Category Archives: Storage

The one stop solution for backup and DR: Vembu BDR Suite

I have worked with a lot of backup software products during my career, but for the last years I have primarily worked with MicroFocus Data Protector (former HP OmniBack, HP Data Protector, or HPE Data Protector), and Veeam Backup & Replication. Data Protector was a great solution for traditional server environments, or when UNIX (HP-UX, AIX, Solaris etc.) compatibility was required. Features like Zero Downtime Backups, LAN-free or Direct SAN backups were available for many years. But their code quality has suffered severely in the recent years. The product no longer seemed like a one-stop shop. Some months ago, HPE sold its software division to MicroFocus and started to sell Veeam Backup & Replication through its channel. Some months prior selling the complete software division, HPE acquired Trilead, which is many of us well known because of their VM Explorer. Sad but true: Data Protector is dead to me.

I think I don’t have to say much about Veeam. Veeam is unbeaten when it comes down to virtualized server environments, and they constantly add features and extend their product portfolio. Think about their solutions Office 365, or Veeam Agent for Windows and Linux.

Why Vembu?

It is always good to have more than product in the portfolio, just because to give customers the choice between different products. If your only tool is a hammer, everthing looks like a nail. That is why I took a closer look at Vembu. I became aware of Vembu, because they asked to place an ad on vcloudnine. This was a year ago. So it was obvious to take a look at their products. Furthermore, Vembu and its products were mentioned many times in my Twitter timeline. Two good reasons to take a look at them!

Vembu Technologies was founded in 2002, and with 60.000 customers and more than 4000 partners, Vembu is a leading provider with a comprehensive portfolio of software products and cloud services to small and medium businesses. We are not talking about a newcomer!

The Vembu BDR Suite

The Vembu BDR Suite is an one stop solution to all your backup and disaster recovery needs. That is what Vembu says about their own product. The BDR Suite covers

  • Backup and replication of VMs running on VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V
  • Backup and bare-metal recovery for physical servers and workstations (Windows Server and Desktop)
  • File and application backups of Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Active Directory, Microsoft Outlook, and MySQL
  • Creating of backup copies and transfer of them to a DR site

Let’s have a more detailed look at the Vembu BDR Suite. This is a picture of the overall architecture.

Vembu Technologies/ Vembu BDR Suite architecture/ Copyright by Vembu Technologies

VMBackup

VMBackup provides fast, efficient and agentless backup for VMs hosted on VMware ESXi and on Microsoft Hyper-V. It also provides the capability to replicate virtual machines from one ESXi host to another ESXi (VMreplication). You might guess it – This feature is only available for VMware ESXi. In case of Microsoft Hyper-V, you have to use the built-in Hyper-V replication. The failover and failback of replicated VMs is managed by the BDR Backup Server. VMBackup offers instant VM recovery, recovery of single files and folder from image-level backups, and recovery of application items from Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft SharePoint, and Microsoft Active Directory. The functionality is similar to what you know from other products, like Veeam Backup & Replication, or MicroFocus Data Protector. VMBackup is licensed per socket, and it is available in a Standard (~ 150 $ per socket) and an Enterprise (~ 250 $ per socket) edition.

ImageBackup

ImageBackup addresses something, that might be extinct for some of us: Physical servers, like physical database or file servers. It can take image backups of Windows servers and workstations. This allows customers to restore the entire server or workstation from scratch to the same, or to new hardware. ImageBackup utilizes the Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) to create a consistent backup of a physical machine. Customers can restore a backup to the bare-metal, restore single files and folders, as well as application items from Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft SharePoint, and Microsoft Active Directory. If necessary, the can be restored to a supported hypervisor. With other words: P2V migration. ImageBackup is licensed per host, or per application server if you wish to take backups of applications like Microsoft Exchange or SQL server. ImageBackup for servers costs ~ 150 $, and it is free for workstations.

NetworkBackup

NetworkBackup addresses the backup of files, folders and application data from Windows, Mac and Linux clients. It is designed to protect business data across file servers, application servers, workstations and other endpoints. It does not take an image backup, but full and incremental backups. The feature set and use case of NetworkBackup is similar to “traditional” backup software like MicroFocus Data Protector or ARCServe. NetworkBackup offers intelligent scheduling policies, bandwidth management and flexible retention polices. Clients are not always onsite, to address this, NetworkBackup can store its data in the Vembu Cloud (Vembu Cloud Services). NetworkBackup is licensed per file server (~ 60 $ per server), application server (~ 150 $), or workstation (free).

OffsiteDR

OffsiteDR creates and transfers backup copies to a DR site. Data is immediately transferred when it arrives at the backup server. The Data is encrypted in-flight using industry-standard AES 256 encryption. WAN optimization is included, which means that data is compressed, encrypted and deduplicated before being replicated to the OffsiteDR server. The recovery of VMs and files can directly be done from the OffsiteDR server. So there is no need to setup a new backup server in case of a disaster recovery. OffsiteDR covers different recovery screnarios, like instantly recover machines directly from the Vembu OffsiteDR server, bare-metal restore using the Vembu Recovery CD, or restore the virtual machine as on a VMware ESXi or Microsoft Hyper-V server directly from the Vembu OffsiteDR server. OffsiteDR is an add-on to VMBackup, and it is licensed per CPU socket (~ 90 $).

