Zadara Review

Highly resilient for fault tolerance, offers iSCSI as a service, good support that is responsive

What is our primary use case?

Zadara provides us with storage, similar to the way IaaS does.

We have a data center in Miami and we need off-site storage, so we connect to Zadara through the Equinix Cloud Exchange, which is a dark fiber. It essentially bypasses the internet and allows many different Equinix data centers to connect to one another. Since we are on that particular network, Zadara is one of the service providers that allow us to consume services from them.

Essentially, we connect Miami to Ashburn, Virginia, and this is where we have a storage environment that can grow as quickly or as slowly as we need it to. Today, our use case is offloading our backups onto that storage, as well as doing a replication to our other data center, which is on the West coast.

How has it helped my organization?

The fact that we have offsite storage that is provided to us using iSCSI as a service has allowed me to offload certain storage-related workloads into Zadara. This means that when I have a planned failover, if I need to maintain the local storage that I have in my data center, I simply shift all of the new incoming traffic into Zadara storage. None of my customers even know that it has happened. In this regard, it allows us to scale in an infinite way because we do not have to keep adding more capacity inside our physical data center, which includes power, networking, footprint, and so on. The fact that Zadara handles all of that for me behind the scenes, somewhere in Virginia, is my biggest selling point.

With its dedicated cores and memory, we feel that Zadora provides us with a single-tenant experience. This is important for us because we are aware that in the actual physical environment, where Zadara is hosting our data, they have other clients. Yet, the fact that we have not had any kind of performance issues, and we don't have the noisy neighbor concept, feels like we are the only ones on that particular storage area network (SAN). It's really important for us.

Zadara provides drive options such as SSD and NL-SAS, as well as SSD cache, and this has been important for us. These options allow us to decide for different volumes, what kind of services we're going to be running on them. For example, if it happens to be a database that requires fast throughput, then we will choose a certain type of drive. If we require volume, but not necessarily performance, then we can choose another drive.

A good thing about Zadara is you do not buy a solution that is fixed at the time of purchase. For instance, if I buy an off-the-shelf storage area network, then whatever that device can do at the time of purchase, give or take one or two upgrades, is where I am. With Zadara, they always improve and they always add more functionalities and more capacities.

One example is that when we became customers, their largest drives were only nine terabytes in size. A year or so later, they improved the technology and they now have 14 terabyte drives available, which is good at almost a 50% increase. It is helpful because we were able to take advantage of those higher densities and higher capacities. We were able to migrate our volumes from the nine terabyte drives to the 14 terabyte drives pretty much without any downtime and without any kind of interruption to service. This type of scalability, and the fact that you are future-proofing your purchase or your operations, is another great advantage that we see with Zadara.

As far as I know, Zadara integrates with all of the public cloud providers. The fact that they are physically located in the vicinity of public cloud regions is a major selling point for them. From my perspective, it is not yet very important because we are not in the public cloud. We have our own private cloud in Miami, and not part of Amazon or Azure. This means that for us, the fact that they happen to be in Virginia next to Amazon does not play a major role. That said, they are in a place where there is a lot of connectivity, so in that regard, there is an advantage. We are not benefiting from the fact that they are playing nice with public clouds, simply because we are not in the public cloud, but I'm sure that's an advantage for many others who are.

Absolutely, we are taking advantage of the fact that they integrate with private clouds.

Zadara saves me money in a couple of ways. One is that my operational costs are very consistent. The second is that the system is consistent and reliable, and this avoids a lot of the headaches that are associated with downtime, reputation, and all of that. So, knowing that we have a reputable, reliable, and consistent vendor on our side, that to me is important.

It is difficult to estimate how much we have saved because it wouldn't be comparing apples to apples. We would be buying a system versus paying for it operationally and I don't really have those kinds of numbers off-hand. Of course, I cannot put a price tag on my reputation.

What is most valuable?

One of the most useful features is that they provide iSCSI as a service. That was very useful for us because it allows us to simply mount their storage into our servers and just utilize it as if the storage is local. That's number one.

Number two, their reliability and fault tolerance, is really unmatched. We were able to upgrade our storage, add more drives, add volumes, replicate volumes, and change sizes of volumes, all with zero downtime. It's very impressive.

These two features are extremely useful for us. The iSCSI as a service, as well as the fact that the system is highly resilient for fault tolerance.

