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Reduce VMware Storage Costs with Windows Server 2012 Storage Spaces

SAN-like Storage Spaces with Continuous Availability Clustering and NFS Server frees up IT Budgets

Windows Server 2012 can provide key advantages in one of the areas that is near-and-dear to every VMware administrator's budget: Storage! In this article, we'll explore the storage enhancements that Windows Server 2012 offers, and along the way, we'll see how it can help to "right-size" your VMware storage costs so that you have more budget for strategic IT investments ...

Do I need to migrate to Hyper-V to benefit from Windows Server 2012?
Not necessarily.
Sure, lots of IT Pros have migrated to Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 - or Hyper-V Server 2012, our FREE bare-metal enterprise-grade hypervisor – AND, they’ve experienced the benefits that I mentioned above.  BUT, Windows Server 2012 also includes end-to-end improvements in other important areas, such as Storage, Networking, Security and Management.

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Windows Server 2012 Enhancements – Much more than just Hyper-V!

Many of these enhancements in Windows Server 2012 provide great value to IT shops regardless of your current virtualization platform.

Did you say “Storage”? That’s one area where I could use some help!
Absolutely!
When I speak with IT Pros at community events, storage is consistently reported as one of the most significant, and growing, hardware costs within their datacenters.  For instance, to support storage demands when using VMware, many IT Pros have traditionally resorted to expensive SAN or NAS appliance solutions in order to address their capacity and IO performance needs.  These storage appliances can cost thousands of dollars per TB of usable storage, and, of course, these high costs can contribute to an inflated total cost for managing a datacenter.

Windows Server 2012, combined with commodity, enterprise SSD drives or SAS disks and inexpensive JBOD storage enclosures, provides exciting opportunities to “right-size” your storage budget.  IT Pros can leverage capabilities such as SAN-like Storage Spaces, Continuously Available Clustering and NFS Server support to easily create an attractive alternative to traditional storage appliances.  This presents the potential to reduce total VMware storage costs many-fold, from several thousand dollars per TB down to just hundreds per TB.

Using a Windows Server 2012 NFS Server Cluster, the resulting storage architecture looks very similar in design to what many SAN or NAS appliances employ “under-the-hood”, but without the high cost of proprietary hardware.

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Windows Server 2012 – Enterprise-class Storage at Commodity Costs

In the end, all of the dollars that you save with your new Windows Server 2012 storage solution could be just enough to pay for the server hardware needed for those new scaled-up Hyper-V Server 2012 virtualization hosts that you’ve been wanting! Winking smile Since Hyper-V Server 2012 is FREE, and includes the same Hyper-V features as Windows Server 2012, you could have plenty left over from your "right-sized" storage budget to invest in some really nice virtualization host server hardware.

Sounds interesting … BUT, this can’t be very fast … Can it?
Actually, YES!
By utilizing a new native RPC-XDR transport infrastructure, Windows Server 2012 can deliver optimal NFS performance out-of-the-box without the need to tune any parameters.  The NFS server provides an auto-tuned cache and thread pools along with dynamic resource management that is designed to adapt to varying workloads.  In addition, fast failovers with new per-physical disk resources, tuned failover paths and Network Status Monitor (NSM) notifications mean that NFSv3 clients, such as VMware ESXi hosts, can have fast and transparent failovers even under heavy IO load.

Our NFS protocol team employs veteran designers of the NFS and iSCSI protocol specifications, and they regularly participate in NFS bake-a-thons to help ensure that Windows Server 2012 is providing a robust, reliable and easy-to-deploy NFS storage solution.

Is this some kind of “Virtual Storage Appliance” that costs extra?
Of course not!
All of these storage capabilities are included out-of-the-box with both Windows Server 2012 Standard Edition and Datacenter Edition.  No additional licenses are required.  If you’re already using Windows Server file servers in your shop, upgrading those servers to a Windows Server 2012 cluster can provide an easy path to support both your existing file server workloads as well as the new NFS server capabilities described in this article.

Can this solution help when migrating VM’s to Hyper-V?
Indeed, it can!
The most time-consuming task when upgrading to a new virtualization platform, such as Hyper-V, is often the time it takes to copy VMs between old and new virtualization platforms.  Any storage on a Windows Server 2012 NFS Cluster can also be shared via our native SMB 3.0 network protocol.  During an upgrade to Hyper-V, this means that the storage can simply be removed from the source VMware hosts and presented to the new Hyper-V hosts, ready for the VMs to be upgraded to VHD/VHDX format using your favorite V2V migration tools.  For more details on upgrading to Hyper-V Server 2012, see:

After I migrate VMs to Hyper-V, how does this storage solution change?
It only gets better!
After your VM’s are running on Hyper-V Server 2012, you’ll be able to take advantage of the additional storage improvements provided by the SMB 3.0 network protocol – such as SMB-Direct (RDMA), SMB-Multichannel, and SMB-Scaleout. As the Enterprise Strategy Group verified in their lab results, Windows Server 2012 with SMB 3.0 can provide storage IO throughput for tier-1 Hyper-V VM workloads that is within +/- 1% to 4% of the performance of traditional Fibre Channel storage solutions at approximately 50% less cost.

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Hyper-V Server 2012 Tier-1 VM Storage Transactions Comparison

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Windows Server 2012 SMB Storage Spaces Cost Comparison

For the full copy of the lab report from which these results were summarized, be sure to check out the following link:

You’ve got my attention! Where can I learn more?
To get started with next steps in evaluating Windows Server 2012 as an effective NFS storage solution for your virtualization environment, follow these guides to walk through the process …

NEXT STEPS:

  1. Configure Storage Spaces in Windows Server 2012
  2. Creating a Windows Server 2012 Failover Cluster
  3. Install and Configure NFS Shares on Windows Server 2012
  4. VMware Setup for Windows Server 2012 NFS Server Cluster
  5. Migrate VMs from VMware to Hyper-V and Windows Azure

Once you’ve had a chance to explore these resources, please feel free to share your results below with the rest of our IT Pro community.

Happy right-sizing!

- Keith

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More Stories By Keith Mayer

Keith Mayer is a Technical Evangelist at Microsoft focused on Windows Infrastructure, Data Center Virtualization, Systems Management and Private Cloud. Keith has over 17 years of experience as a technical leader of complex IT projects, in diverse roles, such as Network Engineer, IT Manager, Technical Instructor and Consultant. He has consulted and trained thousands of IT professionals worldwide on the design and implementation of enterprise technology solutions.

Keith is currently certified on several Microsoft technologies, including System Center, Hyper-V, Windows, Windows Server, SharePoint and Exchange. He also holds other industry certifications from IBM, Cisco, Citrix, HP, CheckPoint, CompTIA and Interwoven.

Keith is the author of the IT Pros ROCK! Blog on Microsoft TechNet, voted as one of the Top 50 "Must Read" IT Blogs.

Keith also manages the Windows Server 2012 "Early Experts" Challenge - a FREE online study group for IT Pros interested in studying and preparing for certification on Windows Server 2012. Join us and become the next "Early Expert"!

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