Category Archives: Strategy

Is a SAN Better, Cheaper, and More Secure Than Office 365?

SAN’s – especially SAN’s from market leader EMC – are always under attack from companies wishing to cash in on a piece of the rising data growth across all industries and market segments.

  • Some say DAS is best.
  • Some say keep the storage in the servers.
  • Some say you should build your own shared array.

But when it comes to Microsoft environments, it often helps to have independent experts investigate the matter to get a fresh perspective.

In a recent study, Wikibon determined that a shared storage infrastructure (powered by EMC’s next generation VNX2 storage systems) can match the prices offered by Office 365 public cloud and offer more capabilities, more security, and more control.

This, however, assumes a completely consolidated approach for deploying multiple mixed workloads such as Exchange, SharePoint, SQL Server, Lync – where the VNX2 really shines.   We use FAST VP, FAST Cache, and a combination of drive types to achieve the best balance of performance and cost.

Are you looking for more information about deploying Microsoft applications on VNX?    Definitely check here for the most recent best practices guides!

Also check out my recent webinar I did with James Baldwin who leads our Proven Solutions EMC/Microsoft engineering team.  We had a lot of fun doing this one, hope you enjoy it.


Building a Microsoft Azure Private Cloud – Powered by EMC VNX Storage

Recently EMC held a Microsoft Summit, where a lot of the Microsoft savvy engineers and business folks within EMC get together to share their stories and lessons learned.

One of the highlights of these sessions is always the work of Txomin Barturen -who is our resident Microsoft expert in EMC’s Office of the CTO.

His blog can be found here:
(Bookmark it, and look for videos and blog posts soon to follow)

This year his session focused on our work within Microsoft Hyper-V, Microsoft System Center, Private Clouds and the powerful Azure Pack for Windows.

Sure, everyone knows about EMC’s affinity towards VMware (EMC’s VNX was rated best storage for VMware 3 years in a row), but many don’t know how focused we are on Hyper-V and helping customers power their Microsoft Cloud.

EMC is committed to becoming the best storage for private clouds for enterprises and service providers who wish to deploy private and/or public clouds for their customers – on VMware or Hyper-V.

Evidence of EMC’s Microsoft Private Cloud Work

To get to this stage, we’ve had to do a lot of work.

And beyond our engineering ability, we also showcased our agility.

  • VNX was the first storage platform to support SMB 3.0 (VNX & VNXe)
  • VNX was the first storage platform to demonstrate ODX (TechEd 2012)
  • Our Elab aggressively submits Windows Logo certifications (EMC currently has the most Windows 2012 R2 certs)

Where do you find these materials? 

We’ve built Microsoft Private Cloud (Proven) solutions on VNXe, VNX & VMAX leveraging SMI-S / PowerShell that can be found and delivered through EMC’s VSPEX program or as part of our Microsoft Private Cloud Fast Track solutions (which are Microsoft validated, ready-to-run reference architectures).  You can find more about this work here.

Getting to a More Agile Cloud

Txomin’s presentation talked about how customers want all that an Azure Public Cloud model offers in terms of agility and management but without the loss of control (a on-premises cloud deployment).  They want to offer *-as-a-Service models, elastic scale, a self-service model for tenants, but without the SLA risks that are out of IT control when deploying on a full private cloud.

The Middle Ground:  The Azure Pack for Windows

Microsoft is putting together some really interesting cloud management software with Azure Pack for Windows.  The Azure Pack for Windows is a free downloadable set of services that offer the same interface as the Azure public cloud option, but provide more control for companies who are not willing to deploy on the public cloud for reasons due to performance, reliability, security, and compliance concerns.


Since we’ve done all of the baseline private cloud work, now we can use these as a foundation for building a Microsoft Private Cloud on-premises with a VNX storage platform using the new Azure Pack for Windows.

Built atop the new Windows Server 2012 R2 platform, the Windows Azure Pack (WAP) enables public-cloud like management and services without the risk.   This layers right on top of EMC’s Windows Fast Track & Private Cloud offerings without any additional technology required.

Although it offers a limited subset of services, we expect that Microsoft will introduce more service as customers adopt this new model.

One of the first use cases Microsoft is focusing on is the service providers who want better management for their Microsoft clouds.   This will allow for new integrations and capabilities that weren’t previously available.   IT staff can treat business units as Tenants, offer pre-configured solutions via Gallery, enable self-service management by tenants (delegated Admin).  They can also view utilization and reporting available through System Center/3rd party integrations which are fully extensible through Operations Manager, Orchestrator and Virtual Machine Manager.

