Building Nutanix Ready…What does it mean to be “Ready”?

Before we go into what “Ready” really means.  Every great journey has a story behind it. This will be a multi-part series starting with how I joined Nutanix and evolved myself to build a world-class program called “Nutanix Ready”. Stay Tuned, Part 1 coming very soon!  RobNutanix Ready

Storage Spaces Direct Explained – Applications & Performance

Applications

Microsoft SQL Server product group announced that SQL Server, either virtual or bare metal, is fully supported on Storage Spaces Direct. The Exchange Team did not have a clear endorsement for Exchange on S2D and clearly still prefers that Exchange is deployed on physical servers with local JBODs using Exchange Database Availability Groups or that customers simply move to O365.
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Performance

Microsoft showed all kinds of performance #s but these are using all NVMe SSD systems and real-world workloads like 100% 4k Random Reads.
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Much like VSAN, Storage Spaces is implemented in-kernel. Their messaging is very similar as well, claiming more efficient IO path, and CPU consumption typically way less than 10% of system CPU. Like VSAN, the exact overhead of S2D is difficult to measure.
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Microsoft is pushing NVMe Flash Devices for S2D and here are some examples of their positioning.
Their guidance was to avoid NVMe devices if your primary requirement is capacity as today you will pay a significant premium $/GB.
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Where NVMe shines is on reduced latency and increased performance with NVMe systems driving 3.4x more IOPs than a similar SATA SSD on S2D.
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There is also a significant benefit to CPU consumption with NVMe consuming nearly 50% less CPU than SATA SSDs on S2D.
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I also want to point out that the Azure Storage team is working very closely with Intel and Micron and will be moving parts of Azure to 3D Xpoint as soon as possible. This will filter down to S2D at some point, and we should expect them to be close to the bleeding edge for supporting new storage class memory technologies.
Scalability

Storage Spaces Direct will scale up to 16 nodes. In earlier Tech Preview releases they supported a minimum cluster size of 4 nodes. Recently they dropped that to 3 nodes and this week at Ignite they announced support for 2-node configurations. The 2-node configurations will use 2-way mirroring and require a separate witness that can be deployed on-premise or as a remote witness in Azure. Support for min 2 node configs does give them an advantage in ROBO and mid-market especially when low-cost is more important than high availability.

S2D will support both scale-up (adding additional local disk) and scale-out (with support for adding nodes in increments of 1).
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Product Positioning

Microsoft’s guidance is for customers to use smaller hyper-converged configurations for ROBO and small departmental workloads where cost efficiency is the primary driver. For larger enterprises and hosters/service providers, Microsoft recommends a converged model that allows the independent scaling of compute and storage resources.image043
So How Do Customers Buy Storage Spaces Direct?

Storage Spaces Direct is a feature of Windows Server 2016 and customers get it for free with DataCenter Edition. Customers will have the option of DIY or purchase one of the new Storage Spaces Direct reference architecture solutions from one of 12 different partners.
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With previous storage spaces offerings in Server 2012 and 2012R2, Microsoft put the technology out there for the DIY crowd and hoped that the server vendors would find the technology interesting enough to add to their portfolios. The problem was it needed JBOD shelves and in most server vendor organizations, JBODs fell under the storage teams, not the server teams. There was no way that any storage team was going to jeopardize their high margin traditional storage business by offering low margin Storage Spaces based JBOD solutions. Most vendors didn’t even want to sell JBODs at all. For example, Dell typically overpriced their JBODs to make EqualLogic look like a good deal at just a 15% uplift from a basic JBOD shelf…. much like movie theaters get us to buy the large popcorn for 50 cents more.

With Storage Spaces Direct, Microsoft is now dealing with the server part of these organizations… and all these guys care about is selling more servers. So Spaces went from having no partner interest to having support from all of the major server vendors.

However, since S2D is free with Windows and channel partners only get paid for the server sale, there is little incentive for them push S2D over other HCI options on these platforms. Therefore, I suspect that the majority of S2D adoption should come from customers asking to buy it rather than partners pushing it as an option.
So here is what the partner ecosystem looks like today.
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To formalize this, Microsoft created a new program called Windows Server Software Defined (WSSD) allowing partners to submit validated WSSD Reference Architectures. Microsoft provides the validation tools and methodology and the partner does the testing. They get a Windows Server 2016 Certified Logo plus SDDC Additional Qualifiers.
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Partners can offer their choice of Hyper-Converged or Converged configurations. Here’s where the classic Microsoft unnecessary complexity comes in… Within Hyper-Converged there are two additional options – Standard and Premium. Premium has some additional SDN and Security features turned on, but it’s simply a configuration thing. All of these come with Datacenter Edition so there is no cost or licensing difference.
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Here are a few examples of the offerings. S2D offerings will be available starting in mid-October as soon as Server 2016 goes GA.
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You may be asking who is responsible for support? Because it’s just a reference architecture, there is a split support model. Customers will call the server vendor for hardware issues and Microsoft for software issues.

