StarWind HyperConverged Appliance Review

High-availability should prevent any downtime and the costs associated with it

What is our primary use case?

I wanted something for high-availability. We're a logistics company and we have guys working 24/7, to some degree. I needed a solution that was going to provide high-availability. 

It's all on-prem. It's the two-node, high-availability model.

How has it helped my organization?

We're getting close to 50 trucks and growing pretty quickly. We have guys out on the road all the time and this system we're putting in place is going to track all of that in the greatest of detail. If anything happens with a load, it's all being communicated back through the system. That includes dispatching the drivers, monitoring the drivers as they're hauling the load, tracking when they arrive at their destinations. All that is done through the system. Any time that it goes down for an extended period of time is a time that we have to operate on paper. As of now, we are familiar with doing that, and we probably will continue to have a backup plan, but it's not nearly as efficient. Someone is going to have to go back and enter the data in later. That could potentially lead to disruption where wrong information goes to the driver, causing delivery of a load to the wrong location or at the wrong time.

It's too early to say whether or not this solution will save our company money. Right now, I very much think it's going to. Even if I were to have one substantial instance of downtime - if I were to just build it out on a regular host and the host went down and I had to spin up another host and bring up backups, etc. That downtime, right there, would be significant money lost. I'm pretty sure that it will save money but I can't say that it's 100 percent sure since we haven't been through that scenario yet.

What is most valuable?

High-availability is what I bought it for.

The hardware footprint size is good. They use Dell EMC boxes for the appliances. They're pretty standard for the industry, as far as servers go. I think they're good.

What needs improvement?

This is just being nit-picky but the only thing I have run into is that I did want to add more hard drives into the host, so that we could look at doing a RAID 10, and the hard drive prices were pretty expensive. I think they're just getting pricing straight from whoever supplies their hardware. They do have the Dell EMC guarantee where, if you have hardware that goes out, you will have a replacement there by the next day. So if one of my drives goes out they'll have a new one to me by the next day.

But I compared the price of one hard drive - I can't remember what size it was - and the cost was about $700. I could buy one like that from a Best Buy for $100. Obviously one is enterprise-level and one is just a personal-user-type of drive. They're not apples to apples but the price difference was still pretty significant. I was expecting more like a $300 or $400 difference.

Again, that's pretty nit-picky and I don't think it has anything to do with StarWind itself. I think it's more on whomever they work with for their hardware.

For how long have I used the solution?

It was installed about four or five months ago. I put it in place for a large transportation management system and I'm only now in the process of doing all the installs for it. I'm bringing up all the servers on their appliances. So I haven't used it at all for production yet. I've done about two months of installation and testing.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

They're doing a great job. I do want to benchmark this and see how well it's going to do. I'm going to hit it with heavy loads and find ways to really stress-test it more.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

It seems very scalable. Obviously, my host only holds up so many drives but I can expand there. I can add a third, fourth, fifth, sixth node onto the end of the cluster if I want to. I don't know if there's a max to it. I didn't ask because in the next 20 years I don't see us hitting four hosts or five hosts of that size. From everything I can see, the scalability is good.

I have one physical box that runs my domain controller and all our other VMs are on the StarWind appliance, except, perhaps the secondary domain controller which might not be in the cluster. But every other VM we have is in the cluster. So about 95 percent of our servers are on their host and I would probably continue forward with that in the future. If we outgrew these boxes, I would just throw another one into the cluster. I would definitely go forward with StarWind as long as the benchmarking works out and things continue to go like they have been. I would continue to expand our environment with them.

How are customer service and technical support?

Their customer support has been pretty good. They've done a really good job of supporting the product and even helping me with some things that weren't directly related to the product that I was doing on the host. They helped me get some different things configured.

I am familiar with the ProActive Premium Support feature. They talked to me about it but I haven't used it or gone ahead with it yet. It is something I am still considering. The way they sold it to me was that it supports stuff outside of things relating to the high-availability cluster itself. It's almost like consulting services in a way, where they'll help you with other things like domain controllers and keeping your servers up to date and that kind of stuff. I'm the CEO here but I act as the main IT person as well. I try to build everything out so I have very little hands-on. So for some of that kind of service I'm probably going to either hire someone cheaper to do updates, an onsite person, or go with a service like that where they maintain things and update the servers, because it's time-consuming.

StarWind's support plan was very reasonable. But the support that came with the host was actually very good. They're very responsive and I've dealt with numerous people from StarWind. I don't have issues with it at all because I have many friends who have very heavy accents, but some of them have heavy accents which, once in a while, makes it a little bit hard to understand them. But they're all super-knowledgeable on the product. They're all very smart and well-trained. I have been impressed with their customer service across the board.

They always respond very quickly when I send an email. They have support that monitors the boxes. If I'm doing something where I take a box down, they're proactively emailing me: "Oh, do you know your box just went down?" Most of the time it's been on purpose, because I'm doing so much work on the boxes, but they're very proactive at monitoring things for you.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We didn't have a previous solution. This TMW system, deploying it, is the first that I've had. It's my first attempt at streamlining everything from a systems perspective. I had some physical servers that I was using for different things, like a QuickBooks Server and print server, a domain controller, and some basic things like that. I didn't have anything that was high-availability.