Universal Explorer

The Universal Explorer is used to restore items from various Microsoft applications, like Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server, SharePoint, or Active Directory. An item can be an email, a mailbox, complete databases, user or group objects etc. These items are sourced from image-level backups of physical and virtual machines. You might see some similarities to Veeam Explorer. Both products are comparable.

Recovery CD

The Vembu Recovery CD can be used to recover physical or virtual maschines. Drivers for the target platform will be injected during the restore. This is pretty handy in case of P2P and V2P migrations.

Licensing & Editions

Vembu offers a subscription and a perpetual license model. The subscription model can be purchased on a monthly or yearly basis, such as 1, 2, 3 or 5 years. It includes 24/ 7 standard technical support, updates and upgrades throughout the licensed period. The perpetual licensing model allows you to purchase and use the Vembu BDR suite by paying a single fee. This includes free maintenance and support for the first year.

Visit the pricing page for more detailed information. A Vembu BDR Suite edition comparison is also available.

Final thoughts

With 60.000 customers and 4000 partners, Vembu is not a newcomer in the backup business. The product portfolio is quite comprehensive. The Vembu BDR Suite offers industry standard features to a very sweet price. I can’t see any feature, that a SMB customer might require, which is not available. In sum, the Vembu BDR suite seems to me to be a very good alternative to the top dogs in the backup business, especially if we are talkin about SMB customers.

Backup from a secondary HPE 3PAR StoreServ array with Veeam Backup & Replication

When taking a backup with Veeam Backup & Replication, a VM snapshot is created to get a consistent state of the VM. The snapshot is taken prior the backup, and it is removed after the successful backup of the VM. The snapshot grows during its lifetime, and you should keep in mind, that you need some free space in the datastore for snapshots. This can be a problem, especially in case of multiple VM backups at a time, and if the VMs share the same datastore.

Benefit of storage snapshots

If your underlying storage supports the creation of storage snapshots, Veeam offers an additional way to create a consistent state of the VMs. In this case, a storage snapshot is taken, which is presented to the backup proxy, and is then used to backup the data. As you can see: No VM snapshot is taken.

Now one more thing: If you have a replication or synchronous mirror between two storage systems, Veeam can do this operation on the secondary array. This is pretty cool, because it takes load from you primary storage!

Backup from a secondary HPE 3PAR StoreServ array

Last week I was able to try something new: Backup from a secondary HPE 3PAR StoreServ array. A customer has two HPE 3PAR StoreServ 8200 in a Peer Persistence setup, a HPE StoreOnce, and a physical Veeam backup server, which also acts as Veeam proxy. Everything is attached to a pretty nice 16 Gb dual Fabric SAN. The customer uses Veeam Backup & Replication 9.5 U3a. The data was taken from the secondary 3PAR StoreServ and it was pushed via FC into a Catalyst Store on a StoreOnce. Using the Catalyst API allows my customer to use Synthetic Full backups, because the creation is offloaded to StoreOnce. This setup is dramatically faster and better than the prior solution based on MicroFocus Data Protector. Okay, this last backup solution was designed to another time with other priorities and requirements. it was a perfect fit at the time it was designed.

This blog post from Veeam pointed me to this new feature: Backup from a secondary HPE 3PAR StoreServ array. Until I found this post, it was planned to use “traditional” storage snapshots, taken from the primary 3PAR StoreServ.

With this feature enabled, Veeam takes the snapshot on the 3PAR StoreServ, that is hosting the synchronous mirrored virtual volume. This graphic was created by Veeam and shows the backup workflow.

Veeam/ Backup from secondary array/ Copyright by Veeam

My tests showed, that it’s blazing fast, pretty easy to setup, and it takes unnecessary load from the primary storage.

In essence, there are only three steps to do:

  • add both 3PARs to Veeam
  • add the registry value and restart the Veeam Backup Server Service
  • enable the usage of storage snapshots in the backup job

How to enable this feature?

To enable this feature, you have to add a single registry value on the Veeam backup server, and afterwards restart the Veeam Backup Server service.

  • Location: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Veeam\Veeam Backup and Replication\
  • Name: Hp3PARPeerPersistentUseSecondary
  • Type: REG_DWORD (0 False, 1 True)
  • Default value: 0 (disabled)

Thanks to Pierre-Francois from Veeam for sharing his knowledge with the community. Read his blog post Backup from a secondary HPE 3PAR StoreServ array for additional information.

Checking the 3PAR Quorum Witness appliance

Two 3PAR StoreServs running in a Peer Persistence setup lost the connection to the Quorum Witness appliance. The appliance is an important part of a 3PAR Peer Persistence setup, because it acts as a tie-breaker in a split-brain scenario.

