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My newest Storage Appliance for under $2,000

After 22+ years in backup, I have become something of a storage geek on the side (or at least pretend to be one).

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been playing with a new storage solution in my Dallas lab:

The device has two gigabit NICs in it – one offering CIFS/SMB 3.0 shares and the other is an iSCSI Target.

I threw five 3TB SATA drives in it to give me some raw capacity and then started carving out LUNs, including:

  • a simple LUN (no redundancy) for my data protection solution(s)
  • a mirrored LUN (with redundancy) for data that has to be persistent
  • and a high-performance LUN that my virtual machines run off of.

I then created volumes off of each of the three LUNs, each using thin provisioning … and deduplication … for optimum capacity usage.

It has native data protection features, including cloud-extensibility – its controller can be clustered for resiliency and the file shares can be replicated, but I don’t yet have an offsite target to test it with.

It is supporting my VM workloads very well – and my W8 devices are seeing benefit from SMB 3.0 during large file transfers.

And this week, I was told that the vendor will be adding storage tiering, so that I can put SSDs in front of my HDD storage pool, for even faster performance.

And I paid less than $2,000 for the whole thing.

It’s a Windows Server 2012 server

From Win2000 through 2008 R2, Microsoft has steadily added storage capabilities to its platform – sometimes in the main OS, and others through its Windows Storage Server OEM product line.  This week at Microsoft TechEd 2013, storage was one of the main discussion areas from the keynote to the session breakouts. WS 2012 introduced Storage Spaces and many of the features discussed earlier. This week, Microsoft announced that WS 2012 R2 (part of the “blue” wave of releases) will preview later this month and ship later in the year with storage tiering as a new capability.

This is NOT an attempt by Microsoft to become a Storage Appliance vendor, as I specifically asked them during executive Q&A – but is consistent with their Cloud OS story. In building a platform that is equally suitable in private datacenters and cloud-providers (including their own Azure facilities), they have commoditized many of the key storage features necessary for providing infrastructure at scale.

Does this replace SAN/NAS’s as we know them? Absolutely not

There is still a great deal of innovation, scale, and performance that SAN/NAS vendors provide. At the same time, it does bring many of those features to the lower and mid SMB market, in areas that historically would have benefited from the capabilities but couldn’t find the features or products that fit their space (economically and ease‑of‑manageability, speaking). This is a classic case of Microsoft taking traditionally hardware‑centric features that enterprises demanded and democratizing the capabilities through mainline Windows, for broader usage by a more diverse IT ecosystem. After that, it becomes a value/performance/capability discussion for customers of all sizes.

Disclosure: I used to be a Microsoft MVP in File/Storage many years ago, and was also formerly the product manager for those features in Win Svr 2008, 2008 R2 and WSS. Click here to read the archive of my earlier coverage of Windows’ Storage features on my blog.

I will leave it to the real storage analysts at ESG (Mark, Terri, Steve and others) to provide more perspective – but suffice it to say that I and the other ESG non-storage analyst who attended TechEd were impressed with the capabilities, particularly as they relate to the Cloud OS story that Microsoft is telling.  It’s been several years (2004, I believe) since Storage and Backup (will be blogged separately) have been preached from the mainstage of TechEd. But with features like this, it is surprising that Microsoft isn’t shouting about it even louder. They certainly have some interesting, and disruptive, things to say.

As always, thanks for reading.

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