Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Storage Is Virtually Pure Now

Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece meant to help all of the VMware Admins out there based on my own experiences. I've seen a lot of user reviews and figured what the heck? I should tell my story and as you'll be able to tell, I'm not a writer :-)
I've been a "VMware Guy" for a little bit now. It's been about 10 years since I first started playing around with GSX Server (not a typo). I immediately knew that this thing was a game changer. It was a very rare feeling that I did not feel again for a long, long time. More on that later.
I've seen a lot of different environments in my time as an in-house admin and field engineer. I've seen a lot of things done right and just as many things done wrong. The goal in life of most IT guys (and gals) is to get people off their backs. They may not come out and say it but it's the truth. The majority of their careers are spent listening to users complain about how the system doesn't do what they want it to and then having to fix it so it does. VMware Admins face a similar challenge but in most cases they're listening to other IT guys complain about how their server isn't fast enough and needs more resources or that they need 15 new dev boxes in the next hour to test an application or that they'd rather have a physical server because VM's aren't as good. So the goal of a VMware Admin is to keep things running as smooth as possible without having to constantly mess with the environment. Simple is good.
Like I said earlier, I'm a VMware Guy. I started as a regular IT guy and morphed into what I am now. I do a lot of virtualization, some storage, some networking, some scripting when I need to and some Windows administration. Basically, I'm a modern day infrastructure guy. At this point I think it's what is becoming the norm. IT guys need to do it all. Or at the very least, understand how it all works together.
In my last few years, I've been doing more storage related work. I've done Fibre Channel configuration and zoning, LUN creation, and provisioning, you name it, I've probably touched it in some way shape or form and to be honest, I'm not a fan. The work itself is fun but it has a limit. The payoff just isn't there for me. Unfortunately though it's a necessary evil. I'd rather spend time working with VMware but it won't mean much without storage behind it. I always wanted my storage to just work but could never find a platform that didn't require constant babysitting. That is, until I found Pure Storage.
After encountering some performance problems on one of my database clusters, we determined that the problem was the storage array. It was time to find a new way of doing things and the search was on. I'm not going to go into detail about the search itself (unless you want me to, leave comments below), I'm going to tell you about what the results did for me and my environment. Pure Storage's all-flash array seemed way too good to be true. It was so easy to manage that for once I did not have to concentrate on making my storage work, it just did. Not only did my database cluster perform, it excelled! Obviously, performance should be spectacular with an all-flash array but it was all of the other benefits that really struck me:
Ease Of Use
The first thing that struck me about this product was how simple it was. I used to install products from other vendors and it was usually a FULL day affair. When the Pure engineer came onsite, I was expecting more of the same. What blew me away was the fact that I was ready to kick him out before lunch. When does that happen with any vendor install? It took longer to get the array out of the box than it took to configure it. I grew up using Windows, so I'm familiar with Disk Management. Most Windows guys (and gals) are. Bring the disk online, create a partition, format it and you're off to the races. This was just as easy. The interface is clean, simple and very intuitive. You don't have to be a storage admin to use this product. With Pure, once your zoning and SAN stuff is done, you add a Host or Host Group to match your VMware environment, Create a volume, Rescan your storage in VMware, set your path selection policy (one line script) and you're done.
No Bloat
One of the things that annoys me nowadays is everything comes with bloatware. Whether it's a toolbar, a Java installer, your new smartphone, or a new PC, there's always crap you don't want bundled in. Same holds true with hardware. How many times have you gone through this? Array is en route, and the engineer sends you a checklist or pre-req list that includes the need for 25 IP's, 3 Management VM's, 200 GB of space for the VM's, a specific version of Java. Who wants to deal with that crap? Pure on the other hands had a one page document, no VM requirements, no Java requirement and once again it was nice and simple. Give us your IP info, your time server info and if you want AD authentication, your domain controller info. Everything was scripted out ahead of time and once again the engineer was gone by lunch which means I can spend more time VMware-ing. Is that a word? If not, it should be. #VMware-ing
