Category Archives: Disaster Recovery

EMC’s VNX = Award Winning storage for Microsoft environments

Microsoft’s TechEd 2013 is next week, and I’m looking forward to spending time with my longtime industry friends and making some new connections on the show floor in New Orleans.

This year, I’ll attend as part of the Unified Storage Division, and felt I needed to share a little about the success of VNX and VNXe arrays into Microsoft environments:

awards

EMC’s VNX Unified Storage Platform has been recognized with awards from a slew of independent analysts such as Gartner, IDC and Wikibon, as well as media publications such as ComputerWorld, CRN and Virtualization Review due to the ability of the VNX family to power mission critical applications, integrate with virtual environments and solve SMB IT challenges, among other accolades.   We take pride in being the #1 storage for most Microsoft Windows-based applications.

BUT… DOES  MICROSOFT WINDOWS NEED A SAN?  CAN’T WE DO IT OURSELVES?

Well, after speaking with Windows Server 2012, SQL Server, and EMC customers, partners and employees, the independent analyst firm Wikibon posted a before and after comparison model based on an enterprise customer environment. The idea is that the total cost of bolting together your own solution isn’t worth it.

wikibon-windows-study

The findings showed that by moving a physical, non-tiered environment to a virtualized environment with flash and tiered storage SQL Server customers realized a 30% lower overall TCO over a 3 year period including hardware, software, maintenance, and management costs for their database infrastructure.

The graphic shows that a do-it-yourself approach saves very little if anything in hardware costs and will divert operational effort to build and maintain the infrastructure. Risks and costs are likely to be higher with this approach.

In the end, EMC’s VNX infrastructure was proven to deliver a lower cost and lower risk solution for Windows 2012 versus a direct-attached storage (DAS) or JBOD (just a bunch of disk) model.  Full study here.

Video of EMC’s Adrian Simays and Wikibon Analysts discussing these results is here on YouTube.

MICROSOFT INTEGRATIONS AND INNOVATIONS  

EMC’s VNX platform considers Microsoft applications, databases, and file shares to our sweet spot as evidenced by our early integration of the latest Windows Server 2012 features that increase performance, efficiency, availability, and simplicity for our joint customers.

Performance, Efficiency, Availability, Simplicity

1. Performance

Within Windows, we were the first storage array to support SMB 3 and ODX Copy Offload (part of SMB 3) to enable large file copies over SAN instead of consuming network bandwidth and host CPU cycles.

ODX-impact

This test highlights the speed difference before (left) and after (right) ODX was implemented. With EMC VNX and ODX enabled, you can accelerate your VM copies by a factor of 7 while reducing server CPU utilization by a factor of 30!

For applications and databases, VNX FAST Cache and FASTVP automatically tunes your storage to match your workload requirements saving up to 80% of the time it would take to manually balance workloads.

The Enterprise Storage Group (ESG) Lab confirmed that a data warehouse solution with Windows Server 2012 with Hyper-V, Microsoft SQL Server 2012 with new Columnstore indexing, and VNX FAST technologies and VNX storage form a complete solution to meet the business requirements of mid-tier organizations and beyond. An 800GB DW was deployed which is fairly typical for a medium sized business. With EMC FAST enabled, throughput reached up to 379 MB/sec, showing over 100% improvement over SQL Server 2012’s baseline Rowstore indexing. The DSS performance workload with EMC FAST enabled completed up to nine times faster than with rowstore indexing.

2. Efficiency

IT managers and storage administrators frequently adopt well-known forecasting models to pre-allocate storage space according to the storage demand growth rate. The main challenge is how to pre-allocate just enough storage capacity for the application. Reports from many storage array vendors indicate that 31% to 50% of the allocated storage is either stranded or unused. Thus, 31% to 50% of the capital investment from the initial storage installment is wasted.

The VNX supports Windows host-level and built-in storage-level thin provisioning to drastically reduce initial disk requirements.  Windows Server 2012 provides the ability to detect thin-provisioned storage on EMC storage arrays and reclaim unused space once it is freed by Hyper-V. In the previous scenario, an ODX-aware host connected to an EMC intelligent storage array would automatically reclaim the 10 GB of storage and return it to the pool where it could be used by other applications.

Furthermore, for application storage we partner with companies like Kroll and Metalogix to provide better solutions for Exchange single item recovery and SharePoint remote BLOB storage which can reduce SQL stored SharePoint objects by about 80-90% and improve SQL Respnse times by 20-40%

3. Availability

Our first to market integration with SMB3 not only provides for performance improvements, it also enables SMB 3 Continuous Availability allowing applications to run on clustered volumes with failovers that are transparent to end users.  For example, SQL Server may store system tables on the file shares such that any disruptive event to the access of the file share can lead to interruption of SQL Server operation. Continuous Availability is accomplished via cluster failover on the host side and Data Mover of Shared Folder failover on the VNX side.

