DELL EMC Ready Nodes and Storage Spaces Direct

Introduction

Unless you have been living under a rock you must have heard about Storage Spaces Direct (S2D) in Windows Server 2016, which has gone RTM in Q4 2016.

There is a lot of enthusiasm for S2D and we have seen heard and assisted in early adopter situations. But that’s a bit of pioneering with OEM/MSFT approved components. So now bring in the DELL EMC Ready Nodes and Storage Spaces Direct.

DELL EMC Storage Spaces Direct Ready Nodes

So enter the DELL EMC ready nodes. These will be available this summer and should help less adventurous but interested customers get on the S2D bandwagon. These were announced at DELL EMC world 2017 and on may 30th they published some information on the TechCenter.

If offers a fully OEM supported S2D solution to the customers that cannot or will not carry the engineering effort associated with self built solution.

I was sort of hoping these would leverage the PowerEdge 740DX from the start but they seem to have opted to begin with the DELL 730DX. I’m pretty sure the R740DX will follow soon as it’s a perfect fit for the use case having 25Gbps support. In that respect I expect a refresh of the switches offered as well as the S4048 is a great switch but keeps us at 10Gbps. If I was calling the shots I’d that ready and done sooner rather than later as the 25/50/100Gbps network era is upon us. There’s a reason I’ve been asking for 25Gpbs capable switches with smaller port counts for SME.

Maybe this is an indication of where they think this offering will sell best. But I’d be considering future deployments when evaluating network gear purchases. These have a long service time. And when S2D proves it self I’m sure the size of the deployments will grow and with it the need for more bandwidth. Mind you 10Gbps isn’t bad even if if, for Hyper-V nodes would be doing 2*dual port Mellanox Connect-X 3 Pro cards.

Having mentioned them, I am very happy to see the Mellanox RoCE cards in there.That’s the best choice they could have made. The 1Gbps on board NICs are Intel, which matches my preference. The game is a foot!

I am presenting at VeeamON 2017

I’m travelling to New Orleans for VeeamON2. If you don’t know what that is, please check it out here. I can recommend this conference. Both the attendees and presenters are all very active users of Veeam products and the workloads Veeam protects in real live. That makes for excellent sharing of experiences, insights and knowledge with your peers.

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I have the distinct honor of presenting a joint session with Luca Dell’Oca (@dellock6 / http://www.virtualtothecore.com/en/) and Carsten Reachfahl (@hypervserver / https://www.rachfahl.de/). The presentation is called: Throw your backups into ANY window and is on Wednesday, May 17 | 13:30-14:30.

Choosing a storage solution for your backups can be a daunting task: Windows or Linux servers, SMB shares, SAN, NAS, deduplication appliances … But block cloning, a new feature in Windows 2016 and leveraged by Veeam Backup & Replication™, is promising to change this. Available for ReFS 3.1 file systems, this technology allows for insanely reduced transform times and spaceless GFS backups. Or at least, this is what marketing has told us so far, but how good is it in reality? Is an expensive and complex Storage Spaces Direct the only way to consume all the amazing new features? How can I design my new backup repository with these new options in mind? What about encryption and Veeam Scale-out Backup Repository™? Didier Van Hoye, Carsten Rachfahl (both Microsoft MVPs and Veeam Vanguards) and Luca Dell’Oca (Veeam cloud architect) have joined forces to bring you from-the-field information, tips, tricks and ideas to build your next Veeam backup repository with real-life tests and feedback gained from deploying this new powerful combination into multiple environments.

This session is complimentary to the other ones given at VeeamON 2017, both the breakout sessions as well as some of the session the Microsoft MVPs are presenting at the boot. Those sessions combined will send you home with ideas and options on how to leverage Veeam in creative ways to achieve the best possible solution for your needs. Personally I’ll be discussing some of the options you have to get get high available backup targets leveraging ReFSv3.1 in brown field scenarios when  a brand new Storage Spaces Direct deployment is not option or when you don’t run Windows Server Windows Server 2016 yet.

Next to that and between attending interesting sessions I’ll be available at the Veeam and Microsoft boots if you want to have questions or want to discuss the technologies. At the Microsoft boot I’ll be presenting a demo focused walk through on how to on Discrete Device Assignment in Windows Server 2016.

Back from the Cloud and Datacenter Conference Germany 2017

I just got back from a very successful Cloud & Datacenter Conference Germany, 2017 edition. I took some vacation days to go educate myself with the help of my peers and the excellent speakers. The people have a wealth of expertise and experience in real world solutions that address the challenges we face today. All this without marketing or too ego. Just pure knowledge sharing about the facts and realties. Take a look here at the wealth of industry experts that were attending and presenting.

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The attendees were amongst the better educated customers & partners you encounter in the field. This is great as this gives everybody good feedback and insight in the challenges we all face. I’d say there are definitely very pragmatic patterns in how businesses deal with the evolving cloud & datacenter ecosystem successfully. Cyber security is also part of that. I’m happy to see the insights shared with us by an expert lite Tudor Damian reminding us to always keep security in mind and showing us and that Microsoft is indeed making serious efforts to protect us in an IT environment they approach with the assumption that Ii t is compromised.

I did my part for the conference with a session on Failover Clustering Evolved (in Windows Server 2016) as well as with a presentation called SMB Direct – The Secret Decoder Ring for the Hyper-V Community day event the day before the conference. That was also awesome and I had a great response to the session and interest in our experiences with RDMA. Oh yes, I also got some hands on training in filming to the delight of my fellow MVPs Winking smile.

If it’s up to me, I’ll be back in 2018!

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.