If you were talking to someone whose organization is considering StarWind HyperConverged Appliance, what would you say?
How would you rate it and why? Any other tips or advice?
I love StarWind HCA because of the cost and the redundancy. I love the service, the support. Across the board, it was the best choice. I love the HCA because it's all-in-one and everything is pre-configured. I could have bought my own servers but it would have taken longer to bring up the environment. It would have been less expensive, but StarWind's hardware and software support and the compatibility of all the hardware components add a little bit more to the reliability of the system. That's why I went with the HCA instead of doing it myself. I certainly could have done it myself if I had more time. But, as a small business with one or two people managing all the IT, it was the best choice. We have two environments, one at the office and one at the data center. This implementation was a trial of sorts, but looking to the future I'm going to implement this for our data center, where we have a standard SAN like we did before this HCA implementation. The solution has not improved our system performance. There were some things that we couldn't foresee or we didn't test, like restoring databases. It's a little bit slower there. That's more a failure on our part, not having tested it out, rather than StarWind's failure. We have a hybrid HCA as far as our drives go. Some are flash drives and others are just regular spindle drives. The solution is supposed to move things into the SSDs and then give the appropriate power, from what I remember them telling me. But in one particular case, one of the developers, who is also a database admin, was restoring a file and he said it took way longer than usual. That was one thing we couldn't assess during our assessment of what kind of drives we needed. In this case, we probably would have done better having all flash drives. It might have been overkill — it depends on what you need. But we should have made it all flash drives and we probably wouldn't have had any problems. Again, that's not anything on StarWind's part. Everything else, performance-wise for all the other VMs that we have that are not as intensive as a database, it works just fine. We have no complaints about the performance in terms of using it as a file server or for web-based development utilities. We're a small company. We have two entities that these HCAs provide service to. We have about 30 to 40 employees. Of them, 10 or more are on the corporate/sub-contracting side. The rest work on our electronic timesheet system, whether they're in development or technical support. In terms of deployment and maintenance of StarWind, it is just me. StarWind gives you choices of servers, as far as the HCA goes. It was either all-new certified Dell EMC equipment or equipment from another company that they can place these servers on. With our being an all-Dell EMC shop, and my being familiar with Dell, I opted for all-Dell EMC hardware. Being a small business, we don't have another product alongside it. It is the product. So it gets 100 percent usage. I don't see us expanding our usage in the future. The power and the storage should last us for, hopefully, the next seven years, which is roughly the Dell EMC support contract life expectancy. We use our servers for seven years and, at the end of the support, we refresh and buy brand-new servers. Nothing stands out, in terms of problems or issues. They helped me and got everything resolved that I had problems with. I would give it a 10 out of 10.
The biggest lesson that I learned was I should have started as 1st Line Support. There was a situation where our old network manager had to leave quite suddenly, and there were definitely holes in my knowledge. So, I learned quite a lot just through the setup, Boris talking me through different types of connections, and some Hyper-V stuff. I suppose that I also learned a lot about HCAs in general and how they fit into network clusters since I hadn't touched on clusters before. I would rate it a 10 (out of 10). I'm very happy. It's exactly the solution I wanted to the problem, then extra on top.
My advice is to check it out. Everybody has a tick-box of what they want to achieve with a product. If you've got that, apply it to StarWind. Give them a chance to offer you a solution that meets all those ticks in those boxes, because I think they can do it at a very good price. There isn't really a compromise in that in any way. You're getting a really good solution at a really good price, and you're not actually making any compromises. The biggest eyeopener for me is that there are solutions out there that don't have to cost a lot of money for a very robust and resilient solution. StarWind gives you everything that you're going to get from a traditional SAN host in one box. You get really high-grade proactive support, and the solution is scalable and cost-effective. If we hadn't had the issues with the implementation, I would be saying it is definitely on par with the more recognized players. I'd have no hesitation in recommending it, once it has been installed, set up, and configured. It is definitely a challenger among the more traditional and more industry-recognized solutions. The others, Dell, HPE, etc., are all looking more into software storage and Microsoft storage and solutions to fill in those gaps between the tiers in their products. But I think StarWind has gotten there first. StarWind's product is very nice and very user-friendly as well. It's very understandable from a higher-level technical point of view. There are no smoke and mirrors with it either. They're not hiding anything, they're not making it unavailable to their customers. It's all very open-book and that gives you an element of comfort when you're making a decision to move away from the more traditional ways of doing it. StarWind's openness, and the information that's available to you on their product, and how the product is going to be implemented and used, allays a lot of those fears. Once it's installed, I would happily give it an eight or a nine out of 10. It does exactly what it says on the tin, in our experience with it.