While analyzing this issue, I saw this message in the 3PAR Management Console:

In addition to that, the customer got e-mails that the 3PAR StoreServ arrays lost the connection to the Quorum Witness appliance. In my case, the CouchDB process died. A restart of the appliance brought it back online.

How to check the Quorum Witness appliance?

You can check the status of the appliance with a simple web request. The documentation shows a simple test based on curl. You can run this direct from the BASH of the appliance.

But you can also use the PowerShell cmdlet Invoke-WebRequest.

If you add /witness to the URL, you can test the access to the database, which is used for Peer Persistence.

If you get a connection error, check if the beam process is running.

If not, reboot the appliance. This can be done without downtime. The appliance comes only into play, if a failover occurs.

HPE 3PAR OS updates that fix VMware VAAI ATS Heartbeat issue

Customers that use HPE 3PAR StoreServs with 3PAR OS 3.2.1 or 3.2.2 and VMware ESXi 5.5 U2 or later, might notice one or more of the following symptoms:

  • hosts lose connectivity to a VMFS5 datastore
  • hosts disconnect from the vCenter
  • VMs hang during I/O operations
  • you see the messages like these in the vobd.log or vCenter Events tab

  • you see the following messages in the vmkernel.log

Interestingly, not only HPE is affected by this. Multiple vendors have the same issue. VMware described this issue in KB2113956. HPE has published a customer advisory about this.

Workaround

If you have trouble and you can update, you can use this workaround. Disable ATS heartbeat for VMFS5 datastores. VMFS3 datastores are not affected by this issue. To disable ATS heartbeat, you can use this PowerCLI one-liner:

Solution

But there is also a solution. Most vendors have published firwmare updates for their products. HPE has released

  • 3PAR OS 3.2.2 MU3
  • 3PAR OS 3.2.2 EMU2 P33, and
  • 3PAR OS 3.2.1 EMU3 P45

All three releases of 3PAR OS include enhancements to improve ATS heartbeat. Because 3PAR OS 3.2.2 has also some nice enhancements for Adaptive Optimization, I recommend to update to 3PAR OS 3.2.2.

HPE StoreVirtual – Managers and Quorum

HPE StoreVirtual is a scale-out storage platform, that is designed to meet the needs of virtualized environments. It’s based on LeftHand OS and because the magic is a piece of software, HPE StoreVirtual is available as HPE ProLiant/ BladeSystem-based hardware, or as Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA) for VMware ESXi, Microsoft Hyper-V and KVM. It comes with an all-inclusive enterprise feature set. This feature set provides

  • Storage clustering
  • Network RAID
  • Thin Provisioning (with support for space reclamation)
  • Snapshots
  • Asynchronous and synchronous replication across multiple sites
  • Automated software upgrades and self-healing storage
  • Adaptive Optimization (Tiering)

The license is alway all-inclusive. There is no need to license individual features.

HPE StoreVirtual is not a new product. Hewlett-Packard has acquired LeftHand Networks in 2008. The product had several names since 2008 (HP LeftHand, HP P4000 and since a couple of years it’s StoreVirtual), but the core intelligence, LeftHand OS, was constantly developed by HPE. There are rumours that HPE StoreOnce Recovery Manager Central will be available for StoreVirtual soon.

Management Groups & Clusters

A management group is a collection of multiple (at least one) StoreVirtual P4000 storage systems or StoreVirtual VSA. A management group represents the highest administrative domain. Administrative users, NTP and e-mail notification settings are configured on management group level. Clusters are created per management group. A management group can consist of multiple clusters. A cluster represents a pool of storage from which volumes are created. A volume spans all nodes of a cluster. Depending on the Network RAID level, multiple copies of data are distributed over the storage systems in a cluster. Capacity and IO are expanded by adding more storage systems to a cluster.

As in each cluster, there are aids to ensure the function of the cluster in case of node failes. This is where managers and quorums comes into play.

Managers & Quorums

HPE StoreVirtual is a scale-out storage platform. Multiple storage systems form a cluster. As in each cluster, availability must be maintained if one or more cluster nodes fail. To maintain availability, a majority of managers must be running and be able to communicate with each other. This majority is called “a quorum”. This is nothing new. Windows Failover Clusters can also use a majority of nodes to gain a quorum. The same applies to OpenVMS clusters.

A manager is a service running on a storage system. This service is running on multiple storage systems within a cluster, and therefore in a management group. A manager has several functions:

  • Monitor the data replication and the health of the storage systems
  • Resynchronize data after a storage system failure
  • Manage and monitor communication between storage systems in the cluster
  • Coordinate configuration changes (one storage system is the coordinating manager)

This manager is called a “regular manager”. Regular managers are running on storage systems. The number of managers are counted per management group. You can have up to 5 managers per management group. Even if you have multiple storage systems and clusters per management group, you can’t have more than 5 managers running on storage systems. Sounds like a problem, but it’s not. If you have three 3-node clusters in a single management group, you can start managers on 5 of the 6 storage systems. Even if two storage systems fail, the remaining three managers gain a quorum. But if the quorum is lost, all clusters in a management group will be unavailable.