Conclusions…

Storage Spaces has come a long way since Server 2012 and will be considered a viable option for customers looking at software-defined storage solutions. Some of the customers perceived advantages of S2D will be… low cost, min 2-node config, a broad choice of hardware vendors, storage QoS, NVMe support, single vendor software stack, and choice of deployment model (Hyper-Converged or Converged). Probably the most important of those is the price. Understanding the differences will be key. It’s tough to compete against ‘good enough’ and ‘free’.

Microsoft has not been very successful driving Storage Spaces adoption in the last 2 releases. Part of this is due to product immaturity, but most of this is because they didn’t build any real sales program around it. This hasn’t really changed with the WSSD Reference Architecture program. The big boys like Dell, HP, and Cisco are not going to position S2D over their own HCI offerings and the smaller players like SuperMicro, DataON and RAID Inc will never drive any significant adoption. Regardless of hardware platform, there is a very little incentive for the channel to sell S2D reference architectures over other HCI solutions (where they get paid for both the SW+HW sale). So without a strong sales program, I don’t believe that we will see S2D emerge as a big market share anytime soon.

Until next time, Rob.

Storage Spaces Direct Explained – Management & Operations

Management & Operations
Good day everyone. It been a few weeks, like busy with work and such. Anyways, this post will go into how Management & Operations are done in S2D.  Now, my biggest pet peeve is complex GUI management and yet again, Microsoft doesn’t disappoint.  It still a number of steps in different interfaces to bring up S2D, Check out Aidan Finns blog post on disaggregated management from last year.  It still rings true to this day with the release of 2016. It shouldn’t be this complex IMO 🙁 That being said, let move to the details.

Management & OperationsManagement & Operations

Microsoft is pushing everyone to use PowerShell as the primary management tool for Storage Spaces, but you can also manage it with a combination of Windows Failover Cluster Manager, SCVMM, and SCOM as mentioned above. So if you are good at Powershell, management is fairly simple. If not, then you have the classic switching between different tools management experience :(. This is why everyone really needs to start their PowerShell training now, to survive as an architect in Microsoft land going forward ;).

There is a Health Service built into Windows Server 2016 that provides some decent system health and status information for Storage Spaces. I just saw a few demos at ignite16 and have not played with it yet, so I’ll have to dig into this further and see how they stack up in a future post.
Management & OperationsManagement & Operations
S2D supports cluster aware updating that integrates with the Windows Update Service. Like VSAN, because they run in kernel, they need to live migrate VMs off the host server, perform the update, reboot, and then migrate everything back. I’ll note that this is only the case for the hyper-converged deployment model. In a converged model where the VMs are on a separate compute tier, you can update the storage controllers one at a time fairly seamlessly without impacting VMs on the separate compute tier.

While I am not a big fan of the management,  this could give rise to tools like 5nine if they decide to support S2D management. Next up. Application and Performance, Until next time, Rob.

CPS Standard on Nutanix Released

nutanixCPS
Fun and crazy days here at Nutanix. I’ve busy been fielding a lot of calls around our new offering, CPS Standard on Nutanix. Now if you don’t know what CPS is, it stands for Cloud Platform System.

So what is Microsoft CPS anyways?

Simply, Microsoft CPS is a software stack of Window Server, System Center, and Windows Azure Pack.  CPS delivers a self-service cloud environment for Windows and Linux applications that provides optimized deployment of Windows Azure Pack.
Currently based on Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2 and Windows Azure Pack, CPS provides an Azure-consistent experience by leveraging Azure services to deliver business continuity (through Azure Site Recovery) of your hybrid cloud for your virtualized Windows and Linux workloads. For more details on Windows Azure Pack, check out my blog series on WAP.

If you have read my WAP blog series, building your own cloud can be a complex undertaking. Integrating the hardware, installing and configuring the software, and optimizing the overall solution for usability, performance, and scale, and reliability means that many cloud deployments fall short.

Introducing Microsoft CPS on Nutanix, an easier way to deploy WAP

The solution is due to the co-engineering and joint validation efforts with Microsoft and Nutanix. Getting the solution up and running is pretty fast, accelerating your time to value.
The joint effort goes beyond initial deployment. Once the Microsoft\Nutanix CPS solution is up and running, you get a single point of contact for support and simplified patching and updating across the entire stack of firmware and software. And as an added benefit, you get the ability to scale the environment with all the Nutanix goodness.

