StarWind Virtual SAN Review

The ProActive support provides peace of mind and is not expensive


What is our primary use case?

The primary use case is to provide a virtual storage for our data and virtual machines. Not having a budget for a physical SAN, we use what we have to get the best of what we have, this is primary reason for using this VSAN.

How has it helped my organization?

I don't have to stay late at night. Prior to using this VSAN, if anything happened to a server, everything went down. We couldn't do anything, and that was a nightmare. There was even a time where all the data on the server got wiped. People were unable to work for half a day.

We did have a backup. We had to go to a third party to get a hard drive, have it shipped, and upload the data back into the server, then foster continuum. It happened like that twice before they said, “Enough is enough, what are our options?” 

We had the option of a physical server, but the cost would have been $25,000 or $30,000. So, we had two servers that were underutilized, and they were good servers, old but well-maintained. Therefore, we sat with the IT company, where I'm employed, and they said, "You can either go with a physical server or a VSAN, Virtual SAN." We were like, “Okay, tell us about the VSAN.”

They mentioned, “You have two servers, buy more hard drive, RAM, and CPU." Those are things we could easily do. “Then, you will have the VSAN mirror one to the other, and whatever you have in one will other copy to the other.” For instance, if we lose a physical server, CPU, etc., it provides peace of mind, is cost effective, and we are able to use our existing infrastructure. 

What is most valuable?

The most attractive feature is, as a Virtual SAN, the data on one is copied to the data on the second. We have two in tandem. So, the data on one is the same as the data on the second one. If we need to do maintenance on the server, it doesn't necessarily have to be after hours, or recommended after hours. If I need to do something in an emergency, I can stop the sync and know that one server has all the information, do what I need to do, and sync them back.

Once we resolve the syncing issues, a first sync of about 4TB of data was done in under 30 minutes. The ability to have the office run and do emergency backup repairs without the company being down was a feature that I liked about this VSAN.

What needs improvement?

Initially, when we first started, the sync was horrible. It would take about 13 hours. However, they have since then improved on it. It also depends on the pipe. We had a small pipe back then. So, we would do things at around 8:00 AM, then by 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning (the next day), everything would be back on. Once we upgraded the pipe between them, within half an hour, it was synced.

StarWind made us understand that we had a small pipe and our drives were not SSD, but SATA. All these things contributed because they have tons of clients. Thus, if we were the only ones having this issue, then we had the issue.

Once we made the changes, we saw amazing improvement on the way it synced. Instead of 13 hours, it took five to ten minutes for it to complete. For improvement, there should be simpler, user-friendly training about how the system works. I have dabbled in it, but if I need to do anything I'd rather pick up the phone, call them, and say, "This is what I need to do," and they're more than happy to help. While they do have help documentation, there is a relatively steep learning curve.

You need to take into consideration the amount of data that you are syncing as it will come into play: The amount of data that needs to sync between the two devices and the amount of data that the pipe has to read right. 

With data verification, I would like to know how does the solution perform validation of data being synced between two VSANs. If data is corrupt, how does it determine that I'm not going to sync something because it's corrupt? How does any software determine that the data is bad. Then, how does it fix it? Because if we get corrupted on one server, we don't want to transfer it to the other server.

For how long have I used the solution?

Three to five years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The product is stable. If we receive error messages, it is usually regarding the underlying technology since we are using servers which are 11-years-old.

If I am concerned about upgrading on my older system, I can schedule time with the support team and they will do the upgrade for me.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

The solution is really scalable. They have various models. We told them the maximum data that we have and found the right one for us. We can grow, as it expands. It is not a one size fits all.

We have 41 people who can access data which resides on the VSAN.

How is customer service and technical support?

I like the ProActive support. All the guys that I have spoken or dealt with are professionals. I find this very important. There hasn't been anything like, “Hold on, let me check with my colleague.” They know exactly what they were doing and are consistent. If guy A connects to my computer, he does step one, two, three, and four. There hasn't been any poking around where they shouldn't. 