This is truly the future of Microsoft’s virtualization Strategy and EMC is right there to enable customers to build the best, most reliable, secure, manageable private cloud.

But what about Data Protection?

Well, our colleagues in the Backup and Recovery Systems division of EMC are no slackers.  They saw the same trends and are eager to help customers stay protected as they move to the cloud.

In this demo Alex Almeida, Sr. Technical Marketing Manager for EMC’s Backup and Recovery Systems demonstrates how the EMC Data Protection Suite provides full support for Windows Azure Private Cloud Backup and Recovery:

So let me correct my statement…  EMC is right there to enable customers to build the best, most reliable, secure, manageable private cloud – AND PROTECT IT.

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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.”


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.

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!

VNXe – A Redesigned GUI for Application Owners

You’ve already seen a view a bunch of the screenshots of this new product that caters to the IT generalist.

And – you may have heard some of the cool behind the scenes development tidbits from Chad Sakac’s blog here.

GUI and Redesign

The specific thing I wanted to mention is how important (I think) this new interface design is for EMC, especially with this product.  Well before the product released there was a lot of research done, test system pilots performed, and beta products put out.  Time and time again, three major themes kept emerging among this audience of small/midsized businesses:

  1. EMC is known for being a trusted, reliable brand (that’s a good thing)
  2. EMC is too expensive (ouch)
  3. EMC is difficult to manage*

Then someone really smart said, “We really gotta fix #’s 2 and 3 if we want to play in the lower end of the market.”

And we put to work a team of usability engineer and designers with relative storage-industry outsider status who could take a fresh perspective on what it means to:

  • Provision a shared folder
  • Provision storage for virtualization environments
  • Manage and report on storage utilization
  • and so much more…

I think time will show that this investment was well worth it.   So far, every customer I’ve shown the VNXe demo, cannot believe how easy it is to use!

*This is a realization not much different from the excellent conclusions made by Thomas Goetz in his excellent Wired Magazine article and TED talk on how medical data could be redesigned by talented graphic designers to quickly enable clients and doctors to navigate a set of complex and inter-related factors…

There is no “DAS vs SAN” and Exchange 2010 Tested Solutions from EMC

It’s refreshing to see the most recent post on the Exchange team blog promoting real-world, tested Exchange 2010 configurations. EMC’s got two white papers we did with Cisco and Brocade highlighting the benefits of virtualizing Exchange for local and remote availability reasons.  I’m sure EMC’s Dustin Smith will have more to say on this soon enough.

The program was a great idea – led by Microsoft’s Rob Simpson that highlights both DAS and SAN connectivity options. In the Exchange world, we’ve seen plenty of documents and programs and marketing against anti-SAN approaches to the dismay of many very smart folks we talk to in the data center. This program was a healthy dose of accepting reality by a very logical thinker within Microsoft.

But… there is no “DAS vs SAN.”  The DAS versus SAN debate is not a technology debate and it’s not a cost debate and it’s not a Microsoft versus storage vendors debate.    It’s a control issue.

Let me explain.


There’s been a ton of articles written and TCO studies done to show TCO in both directions.

When it’s a DAS discussion, TCO slides in favor of DAS.   Big surprise.  Here’s a few reasons why these TCO models are usually wrong:

  • JBOD style DAS TCO calculations never take into account RAID protection – and I haven’t seen any large customer stop using RAID protection (mirroring or otherwise) on their crown jewels – their email systems.
  • DAS-skewed calculations also crank up the price by utilizing very old technology prices…  so maybe we should be more transparent about pricing to show that these prices are typically WAY off and don’t take into account list & street price factors.
  • Also they assume the wrong disk configurations which crank up the perceived price of a storage array – the configurations they are matching against DAS typically use thickly provisioned Fibre Channel drives – way more than you need for Exchange 2010.  Thin provisioning let’s you allocate storage capacity only as you need it and manage a simple pool of storage that has multiple Exchange databases across it.  Large capacity, lower cost/GB SATA drives often make up the bulk of EMC Exchange 2010 configs – unless you have a storage admin who just likes to put Tier 1 applications of FC as a rule (this does happen) and was not expressly told that Exchange 2010 should be put on SATA.
  • Also the server to storage connection itself is wrong.  When I’ve seen competitive TCO’s against EMC, I see FC connections, FC switches, FC cards … and heck if I were selling against EMC I’d do the same.  But EMC can offer iSCSI, and sure, you can buy a lower cost iSCSI switch (but don’t get one that’s too cheap), and you can now get away with pure software iSCSI initiators in most circumstances these days (look out for embedded TOEs in the foot notes 🙂

