StarWind Virtual SAN Review

Reduced our overall maintenance and overhead by having to only maintain physical boxes for one cluster

What is our primary use case?

We use it for data redundancy and failover.

How has it helped my organization?

Instead of having to maintain two completely separate systems:

  1. The cluster where all the data processing is happening.
  2. Maintaining the SAN clustering.

Now, we can do everything in one location, because the storage and processing are all happening on the same cluster. It has reduced our overall maintenance and overhead by having to only maintain physical boxes for one cluster instead of having to manage physical boxes for two clusters. 

It also has reduced the amount of switching, network connections, etc., because the converged StarWind Virtual SAN allows us to connect high-speed network interfaces between different boxes instead of having to connect SANs via the network, then connect those two clusters together.

StarWind is more cost effective because it is converged storage. Instead of having to pay for a full-blown SAN, as we did in the past, and having to maintain that SAN as a separate cluster, we now can use local storage on each individual node. So, it reduces the cost and overhead drastically.

NVMe is sort of the future, because it's so fast. In our next round, we will use NVMe drives exclusively for our main storage. Then, we will probably use two and a half inch SSDs for our nearline. 

What is most valuable?

The most valuable feature is the ability to lose a node and not have my systems go down.

What needs improvement?

If there are domain controllers inside the cluster, there needs to be some sort of logic allowing them to boot independently so all the rest of the domain clients can gain the authority they need to come online. We made that mistake at first. We have since moved one of our domain controllers out of the cluster, so everything can obtain whatever authentication it needs on the initial boot. Ultimately, Microsoft says they support it, but we would like to see all of our domain controllers running within the cluster, too. We don't want to have additional hardware just to run domain controllers.

For how long have I used the solution?

Less than one year.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability is excellent. I have had a couple of stability problems, but they weren't related to StarWind. They were related to some power problems that we had in the data center. Once we had those sorted out, everything has been smooth as glass. I did follow their advice in getting network interface cards, and we put in some very fast 40GB network cards. This has helped us a bit because everything happens very quickly, and StarWind support even helped me on the management interface to team the 10GB connections. So, the stability has been phenomenal.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Scalability has been very easy, so far. We have had to resize some of the drives. The most complex thing which we have had to deal with was that one of the servers needed more than two terabytes of space, and it was an MBR formatted drive. I found some tools that allowed me to convert from MBR to GPT without having to reformat the drive or lose data. Then, we were able to expand that, too. Those are normal Windows management tasks, but we were able to do them within the StarWind environment without having to use anything besides one third-party tool for the GPT conversion. That part of the scalability has been excellent because we can just allocate disk space wherever we need it. 

Overall, we have about 200 users. For simultaneous users, who are on all the time during business hours, it is probably closer to 60 or 70.

How are customer service and technical support?

When I've had a problem, I have had someone respond almost immediately. If not picking up the phone and helping me right then and there, it's within approximately 30 minutes. They have been able to help me with every single type of problem that I have had. They have also helped me with entirely different stuff in the server environment, which has helped me tremendously. I pay for that extra support, and I'll upgrade it each time because it's so helpful.

I recently ran into a problem where all my user profile disks were full, and it was not clear to me how to enlarge that user profile disk. Their support person, Artem, just jumped in with me, and within ten minutes, he'd provided me everything I needed for the PowerShell commands. He enlarged the ones that he could. For the ones that were in use, he showed me how to do it. So, when they were no longer in use, I went ahead and enlarged them. Then, I mounted each of them and expanded them to use the space. If I hadn't had him, I'd have had three users who were down today since this just happened yesterday. 

Today, all three of them are fully functional. If I hadn't have had that quick response and willingness to help, it would have created some headaches. Instead, their support works really well. I'm very pleased with the StarWind technical support. It is excellent. I have the Premium support. I have never worked with a company who is as responsive and helpful with everything I run into.

Knowing that I can call the technical support and get a senior level technician if I need it any time is a huge thing. Because if I have to wait until business hours to get a consultant, I have to make an arrangement in the schedule with them, and if it's after hours, you will lose 24 to 36 hours in there. With Starwind, I can get help almost immediately, so its a no-brainer.

I would do the ProActive, except that I have a contract that does not allow me to have third-party monitoring installed on any of our servers. 

The Premium support (or Pro support), which is what I have, is worth every dollar. The ProActive support has the same people running it, so I am sure it is good, too. Unfortunately, I can't take advantage of it because of the contractual obligations that I have.

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

Our SDS software before StarWind was a SAN. It wasn't converged storage. It was a full-blown, normal SAN configuration.

