IsilonSD

IsilonSD – Part 6: Final Thoughts

Now that I’ve spent some time with Isilon SD; how does it compare to my experience with its physical big brother? Where does the software defined version fit?

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.

Overview (TL;DR version)

I’m excited by the entrance of this product into the virtualization space. Isilon is a robust product that can be tuned for multiple use cases and workloads. Even though Isilon has years of product development behind it and currently on it’s eight major software version; the virtual product is technically V1. With any first version, there are some areas to work on; from my limited time with IsilonSD, I believe this is everything it’s physical big brother is in a smaller, virtual package. However, it’s also bringing some of the limitations of its physical past. Limitations to be aware of, but also, limitations I believe EMC will be working to remove in vNext of IsilonSD.

If you ran across this blog because of interest in IsilonSD, I hope you can test the product, either with physical nodes or with the test platform I’ve put together; only with customer testing and feedback can the product mature into what it’s capable of becoming.

Deep Dive (long version)

From running Isilon’s in multiple use-cases and companies, I always wanted the ability to get smaller Isilon models for my branch offices. I’ve worked in environments where we had hundreds of physical locations of varying sizes. Many of these we wanted file solutions in these spokes replicating back to a hub. We wanted a universal solution that applied to the varying size locations; allowing all the spokes to replicate back to the hub. The startup cost for a new Isilon cluster was prohibitive for a smaller site. Leading us to leverage Windows File Servers (an excellent file server solution but that’s a different post) for those situations, bifurcating our file services stack which increased complexity in management, not just of the file storage itself, but ancillary needs like monitoring and backups.

Given I’ve been running a virtualized Isilon simulator for as long as I’ve been purchasing and implementing the Isilon solution; leveraging a virtualized Isilon for these branch office scenarios was always on my wish list. When I heard the rumors an actual virtual product was in the works (vIMSOCOOL) I expected the solution to target this desire. When IsilonSD Edge was released, as I read the documentation, I continued with this expectation. I watched YouTube videos that said this was the exact use-case.

It’s taken actually setting up the product in a lab to understand that IsilonSD Edge is not the product I expected it to be. Personally, though the solution by it’s nature is ‘software defined’ as it includes no hardware; it doesn’t quite fit the definition I’ve come to believe SD stands for. This is less a virtual Isilon, or software defined Isilon, as it is “bring your own hardware”, IsilonBYOH if you will.

IsilonBYOH is, on its merit, an exciting product and highlights what makes Isilon successful; a great piece of software sitting on commodity servers. This approach is what’s allowed Isilon to become the product is it, supporting a plethora of node types as well as hard drive technologies. You can configure a super fast flash based NFS NAS solution to be an ultra high reliable storage solution behind web servers, where you can store the data once and have all nodes have shared access. You can leverage the multi-tenancy options to provide mixed storage in a heterogeneous environment, NFS to service servers and CIFS to end users, talking to both LDAP and Active Directory, tiering between node types to maximum performance for newer files and cost for older. You can create a NAS for high-capacity video editing needs; where the current data is on SSD for screaming fast performance, then moving to HDD when the project is complete. You can even create archive class storage array with cloud competitive pricing to store aged data, knowing you can easily scale, support multiple host types and if ever needed, incorporate faster nodes to increase performance.

With this new product, you can now start even smaller, purchasing your own hardware, running on your own network, and still leverage the same management and monitoring tools, even the same remote support. Plus you can replicate it just the same, including to traditional Isilon appliances.

However, to me, leveraging IsilonSD Edge does call for purchasing hardware, not simply adding this to your existing vSphere cluster and capturing unused storage. IsilonSD Edge, while running on vSphere, requires, locally attached, independent hard drives. This excludes leveraging VSAN, which means no VxRail (and all the competitive HCIA), it also means no ROBO hardware such as Dell VRTX (and all the similar competitive offerings), in fact just having RAID excludes you from using IsilonSD. These hardware requirements, specifically the dedicated disks; turns into limitations. Unless you’re in the position to dedicate three servers, which you’ll likely need to buy new to meet the requirements; you’re probably not putting this out in your remote/branch offices; even though that’s the goal of the ‘Edge’ part of the name.

When you buy those new nodes; you’d probably go ahead and leverage solid state drives; the cost for locally attached SSD SATA is quickly cutting even with traditional hard drives. But understand, IsilonSD Edge will not take advantage of those faster drives like it’s physical incarnation… no metadata caching with the SD version. Nor can the SD version provide any tiering through SmartPools (you can still control the data protection scheme with SmartPools, and obviously you’ll get a speed boost with SSD).