However – when it’s a SAN discussion, we obviously suffer from similar blinders.  We don’t always know about the competitive storage option and what special sauce ingredient they might be using to make our TCO model look invalid.   The one thing we do is try to show TCO over a few years and we don’t see much of that from DAS models (we stress operational cost savings, DAS models focus on short-term acquisition or CAPEX costs).

Since we are on the topic, the word SAN is often used wrong when companies compete against EMC – the world leader in storage hardware, software, and services.   Taken literally, DAS and SAN are only differences in connectivity.  DAS is simply direct attached storage – going straight from a server to a storage array without a switch in between.  A SAN is a storage area network, formed with server(s), switch(es), and storage array(s).   Used in this context, storage vendors like EMC love DAS and SANAlthough there are numerous benefits of having multiple servers sharing storage (for simplified management, protection, and virtualization), we can also let you connect directly from your server directly to an EMC array with your protocol and connection of choice.

While EMC does make the world’s best storage arrays – please do not think EMC =SAN and all SAN’s = expensive.  We have some amazing products in the lower end price bands that be configured “DAS Style” to lower costs.  Also, thin provisioning is regularly used on the Exchange mailbox database volumes to decrease the initial storage outlay (running numbers on this is quite easy:  5000 users at 5GB thick versus  5000 users that are thinly provisioned 500MB mailboxes.  The savings can be tremendous).


Technology debates are almost always irrelevant. It’s usually a mindset debate. What is the mindset of the decision maker in the company for their Exchange deployment?   Is the IT manager responsible for final decisions on the storage for Exchange, or does the storage manager make that call?  Or is the Exchange administrator empowered to make their own choices.  You have three different storage choices in each case:

The IT manager

wants something that has a great price/performance – something that works but with a reasonable price tag.  They like “standardized solutions.”  Virtualization integration has become big on this persons list.  And they can’t forget the big cloud in the room too –  hosted/public cloud options.

The storage manager

wants more of what they know – keep it simple and make it easy for them to manage growing volumes of storage.  Integration with other tools and virtualization is big for them too.  They are into the storage hardware and you need all their requirements met to make them happy.

The Exchange admin

will go with what they know.  After a few classes and conferences and blog posts, they learn a mantra of “go with DAS… not expensive SAN” and they may associate EMC with SAN and forget to think that EMC storage arrays can be direct connected as well…  We could make a voice-controlled storage robot that costs $10 and an Exchange admin still may not like it as long as it’s controlled by someone else and has the words EMC on it.

Our storage arrays keep getting better and better (like our storage robot like, zero-management, set-it-and-forget-it functionality in EMC’s Fully Automated Storage Tiering), but again it’s not a technology debate…

It’s all about control.

For years, putting Exchange on high-end storage arrays was almost required, to get that many FC disks in one place.  Now that Exchange 2010 is here, anyone can use lower cost SATA drives.  It doesn’t mean they have to go with a direct attached deployment model…  If the Exchange administrator is in control, they will choose the deployment model prescribed to them again and again.  It’s not their fault, it’s just what they are told and it’s all they know to recommend.  Just about anyone can ride their bicycle to work – but do they?

The same exact discussion is also taking place with regards to public or private cloud for email…. who controls it?  You or the hosting provider?  And are you comfortable with that?   Some folks are, and some aren’t, and some never will be.


In the end, I am very happy to see an alternative approach with this new program.  I’m happy that we participated in the program and drove two successful solutions from it.  And I’m happy that we offer a choice to customers – whether it’s the Exchange admin, or the storage team, or the IT manager that wants to decide to control the storage direction for Exchange… we have a wide range of price points (wait until you see what we have coming next week) and allow any connectivity type our customers want.

I’m disappointed when Exchange 2010 deployment discussions turn into a vendor vs vendor debate, and when bad TCO data is shown, and when our own reps are not aware that Exchange should be on SATA on not FC drives in most cases.

It’s tough educating a lot of people at once and it’s even tougher to change their mind.  The best thing to do as companies is to work together and let our customers tell us where to go next.