Microsoft Azure StorSimple: Easy Entry to the Hybrid Cloud

As we heard just recently from our COMPAREX MVP Eric Berg, storage is among the scenarios that are particularly suited to hybrid solutions. Today his colleague, COMPAREX IT Architect Henrik Motzkus, is recommending the great entry-level solution for cloud novices: Azure StorSimple. This is a product that Microsoft included to the program after its takeover of StorSimple in 2013, and which now – operating under its new flag – complements the Azure cloud portfolio. Microsoft has worked continuously to improve the product since then. Read on to find out how you can use StorSimple to come to terms with spiraling date volumes.

An article by Henrik Motzkus, IT Architect

What is Microsoft Azure StorSimple?

In a nutshell, Microsoft Azure StorSimple is the bridge between local SANs in the Microsoft Azure Cloud. This method allows IT departments to provide their users with vast storage capacities in no time at all. These capacities can be decommissioned just as quickly as they are made available.

Taking a closer look at the storage setup within a common internal IT system quickly reveals that the primary working set of data (the data that users need in their daily routines) merely accounts for a tiny fraction of the data that the IT system actually has to manage.

  • The primary data needs to be backed up to protect against data loss.
  • It has to be archived.
  • It must be protected against natural catastrophes.
  • It should be highly available.

These requirements have caused an immense rise in data volumes. The market speaks of so-called double-digit growth, leading to huge complexity, substantial investments and a laborious workload within IT.

Microsoft Azure StorSimple as the solution to the problem?

Microsoft StorSimple solves this problem by keeping the active working set of data available on a storage appliance installed locally and by migrating the currently unneeded data to the Microsoft Azure Cloud in an encrypted form.

Microsoft offers two variations:

Microsoft StorSimple 8100 provides 15 TB of local disk space that can be expanded to 40 TP through compression and de-duplication. Any additional requirements are sourced in the Microsoft Azure Cloud. Hence, up to 200 TB can be stored on a Microsoft StorSimple 8100 – although it requires just two rack units in height.

Tucked away in a mere four rack units, the StorSimple 8600 model has a capacity of 40–100 TB in local storage and 500 TB overall capacity. The appliance is exclusively connected via 1/10 GbE Ethernet iSCSI and comes with fully redundant, internal components for maximum redundancy.

Now the extensive options provided by Mcrosoft Azure Cloud are available to enhance these basic features. And that’s where the product really gets interesting. All Microsoft StorSimple appliances are managed using the StorSimple Manager in Microsoft Azure. Put simply: You won’t get bogged down in any kind of complex local management toolset. What’s more, you can take a snapshot of the entire data set locally or in the cloud. The benefit here is that the volumes located on the local appliance can be duplicated for test purposes (e.g. with Azure VMs). If you like, it is just as easy to handle backups entirely in an Azure Backup Vault, making the in-house tape architecture obsolete in one fell swoop.

Users are also protected against complete loss of a datacenter location. This is because Azure StorSimple allows application of virtual scenario to access data kept on an Azure Blob Storage. The data set stored on Azure is then copied to the local surrogate appliance as soon as the company location is back online. It can even be copied to a different location as required. In figurative terms you could even call it the Dropbox principle, even if Microsoft is unlikely to be particularly delighted at the comparison.

Which use cases can the features conceivably manage?

First up is the classic backup & recovery scenario. Modern backup & recovery solutions like Veeam are based increasingly on hard disk storage as data repositories for backups. StorSimple keeps the current working set of data available in a local setting, ensuring superb RTO. After all, recent backups are accessed more frequently. The archived backups (e.g. monthly or yearly backups) are automatically shunted into the Azure Cloud, as in most cases they will not be required all that often.

Classic filers present another use case that is key to any IT system. Even if there are plenty of new collaboration approaches around these days (e.g.  SharePoint), filers remain among the most important instruments to handle workflows. The filer feature incorporated in Microsoft StorSimple keeps the current working set of data available on local storage for rapid response times. It is compressed and de-duplicated additionally. The remaining data that tends to be used less frequently is automatically relocated to Azure Cloud in an encrypted form. This principle works not just for classic filers. Even archives can be created in this way.

Which workloads are not particularly suited?

First of all, the integrated SSDs are among the outstanding features. This promises plenty of IOPS. But the hard disk configuration is static. So it would be impossible to add additional hard disks to boost performance. What’s more, StorSimple does not provide the broad array of management functions that users will be accustomed to, for instance from EMC VNX, which permits manipulation of data tiering and other features. This is always handled automatically, and the administrator does not have any influence. It is crucial to check in advance whether any moderately sized VMware Cluster or SQL database can even be deposited on StorSimple.

Summary

Not every scenario will need a highly sophisticated storage solution. The Microsoft StorSimple storage appliance allows users to reduce the TCO for many simple use cases – while remaining extremely easy to operate. Moreover, companies that already have an  Enterprise Agreement (EA) with Microsoft that includes an Azure commitment will find that the storage appliance comes free of charge above an Azure commitment of EUR 50,000.

The latest developments

Microsoft ensures that the product satisfies even the latest requirements: besides regular feature updates, the company also introduces complete new major features. For instance, a virtual array has been available for StorSimple since the start of March. Broadly speaking, it no longer acts as a hardware appliance, but takes the guise of a virtual appliance that is operable as a VM in Hyper-V or VMware. This virtual array can then provide iSCSI or SMB shares.

Broadly speaking, StorSimple delivers an outstanding entry-level product to get started in hybrid cloud scenarios, especially when combined with a Microsoft EA. In future, it will help undecided companies overcome the first obstacles on the road to a cloud-based environment. Installation takes just one day.

About the author

Henrik Motzkus is IT Architect for Enterprise Datacenter Infrastructure, Project Manager for Infrastructure Projects and Expert for IT Operations at COMPAREX. Here, he focuses on the vendors EMC, Cisco, VCE and Microsoft, catering to both cloud and on-premise solutions. He uses his 20 years of experience in datacenter solutions to collaborate with customers in creating integral solutions that draw potentially on every area of available technologies.

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Henrik Motzkus, IT Architect at COMPAREX

What are the requirements and advantages of o virtual array?

Read more about Microsoft’s latest feature update for StorSimple in our upcoming article. Make sure you won’t miss it and  Follow us on LinkedIn

Leipzig, 4/6/2016

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