Given all this, the use-cases for IsilonSD Edge get very narrow. With the inability to put IsilonSD Edge on top of ROBO designs, the likelihood of needing to buy new hardware, coupled with the 36TB overall limit of the software defined version of Isilon; I struggle to identify a production scenario that is a good fit. The best case scenario in my mind is purchasing hardware with enough drives to run both IsilonSD and VSAN, side-by-side, on separate drives.; this would require at least nine drives server (more really), so you’re talking some larger machines, and again, a narrow fit.

To me, this product is less about today and more about tomorrow; release one setting the foundation for the future opportunity of virtual Isilon.

What is that opportunity?

For starters, running Isilon SD Edge on VxRail; even deploying it directly through the VxRail marketplace, and by this, I mean running the IsilonSD Edge VMDK files on the VSAN data store.

Before you say the Isilon protection scheme would double-down storage needs on the VSAN model; keep in mind you can configure per VM policies in VSAN. Setting Failure To Tolerate (FTT) of 0 is not recommended, but this is why it exists. Let Isilon provide data protection while playing in the VSAN sandbox. Leverage DRS groups and rules to configure anti-affinity of the Isilon virtual nodes; keeping them on separate hosts. Would VSAN introduce latency as compared to physical disk; quite probably… though in the typical ROBO scenario that’s not the largest concern. I was able to push 120Mbps onto my IsilonSD Edge cluster, and that was with nested ESXi all running on one host.

All of this doesn’t just apply to VxRail, but it’s competitors in the hyper-converged appliance space, as well a wide range of products targeted at small installations. To expand on the small installation scenario, if IsilonSD had lower data protection options like VSAN does to remove the need for six disks per node, or even three nodes; it could fit in smaller situations. Why not trust the RAID protection beneath the VM and still leverage Isilon for the robust NAS features it provides. Meaning run a single-node Isilon, after all, those remote offices are likely providing file services with Windows or Linux VMs, relying on the vSphere HA/DRS for availability, and server RAID (or VSAN) for data loss prevention. The Isilon has a rich feature set outside of just data protection across nodes. Even a single node Isilon with SmartSync back to a mothership has compelling use cases.

On the other side of the spectrum, putting IsilonSD in a public cloud provider, where you don’t control the hardware and storage, has quite a few use-cases. Yes, Isilon has CloudPool technology, this extends an Isilon into public cloud models that provide object storage. But a virtual Isilon running in, say, vCloud Air or VirtuStream, with SynqIQ with your on-premise Isilon opens quite a few doors, such as for those looking at public cloud disaster-recovery-as-a-service solutions. Or moving to the cloud while still having a bunker on-premise for securing your data.

Outside of the need for independent drives, this is, an Isilon, running on vSphere. That’s… awesome! As I mentioned before, this opens some big opportunities should EMC continue down this path. Plus, it’s Free and Frictionless, meaning you can do this exact same testing as I’ve done. If you are an Isilon customer today, GO GET THIS. It’s a great way to test out changes, upgrades, command line scripts, etc.

If you are running the Free and Frictionless version, outside of the 36TB and six node limit, you also do NOT get licenses for SynqIQ, SmartLock or CloudPools.

I’ll say, given I went down this road from my excitement about Free and Frictionless; these missing licenses are a little disappointing. I’ve run SyncIQ and SmartLock, two great features and was looking forward to testing them, and having them handy to help answer questions I get when talking about Isilon.

CloudPools, while I have not run, is something that I’ve been incredibly excited about for years leading up to its release, so I’ll admit I wish it were in the Free and Frictionless version, if only a small amount of storage to play with.

Wrapping up, there are countless IT organizations out there; I’ve never met one that wasn’t unique, even with some areas I’d like to see improved with this product, undoubtedly IsilonSD Edge will apply to quite a few shops. In fact, I’ve heard some customers were asking for a BYOH Isilon approach; so maybe this is really for them (which if so, the 36TB seems limiting). If you’re looking at IsilonSD Edge, I’d love to hear why; maybe I missed something (certainly I have). Reach out, or use the comments.

If you are looking into IsilonSD Edge, outside of the drive/node requirements; some things to be aware of that caught my eye.

While the FAQs state you can run other virtual machines on the same hosts; I would advise against it. If you had enough physical drives to split them between IsilonSD and VSAN, it could be done. You could also use NFS, ISCSI or Fibre Channel for data stores; but this is overly complex and in all likelihood, more expensive than simply having dedicated hardware for IsilonSD Edge (or really, just buying the physical Isilon product). But given the data stores used by the IsilonSD Edge nodes are unprotected, putting a VM on them means you are just asking for the drive to fail, and to lose that VM.