Being able to call someone who is knowledgeable about the situation and circumstance is important. They also followed up to say, “Have you resolved the issue? Is everything okay?”

The ProActive Support gives me peace of mind because I am a one man shop, but with the technical support behind me, I feel like more than just one person. We spent two to three hours, depending on what we have to do, always on the phone, and they do not push to end the call. It feels like they are assigned to me until the end of whatever we are doing, which is important to me.

Since the beginning that is how the support has been. That is why we stayed with them. It's not that expensive. I have nothing but good things to say about them. All their work is documented. I receive an email afterwards documenting all the steps that they did.

Which solutions did we use previously?

We did not have a solution before StarWind. A consultant recommended this solution. We were also looking into physical solutions, not virtual.

How was the initial setup?

I didn't build the system for us; I manage it. We had someone else do the build. If you spoke to him, he would tell you the build was easy. Give him the instructions, then he just created it. 

The deployment took two and a half to four hours. We did the deployment in the evening, and it was fully operational before we left. The deployment was done by a single person who did the connectivity and configurations, though there were some things that I had to do to build the virtual machine.

I am the only person needed to maintain, though I occasionally contact StarWind ProActive support, when needed. It is a low maintenance solution. It is as good as your infrastructure. Like every road, the foundation of the road determines the asphalt you put on it. If you have a good foundation (SSD drives), then it works well. The issues that we had were based on server error messages, because sometimes when people were downloading stuff, they'd say, "It is too slow." However, once we built a bigger pipe, we could see the change.

In hindsight, the Virtual SAN was meant to be a stop-gap solution. Make sure what happened before, if a server dies, we have business continuity. That was the goal. It so happened that the business continuity and stop-gap became a lasting solution which we continue to use because it works well.

What about the implementation team?

There was a third-party consultant, who fine tuned it, but our guy created it after downloading the software. He has done it multiple times. If you were to ask him, he would tell you, "It's a walk in the park."

Our experience with the third-party consultant was excellent. The guy who I dealt with is a system admin. He is the one who informed us about the solution. He had deployed it for another client and thought it was just the right size for us, so he recommended it. 

There was an implementation strategy. We had all the data in a hard drive. After a crash, we had all the data in a backup drive. Once it was restored, we configured it on one server, then we transferred the data from that server to the VSAN occupied part of the hard drive array. After that, we built the other one on the other server, then the sync started. It was a phased in implementation.

You need to ensure that you have the right technical resource to implement the solution. Our guy was knowledgeable and a teacher. He imparted knowledge telling you why he was doing what he was doing and consulted you before doing it. He had a plan and submitted a proposal, which we looked at it. It showed what he needed and how it was going to take to get done. Therefore, the technical resource is very important.

What was our ROI?

This solution has helped us maintain high performance and data high availability on minimalistic resources. We have saved about 80 percent (versus purchasing a physical SAN) and peace of mind, which is important.

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

The pricing is fine for the work that it does. I have had no issues. When we bought it three to four years ago for what we needed, it was literally cheaper than the alternative which was ten times the amount and took up physical space. 

The license is reusable. We can always rebuild it and apply the license. Then, boom, we get new servers, apply the license, and we're back up and running.

What other advice do I have?

We are not using the Log-structured Write Cache feature nor are we using NVMe.

We have not integrated this solution with server OS native management tools. We are just interested in business continuity. If the server blows up, we will still be in business. It does what we want, and we are happy with it.

As of now, since it does exactly what we want it to do, so I do not see where we would need to use features that we are currently not using. We were sold on the fact that we could use our existing infrastructure, and it syncs data if we lose one server. 

StarWind Virtual SAN might not be for everybody. We had the underlining technology, so it worked for us. Give it a try. You can't go wrong, because one of the things they told us is that if you no longer use it, StarWind would credit us a certain amount against a different solution that they had. It was a win-win for us.

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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