virtualization

Building an iSCSI SAN for VMware for Under $300

Posted on Updated on

In recent months, I’ve been assembling a lab to provide a test-bed for various network and infrastructure applications. My current role at Dell often involves multi-vendor networks, so having an easily accessible test bed including Cisco, Dell, Juniper and HP devices can be very useful for interoperability troubleshooting such as Spanning Tree Protocol.

I wanted to provide a robust virtual infrastructure, and in my experience that usually means VMware. I’m fortunate enough to have extra ESX Enterprise and Plus licenses from VMware partner registration. To utilize all the most useful VMware features like Vmotion and HA, a shared storage system is required. In addition, I wanted to incorporate as many iSCSI “best practices” such as using dedicated infrastructure, dedicated VLAN and Jumbo Frames without breaking the bank.

Without an extra $1-2 K on hand to go out and purchase a full-blown iSCSI SAN such as EqualLogic or Compellent (shameless Dell plugs), and already having a home NAS set up, my goal was to assemble a SAN utilizing as much extra or existing hardware as possible and of course limiting new expenses.

For my purposes, performance took precedence over storage capacity, and redundancy was not as important as keeping costs down (and streamlining design).

Ingredients:

Configuration:

  • I was able to re-purpose an unused PC for the iSCSI Starwind server, w/dual core CPU, 3 GB RAM, and Windows 7 Home. Starwind Free Edition doesn’t require a server OS so that was helpful.
  • The Intel GigE NIC was installed into the PC for a dedicated NIC to the iSCSI network, separate from the LOM.
  • The SSD was installed into the spare PC, and presented as a new iSCSI device.
  • I thought I had a 9 pin F-F cable already but didn’t…not common these days, anyway got lucky finding the last one in stock at Fry’s 🙂

Caveats:

  • For the SAN server, ideally this should be a Windows or Linux server O/S, however my hardware was more than adequate.
  • Starwind is a good option for Windows users, OpenNAS is an option for Linux folks.
  • JUMBO FRAMES are a MUST!! Jumbo Frames must be enabled end to end for optimal performance, and must be supported on the physical switch for starters. In addition, you’ll need to update VMware components for Jumbo frame support including vSwitch, port group, VMkernel, and guest OS NIC adapter. Here’s a great article on configuration for VSphere 4.
  • It’s always a good practice to create a separate VLAN for iSCSI as well.
  • LAN cables not included

Results:

  • I’m very pleased with my new iSCSI-based shared storage system, supporting VSphere 4 on (2) Dell SC1425 64-bit 1U servers. Responsiveness is snappy within VI Client, as well as within RDP for Windows guest VM’s.
  • VMotions on shared storage: 20-30 seconds, not bad compared to Enterprise-class SAN’s which I’ve observed at 10-20 seconds.

Here are my two Dell SC1425 servers, each with (2) 3 Ghz Xeon CPU’s and 6GB RAM, with dedicated 1 GB NIC’s for the iSCSI network.

Reactions to VMware’s VSphere 4

Posted on Updated on

I was impressed with the VMware simulcast this morning announcing VSphere, the next iteration of their enterprise virtualization platform, dubbed the first “Cloud OS.” Having deployed and administered VMware products for several years, it’s exciting to see them continue to push the evolution of virtualization, which has now expanded from a single server up to multiple data centers.

It’s also becoming quite apparent that a loose alliance is coalescing between several of the established leaders in the infrastructure space. In particular, VMware continues to align with Cisco, whose recent unveiling of a “Unified Computing System” combined with VSphere offers the promise of a private “cloud in a box.” Other members of this confederation are Intel, whose recent Xeon 5500 Nehalem chip is tailored for VM loads, in addition to EMC, whose updated Symmetrix SAN is optimized for VMware and Microsoft Hyper-V support. Dell appears to be more closely aligned than HP, and has a better position in the SMB market.

And don’t count out Oracle / Sun, one of today’s VSphere demo’s featured Sunfire servers, and when Cisco CEO John Chambers left the stage to congratulate VMware’s lead engineering team, Sun racks were featured quite prominently.

So who’s not joining the party, yet?

Here’s my list –

  • HP – not seeing innovation, very quiet these days
  • IBM – passed on Sun, noticeably low-key at today’s VSphere event
  • Google – how long before they offer a full-blown Cloud service
  • Microsoft – no support for Hyper-V in VMware VSphere
  • Citrix – falling further behind, no support from EMC Symmetrix, or VSphere

The continued limited inter-operability between major virtualization vendors – VMware, Microsoft, Citrix – and subsequent “vendor lock-in” really makes me wonder about the feasibility and likelihood of a truly Open Cloud platform, given the symbiotic relationship between Virtualization and Cloud computing.

P.S. I still think Cisco should have picked up Sun…

Ubuntu gets the Cloud too

Posted on Updated on

Canonical Software, which administers the popular Ubuntu distribution of Linux (and my personal favorite), recently announced improved support for Cloud computing in the upcoming release 9.10 , named Karmic Koala. In particular, Ubuntu will be available as a pre-packaged AMI, or Amazon Machine Instance, for convenient deployment on Amazon’s EC2 cloud. During a recent hands-on workshop on Amazon EC2 at SCaLE I noticed a potential security risk inherent in the large number of uncertified server images proliferating as “community AMI’s” on EC2. It’s not a good idea to build a production server, or even a dev server which may later be thrown into production, on an unknown image, just as you wouldn’t use a CD-R from a random stranger to build your new server. Good to see Canonical and Ubuntu moving forward with this initiative, the open-source community needs to take more leadership with emerging cloud technologies.

Strange bedfellows – Microsoft and Red Hat partnership

Posted on Updated on

This announcement really caught my eye. Essentially, Microsoft and Red Hat have agreed to mutually support each other’s operating systems on their emerging virtualization platforms. Thus, Microsoft Hyper-V will support Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 5, and Red Hat Enterprise virtualization will support Windows 2003, 2008 and so on. The timing of the announcement, last Monday February 16 which was a national holiday, was probably more than coincidental in order to lower the profile of the partnership. These two companies are not known to be friendly with each other, with Red Hat firmly established as the leading commercial vendor in the Linux market that competes fiercely with Microsoft’s Windows Server offerings. In fact, at SCaLE( Southern California Linux Conference) this past weekend, there was no mention or discussion of this announcement anywhere.

I recall testing an early release of Microsoft’s Virtual Server, the precursor to Hyper-V, several years ago and observing that the only non-Microsoft OS officially supported was SUSE Linux. Given that Red Hat and Ubuntu dominate the lion’s share of the Linux market, with SUSE a distant third, I was less than excited about Microsoft’s “cross-platform” support. Contrast this with VMware’s native support of Ubuntu, RHEL, OpenSUSE, in addition to Windows, Novell and Solaris. VMware’s competitors continue to maneuver for position, including Citrix recently offering the Xen hypervisor for free, along with enhanced coordination with Microsoft. But VMware is still leading the pack, and they’re not sitting still.