We switched to StarWind because we were upgrading everything all at one. We ran into budget constraints which would make building a new SAN almost impractical, if not impossible, to fit it into the budget. Secondarily, the SAN required a lot of maintenance, and we were looking for a less expensive solution. We also wanted something that would not require so much technician time.

Previously, we had two full-time people taking care of the SAN, cluster, etc. Now, we only have one. So, StarWind cut our technical labor force in half (cutting this cost in half), and we didn't lay anybody off. We were able to nicely redeploy resources.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup is mildly complex to fairly complex.

For our implementation strategy, we virtualized some of the physical servers, and we already had several virtualized machines. Therefore, as soon as the StarWind environment was set up, I just imported the virtual machines, bringing them up and online. We did a few network configuration tasks to make sure everything worked, then we were good to go.

It only takes me to maintain it once it is up and running. I have a backup person who handles stuff if I go on vacation (or whatever), but it only takes one person to maintain everything.

What about the implementation team?

The StarWind support team goes through it and does the installation with you. It was super easy for me. I learned a lot in the process, but they set it up. The deployment took three hours from beginning to end with just the StarWind support and me.

What was our ROI?

This solution has helped maintain high performance and data high availability on minimalistic resources. Even though we got rid of our SAN, we are still getting higher performance for significantly less outlay, dollar-wise.

It is more efficient on the management side. 

The Log-structured Write Cache (LWC) feature speeds things up for us. Our performance is better than it was on the SAN. However, I don't know if it's directly related to the LWC or whether there is lower latency between the onboard storage and what was the SAN. I'm sure that it helps performance, but I wouldn't know a metric to measure it, specifically.

With the support that I receive from StarWind, it has saved me at least two full-blown, paid Microsoft tickets. For each of Microsoft ticket, we pay about $600 USD a piece for it. While this is not a big cost, it eliminated a headache for us. In addition, we saved on technical consultant costs.

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

For pricing, you have two things that come into it: 

  1. The cost of the hardware.
  2. The software licensing pricing. 

When we did all the analysis for StarWind, it was approximately 20 percent less than any of the other solutions that we looked at. This wasn't our only criteria, as you don't want to buy the cheapest thing, then find out you have a problem. Also, StarWind isn't the cheapest solution out there, but it is certainly cost-effective relative to the major players. I haven't seen any difference in quality overall. StarWind works as well as any of the major players would have for us.

The scalability limitation for us is its licensing. At some point in the fairly near future, we will probably have to upgrade our license so we can store eight terabytes instead of four. We are currently at four terabytes, but we're starting to knock on the door of that capacity. Going forward, we will probably pay for a license upgrade, then we can add more capacity. We just haven't done it yet.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We looked at StarWind Virtual SAN vs VMware vSAN and StarWind Virtual SAN vs Microsoft Storage Spaces Direct.

With converged storage, we studied a lot of solutions and went into them all. We looked at Microsoft's solution for converged storage along with some of the other ones. StarWind had better pricing and deployment strategy. It also didn't have as many hardware requirements, which allowed us to spend some extra money on things that we really wanted, like 40GB network cards.

We read everything we could find when evaluating the solution. When you are doing something this critical with so many users who will be working on it all the time, you can't afford to tinker with it. We not only went and read all the reviews on StarWind, Microsoft Storage Spaces Direct, and VMware vSAN, but we put them in some trials and tested everything on our test network. StarWind was the one that we ultimately decided would fulfill our requirements. Happily, it has lived up to our expectations.

Of course, the support was a huge bonus. You don't know that until after you have put your money in, but once we had purchased it, we found out how good the support was all the way around.

What other advice do I have?

We have plans to increase the usage in the future. As we need data processing capability, we will add more nodes. As we need more storage, we will obviously upgrade the storage licenses. We will need more storage before we need more nodes because we are only using a fraction of our total processing power at this point, but we are slowly starting to fill up on disk space. The time frame for upgrading our disk space will probably be in six to eight months.

We run everything from accounting, databases, email VMs, SQL Servers, etc. on it, anything that someone would expect on an enterprise environment.

We are in the process of installing OS native management tools now. It should make things easier. The Admin Center looks like a good tool.

Follow their recommendations on hardware configurations. The faster you can put in the components, the better the experience will be.

I always recommend everybody do their own research. If you do your research, you will find out that cost-wise StarWind will be more competitive. In terms of form and function, from personal experience, their converged storage system works very well and is extremely reliable. What is most important to a lot of consumers is how good the support is behind the product. While you can research it, you never know until you spend your money. Experientially, their support is some of the best I've ever worked with, even though they are based outside of the US. You're not dealing with Indian accents. They speak very clear English, and there are not the communication issues that you have with non-Western countries.

Which version of this solution are you currently using?

**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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