I have two StoreVirtual VSA running in my lab. As you can see, the management group contains two regular managers and vsa1 is the coordinating manager.

storevirtual_manager_1

There are also specialized manager. There are three types of specialized managers:

  • Failover Manager (FOM)
  • Quorum Witness (NFS)
  • Virtual Manager

A FOM is a special version of LeftHand OS and its primary function is to act as a tie breaker in split-brain scenarios. it’s added to a management group. It is mainly used if an even number of storage systems is used in a cluster, or in case of multi-site deployments.

The Quorum Witness was added with LeftHand OS 12.5. The Quorum Witness can only be used in 2-node cluster configurations. It’s added to the management group and it uses a file on a NFS share to provide high availability. Like the FOM, the Quorum Witness is used as the tie breaker in the event of a failure.

The Virtual Manager is the third specialized managers. It can be added to a management group, but its not active until it is needed to regain quorum. It can be used to regain quorum and maintain access to data in a disaster recovery situation. But you have to start it manually. And you can’t add it, if the quorum is lost!

As you can see in this screenshot, I use the Quorum Witness in my tiny 2-node cluster.

storevirtual_manager_2

Regardless of the number of storage systems in a management group, you should use an odd number of managers. An odd number of managers ensures, that a majority is easily maintained. In case of a even number of manager, you should add a FOM. I don’t recommend to add a Virtual Manager.

# of storage systems# of Manager
11 regular manager
22 regular manager + 1 specialized manager
33 regular manager or 2 + 1 FOM or Virtual Manager
43 regular manager or 4 + 1 FOM or Virtual Manager
> 55 regular manager or 4 + 1 FOM or Virtual Manager

In case of a multi-site deployment, I really recommend to place a FOM at a third site. I know that this isn’t always possible. If you can’t deploy it to a third site, place it at the “primary site”. A multi-site deployment is characterized by the fact, that the storage systems of a cluster are located in different locations. But it’s still a single cluster! This might lead to the situation, where a site failure causes the quorum gets lost. Think about a 4-node cluster with two nodes per site. In this case, the remaining two nodes wouldn’t gain quorum (split-brain situation). In this case, a FOM at a third site would help to gain quorum in case of a site failure. If you have multiple clusters in a management group, balance the managers across the clusters. I recommend to add a FOM. If you have a clusters at multiple sites, (primary and a DR site with remote copy), ensure that the majority of managers are at the primary site.

Final words

It is important to understand how managers, quorum, management groups and clusters are linked. Network RAID protects the data by storing multiple copies of data across storage systems in a cluster. Depending on the chosen Network RAID level, you can lose disks or even multiple storage systems. But never forget to have a sufficient number of managers (regular and specialized). If the quorum can’t be maintained, the access to the data will be unavailable. It’s not sufficient to focus on data protection. The availability of, or more specifically, the access to the data is at least as important. If you follow the guidelines, you will get a rock-solid, high performance scale-out storage.

I recommend to listen to Calvin Zitos podcast (7 Years of 100% uptime with StoreVirtual VSA) and to read Bart Heungens blog post about his experience with HPE StoreVirtual VSA (100% uptime for 7 years with StoreVirtual VSA? Check!).

HPE StoreVirtual REST API

Representational State Transfer (REST) APIs are all the rage. REST was defined by Roy Thomas Fielding in his PhD dissertation “Architectural Styles and the Design of Network-based Software Architectures“. The architectural style of REST describes six constraints:

  • Uniform interface
  • Stateless
  • Cacheable
  • Client – Server communication
  • Layered system
  • Code on demand

RESTful APIs typically use HTTP and HTTP verbs (GET, POST, PUT, DELETE, etc.) to send data to, or retrieve data from remote systems. To do so, REST APIs use Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs) to interact with remote systems. Thus, a client can interact with a remote system over a REST API using standard HTTP URIs and HTTP verbs. For the data transfer, common internet media types, like JSON or XML are used. It’s important to understand that REST is not a standard per se. But most implementations make use of standards such as HTTP, URI, JSON or XML.

Because of the uniform interface, you have different choices in view of a client. I will use PowerShell and the Invoke-RestMethod cmdlet in my examples.

HPE StoreVirtual REST API

With the release of LeftHand OS 11.5 (the latest release is 12.6), HPE added a REST API for management and storage provisioning. Due to a re-engineered management stack, the REST API is significantly faster than the same task processed on the CLI or using the  Centralized Management Console (CMC). It’s perfect for automation and scripting. It allows customers to achieve a higher level of automation and operational simplicity. The StoreVirtual REST API is using JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) for data transfer between client and the StoreVirtual management group. With the REST API, you can

  • Read, create, and modify volumes
  • Create and delete snapshots
  • Create, modify, and delete servers
  • Grant and revoke access of servers to volumes

I use two StoreVirtal VSA (LeftHand OS 12.6) in my lab. Everything I show in this blog post is based on LeftHand OS 12.6.

