Azure StorSimple – What, Why and How?

A few years back, I got the chance to do a StorSimple project with a customer. We installed the box, configured it, and the customer started using it. A teeny-tiny bit. Fast forward to this summer, and I’ve heard of several other customers with projects just like that. Why did those boxes just end up in a rack, using power, switch ports etc, but not really being used? I don’t know for every one of them of course, but some Azure customers got them cheap if they signed up for a big Azure EA commitment. So it was basically free, they didn’t really need it and most of all, they didn’t know what to use it for. To be honest, the use cases was fairly limited on the old 7000-series boxes, which only had 1 Gbit interfaces. A 1 Gbit iSCSI “SAN”, imagine the performance…

Anyways, this summer I got a package:

3x StorSimple 8100 boxes!

Each of these has the following hardware:

  • Two controllers
  • 2x 10Gbit interfaces in each controller
  • 4x 1Gbit interfaces in each controller
  • 8x 4TB HDDs (~14TB usable)
  • 4x 400GB SSDs (~800GB usable)
  • ~15 TB usable capacity locally
  • 200TB usable capacity total

All this in a 2U configuration. More details about the StorSimple 8100 and the big brother, 8600, can be found here: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/articles/storsimple-technical-specifications-and-compliance/

 

What is StorSimple, and why do I need it?

StorSimple is a true hybrid storage solution, giving you the benefits of local storage for performance, and cloud storage for capacity. And that’s all the marketing BS I’ll give you in this post 😉

Notice the 200 TB total usable capacity above? This is done through tiering. StorSimple uses 3 tiers of storage:

  1. SSD
  2. HDD
  3. Cloud

The idea here, is to use cloud storage as a third tier, where all the really cold data can be stored. The data you never use, but have to keep, either harddriveblockoficebecause of laws and rules, or because your users stores a huge amount of data, they don’t need, but also don’t want to delete.

This makes StorSimple a perfect use for file servers, backups, archive, log files etc. Those are all types of data, that you rarely use, but have to keep for a long time, at least most of it. The price of a StorSimple box is not much (again, almost “free” (as in, ‘buy an orange and get a free apple’) if you do a large Azure commitment), but you do have to pay for the cloud storage too. And what is the price of this? Well, it depends.. Do you want to use it with Azure, Amazon, OpenStack?

Wait, what?

Yes, you can use it with other vendors than Microsoft. If you have local regulations forcing you to keep data within your country, you can use local hosting providers with an OpenStack installation. If you want to use Amazon for some reason, go ahead, be my guest. Of course Microsoft’s hope is that you will go for Azure.

Even you don’t use Azure storage, you still have to use Azure though. The 8000-series are managed almost exclusively through Azure, using the StorSimple Device Manager:

storsimple-device-manager

“Why only almost?” you ask. Well, you have to configure an IP address, connect it to Azure and create encryption keys. But after that, it’s Azure. At the time of writing, StorSimple Device Manager is still only available in Azure Service Management (Azure Classic) and not Azure Resource Manager (ARM). Don’t cry though, Microsoft is working on moving it to ARM. The good news is that you can still use ARM based Storage Accounts – it’s only the StorSimple Device Manager that requires Classic.

Now we’ve talked about hardware and I’ve mentioned the 8000-series a few times. StorSimple is not only a physical solution though. There are cloud appliances too! These are named 8010 and 8020, and their built to run in Azure, as VMs. They don’t do as much storage as the physical ones, but the 8010 can do 30 TB, and 8020 64 TB. 8020 uses Azure Premium Storage, meaning way better performance than the 8010 can deliver, but it’s also more expensive. These appliances only support Azure storage, so keep that in mind.

Is that all?

Nooooo! We also have a virtual appliance, which we can run as a VM in our own datacenters! The StorSimple Virtual Array can run on Hyper-V (of course!) and VMware. Again, you don’t need glasses, it does run on that other hypervisor 🙂 Like the 8020 it supports 64 TB of storage, with a maximum of 8 TB locally (6,4 TB usable). Unlike the other appliances, the Virtual Array not only supports iSCSI, it also supports SMB! It’s based on Windows Server 2012 R2 Core, and you are able to domain join it, so you can expose those SMB fileshares to your users and applications.

That was a lot of information. So sum up:

3 types of devices:

  • Physical (8100 & 8600)
  • Cloud (8010 & 8020)
  • Virtual (Hyper-V & VMware)

Physical and Virtual runs in your datacenters, Cloud runs in Azure.
Physical can use Azure, Amazon and OpenStack as the 3rd tier. Virtual and Cloud uses Azure.
Physical and Cloud uses iSCSI. Virtual array can do iSCSI and SMB.

How do I get my hands on StorSimple?

You need an Azure Enterprise Agreement. I don’t know why, but this is a requirement at the moment. It’s fair to assume that this will change, when the StorSimple Device Manager is available in ARM. This could open up for CSP too, but as you probably know, CSP subscriptions can only use ARM. If you don’t have an Enterprise Agreement, you will just see this:

storsimple-device-manager-non-ea

Another option, if you don’t have an Enterprise Agreement, is to partner up with someone who has (*wink wink*). They could deliver the box to you, install and configure it, and maintain everything. A managed StorSimple basically, but you get the benefits.

This was a quick overview, of what StorSimple is. In the next couple of posts, I’ll dive into each type of device, configuration and use cases. Stay tuned!

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