Because you are dedicating physical drives to a virtual machine, you cannot vMotion the IsilonSD virtual nodes. This means you cannot leverage DRS (Dynamic Resource Scheduler), which in turn means you cannot leverage vSphere Update Manager to automatically patch the hosts (as it relies on moving workloads around during maintenance).

The IsilonSD virtual nodes do NOT have VMware tools. Meaning you cannot shut down the virtual machines from inside vSphere (for patching or otherwise), rather you’ll need to enter the OneFS administrator CLI, shut down the Isilon node; then go and perform ESX host maintenance. If you have reporting in place to ensure your virtual machines have VMtools installed, running and at the supported version (something I highly recommend) you’ll need to adjust this. Other systems that leverage VMtools; such as Infrastructure Navigator, will not work either.

I might be overlooking something (I hope so) but I cannot find a way to expand the storage on an existing node. In my testing scenario, I built the minimal configuration of six data drives of a measly 64GB each. I could not figure out how to increase this space, which is something we’re all accustomed to on vSphere (in fact quickly growing VMs resources is a cornerstone of virtualization). I can increase the overall capacity by increasing nodes, but this requires additional ESX hosts. If this is true, again the idea of using ‘unclaimed capacity’ for IsilonSD Edge is marginalized.

IsilonSD wants nodes in a pool to be configured the same, specifically with the same size and amount of drives. This is understandable as it spreads data across all the drives in the pool equally. However, this lessens the value of ‘capturing unused capacity’. Aside from the unprotected storage point; if you were to have free storage on drives, your ability to deploy IsilonSD will be constrained to the lowest free space volume, as all the VMDK files (virtual drives) have to be the same. Even if you had twenty-one independent disks across three nodes, if just one of them was smaller than the rest, that free space dictates the size unit you can configure.

Even though I’m not quite sure where this new product fits or what problem it solves; that’s true of many products when they first release. It’s quite possible this will open new doors no one knew were closed and if nothing else; I’m ecstatic EMC is pursuing making a virtual version of the product; after all this is just version 1… what would you want in version 2? Respond in the comments!

By | April 4th, 2016|EMC, Home Lab, Opinions, Storage|2 Comments

IsilonSD – Part 5: Monitoring Activity

For my deployment of IsilonSD Edge, I want to keep this running in my lab, installing systems is often far easier than operating them (especially troubleshooting issues). However an idle system isn’t really a good way to get exposure, so I need to put a little activity on this cluster, plus monitor it.

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.

This is just my lab, so here is my approach to doing more with IsilonSD than simply deploying it:

  • Deploy InsightIQ (EMC’s dedicated Isilon monitoring suite)
  • Move InsightIQ Data to IsilonSD Edge Cluster
  • Synchronize Software Repository
  • Mount Isilon01 as vSphere Datastore
  • Load Test

Deploy InsightIQ

InsightIQ is EMC’s custom-built monitoring application for Isilon. Personally, this was one of the top reasons I select Isilon years ago when evaluating NAS solutions. I’m a firm believer that the ability to monitor a solution should be a key deciding factor in product selection.

Without going too deep in InsightIQ itself (that’s another blog), it provides the ability to monitor the performance of the Isilon, including the client perspective of the performance. You can drill into the latency of operations by IP address; which when I first purchased an Isilon array is was because the incumbent solution was having numerous performance problems and the lack of visibility into why was causing a severe customer satisfaction issue.

InsightIQ monitors the nodes, cluster communication, and even does file analysis to help administrators understand where their space is consumed and by what type of files.

Deploying InsightIQ is a typical OVA process, we’ve collected the information necessary in previous posts, so I’ll be brief, in fact you can probably wing-it on this one if you want.

*Note there is no sound, this is to follow along the steps.
  1. In the vSphere Web Client, deploy an OVA
  2. Provide the networking information and datastore for the InsightIQ appliance
  3. After the OVA deploy is complete, open the console to the VM, where you’ll need to enter the root password
  4. Navigate your browser to the IP address you entered, logging in as root, with the password you created in the console
  5. Add the Isilon cluster to InsightIQ and wait while it discovers all the nodes.

 

Move InsightIQ Data to IsilonSD Edge Cluster

You can imagine collecting performance data, and file statistics will consume quite a bit of storage. By default InsightIQ will store all this data on the virtual machine, so I move the InsightIQ Datastore onto the Isilon cluster itself. While this is a little circular, InsightIQ will generate some load writing the monitoring data, which in turn will give it something to monitor, for our lab purposes this provides some activity.

Simply log into InsightIQ, under Settings -> Datastore, change the location to NFS Mounted Datastore. By default Isilon shares out /IFS, however in production this should ALWAYS be changed, but for a lab we’ll leverage the export path.

