StorSimple – hybrid storage in a cloudy IT

Learn how StorSimple can improve your TCO and why it’s best suitable to support your cloud strategy.

Howdy folks,

nowadays, talking about IT infrastructure means talking about weather. Clouds are everywhere and in order to avoid thunderstorms you need to have an appropriate transition strategy. Azure StorSimple is one of those services that are often underrated but can improve your TCO enormously.

What is StorSimple?

StorSimple is a hybrid SAN solution that provides cost-effective, efficient and easily manageable storage for your enterprise. It consists of several components that all together make up a great solution for storing files or blobs.

StorSimple Manager is the management interface for the entire service. It is part of your Azure subscription and it’s cloud-based.

A StorSimple physical appliance provides iSCSI volumes which can automatically be tiered to Microsoft Azure cloud storage. With its three-step tiering algorithm (SSD – HDD – Azure storage) it provides up to 200TB (StorSimple 8100) respectively 500TB (StorSimple 8600) of maximum storage of which 15 TB (8100) respectively 40 TB (8600) are provided as local storage.

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2x StorSimple 8100 and 2x StorSimple 8600 phyiscal appliances in a customer’s data center

A StorSimple 1200 virtual array can be deployed as a file server which provides SMB shares (NAS) or as an iSCSI server providing iSCSI volumes just as a StorSimple physical appliance (SAN). It provides a cost-effective storage solution for remote or branch office (ROBO) scenarios. The StorSimple 1200 virtual array is available as VMware or Hyper-V image an can be downloaded using Azure portal.

Finally, StorSimple 8010/8020 cloud appliances are Azure VMs based on Azure standard VMs  and storage (8010) respectively Azure premium VMs and storage (8020) providing similar features as the physical arrays but with some limitations. Tiered Volumes can have a maximum size of 30 TB (8010) or 64 TB (8020), locally pinned volumes can be defined up to 8.5 (8010) or 22.5 TB (8020).

Further information on StorSimple 8000 series system limits is provided by Microsoft on docs.microsoft.com.

How does this solution support my cloud strategy?

Moving to the cloud means changing your mind. You can get rid of many of your conservative habits but you’ll need to think of different, new things at the same time. For example, with the cloud you should scale out, not scale up. StorSimple supports your transition to the cloud  because of:

  • Pricing model (TCO)
  • Efficiency in storing unstructured data
  • Security
  • Reliability
  • RTO

Pricing and TCO

StorSimple cannot be “bought” in the proper sense. As of February 2017, StorSimple has a subscription-based pricing model just as Office 365 so you are charged monthly for your appliance. Latest StorSimple cost is provided by Microsoft in the Azure pricing calculator. Compared to a classic SAN infrastructure the TCO can be considerably decreased as only “hot” and “warm” data is stored onpremise whereas “cold” data is tiered to Azure storage meaning to the cloud. As a consequence StorSimple hybrid storage can be considered as being perfectly scalable. And, seriously, 200 TB maximum storage for your file services with a 8100 appliance is quite a good deal to start with, isn’t it?

Efficiency in storing unstructured data

StorSimple contains several features that make it a perfect solution for storing unstructured data, such as files or blobs. The SSD and HDD tiers can make use of an efficient block-based data deduplication algorithm. New blocks are always written to the SSD tier from where they are tiered to the HDD tier. For StorSimple volume creation you have to options: Tiered volumes and local-only volumes. Local-only volumes are created on the StorSimple appliance and are not tiered to Azure storage whereas tiered volumes use all the power of StorSimple and are tiered to Azure storage as a third tier.

Now there’s one thing you should know about local-only volumes: This volume type is defined locally and while you create a local-only volume the respective volume space is reserved on the appliance. This reserved space can not be used for tiering processes later on in which the tiering algorithm moves blocks locally on the appliance. So, for example, if you have a StorSimple 8100 physical appliance with – as I explained above – 15 TB local storage and you define a local-only volume with a volume size of 8 TB you will only have a rest of 7 TB that can be used for tiering and moving blocks.

In fact, StorSimple is supported for VMware and Hyper-V workloads so you could place VMs on it. But in that case you should remember not to place VMs on a tiered volume and that using local-only volumes sort of undermines the feature set StorSimple can provide. Nevertheless: a 15 to 40 TB local SAN with a monthly fee between $1,333 and $2,000 (subject to change) is quite a good deal.

Security

Using cloud storage means dealing with security issues. The first appliance you add to your StorSimple Manager creates a local encryption key which is created and stored locally and never transferred to Azure.

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StorSimple device registration

You are presented the device encryption key once per StorSimple Manager: at initial configuration of the first StorSimple appliance. So make sure to save that key as you will need it to register further appliances or to recover them.

Backup and RTO

Now that’s what makes StorSimple GREAT: Cloud snapshots and meta restore. StorSimple is backed up via cloud snapshots of all StorSimple volumes. Block-based changes are replicated to Azure and saved as snapshots. Those snapshots can be restored to another physical appliance as well as cloud appliances. Within the restore process only meta data of blobs that were stored on the volume before are restored in the first step. Those are information on files, for example name, location, size, change date, and so on, but not the files or blobs themselves.

StorSimple RTO
StorSimple RTO

Actually, that’s all a user needs in order to be able to continue work. StorSimple replication algorithm will take care of only using around 20 percent of the available bandwidth for automatically tiering files back to the local tiers. As soon as a user opens any file which has not yet been tiered back the remaining 80 percent of bandwidth are used for transferring the file back. So your users will be able to use their file server only minutes after you’ve noticed an outage. Now think of what time you would need to restore your 10 TB file server in a classical manner?

You see, StorSimple is different. It’s designed for a cloud-first IT approach. And it definitely supports your cloud strategy.

Kind regards and stay tuned,
Tom

Author: Thomas Janetscheck

Architect for Microsoft Cloud and Messaging Solutions, community leader, Azure and PowerShell enthusiast working for Data One GmbH

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