We typically use iSCSI and to a lesser degree, object storage. We have not been using NFS, so I can't comment on that, but the fact that the solution offers all of those is certainly a big differentiator for people who are looking for those kinds of solutions. It means that they don't have to have multiple vendors or multiple systems to put together to support those different solutions.

For example, if I need to have S3, I don't have to go to Amazon or anybody else because I have it available within Zadara. iSCSI is exceptionally rare to find as a service and the fact that they support it is a major competitive advantage, and the same is true with CIFS and NFS. You would need extra plugins and extra add-ons from other vendors like VMware in order for you to do this, but Zadara does it out of the box, which is nice.

Zadara can be configured for on-premises, colocation, and cloud-based deployments and we use a mixed-mode. We provide our services in a cloud capacity but we're not in the public cloud. We're not in AWS or Azure, for example. We have our own private cloud and Zadara is working beautifully in this hybrid mode. They do have an on-premises solution as well, which we have not yet taken advantage of but we are planning to.

The fact that they can provide us services that are outside of our data center is of utmost importance. If something happens to my data center, I know that I have an off-site remote, either backup or remote system that I can tap into and continue my operations. The fact that they can provide me an on-premises solution, which is really the entire stack in my data center, where I need it to be low latency and high capacity storage, is certainly something that we'll be looking into. It's nice to know that those options are available from the same vendor.

At this point, we only use Zadara for storage, but we are about to use some of the other services. In terms of agility, the platform has been working flawlessly. All their SLAs have been met. We have been adding more storage, we have been upgrading from one engine to another, and all of that was happening without any kind of outage.

I would categorize Zadara as elastic in all directions for the fact that we can add more capacity on the fly. We can add more drives or more cache storage. We can increase the engine if we need to have it faster with more memory, or with more CPU power. The fact that we can do all of that with a click of a button and it happens, it's provisioned relatively quickly, and we pay by the hour rather than paying for it outright, allows us to scale without letting them know. It is easy because they don't have to provision special hardware just for us and it can happen fast. For example, if all of a sudden my business experiences an increase, I can react within the hour. Any change to the billing is reflected immediately.

Using this solution has increased performance in our environment because we can offload storage capacity elsewhere, which we know is infinite in size. This alleviates a lot of the headaches, it's been consistent, and it has worked pretty well. It would be difficult to estimate our performance increase because we don't measure it.

Our data center footprint has been reduced using Zadara. We have fewer storage systems today in our data center which means less power consumption, less environmental impact, less heat, and they take up a smaller physical footprint on the racks. I cannot say exactly how much, but it's definitely at least half a rack.

In terms of saving resources and redeploying people to more strategic projects, I can say that it allows us to support more storage with the same number of people. But, I cannot say that the next time I would have bought storage, I would have had to add another person. I really cannot make that kind of a distinction. The only exception I can say is that they are helping us in our West Coast data center because over there, I do not have any staff. The fact that Zadara is helping me with storage, certainly I can say that there would have been a staff member managing the on-premises storage locally. Instead, Zadara is taking care of that, leaving me with requirements for one less person.

What needs improvement?

We've been working with them on a few things that they can improve and they are actually working on a prototype for us. We have gone live with it as a pilot, and that is offering iSCSI as a service but via the internet, versus a cross-connect cable. If this is something that they can offer out of the box, that would be amazing. They do offer it to us right now as a custom solution but it's not offered to everybody.

The value is not something that I cannot put a dollar figure on but it would allow them, or anybody else who needs to consume storage from Zadara, to effectively attach themselves to a volume that provides a block of storage, quite literally without any further investment.

They can do it right away by having a secure VPN tunnel into Zadara's point of presence and just consuming as much storage as they need to. If they do that, they would dominate the market in a big way because it will reduce the barrier of entry to using Zadara. Right now, to use Zadara, you have to go through some hoops.

Having iSCSI over the internet using a VPN, the IPSec tunnel is really the only thing that I find missing from this product.

For how long have I used the solution?

We have been customers of Zadara for almost three years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

This is a very stable solution.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

In terms of scalability, certainly, we have not encountered any kind of a situation where Zadara is not scalable enough. I know that they can scale to beyond what we need, by many measures. For example, in cases where we needed to have a faster engine, we have been able to simply go in using the provisioning portal, add another engine, migrate all of our volumes into that engine, and everything ran very smoothly. So, scale is certainly not an issue.

