Managing storage for virtual environments: A complete guide
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VMware is the most popular choice for virtualizing servers by a wide margin, but it isn’t the only option. Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor is gaining users because it costs less and requires little extra training for Windows users. As a result, more Hyper-V storage management tools are becoming available.
In addition to Microsoft’s own System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM), vendors have released third-party products to manage performance issues in Hyper-V virtual environments. Here’s a rundown of some of Microsoft’s inherent Hyper-V storage management resources as well as some third-party tools.
System Center Virtual Machine Manager
SCVMM is Microsoft’s virtual machine (VM) support center. Microsoft added Hyper-V support in SCVMM 2008, and subsequent releases included enhanced support for Hyper-V and VMware Inc.’s hypervisor.
Microsoft’s SCVMM 2008 includes typical virtual environment management functions, such as VM provisioning and monitoring, physical-to-virtual conversion (P2V), and host resource management. It includes storage-related capabilities, such as the ability to dynamically add and remove storage resources. Its Live Storage Migration allows migration from one LUN to another with minimal downtime.
Other SCVMM 2008 storage features include Data Protection Manager (DPM) combined with Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) for VM snapshots, and Clustered Shared Volume (CSV) support for storing multiple VMs on a single LUN to allow Windows failover clusters. All of these features are accessible from the System Center GUI.
SCVMM 2012, scheduled for general release before the end of the year, will add more application-driven monitoring and resource orchestration, as well as virtual VM network and storage hardware provisioning through automated wizards. To compete with VMware’s vCloud Director, SCVMM has self-service portals for Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) support.
Microsoft also increased its support of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) Storage Management Initiative-Specification (SMI-S) standard in SCVMM 2012 for private cloud storage integration with storage arrays. SMI-S specifies how clients can communicate with storage arrays through SMI-S Provider modules.
SCVMM 2012’s new feature set prompted Citrix to discontinue its Citrix Essentials for Hyper-V storage management software in May 2011 due to overlap and SCVMM’s new support for XenServer VMs.
Storage system vendors are also integrating their storage management tools with SCVMM and extending its native data protection capabilities. Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) analyst Mark Bowker said that may be the best starting point for Hyper-V storage management tools. “If I’m sitting in IT’s shoes, I’m actually starting with the vendor who I’m dealing with now,” Bowker explained.
For example, you can manage NetApp Inc. storage and data protection tools through the SCVMM console. NetApp will automate Hyper-V snapshots and recovery, as well as set policies for automated VM-level backups. SnapManager for Hyper-V will also automatically detect new VMs and identify those without backup snapshot policies. You can even use custom scripts to automate tape offload before or after a backup.
Dell’s OpenManage Integration Suite for Microsoft System Center and Advanced Infrastructure Manager (AIM) offer storage and virtualization administrators unified tools for monitoring, deploying and configuring a suite of integration tools for Hyper-V environments using Dell hardware.
Bowker said performance is the No. 1 storage issue among all hypervisors. While storage system vendor integration with System Center can manage a number of necessary tasks, storage system performance management might be better done with third-party tools specifically designed for Hyper-V environments.
Virsto Software Corp. chose to support only Hyper-V when it launched its initial Virsto One hypervisor storage performance management software in February 2010. Gregg Holzrichter, Virsto’s vice president of marketing, said Virsto wanted to be one of the first providers for Hyper-V environments instead of just one of dozens of competitors supporting VMware’s vSphere.
“I think that was a smart move on [Virsto’s] part because its technology can transfer to the other hypervisors when it needs to do it anyway,” said Henry Baltazar, a senior analyst for storage and systems with The 451 Group.
Virsto One virtualizes underlying heterogeneous storage and manages the virtual environment’s random and intensive writes, which Holzrichter calls “the biggest challenge of server virtualization writing over to storage.”
Virsto One intercepts writes from the VMs to the storage system and sequentializes and optimizes them to improve performance. Virsto also supports storage tiering and thin provisioning for the storage allocated to the VMs.
Virsto does not support automated, policy-based or dynamic storage tiering now, but Holzrichter said those features are on the company’s roadmap.
The Virsto software installs on each physical server, and the management tool is a snap-in module to the Microsoft Management Console (MMC). Administrators use the Virsto management console for initial storage configuration and to add capacity. Otherwise, the management is done though the System Center console. When provisioning a new VM, an administrator selects a Virsto virtual disk instead of a fixed virtual hard disk (VHD).
Sanbolic Inc.’s Melio product line focuses on Hyper-V’s limitations with concurrent file-system access. Melio FS is Sanbolic’s symmetrical cluster file system, which enables shared, concurrent read and write access to iSCSI or Fibre Channel heterogeneous SAN volumes and VHDs. Melio allows the addition of new physical hosts and storage resources for scale-out infrastructures.
Melio FS also has a VSS-based distributed snapshot capability for data protection with third-party backup products, quality-of-service (QoS) management and I/O transactional performance reporting.
Windows familiarity sways L.A. medical group
Because Hyper-V runs on Microsoft’s Windows Server 2008 R2 and is fully integrated into SCVMM, provisioning and handling a Hyper-V virtual environment may be easier than having to implement an entirely new platform such as with VMware vSphere and Citrix Systems’ XenServer.
Femi Adegoke, the IT director for the Los Angeles-based West Gastroenterology Medical Group (WGI), cited price and his familiarity with the Windows-based Hyper-V as reasons for switching to it from the old Virtual Iron (now part of Oracle VM) server virtualization software in May 2009. He said adopting Hyper-V meant he didn’t have to learn a new operating system.
He currently has Hyper-V running his PBX phone, security card access and payroll systems. Now that vendors are starting to develop products for Hyper-V environments, Adegoke plans to put his entire IT business infrastructure in a virtual environment.
“The ecosystem suddenly now seems to have a lot of activity, including backup providers and monitoring software,” he said.
Adegoke manages his Hyper-V environment with SCVMM 2008 and uses Windows PowerShell custom scripts to automatically provision VMs with Virsto One virtual storage disks and desktop image clones. Adegoke said he was one of Virsto’s first five customers and began using it in early 2010.
“For me, the ability to thin provision and still get the high performance is huge,” Adegoke said about using Virsto within his Hyper-V environment. “Otherwise, I’d be out of storage space looking to go spend some more money to buy another shelf of spindles.”
More Hyper-V support coming
Because it is the market leader, VMware’s vSphere garners the most attention from vendors looking to support virtual environments. But as those supporting applications and devices mature, their technologies will almost certainly make their way into the Hyper-V and XenServer marketplaces. That will make more storage management tools available to expand the SCVMM tool set and bring more advanced management and data protection technologies to Hyper-V storage environments.
“They are going to trickle their technologies down to the hypervisors,” Baltazar said of third-party software vendors. “In some cases I don’t think it’s a major development effort to [switch] over to the other hypervisors. I think it’s more a matter of there’s not enough value in doing it now because they don’t have enough customers beating down the door asking for them.”
Bowker said all hypervisors have many of the same storage issues. “It really comes down to configuring it and setting it up specific to what application you may be running,” he said, adding that the differences between the hypervisors come down to familiarity, features and function.