StarWind HyperConverged Appliance Review

Enabled us to significantly condense and eliminated excess in our server rack

What is our primary use case?

We run it mostly for business processes. We have a manufacturing plant. We use it for our ERP system, some of our databases, some IT applications. It really drives the organization and the main things we use on a day-to-day basis.

How has it helped my organization?

We used to have a lot of issues with our database servers. At one point, we had a database front-end that required five different servers to run, literally five physical servers. Just one of those computers going down would effectively halt the whole database. Bringing in these units really helped us condense our infrastructure and make things more reliable and redundant. That has definitely been the biggest key value in this.

In terms of redundancy, we were completely physical before we brought these units in. We had no virtual infrastructure at all. In addition to that, nothing was redundant. These really helped to give us some form of redundancy in a pretty compact package. With a lot of hyperconverged units, you need at least three of them, sometimes four of them. One thing that was attractive with StarWind was that we could get it in two units that communicate directly. It is a pretty self-maintained hyperconverged appliance. That was something that was really appealing.

Overall, it has helped to improve our system's performance greatly.

What is most valuable?

Nearly all of it is valuable. On a software level, it works really well. I've never had any issues with the hosts communicating with each other. The failover works perfectly. They set up everything on a software level and I've been very happy with it. They can monitor the software remotely and make sure everything's working with our Hyper-V cluster. Overall, I have been very happy with the setup of the software.

The hardware footprint is perfect. It fits in our rack perfectly and we were able to condense a lot of physical servers we had. It has greatly eliminated the excess stuff in our server rack. The footprint is completely acceptable.

We have the ProActive Premium Support and it has reduced our monitoring efforts. It has been very useful. They have been able to detect things such as when there's an issue with the cluster or they're getting some kind of weird reading that I have no idea about. They're really quick to let me know about it and even set up a schedule to address it. I've been very happy with their level of support on that. 

For example, they had messaged me a couple of times in regard to what they assumed was a bad block on our server. That could be very devastating if there is something actually wrong with our data — a corruption or anything like that. They went in there a couple of times and looked at it and made sure everything was okay. I would consider that pretty nice preventative maintenance.

When we first got the appliance, we hadn't done any major updates on the actual hardware itself. They recommended to me that we do an update on it. They pretty much did the whole process for me and that saved me a lot of time on software and firmware updates.

The Premium Support has saved me about ten hours of troubleshooting time. Whenever there's an issue, they're quick to reach out to me. I'd consider that a good value in terms of my time in general. There is less I have to worry about, as far as something going wrong with these servers goes, when they're monitoring it 24/7.

What needs improvement?

I wish I understood what goes into the StarWind software a little bit better. To me, it's kind of magic the way some of it works. As an IT professional, you don't really want things to be magic. I do wish there was a little more "Here's how it works." There could be more documentation given to administrators to know, just in case you have to troubleshoot this by yourself, what you should look out for.

For how long have I used the solution?

These are our first HCA units at this company. We have had the product for six to eight months.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability has been excellent. We've never had any crashes or issues with the products themselves going down or any kind of instability. Everything that we have had — as I mentioned, there was something potentially wrong due to a disk issue, although it turned out that there wasn't a problem — they have usually been quick to catch it proactively.

But as for anything unexpected happening or that brought us down, there's been nothing thus far, which has been awesome.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

It could be relatively scalable. We're at where we need to be with two of them, but it seems it would be very straightforward to get a third one, for example, if we wanted additional redundancy or more computing power.

It's being fully utilized to drive our day-to-day production. We rely on it every day to drive the business, so it is very key in our infrastructure now. I could see us getting an additional unit if the business needs demand it. I don't think we will have a demand for it within the next five years, but if it happens, if we have rapid growth, I would definitely look into getting another unit.

Currently, we have about 100 end-users of the solution in our organization.

How are customer service and technical support?

They could use a little more diversity in their technicians. Some of them are a little bit difficult to understand. That's typical for remote technical support people, but they should make an effort to have more US-based technicians available. It would add good value to their customer support.

The actual responsiveness and helpfulness of each technician has been great. I don't have any other complaints about the support. We've never had to escalate a case to anyone beyond first-tier support.

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

We didn't have a previous hyperconverged solution.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup was very straightforward. We got the units in, we plugged them in, and set them up. They had given us a map of how everything should be connected, which I had no difficulty understanding. 

They then followed up with a more formal implementation day, where they did some of the final setup on the two units. It was a GoToMeeting type of set up and they remoted in and finished configuring the host.

I do wish that they had done the setup in advance so that we could have run them right away. I thought they would be a fully turnkey kind of product, so I was a little surprised to see that there was an extra set up when we got them in. But it was nothing too time-intensive.

The software configuration took about an hour. The hardware was done by them before we even received the product. It did take a couple of days before we could actually get them booked to finish the installation. That was my main complaint, not so much the actual time it took the technician to do the rest of it.

It could be done by one person, but two are helpful for the initial racking. And for day-to-day maintenance, now that it's deployed, we definitely need just one full-time person.

What about the implementation team?

Everything was done through StarWind. We didn't have any consultants. The only actual help we had from the outside was getting it physically installed.

What was our ROI?

To give it a ballpark, I would say the solution has saved us $25,000 over the six to eight months we've had it. In terms of a projected ROI, we don't have a hard number on it but I would say about $100,000 would be ideal over the five years that we would have it.

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

The Nutanix piece was about $45,000, getting close to $50,000 with all the licensing involved, whereas the StarWind was less than half of that, after Microsoft licensing and such.

The price point was spot-on.

There were no hidden fees. Everything was up-front. We had the option to go with three or five years' worth of support. There was really nothing unexpected. We knew we had to license our Windows Servers, but that was about it.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We looked at Nutanix and we looked at Dell VRTX and we decided on StarWind ultimately, by a pretty significant margin.

With the Nutanix, we didn't like the fact that pricing was way higher than the StarWind appliances. Plus, if I'm not mistaken, we would have needed at least three of the Nutanix hardware, the HCAs. They also run their own specialized platform. I have more of a Hyper-V background, which is what StarWind bases its virtualization on. There would have been a little more of a learning curve on my end as well. Ultimately, the price was the biggest killer on that.

What other advice do I have?

Not so much with the appliance itself, but more the process for going from physical to virtual machines took a lot of planning. That was a little challenging. They did offer to help migrate some of our data over to the new servers if we chose to, but we decided not to. We did everything in-house in terms of getting everything migrated over to the new servers.

For a small to mid-size organization, it's a great fit. It may not be the right fit if you're a really big enterprise.

I would give the solution a nine out of ten. There's great hardware in this solution. Everything that we purchased was really competitive. I am a person knows what I'm looking at when it comes to hardware, and I thought everything was great. The software is also very good.

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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