Back in 2012, Microsoft purchased the start-up StorSimple that offered a cloud storage gateway computer appliance. Microsoft now offers both physical and virtual solutions, all managed from the Azure. In this article, I’ll discuss how StorSimple can help the storage admin with challenges such as data deduplication and automated tiered storage.

Paul Schnackenburg

Paul Schnackenburg works part time as an IT teacher as well as running his own business in Australia. He has MCSE, MCT, MCTS and MCITP certifications. Follow his blog TellITasITis.

Storage is arguably (right behind security) one of the biggest challenges for IT today. The amount of data stored is growing exponentially in both small and large businesses and managing the growth and protecting data is challenging.

All data storage isn’t created equal however and you need archive, backup, primary workloads and remote replication storage. The old solution of buying another SAN (or NAS) just doesn’t scale well and having different types of storage solution creates management overhead and complexity. Another challenge is that most of the data you store isn’t actually used, only a small amount is in current use. Microsoft's StorSimple can provide a solution for these problems.

Physical models ^

The basis of all StorSimple solutions is tiered storage. Just like your favorite SAN there’s SSD and HDD storage and the appliance automatically moves hot data to the SSD tier and colder data to the HDD tier. But StorSimple adds a third tier in the form of Azure storage and sends colder data there.

This isn’t just based on last time of access for each data block, there are some very smart algorithms looking at other clues as to which data is best to move to the cloud. Retrieval of data from the cloud is transparent to end users who only see a delay in accessing data that hasn’t been touched for a while.

StorSimple 8100 and 8600 (image courtesy of Microsoft)

StorSimple 8100 and 8600 (image courtesy of Microsoft)

There are two current models, the 8100 has between 15 and 40 TB of storage (depending on compression) of which 800 GB is SSD storage with a total capacity of 200 TB. The 8600 has between 40 and 100 TB of storage, with 2 TB SSD storage and a total capacity of 500 TB. Both models have 10 Gb Ethernet connections. All the usual SAN trimmings are present with multipath I/O, dual controllers, dual cooling and dual power supplies.

Management ^

Note that you can’t add more storage after purchase, it’s a sealed box. The arrays present as iSCSI targets, deduplication is built in, all data leaving the array to go to Azure is encrypted, both on the network and when stored in Azure, with a key only known to you.

Management of arrays are done through the StorSimple Manager, housed in the Azure classic portal, which allows you to manage multiple arrays from a single console. Backup is built in and automatically replicates snapshots to Azure. You can pin a volume to the array and its data will never be tiered to the cloud (except the backups of course). For self-service file recovery, there’s a backup folder in a file share, letting users recover files from the last five snapshots.

There are some workloads where StorSimple arrays are not recommended, such as for high performance VMs with large storage I/O and until recently, as a backup target. At Ignite 2016 Microsoft showed Backup Exec being used to back up to a StorSimple array and they provide sizing guidance for several third-party backup applications, making backup targets a valid usage for StorSimple.

The two arrays are eminently suitable to provide (nearly) bottomless storage for your datacenter. In branch offices or remote locations however a SAN array would be overkill and so earlier in 2016 Microsoft responded to user requests by providing virtual arrays.

Virtual appliances ^

There are two flavors here. The StorSimple Cloud appliance 8010 and 8020 models are virtual arrays that run in Azure. These are useful for accessing snapshots from on-premises arrays for Disaster Recovery testing or providing data for applications in the cloud.

And for branch offices, there’s the new StorSimple Virtual Array 1200, a Hyper-V or VMware VM that acts as a iSCSI or File share target, whilst providing the same management and tiering benefits as the physical arrays.

The VM appliance has a limit of 6.4 TB usage storage locally (if you provide it with the maximum of 8 TB of underlying storage) and a total of 64 TB including cloud storage. You’ll want to give the appliance at least 8 GB of memory (don’t use dynamic memory) and four virtual CPUs.

Just as the physical arrays can’t be upgraded with more storage, a virtual array cannot be expanded. And just like the 8000 series, the data is de-duplicated and encrypted before being uploaded to the cloud. If you have a truly dispersed workforce there’s a third party service from Talon called CloudFAST™ which simplifies management.

StorSimple Virtual Array configuration (image courtesy of Microsoft)

StorSimple Virtual Array configuration (image courtesy of Microsoft)

Summary ^

StorSimple is a very cool technology with a sound underlying architecture. It solves a lot of problems with storage by combining different types of storage usage in one device and certainly backing up and tiering cold data transparently to the cloud is very useful.

