OK, time for a personal confession. This review was commissioned some time ago (read, 2009), but in his infinite wisdom your intrepid author thought “What better way to test such a product than as part of a real-life Windows 7/Server 2008 R2 deployment?”. StarWind was quickly installed and configured, but then the deployment took off at such a frantic pace that all other considerations (such as writing the review) were abandoned in a desperate attempt to keep on top of things.

StarWind Enterprise Targets ^

And during the deployment, StarWind didn’t get looked at once. Why? Because it worked perfectly. As advertised. No crashes, no funny behaviour, no performance bottlenecks, no regular patching needed, nothing. In our industry, it’s generally the problematic or the most complex products which tend to demand the most attention – having access to a solution which works quietly and efficiently in the background is a rare treat. So even though I was meant to write this a while back, at least I can now do the write-up with several months of production experience backing it up. Don’t you feel privileged? Good.

First a disclaimer – StarWind provided me with a full license of StarWind Enterprise HA Unlimited to facilitate the review.

Deployment ^

To make it a viable enterprise platform for StarWind, I upgraded the internal hard disks of a pre-existing Windows Server 2008 R2 system to 5TB of RAID storage, hosted on an Adaptec PCI-Ex4 8-port controller with Seagate SATA-II drives. The system uses a dedicated gigabit NIC for iSCSI traffic, has 16GB RAM and is also running as a Hyper-V virtualization system. I don’t have access to VMware infrastructure so I can’t comment on StarWind’s performance in such an environment.

We used the StarWind system initially to serve out large chunks of storage to virtual servers to facilitate the data migration from our Netware NSS pools to the new Server 2008 R2 file servers (all virtual systems running on Hyper-V), rather than for applications with intensive read/write overheads like SQL. Provisioning and serving new storage on StarWind is incredibly easy and takes only a couple of minutes, and servers can connect using the Microsoft iSCSI Initiator, which is handy (and fully supported). StarWind supports ACLs to restrict access to iSCSI targets based on hostname, IP address, IQN and NIC, and all targets can be secured with CHAP.

StarWind Enterprise Synchronisation

Later in the deployment we started provisioning virtual servers with Failover Clustering (highly-available services on highly-available VMs on a highly-available physical cluster = geek heaven), hosting the cluster quorum disk on the StarWind system. Because it fully supports SCSI-3 persistent reservations, StarWind iSCSI storage is perfect for failover clustering, as well as cluster shared volumes (CSV) in Server 2008 R2 for Hyper-V failover clusters. Serving out storage across multiple physical NICs in a single StarWind system or replicated storage across two systems will allow Windows servers to connect using MPIO for increased fault tolerance.

So far the single gigabit NIC has not proved to be a bottleneck, but as reliance on the system increases it will be worthwhile adding extra NICs to take up the load, and eventually implementing 10GB ethernet controllers. One of the principle advantages of StarWind is that it expands alongside the server, and upgrading individual server components is far more cost-effective than attempting to upgrade proprietary storage array hardware. Of course, this strength is also a weakness, as StarWind is only as reliable as the server on which it sits, hence the value and importance of highly-available hardware and implementing failover functionality.

Conclusion ^

StarWind Software have a wide range of excellent technical documents and whitepapers covering a variety of specific usage scenarios for iSCSI SAN, their support department responds rapidly to requests and you can also check out the StarWind Blog for more in-depth product and industry information.

StarWind has formed the backbone of our Windows 7/Server 2008 R2 deployment (which is documented here, along with an interview with yours truly), and I have no hesitation in strongly recommending it to any business which needs enterprise-class storage features at an SMB price point. It runs reliably and efficiently, and enables businesses to access to a raft of technologies for which flexible and powerful storage options are an essential pre-requisite. Even with the recent addition of a high-end, fibre channel storage array in our production environment, StarWind will continue to serve a critical role, supporting highly-available services, protecting user data and facilitating disaster recovery.

If you want to take part in the competition for a chance to win a copy of StarWind Enterprise worth USD$995, send an email to:

contests-at-4sysops-com

with the subject line:

StarWind

The deadline of this contest is June 17, 2010.

1 Comment
  1. Rob Nicholson 11 years ago

    Great recommendation for StarWind. We're looking at SAN and really the £25k we're been quoted is just too much for this SMB...

    And this was a great review until the last few lines. Why, it StarWind was so good, did you got for a much more expensive, fibre based solution in production???

    Was Starwind not reliable? Was performance an issue?

    Confused of Manchester.

    Cheers, Rob.

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