The REST API in LeftHand OS 12.6 uses:

  • HTTPS 1.1
  • media types application/JSON
  • Internet media types application/schema+JSON
  • UTF-8 character encoding

RESTful APIs typically use HTTP and HTTP verbs (GET, POST, PUT, DELETE, etc.). I case of the StoreVirtual REST API:

  • GET is used to retrieve an object. No body is necessary.
  • PUT is used to update an object. The information to update the object is sent within the body.
  • POST is used to create of an object, or to invoke an action or event. The necessary information are sent within the body.
  • DELETE is used to delete an object.

Entry point for all REST API calls is /lhos, starting from a node, eg.

Subsequent resources are relative to this base URI. Resources are:

Resource pathDescription
/lhos/managementGroupManagement group entity
/lhos/clustersCluster collection
/lhos/cluster/<id>Cluster entity
/lhos/credentialsCredentials collection
/lhos/credentials/<session token>Credentials entity
/lhos/serversServer collection
/lhos/servers/<id>Server entity
/lhos/snapshotsSnapshot collection
/lhos/snapshots/<id>Snapshot entity
/lhos/volumesVolume collection
/lhos/volumes/<id> Volume entity

The object model of the StoreVirtual REST API uses

  • Collections, and
  • Entities

to address resources. An entity is used to address individual resources, whereas a collection is a group of individual resources. Resources can be addressed by using a URI.

Exploring the API

First of all, we need to authenticate us. Without a valid authentication token, no REST API queries can be made. To create a credential entity, we have to use the POST method.

$cred is a hash table which includes the username and the password. This hash table is converted to the JSON format with the ConvertTo-Json cmdlet. The JSON data will be used as body for our query. The result is an authentication token.

This authentication token must be used for all subsequent API queries. This query retrieves a collection of all valid sessions.

The GET method is used, and the authentication token is sent with the header of the request.

To retrieve an individual credential entity, the URI of the entity must be used.

The result of this query is the individual credential entity

It’s important to know, that if a session has not been used for 15 minutes, it is automatically removed. The same applies to constantly active sessions after 24 hours. After 24 hours, the credential entity will be automatically removed.

Let’s try to create a volume. The information about this new volume has to be sent within the body of our request. We use again the ConvertTo-Json cmdlet to convert a hash table with the necessary information to the JSON format.

The size must be specified in bytes. As a result, Invoke-RestMethod will output this:

Using the CMC, we can confirm that the volume was successfully created.

storevirtual_rest_api_vol_1

Since we have a volume, we can create a snapshot. To create a snapshot, we need to invoke an action on the volume entity. We have to use the POST method and the URI of our newly created volume.

In case of a successful query, Invoke-RestMethod will give us this output.

Again, we can use the CMC to confirm the success of our operation.

storevirtual_rest_api_vol_2

To delete the snapshot, the DELETE method and the URI of the snapshot entity must be used.

To confirm the successful deletion of the snapshot, the GET method can be used. The GET method will retrieve a collection of all snapshot entities.

The result will show no members inside of the snapshot collection.

At the end of the day, we remove our credential entity, because it’s not longer used. To delete the credential entity, we use the DELETE method with the URI of our credential entity.

The next query should fail, because the credential entity is no longer valid.

HTTPS workaround

The StoreVirtual API is only accessable over HTTPS. By default, the StoreVirtual nodes use an untrusted HTTPS certifificate. This will cause Invoke-RestMethod to fail.

After a little research, I found a workaround. This workaround uses the System.Security.Cryptography.X509Certificates namespace. You can use this snippet to build a function or add it to a try-catch block.

Final words

The StoreVirtual REST API is really handy. It can be used to perform all important tasks. It’s perfect for automation and it’s faster than the CLI. I’ve used PowerShell in my examples, but I’ve successfully tested it with Python. Make sure to take a look in to the HPE StoreVirtual REST API Reference Guide.

Automating ESXi configuration for DataCore SANsymphony-V

DataCore describes in their Host Configuration Guide for VMware ESXi some settings that must be adjusted before storage from DataCore SANsymphony-V storage servers will be assigned to the ESXi hosts. Today, for ESXi 5.x and 6.0, you have to add a custom rule and adjust the advanced setting DiskMaxIOSize. For ESX(i) 4 more parameters had to be adjusted. But I will focus on  ESXi 5.x and 6.0. You need to adjust these settings for each host that should get storage mapped from a DataCore storage server. If you have more then one host, you may have the wish to automate the necessary steps. The check the current value of DiskMaxIOSize, you can use this lines of PowerCLI code.

