This post is part of a series covering the EMC Free and Frictionless software products.
Go to the first post for a table of contents.

As I mentioned in my previous post, EMC recently released the “software defined” version of Isilon; their leading enterprise scale-out NAS solution. If you’re familiar with Isilon, you might already know there has been a virtual Isilon (called Isilon Simulator) for years now. The virtual Isilon would run on a laptop with VMware Workstation/Fusion, or on vSphere in your datacenter. I purchased and installed Isilon in multiple organizations, for several different use-cases; the Isilon Simulator was a great solution for testing changes pre-production as well familiarizing engineers with the interface. The Isilon Simulator is not supported and up until recently you had to know the right people to even get ahold of it.

With the introduction of IsilonSD Edge, we now have a virtualized Isilon that is fully supported, available for download and purchase through your favorite EMC sales rep. It runs the same codebase as the physical appliances, with some adjustments for the virtual worlds. As we discussed, there is a “free” version for use in non-production as part of EMC’s Free and Frictionless movement. I’ve run the Isilon Simulator personally for years, so I want to leverage this latest release of IsilonSD Edge as my new test Isilon in my home lab.

A quick stop to the IsilonSD Edge download page and I’m quickly pulling down the bits. While waiting a few moments for the 2GB download, I review some of the links; there is a YouTube video on Aggregating Unused Storage, another that covers FAQs on IsilonSD Edge and one more that talks about Expanding the Data Lake to the Edge. These all cover what I assumed, you’ll want at least three ESX hosts to provide physical diversity, you can run other workloads on these hosts, and the ultimate goal of this software is to extend Isilon into Edge scenarios, such as branch offices.

Opening the downloaded ZIP file, I find a couple OVA files, plus the installation instructions. I reviewed a couple of the FAQs linked from the product page, though didn’t spend much time on the installation guide; nor did I watch the YouTube Demo: Install and Configure IsilonSD Edge. I like to figure some things out on my own; that’s half the fun of a lab, right? I did see under the system requirements, it mentions support for VSAN compatible hardware, referencing the VMware HCL for VSAN. I just recently setup VSAN in my home lab, so that coupled with the fact I’ve run the Isilon Simulator; I’m good to go.

Fast forward though a couple failed installations, re-reading the FAQs, more failed installations, then reading the actual manual… here’s the catch.

You have to have local disks on each ESX node.

More specifically, you need to have directly attached storage… 
        without hardware RAID protection or VSAN.

Plus, you need at least 7 of these directly attached unprotected disks, per node.

While this wasn’t incredibly clear to me in the documentation, once you know this, you will see it’s said; but given IsilonSD is running on VMDK files, I glossed over the parts of the documentation that (vaguely) spelled this out. If you’ve deployed the Isilon Simulator, or any OVA for that matter, you’re used to selecting where the virtual machines are deployed, I assumed this would be the same for IsilonSD and I could choose the storage location.

However IsilonSD comes with a vCenter Plug-In that deploys the cluster, as part of that deployment, it scans for hosts and disks that meet this specific requirement. Moreover, during the deployment IsilonSD leverages a little used feature in vSphere to create virtual serial port connections over the network for the Isilon nodes to communicate with the Management Server, this is how the cluster is configured; so deploying IsilonSD nodes by hand isn’t an option (you can use still use the Isilon Simulator, which you can deploy more manually).

I’m going to stop here and touch on some thoughts, I’ll elaborate more on this in a later post once I actually have IsilonSD Edge working.

I do not know any IT shop that has ESX hosts that has locally attached, independent disks (again, not in a RAID group or under any type of data protection). We’ve worked hard as VM engineers to always build shared storage so we can use things like vMotion.

The marketing talks about capturing unused storage, about running IsilonSD on the same hosts as other workloads; in fact the same storage as other VMs; but I’m not sure who has unused capacity that’s also independent disks.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend running virtual machines on storage without any type of RAID-like protection. Maybe some folks have a server with some disks they never put into play, but 7 disks; and at least three servers with 7 disks?

I know there are organizations that have lean budget and this might be the best they can afford, but are shops like licensing and running vCenter ($), are they looking at virtual Isilon($)?

Call me perplexed, but I’m going to put off thinking about this as I still want to get this running in my lab. Since I don’t have three servers and 21 disks laying around at home, I’ll need to figure out a way to create a test platform for IsilonSD to run.

Be back soon…