Bits are installed at the factory, so when you get your Nutanix Block, it’s just as easy as a wizard to get you up and running.  Below is a video that my buddy @mcghee did on the install and initial configuration of CPS. The video brings you right up to the admin and tenant portals and gives you a brief tour.

Enjoy…Until next time, Rob….

Microsoft Exchange Best Practices on Nutanix

To continue on my last blog post on Exchange…

As I mentioned previously, I support SE’s from all over the world. And again today, I got asked what are the best practices for running Exchange on Nutanix. Funny enough, this question comes in quite often.  Well, I am going to help resolve that. There’s a lot of great info out there, especially from my friend Josh Odgers, which has been leading the charge on this for a long time.  Some of his posts can be controversial, but truth is always there.  He’s getting a point across.

This blog post will be updated on a regular basis as things change. It will also be moved to a permanent part of the netwatch.me resources section.  This is meant to be a general best practice guide to help with planning and maintaining a healthy Exchange environment on Nutanix.  I will specify hypervisor specifics when required.  Now on the post…..

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Let’s start out with the basics…

MS Exchange on Nutanix Support

Nutanix provides a 100% supported solution for MS Exchange running on vSphere, Hyper-V or Acropolis Hypervisor using iSCSI (Block storage)
Here is a breakdown of supported configurations by hypervisor:

vSphere (ESXi)Use In-Guest iSCSI (Volume Groups) for full support
Hyper-V Use SMB 3.0
AHVUse native vDisks (iSCSI) – SVVP Certification for AHV

Also, check out Josh’s post “Fight the FUD – Support for MS Exchange on Nutanix” that outlines this very topic.  In summary, the customer has the choice to deploy in multiple configurations to suit their needs. But, one of the most often questions I get is, “does your SVVP Certification cover running Exchange on all your supported hypervisors?”  The answer is not simple.  The SVVP was submitted for the Acropolis Hypervisor, while this does not cover all of them, we technically are supported for all hypervisors as per Microsoft supported storage architectures.  Microsoft does not specifically mention Hyperconverged, it only mentions ISCSI in regards to SAN.  IMO, that covers ESXi and AHV.

Now let me explain….SAN’s are one of the biggest modern datacenter bottlenecks. Data has gravity, so co-locating storage and compute eliminates network bottlenecks = Hyperconverged is way better than SAN and hence SUPPORTED IMO 😉

To end this topic and move on, a Nutanix customer has the choice to deploy in multiple configurations to suit their needs.  Being pushed to one particular hypervisor for a customer is not always in their best interest.  Having choices now and later is a much better approach with the overall goal of simplifying the datacenter.   As Josh said in one of his blog posts ,”Running a standard platform and storage protocol for all workloads is a simple model which reduces the unnecessary complexity of multiple protocols and/or in-guest storage configurations”, I can’t agree more with that statement. 🙂

Exchange Performance on Nutanix

Now this subject will always be controversial and potentially subject to criticism.  Internal testing performed by the Nutanix Performace and Engineering team shows that AHV and Hyper-V performance are roughly the same from a hypervisor perspective and ESXi was 10% higher. That being said, usually, the next question is how is performance versus traditional SAN/NAS.  And again, I have to point out, it’s all about Data Locality. Can’t change the laws of physics. Data has gravity, hence we will always beat traditional SAN architecture.

Check out Josh’s posts on “Peak Performance vs Real World – Exchange on Nutanix Acropolis Hypervisor”.  It gives you a better understanding of are realistic benchmarks of Exchange in general and on Nutanix. I wholeheartedly agree with Josh when he says “Benchmarks are of little value without context specific to customer requirements!”  Spending close to over 15 years building and maintain Exchange systems, I learned one hard fact, no generic simulator (like JetStress) can show real world metrics.

Data Reduction Technologies with Exchange on Nutanix

Recommendation:
1 vDisk per Database, 1 vDisk per DB Logs
1 Container with RF2, In-Line Compression & EC-X for Databases
1 Container with RF2 for Logs
Do not use Dedupe with MS Exchange!
Reference: https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee832792(v=exchg.150).aspx
Microsoft does not support Data deduplication (Note: Underlying storage deduplication such as Nutanix dedupe is not mentioned, but implied)

Data Reduction Estimates:

Rule of thumb: Always size without data reduction if possible.
Conservative assumption for compression for Exchange = 1.3:1
Aggressive assumption for compression for Exchange = 1.6:1
Conservative assumption for EC-X for Exchange = 1.1:1
Aggressive assumption for EC-X for Exchange = 1.25:1

Questions to ask yourself when planning an Exchange Environment:

How many Users? e.g.: 10000, 10000, etc.
How many user profiles do you need? e.g.: 2 , Standard and Executives
How large Mailbox (excluding archiving) per User? e.g.: 1GB, 2GB , 5GB
How many messages per day do you want to support per user? Light = 50 , Medium = 100 , Heavy = 150+

Do you require site resiliency?

