Recently Starwind contacted us and asked if we would be interested in doing a review on their iSCSI SAN software solution. The enthusiasts that we are, we quickly replied that we would take the challenge. After some e-mails back and forth and setting up a small test lab we where ready to go.
So what is the Starwind iSCSI SAN solution? The solution enables you to change a Windows server into a iSCSI SAN. With this solution Starwind is mainly aiming for SMB organizations. As far that I could see the Starwind solution offers the same (basic) functionality as you would expect from the hardware counterparts.
Some of the key features mentioned by Starwind are:
- Synchronous Data Replication: Real-time data replication across a 2 node storage cluster.
- High Availability / Automatic Failover: Fault tolerant active-active technology eliminates a single point of failure.
- Remote Replication across a WAN: replicates data to a remote location allowing multi-site disaster recovery in the event of a disaster at the primary site.
- CDP & Snapshots: captures instant, point-in-time volume images, allowing a user to rollback and recover an entire volume or individual files and folders.
- High Speed Caching: accelerates storage I/O by using the server’s memory.
- Server clustering: supports Windows Server 2008, Hyper-V, VMware ESX and vSphere 4.0 and other applications.
- Central Management Console / User Interface: allows IT professionals to easily manage all storage from a central management console built on the same tree structure used in Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware vSphere.
So lets start with the review of the installation process. First off you will need at least one Windows server, more if you want to setup replication. Start the installation by simply double clicking the installation file. During the steps of the installation you get to choose the installation path and select the components you would wish to install.
With a full installation the iSCSI service, the management console and manuals will get installed. But you choose to install the iSCSI service and the management console separately. At the end of the installation you might get a notification that the “Microsoft iSCSI initiator service” is not running and that it should be set to “automatic” for startup, simply start the service and change the startup type and finish the installation.
It’s a simple installer with not many choices to make and the installation process is fast. The installation doesn’t take much space, in fact the full installation is a bit less then 100 MB. From that 100 MB there is 41,5 MB taken for manuals alone and the management console itself is 51,7 MB, meaning the actual iSCSI service is really small.
The management console looks and feels solid and the screens ain’t overflowing with information. Navigating to settings can be done either by the menu on top or by the left and main panes which you will be likely to use. In the screenshot below you can see the management console connected to two Starwind iSCSI servers each with one target and replication enabled.
Creating targets is really easy, simply rights click on a host and a wizard will appear. With the wizard you will be able to make different types of targets:
- Hard disk
- Physical disk – Make a physical disk from the server target.
- Virtual – Create a file on one of the server physical disks, the file acts as a disk (much like a VMDK file does for VMware). With virtual it is also possible to create a RAM disk.
- Optical disk
- CD/DVD-rom – Share a CD or DVD as a target.
- Image – Select an image to make it a target.
- Tape devices
Each type of targets has it’s own set of settings you must go trough before you can finish the wizard. Once done the disk can be offered to any other server.
Just as with hardware iSCSI SAN’s the Starwind iSCSI offers the ability to give access to the targets from the servers that you choose. You can choose to add new connections based on IP adress, DNS name or IQN and you can also select the interface on which the connection can be made. You also get the ability to setup CHAP authentication, both normal and mutual authentication is possible.
In the management console you can find logs and events. The logs can be read in the console, but you can also find the files in the Starwind logs directory as plain text files. For the events you can change the level of severity and where you want the events to be registered. The three options for events registration are the windows system eventviewer, to text file or e-mail them.
The manuals that are delivered with the software are extensive and take you trough the process of setting up the target configuration that you need. Whether you want to setup a target for your VMware, Hyper-V or XEN infrastructure. Or you want to get targets made for a Microsoft SQL or Exchange enviroment, there are manuals present to help you get it done.
All in all I think that Starwind has made a very solid software iSCSI SAN solution and that anyone should at least take a look at it. Of course as with any solution you will need to find out what is the correct product for you to use. But if your solution can use a software iSCSI SAN product then be sure to have a look at that of Starwind.
For those that want to try out the Starwind iSCSI SAN can go to this site and get the free version. It supports one server to turn into a iSCSI SAN and not all features are present but it does give a good view on the product.
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