Microsoft Windows Server 2012 is an important and successful new release. This research builds on previous Wikibon research on the specific functionality (Microsoft Attacks Storage with Windows 2012), and looks at the strategic and technical business case for adoption of the new features.
This report identifies the features that should be implemented now, and others that should be avoided for the moment until ecosystem and systems management support improves. In order to compile this report, Wikibon carried out in-depth interviews with leading practitioners to understand the potential value and deployment costs of the new features. In addition, Wikibon used its own database of datacenter cost metrics and developed business cases for the adoption of new features.
Wikibon also extended its research into the optimum infrastructure of Microsoft SQL Server software and concluded that virtualization of database servers together with use of flash to reduce IO read and write latency and IO variability (variance) can significantly reduce the overall cost of SQL Server deployment.
Wikibon concludes that Windows Server 2012 is an important new release that provides significant storage and other functionality that will reduce infrastructure cost. Wikibon recommends general adoption of this release. Wikibon also recommends that the important storage features be implemented within storage arrays, rather than building storage infrastructures on the server alone.
Figure 1 shows that a do-it-yourself approach saves very little if anything in hardware costs and will divert operational effort to build and maintain the infrastructure. Both the risks and costs are likely to be significantly higher with this approach.
User Assessment of Windows Server 2012
Wikibon did intensive interviews with executives responsible for Windows Server infrastructure in eight installations, ranging from small manufacturing customers to larger-scale banks. The interviews focused mainly on the storage and virtualization infrastructure aspects. Only one of the sites had gone live with the latest Windows version; all the others had looked in detail at the potential of Windows 2012 and had pilot/sand-box implementations in progress (a qualifying recruitment requirement was at least an active investigation into Windows Server 2012).
The overwhelming response from the group was positive. All said that it was a sound and quality release with very useful features. All but one agreed that within two years this release would be the de facto standard for new Microsoft Windows servers.
The priority features listed below were strongly and often universally praised by our panel, and can be implemented with relative ease. These are:
- ODX (Offloaded Data Transfer) feature:
- ODX allows the copying or transfer of data files to be handled at the storage level.
- ODX offloads the movement of files over the network to a client and back again to the storage system, with significant reduction to server and network overhead.
- The array we modeled from EMC has implemented special storage array functionality to off-load ODX to the storage array.
- Hyper-V Version 3:
- This was universally viewed as the first enterprise-ready version of Hyper-V that can be integrated with system management software.
- Most of the interviewees have plans to deploy multiple hypervisors in their Windows server environments.
- It allows snapshots of virtual machines (similar to VMware snapshots).
- The expectations for Hyper-V were muted compared with VMware vSphere.
- One installation had already moved over completely to Hyper-V.u
- These unlikely sounding capabilities allow the reclamation of deleted space and suppression of zeros.
- This in turn allows thin provisioning features to work on the EMC array we modeled and likely certain other arrays.
Risk Considerations. The features that were regarded by the panel and Wikibon as requiring long term implementation and significant testing and/or education to deploy, or were not yet robustly integrated into the Microsoft ecosystem are:
- Storage Spaces:
- Storage Spaces is storage virtualization, which provides storage administrators with the opportunity to aggregate and manage storage from a variety of sources as a single pool.
- It allows thin provisioning at the OS level.
- It can utilize JBOD, connected arrays, USB, but all RAID is server-based and not off-loaded.
- It is not inline but rather is an offline batch process.
- Resilient File System (ReFS):
- This is a new file system containing a subset of existing NTFS features.
- It supports single volumes (2^64 bytes) and storagepPool max size: 4 PB.
- It is intended to replace NTFS eventually.
- It is important but will be a long-term migration.
- SMB 3 (Server Message Block):
- Users familiar with clustering praised this feature as important for intra-and inter-system communications and especially important for clustering.
- These same users believe that adoption depends on integration with Hyper-V and software such as SQL Server and expect it would be 2-3 years before we see meaningful deployment.
Almost all of the first set of features can be implemented in one of two ways:
- Within the server using a set of server-side disks and JBODs – mainly a Do-it-Yourself approach.
- Within the Storage Array, with the functionality being provided by the storage vendor.
The following case study looks at the two alternatives to determine the business case difference between the two approaches.
Case Study: Do-it-Yourself Storage vs. Offloading to a Storage Array
Figure 1 above in the Executive Summary shows the results of the case study. The chart is based on the data in Table 1 below.
As shown in the notes, we modeled a low end 6TB EMC VNX within a Microsoft installation. EMC has the largest share of installed capacity within Microsoft shops according to IDC data released last year and VNX was the logical reference model because it has critical integration capabilities with Windows Server 2012. Users are cautioned that the exploitation and realization of value is largely dependent upon the degree of Windows Server 2012 integration that has been delivered by a particular vendor on its product.
The additional assumptions in the model are:
- Some of the workload is mission critical;
- There is a mixture of block and file data;
- A significant portion of the workload is virtualized;
- There is no requirement to change either the operating system or hypervisor utilized across the servers;
- The maintenance of the hardware and software is 18% of the purchase price;
- All the equipment and services are purchased or leased over a three-year period.
The conclusion from this case study is that even in small configurations, the cost savings from new 2012 storage features that are hand-crafted in the server are not significantly different compared with the costs of off-loading these functions to the storage controller. The cost of managing storage is significantly higher on the server primarily because of the lack of integration of the storage features and the Windows Infrastructure management software.
Action Item: CIOs & CTOs should expect to implement Windows Server 2012 and take advantage of the low hanging fruit, including ODX, zero suppression, and thin provisioning. The lowest cost and least risk implementation strategy should be to utilize traditional storage arrays, ensuring that they fully support all the features. Wikibon recommends that implementation for items such as storage spaces & storage virtualization wait until there is fuller integration with the Windows 2012 ecosystem and require less time/risk to implement and support.