virtualization

Building an iSCSI SAN for VMware for Under $300

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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.

Dry reflections on a possible IBM purchase of Sun

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The rumors of this IT mega-merger have been swirling and were in full force this week. I’m not sure yet how the long-term balance of strategic benefits will work out for IBM, as well as the impact on the industry. Who knows, maybe Big Blue wants to take spotlight away from possible controversy involving CEO Sam Palmisano’s monstrous $21 million bonus in 2008, in light of the current AIG drama? Just sayin’…

Benefits

  • Sun’s new Open cloud API, very cool
  • Sun’s virtualization
  • MySQL, and more open-source credentials
  • Bigger imprint into the Data center (and the cloud)
  • Java

Drawbacks

  • Accumulating more overhead…HP took years to digest Compaq
  • Sun’s cachet has been fading for many years
  • Still not a major network player, despite recent partnership with Juniper
  • Still not a major storage player – see EMC, NetApp, Dell and Hitachi
  • Java

It’s hard not to interpret IBM wanting to swipe back at Cisco in the race to dominate the emerging cloud market, given that the rumors emerged barely a day after Cisco’s major Unified Computing initiative. But IBM is enhancing their strengths – servers, open source, applications – and not addressing weaknesses in networking and storage with this potential acquisition. HP appears to have a more compelling end to end Data Center offering, with an established EVA StorageWorks line in addition to ProCurve networking. I’m not sold on this one yet…

First thoughts on Cisco United Computing Vision

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My first response to Cisco’s announcement today is measured skepticism. Cisco certainly plays a central role in most modern data centers, dominating arguably the most critical infrastructure component, the network. By consolidating network, compute, storage and virtualization systems, Cisco is essentially offering a “cloud in a box.” Aside from the obvious marketing angle of leverage the current excitement around the cloud, though, it seems that Cisco is realizing they need more to drive sales of the new Nexus enterprise switch platform. However, while VMware and Microsoft are natural partners for virtualization, I’m wary of Cisco’s initial venture into the compute space. After all, a handful of companies with names like IBM, Dell and HP already have substantial experience in delivering enterprise server solutions, and I noticed none of them were listed as partners in the Cisco announcement. This is certainly a stark illustration of the new balance of power in the infrastructure world, where hypervisors and VM’s are taking precedence over bare-metal servers. Very interesting…

Ubuntu gets the Cloud too

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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

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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.

A Cloud of Questions

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This is officially my first WordPress blog. I’ve been blogging somewhat infrequently at IT Toolbox, however their security-related outage over the weekend among other things has convinced me it’s time to launch a full stand-alone blog. I’ll be exploring and discussing primarily IT infrastructure-related topics, ranging from newer technologies such as virtualization and cloud computing to more general issues around network and system management.

Without further ado, I’ve come to the realization that, following several recent conversations and articles I’ve read, the current buzz around “Cloud Computing” is raising as many questions as answers. To wit, there seem to be widespread assumptions that presume all this messy “infrastructure stuff” – from physical servers to network switches, routers, backup devices, firewalls, appliances all the way down to cabling – is magically going away so that developers, and by extension IT, can get back to focusing on the soft and chewy application stuff. Hate to be the spoiler, folks…but it just ain’t happening, not yet, maybe never. Here’s why…The physical layer will continue to comprise one of the most support-intensive areas for IT. Desktops giving way to laptops, giving way to netbooks and mobile devices, all becoming smaller and more portable – but it’s still hardware, and still prone to failure. Who will that user call when their wristwatch/semi-neurally embedded PC stops functioning? Likewise, on a broader network level, pushing the responsibility for hosting applications and data out into the “cloud” away from local servers and infrastructure will just make the upstream connection, including the circuit, firewall, caching devices, LAN switches, that much more critical. It seems that there could be more than a passing semblance between the ASP hype of the dot-com era and today’s Cloud. And yet there are bound to be different implications in the business IT versus consumer space.

I plan to explore the Cloud more comprehensively in this blog, and will be sharing my experiences with real-world examples such as Amazon’s EC2 and Microsoft Azure. Other major topics to be covered include IT infrastructure, virtualization, Green IT, data centers, and hosting.