Storage Overcommittment
I don't know about you but I've seen so many VMware environments where there is Thin Provisioning on the storage array and then there is Thin Provisioning at the vSphere level as well. This equals problems in most cases ranging from performance degradation from Thin Provisioning overhead to having arrays run out of space if capacity isn't monitored properly. With Pure Storage, this is a moot point. Since they have data reduction inline, VMDK files can now formatted as Thick Eager and storage capacity no longer has to be managed in two places. All of those zeroes that would get written out on a traditional array are now just de-duped metadata. All of the performance benefits of having Thick Eager VMDK's can now be realized along with simplified management of storage.
Provisioning Times
How many times have you received a request at 4:50 PM on Friday that someone needs a server and they need it by the end of the day? Most VM's nowadays can be spun up within 15-20 minutes. So usually this isn't the worst thing in the world but when your next train is an hour later and you need to be out the door by 5 PM on the dot it IS the worst thing in the world. With XCOPY functionality on the Pure Storage cloning from a template with customization usually takes between 9 and 12 seconds in my environment. More importantly, it means that I'm making my train and seeing my kid before bedtime.
Data Reduction
It doesn't matter how big your environment is, I can guarantee you have duplicate data. If you're a large virtualized shop, you have tons of dupes. How many times have you cloned a template? How many different copies of Windows system files are stored on your storage? More importantly, how much do those copies cost you? If you have 100 VM's and there is a 10 GB Windows installation on each server, that's basically 1 TB (if my math is correct) of data right there. I didn't mention page files, duplicate apps and other instances of duped data. Basically you're spending money for wasted capacity. On an array with data reduction like the Pure Storage array, you'd only have one instance of the data and that 1 TB would now become 10 GB. The other benefit or data reduction is being able to cram a lot more data into a smaller space. Hello Green Initiatives. So I can have a smaller footprint in my datacenter, requiring less equipment, power and cooling to host the same workload? Sounds a lot like the benefits of VMware to me.
Multiple Workloads
I may be dating myself but when I was a kid, I remember seeing a brand of shampoo that said "No More Tears" on the bottle. Now I see it a different way. "No More Tiers". Does anyone enjoy configuring tiered storage? Seriously? Anyone? It's a lot of work. A LOT OF WORK. At the end of the day, flash is going to smoke it anyway. So why waste the man-hours on configuring something that doesn't work as well in my humble opinion? I haven't seen a tiered system that compares in cost, configuration and performance to Pure Storage. It's not even close. I may be a storage novice but this seems like a no-brainer. Also, now I can forget about having to configure multiple VMware Storage Profiles. The only tier that I have now is ONE. You can keep your database servers on the same storage as your print servers and domain controllers and the array will not blink. Everything becomes Tier 1. It some cases, it's complete overkill. The simplicity of it all though is such a huge benefit that any additional cost (which is debatable, frankly) is totally worth it. How much do storage admins make? How many of them do you need in a tiered environment with 50 TB's or more? How much more complicated does your storage and VMware setup become? Is it worth the price?
No Licensing
One of the other huge benefits, is the fact that everything is included. You do not have to license individual components. When a new feature comes out, it's yours. Snapshots, Replication, VVOLS, it doesn't matter. When it gets released, you perform an update and BAM! it's on your array. It's as easy as updating an app on your phone. Pure even went ahead and did the same with their hardware. "Love My Storage" is unbelievable. If you pay your maintenance, you get new controllers. No more forklifts, no more extortion at the end of your support contract. It simplifies your budget in ways that I have not seen when it comes to storage. You just get a product that works and will continue to work for years to come.

Let me try and sum it all up for you. Pure Storage has a product that is simple, easy to manage and extremely high performing. I left a lot out and I could probably keep going on each of these bullets for days and probably add a few more if I really thought about it. I know the market is changing and a lot of competitors have similar products but based on my own experience, Pure Storage is the best of the breed. If your array is coming up for renewal or you're having problems with performance or complexity, I'd highly recommend that you give Pure Storage a look.


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