Look long and hard at your current hardware. There is a significant utility in sticking with a single vendor for stuff like this. If you are at that point where you need to refresh pretty much your entire environment, or a significant portion of it, I would say you should seriously look at StarWind because they would potentially be able to take care of just about everything, hardware-wise, as long as you're a small enough shop and you're ready to really commit. Up until implementation, in March of this year, we were very reliant on ourselves and sub-contractors to support the hardware configuration and make sure everything was up and running. We had to be super-proactive about being on top of Microsoft issues because anything that is 100 percent reliant on Microsoft can go completely haywire if the wrong Windows Update runs. So the biggest change, and the biggest thing that we learned, is that it's nice to be able to rely on an external company, as long as they know what they're doing. We've been able to call StarWind for anything to do with the framework we're built on or anything to do with the substrate that Hyper-V is running on, no matter what happens, and know they're going to take care of it. I'm the only one dealing with administration or maintenance of the HCA and it will probably stay that way, just for security concerns. It's a lot easier to stay compliant if I'm the only person that can do any of that. We do subcontract to other people for support of our customer VMs, but that's a whole different game. That's all built on the StarWind framework. StarWind is an easy 10 out of 10.
I would advise you to let StarWind be in control. Let them guide you through the process. If you follow the procedure they offer you, it will be an easy implementation. Overall, I have more than ten years' experience with StarWind. They are a trustworthy company and they are a very technical company, meaning that they like to solve all the issues. For instance, in all the projects that I have done with StarWind, when we did the implementation at any client or customer, they provided us with remote support and they didn't leave until everything worked as it was supposed to, and they did so without any additional financial implications. It all comes with within their service. I can only praise them for all they do, what they deliver, the service, technology, and performance. They do what they do and they're very good at it. It sounds too good to be true, but that has been my experience. The product does do everything I expect, and at a high level, so I would also rate it a ten out of ten.
They're not really appliances, they're are just two servers with a bit of software on them. It's slightly misleading that it's hyperconverged appliances. It's just two white-box servers with a Mellanox card in it. In terms of improvement to IOPS or latency from using it, we haven't seen anything drastic. But then again, we weren't really hitting it hard before. I've not measured it. It has just not caused us any trouble. So it's all good. I would give it a solid eight out of ten. It's trouble-free, it's very clear to use. It's not one of those implementations where you're tearing your hair out. If you are tearing your hair out, it's about other things, not the actual StarWind part of it. I would probably have given it a ten if the hardware was a bit slicker, or there was more actual, "Welcome to your new StarWind implementation. Here's where everything plugs in," type of documentation. We did get some e-mail stuff, but it tended to look like it was more for Dell hardware and not Supermicro, white box, no-name servers.
Know what your needs are. Know your requirements. Know your environment. Those are the typical things you ought to know before investing in something like this. Beyond that, ask any questions you have and think about the future. I got most of the recommendations for this product from reading online user forums. The users are always pretty accurate and this was no exception to that. A lot of people didn't have the HCA, the hardware-based solution, but they had the software-based component of StarWind and really liked it. They said how good the performance is. All of that is true. From a product point of view, it's been ideal. I did my research beforehand and got an idea of what it would offer and it's done everything that I thought it would, plus things I wouldn't have considered. It's stable. It's a typical rack-mounted device. Each unit is two U's so it takes four U's of rackspace. It's like anything else we've got. The solution doesn't really help to increase redundancy or failover capabilities because we already have a cluster. This is just refreshing it with better hardware and removing the SAN element from it. It hasn't increased reliability but it has given us continued life, to move forward. I would rate it at ten out of ten because we know what we need to know to run it and, if we don't know, support provides it and they're very responsive.
Not so much with the appliance itself, but more the process for going from physical to virtual machines took a lot of planning. That was a little challenging. They did offer to help migrate some of our data over to the new servers if we chose to, but we decided not to. We did everything in-house in terms of getting everything migrated over to the new servers. For a small to mid-size organization, it's a great fit. It may not be the right fit if you're a really big enterprise. I would give the solution a nine out of ten. There's great hardware in this solution. Everything that we purchased was really competitive. I am a person knows what I'm looking at when it comes to hardware, and I thought everything was great. The software is also very good.
