DataCore SANsymphony SDS Review

Provides HA virtualized storage independent of storage type or vendor


What is our primary use case?

We use this solution for providing software-defined storage that is virtualized, in a true HA configuration. It provides SAN storage services to VMware vCenter hosts and VMware Horizon hosts, as well as some physical Windows and Linux servers. This platform allows us to leverage any storage that Windows can leverage, including other vendor SAN devices.  This allows us to keep existing storage, mirror SANs from 2 different vendors and even allow very easy migration from one vendor to another.  Most of our locations just use RAID attached storage (as it is the least expensive) with enterprise-class drives (both HDD and SSD).

How has it helped my organization?

This solution allows the use of off-the-shelf hardware and charges by the TB of storage. So, we can throw in our own enterprise-class hardware (including SSDs) and not pay any extra based on the type of storage we use. This is the same model used with server virtualization.

This has allowed us to keep the hardware separate from software. It is true "storage virtualization" at its finest. It has all the features of any high-end SAN such as fiber channel, iSCSI, thin provisioning, storage tiering, snapshots, continuous data protection/recovery, synchronous and asynchronous mirroring, performance reporting/graphing, and true HA design.

What is most valuable?

No more vendor lock-in, overpriced drives, or forklift upgrades. With DataCore SANsymphony, you can utilize just about any storage you wish with this product such as another SAN, NAS, JBOD, FusionIO, etc. If Windows can see it as a non-removable drive, you can use it with SANsymphony. Also, you can use this to mirror any of these various types of storage, which is awesome for migration. Say, for example, you have an HP SAN and you want to migrate off it to your own JBOD-type storage, or you have two sites with two different storage SANs that you want to replicate data between. With DataCore, it is possible to mix and match just about any storage platform you want to use.

As software-defined storage, the system is designed to run on top of Windows Server OS (which can be virtual or physical) and can utilize the server's RAM to provide disk cache. This makes our 7.2K HDDs class storage run really fast, allowing us to use a bottom-tier class of drive and get the performance of a much higher class of drive. Also, if we have to add capacity or replace drives then we can just order replacement drives off the web, saving us quite a bit of money. Of course, we still use "enterprise-class" drives but we don't pay through the nose to buy hardware. If we want to upgrade the Ethernet ports from 1Gb to 10Gb then we just do it. The same goes for FC. If we want to upgrade from 4Gb FC to 16Gb, we don't have to do a forklift upgrade. We just buy the HBAs and we're off the to races.

The other great thing is DataCore keeps their product on VMware's approved HCL. So even if you have a SAN (backend storage) that falls off the HCL with VMware, because it's virtualized storage behind DataCore, you're covered. If you put the storage behind DataCore then you won't have to worry about VMware's HCL any longer. Because of this fundamental practice, DataCore was one of the first storage vendors to support VVOLs.

The ability to pool the storage to leverage thin-provisioning is a huge saving in space and costs.

What needs improvement?

There's very little that I can find in their software that I would say needs to be improved. Sometimes the updates are too frequent, where just as we finish updating all of our sites, another update comes out.

Due to the many various options for what hardware to use, sometimes it is difficult trying to figure out what hardware options are the best for the money. DataCore can help a bit with this, but because they are only the software side of the solution, they tend to not prefer one hardware vendor over another (they get along with everyone). They do have good documentation that covers known issues with various hardware items.

The de-dup console is not yet integrated inside the main SANsymphony console. They are working on it but it's not there yet.

While their console allows you to connect to each of the nodes without closing the interface, you have to log out and back in when you switch between different storage server groups. It would be nice if they had an interface more like vCenter, where you see all of the server groups in a list and can just click on each group. It would be nice to be able to see multiple groups at the same time.

Having more of an Enterprise approach (v/s a local storage cluster) view would provide better management of the environment. For example, their current reports can only be run for each storage server group. There is currently not a way to run the same reports or look at performance across the enterprise (only the local site).

Having an enterprise "Storage Dashboard" that can show capacity, usage, performance, and any issues would be very beneficial. Currenly, DataCore does not have this. 

For how long have I used the solution?

We have been using this solution for more than five years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The software over the years has matured to be very robust and allows you to build a very high-performing storage platform.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

This product in unlimited in scalability.

How are customer service and technical support?

DataCore Support is OUTSTANDING and they release new updates and features frequently (sometimes almost too frequently).

If you previously used a different solution, which one did you use and why did you switch?

Yes - We had a mix of various, black-box, type SANs (Dell, HP, Lefthand, DottHill, and EMC to name a few).  We switched to standardize the storage across the enterprise, maintain VMware supported storage, reduce costs, and add flexibility.

How was the initial setup?

If you're an experienced SAN administrator you'll have no problems understanding their setup.  It is very straight forward.  The design of what you can do, because it's so flexible, is the most complex part.  You have LOTS of options. 

What about the implementation team?

In-House

What was our ROI?

Within the first year, the product has paid for itself.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

I would recommend sending administrators through DataCore's DCIE training/certification.  DataCore has many options from hyper-converged solution, to even providing their own storage appliances if that's what you are looking for. 

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

Yes - Dell, EMC, and HP.

What other advice do I have?

While they support de-dup, it is recommended that you not de-dup the storage used for operating systems or high-change rated type data. The requires some planning to ensure the storage that is targeted for de-dup only have data that end users would be using (such as MS Office files, etc.)

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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