As it is now, all of our backups and all of our operational images are stored there.

We are able to scale up and down as needed through the month, and it is important for our business model. With that said, we are taking advantage of Zadara's very generous discounting system because we have committed to multiple years. Doing this provides us with significant cost savings and because of that, our costs are relatively stable. They don't go up or down, and they don't fluctuate as much compared to other types of usage-based utilization.

How are customer service and technical support?

With the 24/7 management that comes with Zadara cloud services, we know that we have somebody reliable on the other side that can assist us if we need help. We have asked them for assistance a couple of times and it was not outage-related but rather, it was related to how we can take advantage of a couple of things that they provide, such as snapshots. Each time, they have been able to help us and it was a very quick and very pleasant experience.

The vendor provides proactive monitoring and support where within the console, they will let us know if we are utilizing our hard drives incorrectly, perhaps if we are requesting too much throughput from the kind of hard drives that we have. They monitor our performance and will let us know, for example, if we have something misconfigured.

Of course, if a hard drive goes bad, they automatically replace it. We don't even have to know about it. That's quite amazing and I know this because having run systems like that in my past, I know that this is a major headache and I'm happy that it is removed from me. There are a lot of things that they handle automatically without us even knowing.

If there is a situation where we have a misconfiguration or something similar, where we have influence and the opportunity to improve, they let us know. It can be initiated in different ways such as an email report, part of the conversation with the customer success manager, or it can just be a console message that we see when we log in to see how things are going. The console shows us alerts and things like that to keep us informed.

Overall, they are knowledgeable and responsive and I would definitely rate their support a ten out of ten.

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

Prior to Zadara, we used an on-premises solution that was built from products by Nimble and Dell storage. We switched because of Zadara's reliability record and because of their architecture, which is fully fault-tolerant and has a six nines uptime guarantee.

It allows us to have upgrades without having any kind of interruptions and the fact that it's managed remotely, to us, is the biggest advantage.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup was pretty straightforward because we were on the Equinix Cloud Exchange. If you have the network and infrastructure to do it, it's straightforward, but Zadara is not the kind of product that you can simply connect to from your private cloud because it requires some homework. If you use the iSCSI with the IPSec tunnel then it will simplify a lot. In addition, if you're on the public cloud then connecting to Zadara is very simple and very quick.

If you have the infrastructure ready, it doesn't take more than a few hours. If you don't have the infrastructure ready then it depends on the setup in your data center. For example, you may have a cross-connect that connects to Zadara. The bottom line is that there are a lot of variables that go into the configuration and it's not a "one size fits all" kind of answer.

What about the implementation team?

Only one person, our system administrator, is needed for maintenance.

What was our ROI?

We cannot really put a price on stability, but having them in our corner is a major advantage.

Alternatively, I would have to pay HPE Nimble for storage that reaches end-of-life every five years, then have to buy a whole new storage system and then migrate all of it. As it is now, I don't have to do any of that stuff. The fact that I can upgrade and downgrade whenever I wish, without having any kind of interruptions, is a pretty good return.

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

The pricing is very competitive and the fact that they have very compelling discounts for multi-year commitments is great. 

If for some reason my business is losing a customer, I can remove their data within the hour and I will not pay for that storage anymore. Another advantage of being with Zadara is that the billing is very consistent with the actual operation. The billing and operations are compatible and proportional to one another.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We have looked at other options of this kind, but Zadara was the only one that could give us the overall package that we were looking for. Specifically, with respect to the iSCSI service, we could not find anyone else who could do it at that scale.

We looked at Nasuni, as well as a couple of others that I think have been absorbed by other providers.

What other advice do I have?

The people at Zadara are very good business people. We know their CEO personally and we just had a call with them a couple of weeks ago. It's a company that is definitely suited for growth and they're here for the long-term.

My advice for anybody with a private cloud is to ensure that they have the network in place ahead of time. I don't have any setup advice for people in the public cloud because it's exceptionally smooth. However, for a private cloud, you have to have cross-connects and other things, which can be a pain. The reason is that you have to have the data centers talking to each other. That said, my advice is that it's definitely worth the wait and worth the hassle because once you get there, you have frictionless storage. It's not a trivial thing to do but they do it very well.

I would rate this solution a ten 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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