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Questions RE: VMware & SAN Implementation

Hello,

My current IT infrstructure is relatively small with just two servers (Win2K3 Domain Controller & MS SQL Server) but am anticipating growth & will likely be implementing an Exchange server, Sharepoint server, GIS Server and an Additional domain Controller. I will also be "Rebuilding" the data room and have been considering implmenting a Virtual environment with VMware Infrastructure 3 and possibly an iSCSI SAN solution - as I expect things to continue growing rapidly. With all that said, I am interested in getting feedback from others who have worked with VMware and or implemented it with an iSCSI SAN. I've looked at IBM blade Servers, HP blade servers, EqualLogic(Dell) iSCSI SAN boxes and am also interested in NetApp. Anybody been in this situation? what would you do differently in hindsight? Recommendations?

thanks
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Schnizzle
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Schnizzle
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Duncan MeyersCommented:
Yes - many times.

The FAS2000 series of filers from NetApp are brilliant - they can replace your WIndows file server and provide your iSCSI storage as well. NetAppalso offer A-SIS - a data de-duplication product that runs on the array and. It's a similar idea to data compression, but gives you compression ratios of 20:1 and greater - which is brilliant for VMware as there is so much commonality of data between virtual machines. The NetApp boxes are easy to manage and configure and their support is excellent. I must admit to having a bit of a problem with EqualLogic as they claim patently impossible performance figures in their brochures - but other than that I'm sure they work fine. The killer application in storage, though, is NetApp's A-SIS (http://www.netapp.com/products/storage-systems/near-line-storage/netapp-dedup.html)

As for servers - take a look at the Sun X range of AMD and Intel based servers (http://www.sun.com/servers/index.jsp?cat=Sun%20Fire%20x64%20Servers&tab=3). Nice kit. HP C-class blades are great stuff, too. They allow you to assign a "personality" to a slot which makes hardware replacements easy... Whichever brand you choose, make sure you check the VMware Systems Compatibility Guides (http://www.vmware.com/support/pubs/vi_pages/vi_pubs_35.html). Allow 4GB RAM per CPU core (so for dual quad core systems, you'll need 32GB. Yes - you read that right.... :-) ) and 6 NICs if you're planning on iSCSI.
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SchnizzleAuthor Commented:
Thanks for the response.

How is performance for database type systems like SQL and Exchange in VMWare scenarios? I realize that it's largely dependent upon the hardware that is provided to the software to run but I have heard that you should keep exchange & SQL out of VMware environments. Also, in this type of scenario, what are your recomended data backup suggestions? I would like to have a failover site - haven't fully realized how I am going to do that just yet but I will have Fibre between sites.

thanks,
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Duncan MeyersCommented:
Performance is fine under VMware. The comment around keeping SQL and Exchange out of a VMware environment had some basis two major releases back (in the ESX 2.5 era) but it simply isn't an issue - and it really only applied to large SQL or Exchange environments - say 1000 users or more. I've implemented Exchange and SQL in a a number of companies, most recently a 250 seat insurance company. I've been heavily involved with a hospital with 4000 users that are using ESX Server extensively and it works great. The reality is that most Exchange servers sit there doing very little, yet the servers are almost always pretty musclebound. That makes them good candidates for virtualisation. SQL Servers also virtualise well - performance largely depends on the application. As always, a poorly written app on a physical server just becomes a poorly written app on a virtual server.

If you're happy with your backup software then stick with it. VMware offers VCB (VMware Consolidated Backup) that takes snapshots of running Virtual Machines and allows you to back up the snapshot - makes for very fast backups with almost no load on the production host. I usually set up a combination of traditional backups and VCB backups, but it really depends on your environment.

NetApp has excellent replication products such as SnapMirror. SnapMirror has integration modules for Exchange and SQL. SnapMirror quiesces the application, takes a snapshot of the disc then runs integrity checks against the database using ESEUTIL or DBCC (depending on the app, obviously). The data is then replicated to a DR array once the integrity check completes so that you always have a 'gold' copy  (or multiple copies if you wish) of your application data. Sweet!

If you've got good comms between sites then replication is easy. It's where you've got a 2Mbps pipe and 500GB to replicate that things get challenging.
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Duncan MeyersCommented:
Glad I could help! Good luck with it.
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SchnizzleAuthor Commented:
MeyersD,

If I want to replicate the data from the primary site to a secondary DR site, would I then need to have two FAS2000 boxes, one for each site? Would you replicate the VM's or just the data in them or both?

thanks,
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SchnizzleAuthor Commented:
MeyersD,

Going back to the servers, you suggested six NICS if going with iSCSI; this would be my first experience with iSCSI. Why six NICS on the server ?

thanks,
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Duncan MeyersCommented:
Yes - if you want to replicate, you'll need two FAS systems. You can also replicate using Vizioncore's vReplicator (http://www.vizioncore.com/vReplicator.html)to replicate to another host with lots of direct-attached disc, but this will put a load on the source host as it uses VMware snapshots to get a point-in-time copy of the source VM. A vReplicator copy of a VM will be *at least*  5 minutes behind the source VM. Array based replication is far preferable if your budget will stretch to it - the business has to decide how much data it can afford to lose in the event of an outage, and what that data is worth to the business.

6 NICs - one pair for Vmotion traffic, one pair for service console and iSCSI and one pair for production traffic.

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