Other SMB 3.0 Features supported include:

  • Multi-Channel / Multipath I/O (MPIO ) – Multiple TCP connections can now be associated with a single SMB 3.0 session and a client application can use several connections to transfer I/O on a CIFS share.  This optimizes bandwidth and enables failover and load balancing with multiple NICs.
  • Offload Copy – Copying data   within the same Data Mover can now be offloaded to the storage which reduces the workload on the client and network.
  • SMB Encryption – Provides secure access to data on CIFS shares, protecting data on untrusted networks and providing end-to-end encryption of data in- flight.
  • Directory Lease – SMB2   introduced a directory cache which allowed clients to cache a directory listing to save network bandwidth but it would not see new updates.  SMB3 introduces a directory lease and the client is now automatically aware of changes made in a cached directory.
  • Remote Volume Shadow Copy Service (RVSS) – With RVSS, point-in-time snapshots can be taken across multiple CIFS shares, providing improved performance in backup and restore.
  • BranchCache – Caching solution to have business data in local cache. Main use case is remote office and branch office storage.

EMC also offers a wide range of application availability and protection solutions that are built into the VNX including snapshots, remote replication, and a new RecoverPoint virtual replication appliance.

4. Simplicity

When it comes to provisioning storage for their applications, admins often have to navigate through too many repetitive tasks requiring them to touch different UIs and increasing the risk of human error. Admins also likely need to coordinate with other administrators each time they need to provision space. This is not very efficient. Take for example a user that wants to provision space for SharePoint. You need to work with Unisphere to create a LUN and add it to a storage group. Next you need to log onto the server and run disk manager to import the volume. Next you need to work with Hyper-V, then SQL Server Mgmt Studio, then SharePoint Central Admin. A bit tedious to say the least.

esi

EMC Storage Integrator (ESI) on the other hand streamlines everything we just talked about. Forget about how much faster it actually is… Just think about the convenience and elegance of this workflow compared to the manual steps outlined in our last paragraph. ESI is a free MMC based download that takes provisioning all the way into Microsoft Applications. Currently only SharePoint is supported but SQL and Exchange wizards are coming soon. This is a feature that surprises and delights our customers!

 SO WHAT DO VNX CUSTOMERS SAY?

EMC’s VNX not only provides a rock solid core infrastructure foundation, but also delivers significant features and benefits for application owners and DBAs.     Here’s some quotes from customers who have transformed their Microsoft environments using the VNX and VNXe platforms.

Peter Syngh Senior Manager, IT Operations, Toronto District School Board

 “EMC’s VNX unified storage has the best of everything at a very cost-effective price. It integrates with Microsoft Hyper-V, which is crucial to our cloud strategy, and with its higher performance, automated tiering and thin provisioning, VNX was a no-brainer.”

Marshall Bose Manager of IT Operations, Ensco (Oil/Gas)

 “A prime reason for choosing EMC over NetApp was that VNX is such a great fit for virtualization. With all the automation tools and tight integration with VMware, VNX is far easier than NetApp when it comes to spinning up and managing virtual machines.”

Rocco Hoffmann, IT Architect BNP Paribas (German Bank)

“We are achieving significant savings in energy and rack space. In fact our VNX requires only half the rack space and has reduced our power and cooling costs”

Charles Rosse, Systems Administrator II Baptist Memorial Health Care

“Since the VNX has been built into the design of our VDI from the beginning, it can easily accommodate growth- all we need to do is to plug in another drive or tray of drives and we get incrementally better performance.”

Erich Becker,  Director of Information Systems, AeroSpec (Manufacturing)

“…We loved the fact that VNXe and VMware worked extremely well together …we have dramatically cut operating costs, increased reliability and data access is now twice as fast as before.”

BOTTOM LINE

There are many more customers that have given praise to the VNX Family for powering their Microsoft applications but I don’t have the room to put them all in.     EMC is a trusted brand in storage, and the VNX today is an outstanding unified platform which successfully balances our customers block and file needs for their Microsoft file and application data – and gets awards for it.    Feel free to find out more about the VNX and VNXe product lines here and here.

Also come talk to us next week at TechEd, we will be there to help customers and partners learn more about our technology.

Find out more about our TechEd plans here.

Also download the VNXe Simulator executable right here.  It’s pretty awesome and shows you the unique VNXe management interface.

