You probably already know the great benefits that come from virtualization, including more and better ways to achieve high availability, ease of new service deployment, and even some licensing benefits from companies like Microsoft (once you pass a certain number of virtual machines, at least). Even so, some smaller businesses remain only “toe dippers” in the technology, while others eschew it altogether as too risky, even in 2012.
The virtualization challenge in the SMB
It’s fair to say that virtualization, while easing technology pain in some ways, has the potential to add complexity in other ways. In order to do virtualization right, organizations need shared storage and often need interconnectivity between that shared storage and the host servers that will house virtual machines. Further, in order to enjoy workload resiliency, everything needs to be redundant, which can add additional complexity.
On top of that, organizations need to buy hypervisor licenses and the management tools necessary to manage the hypervisor across multiple nodes, particularly when they want to implement workload migration technologies such as vMotion.
Microsoft brings a possible solution
At this week’s Storage Developers Conference, Microsoft engineers discussed the combination of Hyper-V Server 2012 and Server Message Block (SMB) 3. SMB 3 is a storage protocol that includes many new features that make it enterprise-worthy. Included in SMB 3 are fault tolerance capabilities, improved performance, multi channel communication for improved scalability, encryption, and much more. To learn more about new features in SMB 3, read this post by my friend and colleague, Stephen Foskett ([http://blog.fosketts.net/2012/05/06/smb-3-huge-scope-impact/
SMB 3 is Going to be Huge, in both Scope and Impact]).
All of these improvements in SMB 3 can be leveraged to great effect by Hyper-V 2012 and can result in an organization being able to deploy Hyper-V with more simplicity that might otherwise be possible.
Take a look at the diagram below. It includes two Windows Server clusters. The top cluster consists of three Hyper-V hosts. The bottom cluster is a pair of Windows File Servers, which are both connected via SAS to a storage device. Yes, SAS can be used as a shared storage option.
On the file server side, the administrator is using tools he’s already familiar with. Drives are created using the Windows native tools and shares are created using new wizards that are built right into the Windows Server 2012 operating system. One screen of this new wizard is displayed below.
So, on the storage side, the environment is front-ended by a pair of clustered file servers, providing a highly available front end to any clients that want to connect to the storage. Up to six more file servers can be added to that cluster to increase bandwidth.
As an additional benefit, administrators can create an easily tiered storage system. In the scenario above, imagine having three different arrays attached to the Windows servers. One array has all SSD, the second has all 15K SAS and the third has all 3 TB SATA disks. These pools can be exposed through simple file shares to the hypervisor cluster.
The hypervisor cluster then connects to the storage cluster using a pair of gigabit Ethernet adapters or 10 Gb Ethernet adapters using SMB 3. With SMB 3’s failover and multichannel capabilities, this is a highly available configuration. When new virtual machines are created, the administrator simply stores them on one of the SMB 3 file shares that was created on the file server cluster.
In this configuration, a general Windows administrator could very easily manage this environment for the long term without requiring a lot of specialized knowledge. However, I could see a possible need for occasional assistance in the file cluster to ensure that the storage arrays are meeting requirements.
Some cost benefits are also possible here. If the storage just connects with SAS and doesn’t require much else, less expensive equipment may be adequate. And, the Hyper-V 2012 licenses are free. Although Hyper-V can do more when combined with VMM 2012, it’s not necessary to deploy VMM even to use many of Hyper-V’s enterprise grade features.
Action Item: For now, CIOs should keep an eye on what Microsoft is doing in this space. It's recent announcements raise the potential for much simpler environments that don’t require a bunch of specialized skill sets and reduce costs. SMB CIOs could fairly easily build a small proof-of-concept environment to see how this all fits together. Hyper-V and SMB were very big topics at SDC 2012, so there is definite visibility on this front.