What is our primary use case?
We use StarWind for storage on our Hyper-V cluster. We started with their free offering in a test environment and found the performance and stability so attractive that we built a three node cluster using Dell 720s and ten gigabit copper ethernet. It has now been running continuously for four years with essentially zero downtime. As it approaches end-of-life we will be migrating to their managed appliances.
How has it helped my organization?
We were originally in a legacy environment of stand-alone servers. StarWind has allowed us to virtualize our environment without the huge expense of a dedicated SAN (the typical choice in the past), putting cluster technology and its benefits within our reach. Server downtime was a constant threat to our operation before StarWind, but has never been a problem since.
What is most valuable?
Without question, the support. StarWind has been a valuable technology partner for us from the beginning. On the rare occasion when we have had a problem, or have simply needed to do an upgrade, they have provided first-rate support. Anyone who has dealt with common off-shore support understands the frustration in dealing with incompetent and difficult to communicate with support staff. This is not so with StarWind, as their support staff is comprised of true experts who can also communicate clearly. For highly technical products this is essential. The best part about their tech support though, is that you probably won't need it much!
On the technical side, the performance has been excellent. I have never found a reason to regret not going with a traditional SAN. The configuration is so much simpler, with fewer points of failure to worry about. Integration with Microsoft clustering has been perfect, allowing us to leverage our investment in MS server licensing to the fullest. Updates to server hardware are now painless and done during working hours with zero stress. We had a RAID failure a few months back, and nobody in the building even noticed and there was no after hours time used for repair. It's the best!
What needs improvement?
Very few aspects of this solution need improvement. Sometimes documentation on their site can be out of date, and it is always good to check with support to make sure that whatever you are looking at is current. The good news here is that this is very easy to accomplish. If we stay with the Virtual SAN instead of the managed appliances it would be great to have more automated tooling around managing the iSCSI connections in Windows, which can be a bit confusing at first.
For how long have I used the solution?
More than five years.
What do I think about the stability of the solution?
Zero. It runs like a rock.
What do I think about the scalability of the solution?
The current non-managed solution is limited to 3 nodes.
How are customer service and technical support?
Their customer service at every level, both in terms of our account and technical support is very good. Everything has always been timely and first-rate. I have learned many things about not just StarWind but also Microsoft clustering, iSCSI, and even Hyper-V from Starwind support staff. They are true geek pros!
Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?
Before StarWind we were still in a non-virtualized environment of standalone servers with disparate hardware.
How was the initial setup?
These are complex products to set up by nature. StarWind's excellent support makes it easy, but we were able to get our test setup running in just a few hours by reading documents and their forum.
What about the implementation team?
We implemented with our in-house team and StarWind support only. Their expertise not just with their own product but with Microsoft clustering and Hyper-V was amazing. We didn't need any other support to get the job done.
What was our ROI?
It has paid for itself many times over in reduced downtime and maintenance costs.
What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?
Make sure that you understand what all of the pieces do and don't make the assumption that you can drop support once setup is complete.
Which other solutions did I evaluate?
Yes, we looked at Nutanix and several traditional dedicated SANs.
What other advice do I have?
Make sure that you understand your performance requirements clearly. Learn how to measure your performance needs in your existing environment BEFORE you shop, so that you can be sure that you are looking at the right solution. In all of the planning that goes into making the correct decision on these types of products, understanding performance (and not just making assumptions) is the most neglected part. There is no quicker way to over or under build your solution than to not have real performance numbers for planning.