage.

Proving Veeam Backup & Replication leverages SMB Multichannel

Here’s a figure of a quick lab setup I threw together.

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There are a couple of significant things to note here when it comes to the automatic selection of the best possible network path.

SMB 3 Multichannel picks the best solution based on its logic. You can read more about that here. I’ve included the figure with the overview below.

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The figure nicely show the capabilities of the NIC situation. To select the best possible network path SMB 3 uses the following logic:

1. RDMA capable NICs (rNICs) are preferred and chosen first. rNICs combine the highest throughput, the lowest latency and bring CPU offloading. on the processor when pushing through large amounts of data.

2. RSS capable NICs: NIcs with Receive Side Scaling (RSS) improve scalability by not being limited to core zero on the server. Configured correctly RSS offers the second-best capabilities.

3. The speed of the NICs is the 3rd evaluation criteria: a 10 Gbps NIC offers way more throughput than a 1 Gbps NIC.

Following this logic it is clear that Multichannel will select our 2 RDMA capable 10Gbps NICs over the management LBFO interface which does not support RDMA and while supporting RSS can only deliver 2Gbps throughput at best. That’s exactly what you see in the screenshot below.

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Conclusion

So yes, Veeam Backup & Replication leverages SMB Multichannel! Please note that this did not require us to set SMB 3 Multichannel constraints or a preferred network for backups in Veeam Backup & Replication. It’s possible to do so when needed but ideally you design your solution to have no need for this and let automatic detection chose the best network path correctly. This is the case in our little lab setup. The backup traffic flows over 10.1.0.0/16 network even when our Veeam Backup & Replication VM, the Hyper-V host and the backup target have 10.10.0.0/16 as their management subnet. That’s the one they exist on the Active Directory domain they belong to for standard functionality. But as both the source and the target can be reached via 2*10Gbps RDMA capable NICs on the 10.1.0.0/16 subnet SMB3 will select those according to its selection criteria. No intervention needed.

SMB Direct Support

Now that we have shown that Veeam Backup & Replication backups in certain configurations can and will leverage SMB Multichannel to your benefit another question pops up. Can and does Veeam Backup & Replication leverage SMB Direct? The answer to that is also, yes. If SMB Direct is correctly configured on all the hosts and switches their networks paths in between it will. Multichannel is the mechanism used to detect SMB Direct capabilities, so if multichannel works and sees SMB Direct is possible it will leverage that. That’s why when SMB Direct or RDMA is enabled on your NICs it’s important that it is configured correctly throughout the entire network path used. Badly configured SMB Direct leads to very bad experiences.

Now think about that. High throughput, low latency and CPU offloading, minimizing the CPU impact on your Hyper-V hosts, SOFS nodes, S2D nodes and backup targets. Not bad at all, especially not since you’re probably already implementing SMB Direct in many of these deployments. It’s certainly something that could and should be considered when design solutions or optimizing existing ones.

More SMB3 and Windows Server 2016 Goodness

When you put your SMB3 file share continuously available on a Windows 2012 (R2) or Windows Server 2016 cluster (it doesn’t need to be on a CSV disk) you’ll gain high availability trough transparent failover with SMB3 and except for a short pause your backups will keep running even when the backup target node reboots or crashes after the File Server role has failed over. Now, start combing that with ReFSv3 in Windows Server 2016 and the Veeam Backup & Replication v9.5 support of this and you can see a lot of potential here to optimize many aspects of your backup design delivering effective and efficient solutions.

Things to investigate further

One question that pops up in my mind is what happens if we configure a preferred back-up network in Veeam Backup & Replication. Will this affect the operation of SMB multichannel at all? By that I means would enabling a preferred network in Veeam prevent multichannel from using more than one NIC?