IsilonSD_InsightIQDSMove

If you do this immediately after deploying InsightIQ, it will be very quick. If, however, you’ve been collecting data, you’ll be presented with information about the progress of the migration, refreshing the browser will provide updates.

IsilonSD_InsightIQDSMoveProgressSynchronize Software Repository

I have all my ISO files, keys, OVAs and software installation on a physical NAS; this makes it very easy to mount via NFS to all my hosts as a datastore, physical and nested; for quickly installing software in my lab. Because of this, I use this repository daily; so to ensure I’m actually utilizing IsilonSD to continue to learn about it post setup, I’m going use IsilonSD to keep a copy of this software repository, mounting all my nested ESXi hosts to it.

I still need my physical NAS for my physical hosts, in case I lose the IsilonSD I don’t want to lose all my software and be unable to reinstall. I want the physical NAS and IsilonSD to stay in sync too. My simple solution is to leverage robocopy to sync the two file systems; the added benefit of this is I also get the regular load on IsilonSD.

Delving into robocopy is a whole different post, but here is my incredibly simple batch routine. It mirrors my primary NAS software repository to the Isilon. This runs nightly now.

:START
robocopy \\nas\software\ \\isilon01\ifs\software\ /MIR /MT:64 /R:0 /W:0 /ZB
GOTO START

Upon first execution, I see in InsightIQ traffic onto IsilonSD. Even though this is nested ESXi, with the virtual Isilon nodes sharing both compute, network, memory and disk; I see a fairly healthy external throughput rate, peaking around 100Mb/s.

IsilonSD_InsightIQRobocopyThroughput

 

When the copy process is complete, looking in the OneFS administrator console will show the data has been spread across the nodes (under HDD Used).

IsilonSD_HDDLoaded

Mount Isilon01 as vSphere Datastore

Generally speaking, I would not recommend Isilon for VMware storage. Isilon is built for file services, and its specialty is sequential access workloads. For small workloads, if you have an Isilon for file services already, an Isilon datastore will work; but there are better solutions for vSphere data stores in my opinion.

For my uses in the lab though, with my software repository being replicated onto Isilon, mounting an Isilon NFS export as a datastore will not only allow me to access those ISO files but open multiple concurrent connections to monitor.

*Note there is no sound, this is to follow along the steps.
Mounting an NFS datastore to Isilon is exactly the same as any other NFS NAS.

You MUST use the FQDN to allow SmartConnect to balance the connections.

 

With the datastore mounted, if you go back into the OneFS administrator console; you can see the connections were spread across the nodes.

IsilonSD_ConnectionSpread

Now I have a purpose to regularly use my IsilonSD Edge cluster, keeping it around for upgrade testing, referencing while talking to others, etc. Again, with the EMC Free and Frictionless license, I’m not going to run out of time, I can keep using this.

Load Test

Even though I have an ongoing use for IsilonSD, I want to to a little more to do than just serve as a software share, just to ensure it’s really working well. So I’ll use IOMeter to put a little load on it.
I’m running IsilonSD Edge on 4 nested ESXi virtual machines, which in turn are all running on one physical host. So IsilonSD is sharing compute, memory, disk and network across the 4 IsilonSD nodes (plus I have dozens of other servers running on this host). Needless to say, this is not going handle a high amount of load, nor provide the lowest latency. So, while I’m going to use IOMeter to put some load on my new IsilonSD Edge cluster and typically I would record all the details of a performance test; this time I’m not. Especially given I’m generating load from virtual machines on the same host.

Given Isilon is running on x86 servers, it would be incredibly interesting to see a scientific comparison between physical Isilon and IsilonSD Edge with like-for-like hardware. In my personal experience with virtualization, there is a negligible overhead, but I have to wonder the difference Infiniband makes.

In this case, my point of load testing is not to ascertain the latency or IOPS, but merely to put the storage device under some stress for a couple of hours to ensure it’s stable. So I created a little load, peaking around 80Mbps and 150 IOPS, but running for about 17 hours (overnight).

Below are some excerpts from InsightIQ, happily the next morning the cluster was running fine, even given the load. During the test, the latency fluctuated widely (as you’d expect due to the level of contention my nested environment creates). From an end user perspective, it was still usable.

IsilonSD_LoadTest1IsilonSD_LoadTest2IsilonSD_LoadTest3IsilonSD_LoadTest4

In my next post I’m going to wrap this up and share my thoughts on IsilonSD Edge.

By | April 1st, 2016|EMC, Home Lab, VMWare|1 Comment

IsilonSD – Part 1: Quick Deploy (or how I failed to RTM)

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…

 

By | March 25th, 2016|EMC, Home Lab, Storage, Uncategorized|3 Comments