I feel like it's a pretty solid solution. I actually asked them if they're publicly traded because I was going to buy stock in their company. I would really encourage people to check out StarWind. I come from a software development background, so a lot of virtualization and some of the related areas are very new for me. I've learned a lot and taught myself a lot. I have a lot of buddies in this field, in virtualization, networking, and server management, etc. I've been really suggesting to them that they take a look at it and see what they think. I've been really impressed with it so far, given the pricing. I could give over a lot of lessons I've learned from other vendors but, honestly, with StarWind, I can't say I have any lessons learned, other than that there are some vendors out there who do take care of their customers. We're not in a production environment, we're still very much in a test environment. But last night I did do some testing as we get more of a load on the boxes. I want to see how well they perform once I have a heavy load on them. So I totally shut down one of my hosts last night. I loaded up a VM - I was sitting on the VM that was on the host and I was going to shut down. I was doing some work on that VM and then I restarted the host while I was working on the VM that was on that host because I wanted to see what the user's impact would be when it rolled over to the other host. I couldn't tell a difference - and I was sitting on the box - that anything had happened. I watched the Cluster Manager and I could see the VMs migrating over to the host that was still online. So it seems to work very well. Once I get it up all the way, once we're in production, I want to really stress-test the thing and see how well it holds up. Obviously, one user is not a very good test case. Once we get more people on it, I want to see how it holds up. I've discussed options with them if we need to increase performance, like switching over to RAID 10 versus a RAID 5 and a couple of things like that. There are several options for upping performance if we need to. But my approach was to get everything for this TMS system up and running because it's about six or seven servers, all for this one system. And then we'll see, once we start utilizing it, how performance is. We'll start doing benchmarking and then try to get things better from there. In terms of system performance, because I've never run this system on anything else before, I really can't say if there is an improvement with it. I am going to try and do a lot of benchmarking, when I get done with the company that I'm working with to install the software, to see how it's running. Obviously it's replicating data across two different hosts and it's replicating with the hard drives and the RAM. There is a performance hit of some kind there but how great that is or if it's going to be noticeable at all, I don't know yet. Everything that I've seen when loading up the app is that it seems to perform pretty well. But again, it's not under enough of a stress test to really say for sure. I would give StarWind HCA a nine out of ten. I haven't tested it enough to give it a ten. But so far, everything that I've seen on my side has met or exceeded what I was expecting.
The biggest lesson that we've learned from using it is to let somebody else do all the hard work of finding the right configuration and putting together the hardware. It will save you a lot of time and get you up and running a lot quicker. With our previous solution, there was a lot of trial and error and learning. The StarWind solution was basically: plug it in, configure it for a few hours, and start moving virtual machines onto it. It seems like a great product. It does what it's supposed to do and it does it very quickly. Besides making it free, I don't know what they can do to improve it. My advice would be to go for it. StarWind does actually have a free, full-featured version of their vSAN software that just lacks technical support. My company requires that we maintain technical support on this equipment, so that wasn’t an option. You can download their free vSAN software so you can get a feel for it and see how it works in your environment. They have a product called StarWind Command Center which offers a lot more visibility into everything that's going on but we haven't explored that. The vSAN software gives us basic performance statistics for CPU, storage IOP usage, and bandwidth usage. It seems to have everything that we need. Generally, it requires zero maintenance. As long as we don't get any email alerts saying something is going wrong, we don't really touch it. As with anything, you have the normal Windows Server updates which require a server reboot, and occasional updates to the StarWind Virtual SAN software, which only requires a service restart and no storage downtime. The solution hasn't helped increase redundancy or failover capabilities because we had layered the StarWind Virtual SAN on top of our old environment. It will help next year when we place our Hyper-V cluster in a different location which doesn't have that layer of redundancy. Based on our experience, StarWind HCA has been a ten out of ten.
When I researched they came the most cost-effective. If you're in a small to medium business, I certainly advise any users to evaluate it. At the moment I haven't any reason or cause for improvement because it does what it does as it says on the tin, and it just works. I can see for a large enterprise that it could cause problems because it's not one hundred percent enterprise-ready, but for small and medium companies, when you have a smaller system, it does what it says. I think the more you add to it the more complicated it gets and then it'll make it more difficult for a small company to manage it. It does exactly what I need it to do, so I don't need any more features or anything more. I'm used to the user interface so it doesn't have any tricks or any hidden things that I can't find so for me it's ideal. I would give the solution a rating of nine out of ten.