Zadara Review

Flexible, good performance, cost-effective, and well-suited for disaster recovery storage


What is our primary use case?

We are a disaster recovery company and we used Zadara as a storage platform for all of our disaster recovery solutions. We do not make use of the computing and networking services they offer. Rather, we only use the storage facility.

Our main environment is Zadara Storage, and then we have multiple VMware and Hyper-V virtual clusters that run the services we provide to our customers. We've also got numerous recovery platforms as well, which we can recover customer's environments onto. Zadara is a key underpinning of that because, without that common storage layer and the services running on top of that, we wouldn't have a business to run.

It's key for us, as a DR specialist, that we have the confidence that all of our systems and services are available all the time. Picking a vendor, be it Zadara or any other vendor, is really important to us because we have to trust that they're going to be there 24/7, every day.

How has it helped my organization?

We use Zadara as a multi-tenanted experience and it is key to us that we have dedicated resources for each tenant because it maintains a consistent level of performance, regardless of how it scales.

The fact that Zadara provides drive options such as SSD and NL-SAS, as well as SSD Cache, is very important because we need that kind of performance in our recovery environments. For example, when the system is used in anger by a customer, it's critical that it's able to perform there and then. This is a key point for us.

At the moment, we don't use the NFS or CIFS protocols. We are, however, big users of iSCSI and Object, and the ability to just have one single solution that covers all of those areas was important to us. I expect that we will be using NFS and CIFS in the future, but that wasn't a day-one priority for us.

The importance of multi-protocol support stems from the fact that historically, we've had to buy different products to support specific use cases. This meant purchasing equipment from different vendors to support different storage workloads, such as Object or File or Block protocols. Having everything all in one was very attractive to us and furthermore, as we retired old equipment, it can all go onto one central platform.

Another important point is that having a single vendor means it's a lot easier for us to support. Our engineers only need to have experience on one storage platform, rather than the three or four that we've previously had to have.

It is important to us that Zadara integrates with all of the public cloud providers, as well as private clouds because what we're starting to see now, especially in the DR business, is the adoption of hybrid working from our customers. As they move into the cloud, they want to utilize our services in the same way. Because Zadara works exactly the same way in a public cloud as it does on-premises, it's a seamless move for us. We don't have to do anything clever or look at alternative products to support it.

It is important to us that this solution can be configured for on-premises, co-location, and cloud environments because it provides us with a seamless experience. It is really helpful that we have one solution that stretches across on-premises, hybrid, and public cloud systems that looks and works the same.

An example of how Zadara has benefited our company is that during the lockdown due to the global pandemic, we've had a big surge in demand for our products. The ability of Zadara to ramp up quickly and expand the system seamlessly has been a key selling point for us, and it's somewhat fueled our growth. As our customer take-up has grown, Zadara's been the backbone in helping us to cope with that increased demand and that increased capacity.

It's been really easy to do, as well. They've been really easy to work with, and we've substantially increased our usage of Zadara. Even though we've only been using it for just about five months, in that time, we've deployed four Zadara systems across four different data centers. Their servicing capacity has been available within about four weeks of saying, "Can you do this?" and them saying "Yes, we can."

With respect to our recovery solutions, using Zadara has perhaps doubled the performance of what we had before. A bit of that is because it's a newer technology, and a bit of that is also in the way we can scale the engine workload. When the workload is particularly high, we can upgrade the engine, in-place, to be a higher-performance engine, and then when the workload scales down, we can drop back to a lower-performance one. 

That flexibility in the performance of not only being able to take advantage of the latest flash technology but also being able to scale the power of the storage engines, up and down as needed, has been really good for us.

Using Zadara has not at the moment helped to reduce our data center footprint, although I expect that it will do so in the future. In fact, at this point, we've taken up more data center footprint to install Zadara, but within six months we will have removed a lot of the older systems. It takes time to migrate our data but the expectation is that we will probably save between 25% and 30%, compared to our previous footprint.

This solution has had a significant effect on our budgeting. Previously, we would have had to spend money as a capital expense to buy storage. Now, it's an operational expense and I don't need to go and find hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy a new storage system. That's helped tremendously with our budgeting.

Compared to the previous solution, we are expecting a saving of about 40% over five years. When we buy new equipment, our write-down period is five years. So, once we've bought it, it has to earn its keep in that time. Using Zadara has not only saved us money but it will continue to save us money over the five years.