These are among some of the basic questions you need to answer.  This is where the Exchange Server Role Calculator comes in. It’s a great tool, but like any tool, you do need to give it good input to get out good output. The function of the tool is as the name implies.

Exchange Server Role Calculator Defined

Now, at the time of this writing, version 7.8 is the latest and greatest. Now, do note, I would not call this tool perfect, but its gets you pretty close. Like anything else, the Exchange team is still learning real world behavior and this is where a good experienced Exchange engineer comes into play.

IMO..there is an Art and Science to sizing Exchange.  The days of Exchange just being a simple mail server are far over. These days, it’s much more complex with supporting multiple forms of ingress and egress traffic for different functions (Mobile, Web, SMTP, Skype Integration, etc.). Each of these different functions has varying load considerations and supports more visible features like Outlook Web Access and Exchange Activesync. Also, I still am of the opinion that it does not take into consideration the number of devices that 1 mailbox services.
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Considering this complexity, you can see that undersizing or oversizing can happen easily.  If you size correctly at the beginning with Nutanix, then it just an easy scale out, buy as you need it situation. Then you know what happens, finally for the first time, predictability in your budgets.  I remember the days, not that long ago, when I had to have a client retire a SAN, not for space constraints, but for IO constraints.  And at the time, all I got from the client was “can’t we use it for something else” and ya, I’ve replied with “use it as a WSUS repository for patching the Exchange environment” 😉

During my next post, I will dive into the Exchange Role Calculator much more and go over some examples of sizing on Exchange. We’ll mainly focus on mailbox storage and then move on to other role sizing considerations.  I also plan to cover the other aspects to maintain a healthy Exchange environment (i.e. Message Hygiene, Global and Local Load balancing, Integrations and End User Experience) in subsequent posts.
Below are the Office Best Practices Guides from Nutanix and some public case studies.

Until next time, Rob…..

Nutanix Offical Best Practice Guides
MS Exchange on Nutanix / vSphere Best practice guide: http://go.nutanix.com/VirtualizingMicrosoftExchangeonWeb-ScaleConvergedInfrastructure.html

Public Case Studies for Nutanix customers using Exchange
Richter: http://go.nutanix.com/rs/nutanix/images/Nutanix-Case-Study-Richter.pdf
Riverside: http://www.nutanix.com/resource/riverside-for-riversides-server-and-storage-consolidation-nutanix-fits-like-a-glove/

Microsoft Exchange Documentor 1.0 – Planning Tool

Microsoft Exchange Documentor 1.0 - Planning Tool
Have you had a need to document your Exchange environment?  Do you need a tool to help you plan your upgrade of Exchange?  Is your documentation current for compliance purposes?

In my job at Nutanix, one of the things I do is support our sales engineers globally on Exchange and other Microsoft solutions.  And yes, on-premise Exchange is still going strong, even with O365 in the mix.  I still see a lot of engagements in the field with Exchange and usually around keeping their data out of the cloud or a dependence on some kind of line of business application.

In any case, one of the biggest challenges transitioning to Hyperconverged technologies like Nutanix is understanding what you currently have.  The complexities of legacy 3-teir infrastructure are hard enough.  You also need to understand the requirements of your current Exchange environment.  Depending on the size of your Enterprise, this can be a time burn and can have a margin of error.  You need to understand Exchange PowerShell and other touch points in the Exchange environment.
Exhange_AlwaysOn Microsoft Exchange Documentor 1.0 - Planning ToolI originally built this tool, when I was working as a System Integrator before I joined Nutanix.  Its original purpose was for documenting a client Exchange environment after I was finished building it out.  The tool is based on PowerShell and leverages Microsoft Word to generate the final document. Currently, the tool only documents Exchange 2010 and does a basic hardware inventory.  My vision for the tool is to support all current versions of Exchange including O365 and build out a front-end GUI with report options. Maybe eventually, becoming a planning tool for sizing and transitioning your Exchange environment to true cloud-like agile infrastructure.

I started a GitHub project and you can check it out here.
http://netwatchme.github.io/Exchange-Documenter/

In this fast-paced world, we need as much automation as possible to make our jobs more efficient, so, we as engineers can have more time back at home or doing the things we enjoy :). To quote a line from Kirt in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan “Hours instead of days! Now, we have minutes instead of hours.” pretty much sums the world we live in.

livelongprosper Microsoft Exchange Documentor 1.0 - Planning Tool

Live long and prosper…Until next time, Rob…..