StarWind HyperConverged Appliance Review

Provides around the clock support that is supportive, friendly, and dedicated

What is our primary use case?

We were running out of storage on our on-prem servers, so originally the HCAs were brought in to combat that and relieve some of the load on the veteran machines. Our file servers, along with one of our file storage, have moved to the HCA. I have put our Exchange server on it and the backup of the domain controller is on it as well.

We are using the latest version. We just implemented the HCAs. We added clusters and have moved some of the old virtual machines onto these new HCAs.

How has it helped my organization?

To have someone looking at the alerts when the network, or at least when the HCAs go down, this means I don't have to keep checking the clusters and virtual machines to make sure everything is playing ball. It's peace of mind that I don't have to keep checking and administrating that. Eventually, I will have a lot more use from it. I'm right at the end of the setup stage, but I'm still allocating resources from these HCAs into the virtual servers. So, I have not gotten the full run out of these yet.

I have seen improvement in my system’s performance. Our Exchange servers are behaving a lot better. Our system is a lot quicker. We were having delays before, where emails were taking two to three minutes. That is a lot longer than you would expect. Now, sitting on its own allocated HCA, it is almost instant. Therefore, email service has improved. The original use for this was just to increase our storage capacity, which it has done very nicely. I suppose we won't have to look for storage now for a long time.

What is most valuable?

The support is the most valuable feature. The support has been amazing. It's around the clock. One of our hard disks accidentally ejected without me knowing or being onsite. They called and told me about it before I had a chance to see it myself.

It has helped to increase redundancy and failover capabilities. The cluster is there, so I now have four levels of failover. If one of my machines goes down, there are two pairs of redundancy machines, so it fails over onto the next one.

The most important virtual servers have gone onto these new HCA. This is automatic so if one of these goes down, then the cluster would just take over and allocate to the next one. Even if I'm offsite, which I am quite a bit, we're still up and running.

What needs improvement?

The only real flaw that I have seen so far is this hard drive that was accidentally ejected because when it was received and added back into the RAID. There was an error there. It was not added back into the RAID correctly, so I have an outstanding hard disk. Apparently, a guy just knocked it with his hand as he was in my office, so it was just a small eject. He said that he didn't crash into anything. That is the only thing that has reared its head. The support team was straight on it. I have people coming out this week to replace it because remotely they couldn't add it back into the RAID. I think maybe the HD got corrupted.

I have all the ports I need in the back. When you're sitting them next to each other for replication between HCAs, it's quick because it has these dedicated iDRAC cables in the back. However, this means I can't have them in separate locations. We could run it through the network to replicate the regular gigabyte Ethernet, but that would be quite slow, especially with the setup. I don't really know how you would change this because I've got a large site. My original on-prem server is quite far away just in case there is a fire (or whatever), so the other one could pick up the redundancy. Having them next to each other defeats the purpose slightly if there was damage localized here, because I would lose both of them at the same time.

For how long have I used the solution?

We have been using it for about three months now.

We did not install it straightaway. We were waiting for a couple of bits, so it was a late install.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability is good. I have had no downtime nor issues. You don't have to maintain it.

The only time I heard from the actual support was when that hard drive went down. As that was caused by a physical thing on our end, I can't really say that was a stability issue.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

I sort of overbought on the storage needed for what I thought we would need in the future. The scalability is there. One of the main reasons I went with StarWind is because we can just keep adding. Possibly, in the future, our other sites will get added as well to have one centralized system. Though, I've not asked them about the specifics of what that would entail. But its scalability is definitely there, and hopefully, we won't need it for a long time. We might though as we have used a lot more data than I thought we would use so far.

As it stands, this is the setup that we will be using for a while.

How are customer service and technical support?

They are great at monitoring.

The Proactive Premium Support has helped to free up an employee, as I'm the only one here at this company. It's a big company with a few schools attached, and obviously, my time is critical. I probably would've been knocking my head a lot longer than necessary, but Boris knew what he was doing and jumped straight in. We had a couple of hiccups and he knew what he was doing every time.