StarWind was one that in my research had come up again and again. It was like, "Hey, look at these guys and what they're doing, and their pricing is reasonable for a mid-sized to small business." I found them in several different forums at several places and decided to give them a call. I was really impressed with everything that I'd seen from them.

How was the initial setup?

High-availability is a little bit complex in general. They made it as easy as it could be. I worked with their tech support and they walked me through everything. I felt that it was pretty simple, overall.

Technically, in terms of the deployment, we got the two hosts in, racked them, got them hooked up to the network. That took a couple of days. Then they came on. They had Windows Server 2016 already installed on both boxes, so I activated the data center version. From there, I got on the phone with them and they walked me through the rest of it. That took a couple of hours for configuring stuff and making sure everything was good. From their side, it was pretty quick. The boxes arrived pretty quickly after I ordered them. Overall, it was pretty fast. It didn't take long to get them going.

From there, I had to build out my VMs on top of the host and do all the installs for the software product that we're putting together.

In terms of deployment and maintenance, it's just one person. I'm the only one doing it right now.

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

I honestly feel that there's no one else in the market doing what they're doing for the price point that they're doing it at. That's why I asked them about investing in their company. I think that the options they're providing and the software that they have is sort of revolutionary for the price point. It's making it possible for small businesses and medium-sized businesses to be able to have high-availability at a cheap price.

The total cost was $24,400. I believe it was just a one-time fee. They did a per-hour plan for their services, which was for the data migration. If you had a current environment, domain controller, deployment, B-center deployment, stress-testing, performance-testing, all that kind of stuff was figured into a block of 48 hours. If you were to go above and beyond that 48 hours, I'm sure there is an additional hourly fee.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

I looked at other options like the vSAN from VMware, but the prices for our size of company were just too cost-prohibitive. Cost was the main, deciding factor. I compared them apples to apples and Hyper-V was equivalent to VMware especially for the price differences. I talked to several guys in the field. Some were all Hyper-V and some were all VMware. But when I asked them, "Why do you choose this one over this one and that one over that one?" they would give excuses but none of them were really legit anymore.

Some of them had excuses about Hyper-V which had been corrected in later versions. When I really got down to the nuts and bolts, there weren't significant differences, for what I needed, between those two platforms. When I looked at vSAN, it was just so far out of our price range that I said to myself, "Well, there's no way. I'm not going to go high-availability if that's the only option," because it was so cost-prohibitive for us.

I couldn't find a lot of other options, though I might've just overlooked them. I couldn't find a lot of other solutions that were virtualized in the drives. And I didn't want to have a SAN because I didn't want the single point of failure of a single SAN.

What other advice do I have?

I feel like it's a pretty solid solution. I actually asked them if they're publicly traded because I was going to buy stock in their company.

I would really encourage people to check out StarWind. I come from a software development background, so a lot of virtualization and some of the related areas are very new for me. I've learned a lot and taught myself a lot. I have a lot of buddies in this field, in virtualization, networking, and server management, etc. I've been really suggesting to them that they take a look at it and see what they think. I've been really impressed with it so far, given the pricing.

I could give over a lot of lessons I've learned from other vendors but, honestly, with StarWind, I can't say I have any lessons learned, other than that there are some vendors out there who do take care of their customers.

We're not in a production environment, we're still very much in a test environment. But last night I did do some testing as we get more of a load on the boxes. I want to see how well they perform once I have a heavy load on them. So I totally shut down one of my hosts last night. I loaded up a VM - I was sitting on the VM that was on the host and I was going to shut down. I was doing some work on that VM and then I restarted the host while I was working on the VM that was on that host because I wanted to see what the user's impact would be when it rolled over to the other host. I couldn't tell a difference - and I was sitting on the box - that anything had happened. I watched the Cluster Manager and I could see the VMs migrating over to the host that was still online. So it seems to work very well. Once I get it up all the way, once we're in production, I want to really stress-test the thing and see how well it holds up. Obviously, one user is not a very good test case. Once we get more people on it, I want to see how it holds up.

I've discussed options with them if we need to increase performance, like switching over to RAID 10 versus a RAID 5 and a couple of things like that. There are several options for upping performance if we need to. But my approach was to get everything for this TMS system up and running because it's about six or seven servers, all for this one system. And then we'll see, once we start utilizing it, how performance is. We'll start doing benchmarking and then try to get things better from there.

In terms of system performance, because I've never run this system on anything else before, I really can't say if there is an improvement with it. I am going to try and do a lot of benchmarking, when I get done with the company that I'm working with to install the software, to see how it's running. Obviously it's replicating data across two different hosts and it's replicating with the hard drives and the RAM. There is a performance hit of some kind there but how great that is or if it's going to be noticeable at all, I don't know yet. Everything that I've seen when loading up the app is that it seems to perform pretty well. But again, it's not under enough of a stress test to really say for sure.

I would give StarWind HCA a nine out of ten. I haven't tested it enough to give it a ten. But so far, everything that I've seen on my side has met or exceeded what I was expecting.

**Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor.
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author avatarJohnBarnhart
Real User

Hello. I enjoy reading IT Central Station's competitive reviews. Out of curiosity while you were researching different SDS/HCI vSAN solutions, where did you go to obtain your research information and along the way, did you ever hear of or investigate DataCore SAN Symphony?