Using HCI to Optimize SMB and ROBO Storage Availability, Capacity and Performance – StarWind Briefing Note

IT organizations at small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs) and remote and branch office (ROBO) environments face unique challenges. Like their counterparts at larger organizations, they are pressured to empower new, data-driven business insights in real-time, to respond with agility to dynamic business requirements, and to find new means to optimize their cost structure (such as tiering cold data to cloud-based archives). At the same time, however, they are constrained by smaller budgets and more limited in-house IT staff. As a result, many are turning to hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) to simplify management and cut costs. SMB and ROBO storage planners should evaluate HCI solutions in particular for their ability to optimize performance, capacity and data availability – to make the most out of underlying infrastructure resources when it comes to meeting growing demands from the business.

StarWind HCI and Virtual Tape Library

StarWind is a storage virtualization and HCI provider that focuses specifically on SMB and ROBO environments. Its portfolio is designed to be simple-to-use and scalable, and to facilitate greater cost efficiency without sacrificing on performance – key requirements for this target audience that faces the challenge of modernizing IT on strapped resources.

StarWind’s Virtual SAN (VSAN) software-defined storage platform runs natively in the server hypervisor or in a virtual machine, and mirrors storage disks between virtual machines (VMs). Virtualizing storage functions streamlines and simplifies storage management, reducing the requirement for an expert in storage management to run operations. Additionally, VSAN may be deployed on pooled, commodity off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware to require a smaller amount of less expensive and less complex infrastructure – further mitigating costs and complexities. To accelerate application performance, VSAN was written to optimize the I/O path in addition to utilizing server-side flash and memory caching. The result, according to StarWind, is a blend of uptime/availability and performance that is worthy of mission-critical applications.

VSAN support has been extended from Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor to also include VMware’s vSphere hypervisor via a Linux VM. Hyper-V editions start small for scalability with a minimum configuration of one node and four terabytes (TB) of storage capacity; vSphere configurations begin with two nodes for fault tolerance and support an unlimited amount of storage capacity. VSAN natively integrates with hypervisor-specific management tools, which facilitates centralized IT operations management via the StarWind Manager.

Where previously StarWind focused exclusively on selling VSAN as stand-alone software, it has made the shift to selling appliances as well, offering customers simpler and faster deployment. StarWind HyperConverged Appliances (HCA) are offered in all-flash, hybrid and all-spinning disk configurations that may be based on either Dell Technologies or StarWind-branded server hardware, and that retain hypervisor choice. The sweet spot for HCA according to StarWind is configurations of 200 terabytes (TB) of data or less. The vendor offers its scale-out StarWind Storage Appliances (SA) for larger, multi-petabyte (PB) capacity needs, and it has many customers that utilize mixed node environments. For smaller organizations looking to better compete in high-performance computing for database, big data analytics and other performance and data-intensive workloads, the appliances support NVMe access protocols.

Complementing its VSAN and HCA production storage solutions, StarWind also has its Virtual Tape Library (VTL) platform for backup and archive workloads. Notably, StarWind has released a new appliance that integrates VTL with Veeam backup and replication software to make it easier for small-scale organizations with existing tape storage investments to migrate backup data onto any public cloud platform. Effectively, the storage manager configures retention policies based on performance and other characteristics; these policies trigger backup copies to be automatically migrated to lower-cost cloud storage services such as Amazon S3. In addition to cutting the cost of backup storage infrastructure, using virtual tapes stands to enhance protection against ransomware, which is unable to access and encrypt tape libraries.

StarWind’s focus on ROBO environments and SMBs serve it well. It is one of the few HCI vendors that can start with a two-node cluster. The company has to stay focused on this messaging and not be tempted to go after the bigger enterprise. As StarWind continues to add enterprise features, its traction in remote offices may very well carry the vendor into the core data center.

StorageSwiss Take

StarWind operates under the principle that infrastructure should be “invisible”; that is to say, it should just work when it comes to delivering application and data availability as well as performance. StarWind’s industry-centric positioning and its focus on optimizing specifically on performance and availability rather than boiling the ocean has facilitated a foothold in demanding environments. For instance, it has traction in the government and education sector, which are seeking to deliver unprecedented service level agreements (SLAs) to a distributed network of offices, without breaking the bank or adding significant IT headcount. This vision and value proposition are clear, and StarWind has a roadmap to filling portfolio gaps such as erasure coding and a true, single-pane-of-glass experience across production and backup environments, storage clusters, virtual machines, and more.

This being said, as discussed in a recent Storage Switzerland analyst blog, the HCI market is rife with competition. StarWind competes against peers that are also positioning around invisible infrastructure, and are targeting similar environments; Nutanix, Scale Computing and StorMagic are three names that come to mind.

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Senior Analyst, Krista Macomber produces analyst commentary and contributes to a range of client deliverables including white papers, webinars and videos for Storage Switzerland. She has a decade of experience covering all things storage, data center and cloud infrastructure, including: technology and vendor portfolio developments; customer buying behavior trends; and vendor ecosystems, go-to-market positioning, and business models. Her previous experience includes leading the IT infrastructure practice of analyst firm Technology Business Research, and leading market intelligence initiatives for media company TechTarget.

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