So set DiskMaxIOSize to the recommended value of 512 and to create the custom SATP rule, use this lines:

Please make sure that you adjust the $esxCluster variable.  Nothing fancy, but it can save some time – even if you only have two hosts. ;)

 

Use Windows MPIO for DataCore backend storage connections

When you install DataCore SANsymphony-V (SSV), you will be asked during the setup to allow the installation of some special drivers. DataCore SANSymphony-V needs this drivers to act as a storage target for hosts and other storage servers. Usually you have three different port roles in a DataCore SSV setup:

  • Frontend Ports (FE)
  • Mirror Ports (MR)
  • Backend Ports (BE)

Frontend (FE) ports act only in target-only mode. These ports will be disabled, if you stop a DataCore storage server. Mirror (MR) ports (can) act as target AND initiator. You can set (if you like) a mirror port to a specific mode (target or initiator), but I wouldn’t recomment this. Theoretically you can set one MR port to act as initiator, and a second to target-only mode. If the port is set to target-only, the port is also stopped when the DataCore storage server is stopped. A backend (BE) port acts as initiator for backend storage. Usually the FE ports act as target-only, the MR as target/ initiator and the BE ports as initiator-only. If you use local storage (or SAS connected), there will be no BE ports.

When it comes to ALUA-capable backend storage, DataCore SSV is a bit old-school. But stop! What is ALUA? Asymmetric Logical Unit Access (ALUA), somtimes also known as Target Port Groups Support (TPGS), is a set of commands that allows to define priorized paths for SCSI devices. With ALUA, a dual-controller storage system is capable to “tell” the server which of the controllers is the “owning” controller for a specific volume. All paths are active, but only a subset of paths to a volume is active and optimized. This is often refered as “Active/ Optimized” and “Active/ Non-Optimized”. Using the non-optimized path is not a problem when it comes to write IO (due to the fact that IO must travel the mirror link between the controllers to the other controllers cache), but when it comes to read IO, using a non-optimized path is a mess. And at this point, DataCore SSV is a bit old-school. Even if the backend storage is ALUA-capable (all new storage systems should be ALUA-capable), DataCore SSV doesn’t care about the optimized and non-optimized paths. It simply chooses one paths and uses it. And this can cause performance problems. There are two solutions for this problem:

  1. You check the chosen backend paths and manually select one (!) active and optimized path.
  2. You replace the DataCore drivers for the backend ports and use Microsoft MPIO to handle the backend paths.

Solution 1 is okay if you only have a few backend disks. DataCore also uses the Microsoft Windows MPIO framework, so it’s available by default if you install DataCore SANsymphony-V. DataCore allows the usage of 3rd party MPIO software (like EMC PowerPath), but they will never support it. If you have trouble with you backend connection, you will be on your own.

Using a Third Party Failover product

Using a Third Party Failover product (such as EMC’s PowerPath or the many MPIO variants from Storage Vendor) can be used directly on the DataCore Server. In the case where Storage Arrays are attached by Fibre Channel connections, do not use the DataCore Fibre Channel back-end driver when using any Third Party Failover product – use the Third Party’s preferred Fibre Channel Driver instead.

This statement was taken from FAQ 1302 (Storage Hardware Guideline for use with DataCore Servers). Some things won’t work with the native backend drivers. You won’t be able to see the backend paths or monitor the performance using the DataCore SSV GUI. Backend storage that is handled by native drivers and 3rd party MPIO products will be treated as “local” storage. DataCore describes this also in FAQ 1302:

A Storage Array that is connected to a DataCore Server but without using the DataCore Fibre Channel back-end driver can still be used. This includes SAS or SATA-attached, all types of SSD, iSCSI connections and any Fibre Channel connection using the Vendor’s own driver.

Any storage that is connected in this way will appear to the SANsymphony-V software as if it were an ‘Internal’ or ‘direct-attached’ Storage Array and some SANsymphony-V functionality will be unavailable to the user such not being able to make use of SANsymphony-V’s performance tools to get some of the available performance counters related to Storage attached to DataCore Servers. Also some potentially useful logging information regarding connections between the DataCore Server and the Storage Array is lost (i.e. not being able to monitor any SCSI connection alerts or errors directly) and may hinder some kinds of troubleshooting, should any be needed.

You should replace the backend drivers AFTER the installation of SSV, but BEFORE you map storage to the newly installed storage server. To identify the correct FC-HBA or NIC, take a look at the PCI bus number. You can find this information on the info tab of the server port details in the DataCore SSV GUI. Then check the FC-HBA/ NIC in the Windows device manager for the same PCI bus number.

devicemgr_datacore_hba_driver_1

Switch to the “Driver” tab and replace the DataCore driver with the native HBA driver.

devicemgr_datacore_hba_driver_install_1

devicemgr_datacore_hba_driver_install_2

devicemgr_datacore_hba_driver_install_3

After replacing the drivers you will notice that the backend ports are marked as missing in the DataCore SSV GUI. Simply remove them. You don’t need them anymore. Now you can map storage to the storage server. Make sure that you scan for new devices in the MPIO console or that you run

to claim new devices. You can check the path status using the device manager (check the properties of the disk device, then switch to the MPIO tab) or you can use this command

Somethimes the storage vendor offers monitoring tool (this is from Nexsan) that provide information about path state, mpio policy and statistics.

nexsan_msio_setup_2

I can’t see much reasons to use the DataCore drivers and the native backend path handling from SSV. But you should be clear about the limitations when it somes to support!