I my opinion it should allow for multiple scenarios actually. When you have equally capable NICs that are on different subnets you might want to make sure it uses only one. After all, Veeam uses the subnet to configure a preferred path, or multiple subnets for that matter. Now multichannel will kick in with multiple equally capable NICs whether they are on the same subnet or not and if they are on the same subnet you might want them both to be leveraged even when setting a preferred path in Veeam. Remember that 1 IP / NIC is used to set up an SMB session and then it detects capabilities available, i.e. multiple paths, SMB Direct, RSS, speed, within 1 or across multiple subnets.

I’ll leave the combination of Veeam Backup & Replication and SMB multichannel for a future blog post.

Tips on using Convert-VMGeneration.ps1 with Windows Server 2016

Introduction

Recently I was involved in getting a bunch of “holy cow” virtual machines updated/migrated to be future ready (shielded VMs, see Guarded fabric and shielded VMs overview).

That means they have to be on Windows 2012 R2 as the guest OS minimally .For us anyway, we’re not falling behind the curve OS wise. That’s the current legacy OS in the environment. Preferably they need to be at Windows Server 2016. This is has been taken care of and 40% of the virtual machines is already running Windows Server 2016 for the Guest OS, the remainder is at Windows Server 2012 R2 and those are moving to Windows Server 2016, where useful and possible, at a steady pace.,

When deploying new virtual machines the default is to use generation 2 virtual machines. Any remaining virtual machines that cannot be replaced need to be converted to generation 2. For that we routinely use the great script provided by Microsoft’s John Howard (see Hyper-V generation 2 virtual machines – part 10)  We’ll share some tips on using Convert-VMGeneration.ps1 with Windows Server 2016, which is an OS / Hyper-V version later than what the script was written for and tested against.

Tips on using Convert-VMGeneration.ps1 with Windows Server 2016

During the use of this script we came across a couple of new situations for us. One of those were Window Server 2016 virtual machines that are still generation 1 and reside on either a Windows Server 2012 (R2) or Windows Server 2016 host. Another were virtual machines with Windows Server 2012 R2 or Windows Server 2016 as a guest OS that already live on Windows Server 2016 and are still generation 1 and have either already been converted to or installed on a virtual machine version 8 or not (still at 5). All these can be death with successfully.

Situation 1

Running the script on a Windows Server 2016 Host. This throws an error reporting that the was only tested with PS version 4.

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This is easily dealt with by using the -noPSVersionCheck switch, it even tells you to do so in the error message. I have found no issues in doing so.

.\Convert-VMGeneration.ps1 -VMName “MyVM” -path “C:\ClusterStorage\Volume1\ConvertedMyVM” -NoPSVersionCheck

Situation 2

Running the script against a generation 1 virtual machine with a Windows Server 2016 guest OS required a little adaptation of the script as it has an issue with detecting the guest OS version as supported. This is due to the fact that in the script the check is done against string values and they generate a logical “bug” when the doing.

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Checking if a string of value 7 -lt 6 will evaluate correctly but doing the same with 10 doesn’t, that’s false. An error message is show that the “Source OS must be version 6.2 (Windows 8/Windows Server 2012) or later”. Well is most certainly is, but the 10 in 10.0.14393.206 is not seen as greater or equal to six.

We fixed by converting the 1st and 2nd part (for good measure) of the OS version string to an integer before the check happens. That fixes it for us.

We’ll demonstrate this in a code snippet to run on a Windows Server 2016 host.

$SourceNTDLL = "C:\windows\system32\ntdll.dll"

$script:ProgressPoint = 651

$SourceOSVersion = ([System.Diagnostics.FileVersionInfo]::GetVersionInfo($SourceNTDLL).FileVersion)

$script:ProgressPoint = 652

$SourceProductName = ([System.Diagnostics.FileVersionInfo]::GetVersionInfo($SourceNTDLL).ProductName)

$SourceOSVersionParts = $SourceOSVersion.split(".")

if ($SourceOSVersionParts[0]-lt 6) { Write-Host "Source OS must be version 6.2 (Windows 8/Windows Server 2012) or later." }

if (($SourceOSVersionParts[0] -eq 6) -and ($SourceOSVersionParts[1] -lt 2)) {Write-Host "Source OS must be version 6.2 (Windows 8/Windows Server 2012) or later." }

This will give you the massage that the “Source OS must be version 6.2 (Windows 8/Windows Server 2012) or later”. So, we cast the $SourceOSVersionParts[X] variables to an integer to overcome this.

