Why Azure Stack HCI for Your Hybrid or Private Cloud

Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) consolidates several data center components into a single architecture with the promise of simplifying management and enabling better scale to meet the demands of the organization. Of these components, two of the most important are the hypervisor and the storage software. The hypervisor not only provides core functionality like server virtualization but also supports new technologies like Non-Volatile Memory express (NVMe). The storage software provides protection from media or node failure and ensures that virtual machines (VM) can continue to access data after being migrated to another node.

There are plenty of options available in the market today including VMware/VSAN combination and Nutanix’ Acropolis. Microsoft recently updated and rebranded its offering built on Windows Server 2019 and includes Hyper-V and Storage Spaces Direct.

Azure Stack HCI also includes a completely revamped Windows Admin Center. Organizations looking to create a hybrid cloud can easily start using the cloud for managing the hyperconverged infrastructure because Azure integration is built into the Windows Admin Center. IT can build its cloud skills and integrate to Azure services like Azure Site Recovery, Azure Backup, Cloud witness, Azure Monitor and Update Management. Storage Switzerland’s next blog will detail these cloud services.

Azure Stack HCI also includes enhanced security features. Included in the product are capabilities like shielded virtual machines, network micro-segmentation and native encryption.

Most compelling is Storage Spaces Direct. It is the evolution of Microsoft Storage Spaces, introduced in 2012. It leverages Windows Server features like failover clustering, cluster shared volume file systems, and Server Message Block (SMB). It also introduces new technology like Software Storage Bus. The Software Storage Bus spans the cluster and establishes a software defined fabric so that all the servers in the cluster can see each other’s local drives. The Software Storage Bus essentially replaces costly Fibre Channel or Shared serial-attached SCSI (SAS) cabling.

Understanding Storage Spaces Direct

Storage Spaces Direct, included with Azure Stack HCI, enables Microsoft Validated Server Hardware to leverage direct attached storage to create highly available, highly scalable software-defined storage at dramatically lower prices than traditional storage area network (SAN) or network attached storage (NAS) storage systems. Storage Spaces Direct provides the essential storage features enterprises expect including caching, tiering and erasure coding. In addition, Storage Spaces Direct provides native support for Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) networking, NVMe flash drives and persistent memory technologies, delivering unprecedented levels of performance and new lows in HCI latency. Microsoft claims Storage Spaces Direct easily exceeds 150,000 IOPS of mixed 4k random IOPS per server in the cluster thanks to its hypervisor-embedded architecture.

Storage Spaces Direct’s erasure coding provides protection from media or node failure while being 2.4x more efficient than typical replica methodologies. Microsoft’s erasure coding provides features like Local Reconstruction Codes and Resilient File System (ReFS) real-time tiers to extend efficiency gains to hard disk drives and mixed hot/cold workloads. A typical downside of erasure coding is CPU consumption; a key capability of Microsoft’s erasure coding functionality is minimal CPU consumption, saving CPU resources for virtual machines.

Azure Stack HCI has the ability to consolidate hundreds of traditional virtual machines plus storage intensive workloads that previously required bare metal systems. To manage the consolidation, Storage Spaces Direct includes Storage QoS (Quality of Service) Controls to make sure that resources are always available to the most critical VMs. HCI administrators can set minimum and maximum per VM IOPS limits. The included health service provides cluster-wide monitoring and alerting of cluster resource consumption.

Storage Spaces Direct can scale to 16 servers per cluster and manage more that 400 drives. Administrators can scale the cluster either by adding additional drives to existing servers or more servers to the cluster.

As a result of using Storage Spaces Direct, Azure Stack HCI, combined with the right hardware, organizations can truly create an HCI environment that is able to consolidate all workloads, including storage intensive workloads that are typically run on bare metal systems. Since Azure Stack HCI is based on Azure Stack it also prepares the organization to easily leverage cloud services, which we will detail in our next blog.

In our on demand webinar “Simplifying the Enterprise Hybrid Cloud with Azure Stack HCI” Storage Switzerland’s Lead Analyst George Crump and Advanced Computation and Storage’s President, Robert Peglar dive deep on the challenges facing organizations looking to create a hybrid infrastructure and how Azure Stack HCI might help them. Register now to learn more.

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Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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