Transfer time was a big time saver when we were migrating the data server, because it was huge. Originally, it was only hooked up to the one gigabyte per second Ethernet going to the domain switch, then back. Because that would have taken forever, support talked me through how to do this another way, step-by-step.

I'm not 100 percent that we have the Proactive Premium Support. I'm fairly certain that we have the Proactive Premium Support, but it could be that I've just been dealing with the standard support. In which case, it's amazing. If it's the Proactive Premium Support, then it's great as well. It's around the clock, very friendly, and informative. While I've only spoken to Boris, he never seems to sleep.

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

It fits into our racks very nicely. Before, we had a couple of data modules which were plugged in. They were huge, bulky, and heavy. They didn't fit in the racks. This is the replacement to those data modules. It was by looking for an alternative that I got turned onto StarWind in the first place. StarWind’s support system, along with the way it plays nicely with Hyper-V and the existing setup, makes it nice and tidy. I've had no overheating. The fans have been nice and quiet as well. The ventilation is on point.

My reseller, Softcat, tipped me onto this solution. I asked them for data storage plugins and this is what they suggested. They were the one that turned me onto StarWind.

It's exactly what I was after when I started looking for these type of appliances.

How was the initial setup?

The setup of the actual hardware was straightforward. Adding it to the existing network was complex. It would have taken me maybe a week of work to get the end result, instead having my hand held through the whole process was invaluable. It saved me a lot of time.

There was lots of different sessions involved with the deployment. If you put them altogether, it took probably a day as we had to stop and break. I had to go do other things and Boris also had to do other things, so we did the deployment in bits. 

The implementation strategy was loose. As long as it was off hours, so I could switch a bunch of machines off, that was essentially it. As long as I had this approved from Boris, that was our strategy. I looked at what resources we needed on which virtual machines. Then, I made the decision on what to transfer over, moving the most important things over.

What about the implementation team?

I had Boris (from StarWind) for the setup, and he was amazing. We have the Proactive Premium Support, since we paid extra to get it. I probably wouldn't have been able to set it up on my own to get it to play with our existing network and on-prem setup. The support guys were sending me photographs and explaining some of the basics that I probably should have known. They have been great.

Kudos to Boris. He has been great, supportive, friendly, and dedicated. 

I am the only person using and maintaining the solution.

What was our ROI?

It's not really in place of anything that would be costing us. We just had to upgrade because the storage was basically kaput. Savings-wise, I don't think it will save us any money, but it's not going to cost us anything more either.

We might see ROI from time saved. But I'm the only employee, so it'll probably take awhile to cover enough of my time to make that money up.

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

I was quite hesitant to buy these, and I don't know why. There is a bit of a start-up cost. Having never used HCAs before, I was reluctant to buy it. I would suggest that you jump in and do it, as I wish I hadn't wasted so much time.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We did look at other options, just not HCAs. We looked at static storage to plug straight in.

I spoke to Softcat about alternatives, but they said StarWind was getting glowing reviews from very similar networks across education. So, I felt that I would give them a try. Their presentation was really good, and they seem friendly and very knowledgeable. Essentially, that's what I needed - someone to help me move through the process since I hadn't added HCAs before.

Compared to other solutions out there, StarWind was cost-effective. For example, we would have had to buy at minimum as much as these HCAs cost us going forward, if not more. 

What other advice do I have?

The biggest lesson that I learned was I should have started as 1st Line Support. There was a situation where our old network manager had to leave quite suddenly, and there were definitely holes in my knowledge. So, I learned quite a lot just through the setup, Boris talking me through different types of connections, and some Hyper-V stuff. I suppose that I also learned a lot about HCAs in general and how they fit into network clusters since I hadn't touched on clusters before.

I would rate it a 10 (out of 10). I'm very happy. It's exactly the solution I wanted to the problem, then extra on top.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

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