Microsoft recently announced a very interesting addition, allowing you to use your data in Azure for media services (streaming video / audio), machine learning or big data analytics through StorSimple Data Transformation. For example, if you store videos you can use Azure Media Services to automatically run facial recognition and redaction, if you’re a call center you can convert recorded conversations to text and run sentiment analysis.

On the other hand, it’s very enterprise focused. I haven’t found exact pricing but the 8200 series starts around $ 100,000 and 8600 at $ 170,000. The Virtual Array is only available if you purchase Azure under an Enterprise Agreement (it’s not even available for testing / evaluation). And the 8000 series only uploads data to Azure, not AWS or Google.

Because of these limitations and the high cost it’s hard to recommend StorSimple as a general solution, although if your business has already picked Azure and have the right workloads, it’s a good answer.

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12 Comments
  1. Caleb 2 years ago

    If you have multiple offices with a store simple device, can they access the same data?  How does it deal with file locking in those scenarios?

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  2. Author
    Paul Schnackenburg 2 years ago

    Hi Caleb,

    Yes, they can, it's up to you how you configure it. Out of the box StorSimple isn't a file sharing technology for multiple offices but the addition of Talon Cloud Fast (https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/cis/2016/04/27/deploy-global-file-sharing-for-collaboration-using-microsoft-azure-storsimple-and-talon-cloudfast/) has provisions for that, if that's your business need.

    Hope that helps,

    Paul

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  3. Caleb 2 years ago

    Very cool, thank you.  Is there other solutions that compete with this solution and deliver the same results?  I ask because we really like this solution but at a $100k/branch office, it's a high price point.  Especially when you have a large number of sites.  Any ideas if/when Microsoft will drop the price of this tech?  Seems like this is the future of data storage to me.

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  4. Author
    Paul Schnackenburg 2 years ago

    Hi again Caleb,

    Remember that for smaller branch offices you can use the virtual appliance instead which does not have the price tag of 100 K. (Not sure what it actually costs, since I can't test it without an Enterprise Agreement). That's how MS sees it, use the physical box in your main data center and then the VM in the branch offices.

    I'm sure there are lots of competing third party tech but I don't know them in detail. There's of course DFS which is built into Windows.

    Good luck,

    Paul

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  5. mcvirus87 2 years ago

    Can you use locally tiered storage on the virtual appliance running on Hyper-V or VMware. IE can you add a 500GB Sata VHD and another 500GB SAS VHD. Does storsimple automatically recognize the speed difference or is there additional configuration needed?

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  6. Author
    Paul Schnackenburg 2 years ago

    Hi mcvirus87,

    You can't change the drives that your unit comes with, but they all (except the virtual appliance of course) come with both HDD and SSD. You can pin a file to a particular tier which would be recommended if you had VMs where consistent storage performance was important.

    Yes, StorSimple is aware of the three tiers (SSD, HDD and cloud) and moves blocks accordingly.

    Hope that helps,

    Paul

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    • Mccirus87 2 years ago

      Hi Paul,

      I get that thats possible with the unit but what im refering to is the virtual appliance? Can you add SSD and HDD vhd's to the VM and would storsimple be aware of the different tiers locally?

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      • Author
        Paul Schnackenburg 2 years ago

        Hi again,
        Oh OK, now I understand your question. The answer is no - the virtual appliance only has two tiers, local and cloud; and the actual storage performance depends on what underlying storage you provide to the appliance VM. If it's SSD it'll be fast, if it's HDD it'll be slow. But it has no concept of tiering between HDD and SSD inside of the virtual appliance. See here https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/storsimple/storsimple-ova-overview.

        Paul Schnackenburg

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  7. chocky 1 year ago

    Saw your Blob I know it's a little old but having a look at the StorSimple ATM and the costs are about this in Australia

    8600 $2500 pm

    8100 $1730 pm

    Virtual $165 pm

     

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    • Author
      Paul Schnackenburg 1 year ago

      Hi Chocky,Thanks for that update - the virtual price is interesting - at that price (plus storage costs in Azure) it could be a good solution for SMBs or branch offices. /Paul Schnackenburg

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  8. Hayder 1 year ago

    Hi Paul,

    We purchased Storsimple 8600 physical from ebay and we need your help with access the controller of this appliance without the Azure EA, it's very expensive to get the EA subscription just for the sake of access the unit to learn more about it. Is there any way we can do that?

    Thanks Heaps

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