What’s New for Exchange 2013 Storage?

What’s New for Exchange 2013 Storage?

By: Brien M. Posey

Many of Exchange Server 2013’s most noteworthy improvements are behind the scenes architectural improvements rather than new product features. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than Exchange Server’s storage architecture. Once again Microsoft invested heavily in Exchange’s storage subsystem in an effort to drive down the overall storage costs while at the same time improving performance and reliability. This article outlines some of the most significant storage related improvements in Exchange Server 2013.

Lower IOPS on Passive Database Copies

In failure situations, failover from an Active mailbox database to a passive database copy needs to happen as quickly as possible. In Exchange Server 2010, Microsoft expedited the failover process by maintaining a low checkpoint depth (5 MB) on the passive database copy. Microsoft’s reason for doing this was that failing over from an Active to a passive database copy required the database cache to be flushed. Having a large checkpoint depth would have increased the amount of time that it took to flush the cache, thereby causing the failover process to take longer to complete.

The problem was that maintaining a low checkpoint depth came at a cost. The server hosting the passive database copy had to do a lot of work in terms of pre-read operations in order to keep pace with demand while still maintaining a minimal checkpoint depth. The end result was that a passive database copy produced nearly the same level of IOPS as its active counterpart.

In Exchange Server 2013, Microsoft made a simple decision that greatly reduced IOPS for passive database copies, while also reducing the database failover time. Because much of the disk I/O activity on the passive database copy was related to maintaining a low checkpoint depth and because the checkpoint depth had a direct impact on the failover time, Microsoft realized that the best way to improve performance was to change the way that the caching process worked.

In Exchange 2013, the cache is no longer flushed during a failover. Instead, the cache is treated as a persistent object. Because the cache no longer has to be flushed, the size of the cache has little bearing on the amount of time that it takes to perform the failover. As such, Microsoft designed Exchange 2013 to have a much larger checkpoint depth (100 MB). Having a larger checkpoint depth means that the passive database doesn’t have to work as hard to pre-read data, which drives down the IOPS on the passive database copy by about half. Furthermore failovers normally occur in about 20 seconds.

Although the idea of driving down IOPS for passive database copies might sound somewhat appealing, some might question the benefit. After all, passive database copies are not actively being used, so driving down the IOPS should theoretically have no impact on the end user experience.

One of the reasons why reducing the IOPS produced by passive database copies is so important has to do with another architectural change that Microsoft has made in Exchange Server 2013. Unlike previous versions of Exchange Server, Exchange Server 2013 allows active and passive database copies to be stored together on the same volume.

If an organization does choose to use a single volume to store a mixture of active and passive databases then reducing the IOPS produced by passive database will have a direct impact on the performance of active databases.

This new architecture also makes it easier to recover from disk failures within a reasonable amount of time. Exchange Server 2013 supports using volume sizes of up to 8 TB. With that in mind, imagine what would happen if a disk failed to needed to be reseeded. Assuming that the majority of the space on the volume was being used, it would normally take a very long time to regenerate the contents of the failed disk.

Part of the reason for this has to do with the sheer volume of data that must be copied, but there is more to it than that. Passive database copies are normally reseeded from an active database copy. If all of the active database copies reside on a common volume than that volumes performance will be the limiting factor affecting the amount of time that it takes to rebuild the failed disk.

In Exchange Server 2013 however, volumes can contain a mixture of active and passive database copies. This means that the active database copies of likely reside on different volumes (typically on different servers). This means that the data that is necessary for rebuilding the failed volume will be pulled from a variety of sources. As such, the data source is no longer the limiting factor in the amount of time that it takes to reseed the disk. Assuming that the disk that is being reseeded can keep pace, the reseeding process can occur much more quickly than it would be able to if all of the data were coming from a single source.

In addition, Exchange Server 2013 periodically performs an integrity check of passive database copies. If any of the database copies are found to have a status of FailedAndSuspended. If such a database copy is found then Exchange will check to see if any spare disks are available. If a valid spare is found then Exchange Server will automatically remap the spare and initiate an automatic seating process.

Conclusion

As you can see, Microsoft has made a tremendous number of improvements with the way that Exchange Server manages storage in DAG environments. Passive database copies generate fewer IOPS, and failovers happen more quickly than ever before. Furthermore, Exchange Server can even use spare disks to quickly recover from certain types of disk failures.

What’s new in Exchange 2013, 2 Webcasts, and More!

Next week I’ll be on a couple of webcasts related to Exchange server protection:

In these webcasts, we will balance a solid blend of best practices content with information about some of our latest products.   I promise not to waste your time!