$SourceNTDLL = "C:\windows\system32\ntdll.dll"

$script:ProgressPoint = 651

$SourceOSVersion = ([System.Diagnostics.FileVersionInfo]::GetVersionInfo($SourceNTDLL).FileVersion)

$script:ProgressPoint = 652

$SourceProductName = ([System.Diagnostics.FileVersionInfo]::GetVersionInfo($SourceNTDLL).ProductName)

$SourceOSVersionParts = $SourceOSVersion.split(".")

#Cast the OS version parts to an integer

$OSVersionPart1 =[INT]$SourceOSVersionParts[0]

$OSVersionPart2 =[INT]$SourceOSVersionParts[1]

if ($OSVersionPart1 -lt 6) { Write-Host -ForegroundColor Green "Source OS must be version 6.2 (Windows 8/Windows Server 2012) or later." }

if (($OSVersionPart1 -eq 6) -and ($OSVersionPart2 -lt 2)) { CleanUp "Source OS must be version 6.2 (Windows 8/Windows Server 2012) or later." }

Do this and it evaluates correctly now so your script will run. That’s the only adaption we had to make in the script to make it run with a Windows Server 2016 guest OS.

Situation 3

My virtual machine is already a version 8 VM but still a generation 1 virtual machine. That’s not a problem at all. As long as you deal with situation 1 and 2, it will convert correctly.

Conclusion

If you’re prepping legacy virtual machines that need to be moved into a modern private cloud or on premises deployment you might need to convert them to generation 2 in order to take full advantage of the capabilities of the current Hyper-V platform (i.e. Shielded VMs). To do so you’ll be fine as long as they are running Windows Server 2012 (R2) as a guest OS on a Windows 2012 R2 host. If not, some creativity is all you need to get things going. Upgrade the guest OS if needed and fix the script if you encounter the situations as we described above. Sure, we have to herd virtual machines as cattle and avoiding holy cows VMs is important. But they do still exist and if they provide valuable services and we can’t let this hold us back from moving ahead. By proceeding like we did we prevented just that and avoided upsetting too many processes and people in the existing situation, let alone hindering them in the execution of their job. We still arrived at a situation where the virtual machines can be hosted as shielded virtual machines. Good luck!

Hyper-V Amigos Showcast Episode 14: RemoteFX & DDA

Carsten and I dove into our labs and played around with RemoteFX and Discrete Device Assignment in Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V and RDS. This resulted in the Hyper-V Amigos Showcast Episode 14: RemoteFX & DDA.

Some background on RemoteFX & DDA

I’ve discussed the new capabilities in previous blog posts such as https://blog.workinghardinit.work/?s=DDA&submit=Search  and RemoteFX and vGPU Improvements in Windows Server 2016 Hyper-V. But here the Hyper-V Amigos talk about it for your benefit and enjoyment. I for one know we had a ton of fun. Microsoft only VDI solutions are really taking off both on-premises and in Azure in cost conscious environments that still need good performance. I think we’ll see an uptake of such deployments as Microsoft has made some decisions and added some features to make this more feasible.

Hyper-V Amigos Showcast Episode 14: RemoteFX & DDA.

Click this link or the image below to watch Hyper-V Amigos Showcast Episode 14: RemoteFX & DDA

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There’s a bit of a learning curve associated with using DDA in Windows Server 2016. You’ll have to get acquainted with how to do it and put it to the test in labs and POCs. Do this before you even start thinking about designing production ready solutions. Having a good understanding on how it works and behaves is paramount to success.

Enjoy!