It has saved us in terms of incurring costs because I haven't had to spend the money all upfront, and I'm effectively spreading the cost over the five years. We do see an advantage in that the upfront capital costs are eliminated and overall, we expect between 30% and 40% savings over the lifetime if we'd had to buy the equipment.

What is most valuable?

The two most important things about this solution for us begin with the flexibility of it. It's very easy to expand and compared to other storage systems that we've used, it's a lot more expandable and a lot more flexible in how it's deployed.

The other big thing for us is there's no large capital outlay to buy it. You just pay for the amount of the system that you're using, which is quite important for our business, because that means that we can align our usage with what our customer needs are. This is unlike other storage vendors that we've used. We're not wasting any capacity because we have to buy it in fixed components, in fixed sizes. We can just turn on as much as we need for what we're doing at the time. Essentially, the pay-as-you-go approach means that we are not overpaying or pre-paying for capacity that we are not using.

Zadara absolutely provides us with predictable costs and it's quite a straightforward and simple pricing model. It is very easy for us to predict what the costs are going to be at the end of each month.

What needs improvement?

The management interface is more geared towards end-users rather than a service partner like ourselves, and there are improvements that can be made around that.

The reporting tool is nice and I think that it's good; however, it would be a little better if it were more feature-rich. It would be nice if, as a customer, we could see more of the analytics that we know Zadara can see on the platform.

For how long have I used the solution?

We are new customers and have been using the Zadara Storage Cloud for five months.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Stability-wise, it's been really good and we've not had any issues with it.

It's done everything that we expected it to do, so we've been quite pleased with that. We've recently gone through and had a version upgrade and that was very easy, as well. There was no downtime and it all went really well.

Overall, it's exactly how we thought it would work and what we were hoping for.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

So far, I would characterize Zadara's solution as elastic in all directions. We've got four physical systems and we have to expand those both in terms of their physical capacity and the sizes of the engines that we're using with them. It does seem to scale very well.

From a cost perspective, being able to scale up or down as needed throughout the month is very important to us. We are providing services to customers and as customer requirements change, the ability to change our usage to match our contractual obligations is essential. So, being able to closely align the two is really nice, from a budgeting point of view.

This has enabled us to be more efficient and more agile, both to support our customers and also from a financial point of view.

How are customer service and technical support?

From our experience, Zadara as a vendor provides proactive monitoring and support. We've used other tier-one storage vendors, and Zadara's support has been on-par or better than the others. It's what we were expecting from an enterprise storage vendor and they haven't disappointed in delivering that. They're always there when needed and they're very quick to respond, so we've been really pleased.

For example, they've given us more warning than our tools did of projected storage usage, so as to advise us on upgrading. Also, because of the way their storage works on their storage engines, they've been able to give us a heads-up as to when it would be best to upgrade those engines to the next size. Again, this has made for a seamless experience. Ultimately, we've been able to scale the capacity and performance of the platform working in tandem with Zadara as and when we needed it. It has been very effective for us.

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

Prior to Zadara, we used NetApp, which is another tier-one storage vendor. 

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup was quite straightforward. Our storage requirement was well-defined from the existing legacy vendors that we used and as part of the engagement process with Zadara, it was quite comprehensively covered from what we required and how they would provide it. When it came to deploying, it was a really pain-free experience.

The length of time for deployment has improved as we've gained experience. The first one took us four weeks and the most recent one took approximately two weeks. We've learned a lot and Zadara has as well. Overall, it was fairly painless and very quick to do, and certainly a lot quicker than what we've experienced in the past with other vendors.

Our implementation was completed in two phases. One was the traditional storage side, using our SCSI, which was fairly easy to deploy because we understood that side very well. It is quite easy to set it up and configure and then start migrating customer data over. As we are a virtual environment, the tools within the hypervisors we use made that process really easy to do.

The object storage that we're using was also easy to set up, as it is with every object vendor. They have a slightly different look and feel for how they implement object storage, so that took a little bit longer to do, but again, was fairly easy.

We're in the process of migrating data onto the object storage platform at the moment, which isn't as easy as just doing standard disc to disc copies. That's mainly around the tooling that's available to move data from one object platform to another.

What about the implementation team?

We had one project manager who looked after all four deployments, and team-wise, we had a network engineer and two storage specialists who were involved throughout. Out of their time, over the deployment phase, the first one took approximately 10 man-days to complete over the four weeks, and the subsequent ones, with time frames of two weeks each, took us perhaps four or five man-days per deployment.