Webcast 1:  Introducing EMC AppSync: Advanced Application Protection Made Easy for VNX Platforms

In this webinar, we’ll describe how to setup a protection service catalog for any company and how easy EMC AppSync makes using snapshot and continuous data protection technology on a VNX storage array… As a bonus we will show a cool demo.

Sign up here.

Webcast 2: Protecting Exchange from Disaster: The Choices and Consequences

In this demo, we’ll explore the 3 common Exchange DR options available to customers with an advanced storage array like an EMC VNX.  One of the highlights is that I will be joined by independent Microsoft guru Brien Posey who has the low down on what’s new in Exchange 2013 related to storage and DR enhancements and describe how many things change in Exchange 2013 and how many things stay the same.  Oh, of course we will have a cool demo for this one too!

Sign up here.

VNX Replication: Ask the Experts… Now!

For the next three weeks we’re inviting anyone and everyone to ask anything about data replication on an EMC VNX storage array.

This is part of our Ask the Experts Series on the EMC Community Network forums.

Possible topics:

  • Application considerations
  • Bandwidth considerations
  • Determining which replication product makes most sense to use
  • How virtualization can affect your configuration

The forum is open and ready for any of your questions!

Pimp My Exchange: The Microsoft Exchange Calculator with EMC Extensions

Challenge

People designing Exchange storage layouts often use the excellent Microsoft Exchange storage calculator.  This is a great first step, but the tool does not include a couple important things.  One is background database maintenance (BDM) which can sometimes cause a disk IO testing tool like JetStress to fail.  Another is that it lacks in providing a visual view of the Exchange layout.

EMC Solution

EMC’s extensions add in some of the IOPS details (like BDM) that the base calculator might miss and we’ve also designed a tool called the DAG Instant Visualization Application (DIVA) that helps to visualize the environment in a more legible way.   Watch this great video interview with Jim Cordes (creator of these tools) for more details!

To get the calculator with EMC extensions and DIVA, go to the Everything Microsoft site.

The direct link to the pimped-out calculator is here.

[updated 2/1/2013] Here is a link to a recent training module for this calculator.

Application Protection: There’s Something Happening Here

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

Yes, it’s blasphemy to simply change a classic like Buffalo Springfield’s “For What’s It Worth” – but I will anyway to prove my point.

There’s something happening here

If you haven’t noticed, IT is changing rapidly. Just search for IT transformation, IT as a Service, and converged infrastructure to see how far we’ve come in only the past few years.  This industry moves!

What it is ain’t exactly clear

We know a Cloud is built differently, operated differently, and consumed differently. So we know companies have begun re-architecting IT in order to offer more of a service in order to react faster to meet user needs. They know they must change their operational models and in many cases their organizational structure. They might also seek converged infrastructures to get moving faster.    But… has protection changed to keep pace with this transformation?

There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

It’s been said that in the song the gun is more of a metaphor for the tension between groups within the US before Vietnam. And in a much less violent analogy, the tension between the IT team and the application owners has never been stronger.

The application teams want to have great performance and protection of their application. But they’ve never been empowered by the IT department to protect themselves with storage-level tools. The storage team wants to let them, but they fear they might create too many copies of their data. Instead, the app owners went out and used tools for their own application, creating their own protection strategy which might not deliver the best protection they can get.  To win back the hearts and minds of the application owners and DBA’s, the IT department and the storage teams need to get better at protecting applications as a service.

On the Road to Application Protection as a Service

Many companies have has attempted to do this in the past – with products that help you protect and restore your applications and critical virtual machines. They have tools that install on the server and can “freeze” and “thaw” the current transactions into the database, so that when a snapshot is taken, there is a clean copy that can be easily restored.  The major benefit of these tools is SPEED as the copy process is incremental and the restore process is also lightning fast.  Restoring a 1 TB database in minutes.

It needs to get easier. Like any “enterprise” tool, many of these products designed for snapshots and replication require a significant learning curve. We need something simple that integrates with the tools we know and love.

We should provide self-service capabilities. Instead of spending hours and hours making sure application owners are getting the protection they need, they should be empowered to simply protect and restore their own data.

We are driven by service levels. IT departments and storage teams need to offer “protection service catalogs” with various (e.g. Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze) levels of protection varied by RPO – from very low data loss (synchronous replication) to more sporadic application-consistent snapshots – all from one interface. This makes it easy for the app team and people with the checkbooks to really understand the value placed on the different applications in your catalog.

There truly is something happening here
And what is will be made clear at EMC World 2012!

Hope to see you there!
Brian