First experience: Nexsan E-Series

One of my longtime DataCore customers has started a project to replace their current DataCore storage servers and backend storage with new hardware. In opposite of the current setup, the newly installed backend storage is now FC-attached. The customer has selected Nexsan E-Series E32V, E32XV and E48V storage systems in combination with DataCore SANsymphony-V10.

Who is Nexsan?

The question should be: Who is Imation? Nexsan was founded in 1999 in Derby, England, but was aquired by Imation in December 2012. Since December 2012, Nexsan is one of Imations brands and offers, as a storage-only company, three different product lines: Assureon Secure StorageE-Series High Density Storage and NST Hybrid Storage.

Assureon Secure Storage is amied to customers that needs to implement storage optimization, regulatory and corporate compliance, and/ or long-term archiving of unstructured data.

NST Hybrid Storage offers unified storage and access to it using standard NAS and SAN protocols (CIFS, NFS, FTP FC, iSCSI). It also offers high scalability and Imation’s FASTier caching technology to provide performance for mixed application workloads.

E-Series High Density Storage is aimed to customers that needs a lot capacity on a small footprint with low costs. Typically customers use the E-Series for backup-2-disk or as a high-capacity storage. The E-Series offers four different models:

ModelDisksForm factor 
E18V18 disks2U
E32V32 disks2U
E48V48 disks4U
E60V60 disks4U

The E18XV, E32XV, E48XV and E60XV are the corresponding expansion enclosures. You can add up to 2 enclosures to a so called head unit. All models support 3,5″ disks (or 2,5″ in a 3,5″ cage), except the E32(X)V, which offers only support for 2,5″ disks. You can mix different disk technologies (NL, SAS, SSD) in a single system. All controllers offer 1 GbE iSCSI ports (up to 8 ports per controller pair). There is also support for 6G SAS, 8 Gb FC, 16 Gb FC and 10 GbE iSCSI (up to 4 ports per controller pair). All E-Series support array-based snapshots and replication. The E60V with two enclosures can hold up to 1.44 PB (!) on 12U.

Why choose Nexsan E-Series storage as a backend for DataCore SANsymphony-V?

My first two thoughts were “Where are the cool features, like thin-provisioning, tiering etc.?” and “Oh cool, 32 disk on only 2U/ 48 disks on 4U”. And I think this ultimately describes the benefits of the Nexsan E-Series: No unnecessary frills and high capacity. To be honest: The main reason for using dumb SAS JBODs in the past was, that they doesn’t offer unnecessary frills. I don’t need snapshots, replication or thin-provisioning on array level. These features are offered by DataCore SANsymphony-V. In this case, the customer has chosen to switch from a SAS to a FC-attached storage backend. And in this case, a high performance and high density storage without unnecessary frills is the best thing that can happen.

Disclaimer: I’ve never worked with Nexsan before, and they do not pay me for this blog post.

Delivery and first impression

The delivery came directly from Nexsan, Derby. Six pallets, one pallet for each system (2x E32V, 2x E32XV and 2x E48V). The enclosure and disks were packed separately, but in the same package. The packaging was adequate and it was all neatly packed and well padded. Each system was intensively tested by Nexsan before the shipment.

The first step was to mount the rail kits. The rail kits are very solidly built and partially milled from aluminum. Mounting the rail kits was an easy thing using the included template. You have to use the enclosed screws. Unfortunately no screwdriver-less mounting. The rails were anything but smoothly. And it was a precision job to mount the enclosures. But to be honest: How often do you rack the enclosures? One time.

Installation

Each controller has a management port. The first controller has the ip address 10.11.12.13/8, the second controller 10.11.12.14/8. Simply hook up your laptop and connect to one of these IPs. You don’t need login credentials at this point. But you better should assign a password for the ADMIN (case-sensitive!) after finishing the installation.

nexsan_gui_1

If you have multiple Nexsan storage arrays in your network, please make sure that have connected only one system at one time. All Nexsan E-Series storage arrays use the same default ip addresses.

The hardware

The Nexsan E-Series is a classy dual-controller storage. This is a picture of a E32V. As you can see, 16 hard drives are mounted in one drawer. Nexsan’s so called ActiveDrawer Technology allows you to service disks and both fan units (one at the front and one at the end of the drawer) online. All important components are hot-swappable.

nexsan_e32_pod

The expansion unit E32XV uses the same technology as the E32V. But instead of two controllers, the expansion enclosures has two IO modules. This is the back of the E32V with the SAS-connected E32XV.

nexsan_e32_controller

This is a E48V with one pulled out drawer. It also uses the the ActiveDrawer Technology. The controllers are nearly the same, but they have 8 GB cache instead of 4 GB.

nexsan_e48_pod

The GUI

The GUI is really puristic and fast. Pure HTML with a bit Java Script. You can enable HTTPS if you like. I haven’t noticed any problems with different browsers. The home page gives you a brief overview about the hardware status.