In general, it was fairly lightweight. We could have gotten away with one storage engineer, but as it's a new platform, we wanted at least two people to be involved from our side during the deployment. This would give us two people skilled in how it works.

Those two have subsequently passed on their knowledge to the rest of the storage team. But again, it's a fairly small, dedicated storage team that we have. Overall, it wasn't resource-intensive at all.

There is not really any post-deployment maintenance. Zadara does a lot of proactive monitoring for us and they offer full 24/7 monitoring of the solution and managing any faults, et cetera, that come along with that. From our side, we probably perform 20% to 25% less management of the platform than we did previously.

This is included in the fees and it allows us to concentrate more on the admin tasks that need doing, rather than having to concentrate on monitoring, et cetera. With Zadara's involvement and them being actively engaged in the monitoring, it means that we don't have to be as actively involved as we would be for other platforms. It is really nice.

On our legacy systems, if we were doing an upgrade, that would all be up to us to do. With Zadara, we keep a watching brief and they do all of these upgrades in the background. That is also a very good plus for us because again, we don't need to be actively involved in those kinds of tasks. They're taking care of them for us.

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

Like everybody, we'd like it to be cheaper, but that isn't going to happen. For our use, it's appropriately priced and overall, it's proved to be very cost-effective against other tier-one vendors.

The commercials on it are better than what we had before with our traditional vendors but really, it's the flexibility of its use that pays dividends. I don't feel that I'm wasting money by having to grow a capacity that I don't need. By comparison, that's the way a traditional vendor would sell it.

A traditional vendor will sell you a fixed amount of storage whether you can use it on day one, or you have to wait two or three years to use it. That's a waste of both capital and storage systems.

From that point of view, it is useful and has also a knock-on effect on the environment that we run Zadara in. Specifically, I'm not wasting power and cooling, et cetera, to run pieces of equipment that I don't really need.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

When we were considering Zadara, we also looked at upgrading our NetApp to the latest version. We also looked at what EMC had to offer.

The storage market is very mature at the moment, so in terms of features, there is very little difference in the features that each vendor offers. With Zadara, the two main selling points for us were one, it wasn't a capital purchase so we could buy what we needed when we needed it; and two, everything was all in the one product.

If you look at the likes of NetApp and EMC, while they have solutions that cover everything, generally, if you wanted object storage and traditional storage then you'd have to buy two solutions, because that's how the market's developed for them. They have different products to cover different areas.

It's really nice with Zadara that it's just one platform that does everything, and it's been designed from the ground up to do that. I think that NetApp and EMC will go down that route as well, but they have a lot of legacy engineering which makes that more difficult for them to do.

The summary is that Zadara won out because of its pricing model and the fact that it was a common storage platform that does everything.

What other advice do I have?

My advice for anybody who is looking to implement Zadara Storage is to "Give it a go." It's a different model compared to everybody else, and it can take you out of your comfort zone if you're used to purchasing legacy storage systems because it works in a completely different way. Also, Zadara isn't as well known in the marketplace as the likes of EMC, NetApp, or IBM, et cetera.

For us, it was very easy to test out all of the functionality of Zadara and make sure that it ticked all the boxes for what we wanted, using it in the public cloud to start with. Testing everything ensured that it was a good fit, both technically and operationally, and that gave us the confidence to then move on to an on-premises PoC. From that point, we bought the product.

The fact that it's a single product that stretches from the public cloud to on-premises was quite key for us in our purchasing decision, because it meant that we could easily try it and buy it in a public cloud and just get a handle on what it could do for us before we attempted on-premises testing. The on-premises testing was really just about confidence in the performance of it compared to our existing on-premises solutions.

We were very comfortable with the product at that point because we'd been able to play with it in the cloud. It was just a last tick in the box, that it would deliver on the performance that they claimed it would do, and it did.

In terms of lessons learned, when we were initially talking to Zadara, we had some apprehensions about how it would work for us because we were very used to on-premises legacy solutions. The big win for us was that we could go and try it in the cloud.

From a deployment point of view, it was really easy. Also, because it's such a powerful product, I think our biggest lesson learned in deploying it was not to deploy everything on day one, but rather to have a staged deployment where the bits of the technology that we were comfortable with, such as the more traditional storage, should be deployed first. Once that is working and you're comfortable with it, you can then go and start deploying the bits which are more custom. Specifically, object storage.

I would rate this solution a nine out of ten.

**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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