VSphere - need more disk. All local storage presently

I have two ESX servers (running on v5 Server Essentials) that have plenty of available RAM & PROC, but are running very low on disk.  All of the disk is local storage and there are no available drive bays to add additional storage.  Unfortunately cost is an issue here as well.  What are some cost efficient ways to add more disk to be accessed by the servers?  I know that a SAN could be implemented, but I'm looking for a cheaper alternative.  

Is there a way to add external storage to the servers or an appliance that would allow me to create NFS datastores and connect to them over the Gb network?

Thanks in advance for your expert advice!
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Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
Many options for your budget....

Off the shelf solutions

You could purchase, two or four disk NAS, which offer iSCSI and NFS both of which are supported by VMware ESXi, vendors Synology, Netgear, Western Digital, Buffalo, Qnap, Thecus offer inexpensive solutions.

Home-brew roll your own solutions

Based on a Linux (FREE) or Windows OS, you could install Windows Server OS, and use NFS, or iSCSI Software by Starwind (FREE download) for Windows.

You could use (if desperate) FreeNAS or Openfiler (if desperate), personally I would AVOId the later, they are old, and outdated and perform poorly, but mentioned here, because other experts will mention them!

Better solution if you have hardware is Nexenta Commnity Edition, which offers NFS or iSCSI.


what shall it be....

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Dawid FusekVirtualization Expert, Sr B&R, Storage SpecialistCommented:

Even if small budget there are some options, as Andy recommend.
I can add some another and extend some other here, im from Poland so a lot of customers have really small budget and don't realize the situation that will be critical if they running out of space (for MS Exchange for example), so have some experience with even very low budget...

You have VMware v5 Essential, what mean its probably SMB company and 2 servers, if You don't give an option to bought thrid server I may think it's not a case, but there are others...

Also when choosing a storage You have to ALWAYS REMEMBER, STORAGE IS MOST CRITICAL PART OF VIRTUALIZATION, if storage not performing stable and without problems You will have a lot of problems with your whole virtual environment and You will loose a data and evidently your company may loos much more money than an invest with good NAS. So it's good to remember it and always inform a top management that whenever they may cut costs they never should do it on storage for virtualization!!!

Option 1 (from 2k USD, probably best, used server with 4x 2TB SATA disks and 2x SSD cache drive, only ECC RAM !!!)
- you can buy used server and convert it to cheap and powerfull NAS, for example HP DL180 G6, Lenovo RD240, or even a small HP MicroServer G7 N54L (5x 3.5 disks max), they all are also power efficient, of course you can bought older servers but power requirements will be 2-3x more. So can use cheap SATA drives and 1 SSD as a cache (if NAS software support it), remember to use only ECC ram!!
- And here you need to choose proper NAS software, I recommend something that have NFS (iSCSI is good if you have an array, not serve good by custom NAS, because of not redundancy in cheap not clustered solutions at controllers/Heads of NAS), if you have MS Windows 2012 R2 license you can us their NAS feature and serve tiered storage space (with SATA and SSD as a cache) as a NFS or even iSCSI to ESXi, it will work ok in most cases, not performance deamon but also not a very slow if You use good fast SSD as a cahce in a Tiered Storage Configuration.
- You can use free Nexenta Community Edition NAS/SAN software (up to 18TB of storage), can be downloaded from here http://www.nexenta.com/products/downloads/download-community-edition  , it can be fast and stable but it's little complicates and lot of HW requirement needed software based on Solaris ZFS and rather need someone little friendly with Unix/Linux based software, sure it can be managed from a GUI but when some problems happens it require some knowledge and troubleshooting skills, also it require some compatible HBA/RAID Controller and good quality HDD (for data) and SSD (for read and write cache)
- You can also as Andy said use some other free NAS software (or Linux or OpenSolaris based source itself), it's now always a very good idea but sometimes it's just one of cheapest option and with very limited budget it's only 1 possible anycase. Here there are a lot of possibilities, You may use some Linux with iSCSI or NFS (recommend NFS but it's not always very easy to configure it to work fast on linux, iSCSI in most cases are faster, but remember ESXi really don't like to be disconnected from iSCSI volume on working VM, it loose connectivity to everything in most cases!!!), you can use FreeNAS (it's based on BSD and ZFS) - not so bad but ZFS implementation here is not as ideal as it should be, some known bugs, but for SOHO or SMB it sometimes enough. There ale also other free NAS, like EON ZFS Storage, NAS4Free (not recommend), OpenFiler (not recommend), Open Media Vault (not recommend), StarWind for Windows, unRAID Linux (not recommend) or Datera Linux-IO (LIO).
- If you are in EU (European Union) I can help with such NAS for You, I doing it for my customers so can do it for You

Option 2 (from 1k USD, your old server with ECC ram + only a NAS software + SATA HDDs + SSD as a cache)
- if you have an old working server You can use almost any software NAS described in Option 1, need only to be compatible or just working stable with this server (often it need to be checked for some months on a good vm lab to be really sure), so need to test it before but it should work too.

Option 3 (from 3k USD, 1 disk bay)
-      Quite good option also is to expand a servers (or 1 server) with additional disk bay, new one are not so cheap but you can buy used sometimes very cheap on ebay for example HP MSA60, cheap (500-800 USD on ebay) used in good condition and even possible with full of 1TB HP disks like this one (http://www.ebay.pl/itm/HP-StorageWorks-MSA60-SAS-SATA-Disk-Shelf-12x-1-TB-3-5-7-2k-SATA-Festplatten-/151336159914?pt=DE_Computer_Netzwerkspeicher_Disk_Arrays&hash=item233c568aaa)

And I not recommend cheap hw NAS (under 3-4k usd) like QNAP, Synology, Netgear, Buffalo or Western Digital, even they are often VMware certified, from my practite I see they are really slow, if any, use such version with SSD cache (I don’t remember now, but there are such QNAP, maybe others too), it’s not a performance daemon but 2x faster than that without a SSD cache.

And to all my options I’ll recommend to bought at least NAS compatible HDD (WD RED or Seagate NAS, or WD Black and Seagate NL) and good intel SSD (option 1-2, so 5 year warranty SSD like Intel 520 intel 530 or better intel S3500).

Best regards
CipherUserAuthor Commented:

If I go with something like the Qnap solution, can I create one NFS share on the appliance and mount it on both of my ESX servers as a datastore? In other words can the one appliance provide additional disk to both of my servers?
Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE MVE^2)VMware and Virtualization ConsultantCommented:
Yes, you can do that with NFS.
Dawid FusekVirtualization Expert, Sr B&R, Storage SpecialistCommented:
You can use also QNAP CipherUser if You prefer, all NAS have NFS service and almost all of them may act as a NFS sharing for multiple VMware ESXi hosts, remember that it'll be much better to choose one with SSD cache possibility to serve NAS storage for Virtualization much more smooth, so from QNAP I will strongly recommend one of this series:
- TS-x79U-SAS
- TS-x79U
- TS-x79 Pro
- TS-x70U
- TS-x70 Pro   (for example TS-670 PRO, from 1450USD+hdds & ssd)

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