nexsan_webui_1

The storage arrays are coming with pre-build RAID arrays and volumes. If you want another setup, simply use the Quick Start feature. Simply enter the number of RAID sets, spares and volumes and the wizard make the rest.

nexsan_webui_3

One very cool feature is the multi view. Multi view allows you get a quick overview over multiple E-Series storage arrays.

nexsan_webui_2

The GUI is very talkative. Lots of useful information. Very clear and a short help on every page. This is the system info page:

nexsan_webui_4

The same applies to the RAID info page. Nice: Disk and hosts stats! Very handy.

nexsan_webui_5

For our DevOps friends: Each controller offers a config dump page which is plain text and can parsed by a monitoring system or script. The E-Series offers all necessary monitoring features, like e-mail notification, SNMP, Syslog etc. If technical support is needed, the GUI offers a “Technical Support” page which can be used to open a support ticket right from the GUI.

nexsan_webui_6

nexsan_webui_7

Final words

I can’t say anything bad about the Nexsan E-Series. Sure, this is not a HP 3PAR, but should it? It’s a solid block storage and it’s a perfect fit with DataCore SANsymphony-V. The look and feel of the hardware is quite good. Good quality designed in UK. Make sure that you take a look at Nexsan if you’re searching for a solid DataCore backend storage. Patrick Schulz has also some experience with Nexsan and DataCore. Check out his blog posts about DataCore SANsymphony-V and Nexsan!

Chicken-and-egg problem: 3PAR VSP 4.3 MU1 & 3PAR OS 3.2.1 MU3

Since monday I’m helping a customer to put two HP 3PAR StoreServ 7200c into operation. Both StoreServs came factory-installed with 3PAR OS 3.2.1 MU3, which is available since July 2015. Usually, the first thing you do is to deploy the 3PAR Service Processor (SP). These days this is (in most cases) a Virtual Service Processor (VSP). The SP is used to initialize the storage system. Later, the SP reports to HP and it’s used for maintenance tasks like shutdown the StoreServ, install updates and patches. There are only a few cases in which you start the Out-of-the-Box (OOTB) procedure of the StoreServ without having a VSP. I deployed two (one VSP for each StoreServ) VSPs, started the Service Processor Setup Wizard, entered the StoreServ serial number and got this message:

3par_vsp_error

“No uninitialized storage system with the specified serial number could be found”. I double checked the network setup, VLANs, switch ports etc. The error occured with BOTH VSPs and BOTH StoreServs. I started the OOTB on both StoreServs using the serial console. My plan was to import the StoreServs later into the VSPs. To realize this, I tried was to setup the VSP using the console interface. I logged in as root (no password) and tried the third option: Setup SP with original SP ID.

3par_vsp_error_console

Not the worst idea, but unsuccessful. I entered the SP ID, SP networking details, a lot other stuff, the serial number of the StoreServ, the IP address, credentials finally got this message:

Hmm… I knew that P003 was mandatory for the VSP 4.3 MU1 and 3PAR OS 3.2.1 MU3. But could cause the missing patch this behaviour? I called HP and explained my guess. After a short remote session this morning, the support case was escalated to the 2nd level. While waiting for the 2nd level support, I was thinking about a solution. I knew that earlier releases of the VSP doesn’t check the serial number of the StoreServ or the version of the 3PAR OS. So I grabbed a copy of the VSP 4.1 MU2 with P009 and deployed the VSP. This time, I was able to finish the “Moment of Birth” (MOB). This release also asked for the serial number, the IP address and login credentials, but it didn’t checked the version of the 3PAR OS (or it doesn’t care if it’s unknown). At this point I had a functional SP running software release 4.1 MU2. I upgraded the SP to 4.3 MU1 with the physical SP ISO image and installed P003 afterwards. Now I was able to import the StoreServ 7200c with 3PAR OS 3.2.1 MU3.

I don’t know how HP covers this during the installation service. AFAIK there is no VSP 4.3 MU1 with P003 available and I guess HP ships all new StoreServs with 3PAR OS 3.2.1 MU3. If you upgrade from an earlier 3PAR OS release, please make sure that you install P003 before you update the 3PAR OS. The StoreServ Refresh matrix clearly says that P003 is mandatory. The release notes for the HP 3PAR Service Processor (SP) Software SP-4.3.0 MU1 P003 also indicate this:

SP-4.3.0.GA-24 P003 is a mandatory patch for SP-4.3.0.GA-24 and 3.2.1.MU3.

I’m excited to hear from the HP 2nd level support. I will update this blog post if I have more information.

EDIT

Together with the StoreServ 8000 series, HP released a new version of the 3PAR Service Processor. The new version 4.4 is necessary for the new StoreServ models, but it also supports 3PAR OS < 3.2.2 (which is the GA release for the new StoreServ models). So if you get a new StoreServ 7000 with 3PAR OS 3.2.1 MU3, simply deploy a SP version 4.4.