IT Hero Blog: Getting Started with Storage Spaces Direct

Jeff Chase, Senior Enterprise Architect, Bradley

For those of you who are interested in moving off traditional compute/SAN converged infrastructure you are at the right place. Storage Spaces Direct provides an extremely high-performance hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) that can be tuned and used in a myriad of different ways.
Over the course of the last 20 months, we at Bradley have rolled out 10 different clusters of Storage Spaces Direct with use cases spanning archival backups, remote office/branch office VM, and high-performance Tier 0 VM workloads.

Here are a few things I have learned during this time.

  • Focus on a ‘keep it simple model’ and create a modular design. In my opinion, Microsoft has created a “choose your own adventure” model for its HCI offering. It’s an extremely customizable and feature-rich product and therefore CAN be complex if that is what you want. As I’ve architected/implemented our Storage Spaces Direct infrastructure I’ve found that a focus on modularity and simplicity is the key to a successful implementation. Break up your installation into chunks/modules, for example, Windows Server installs, Hyper-V/failover cluster, networking, Storage Spaces Direct. This will allow you to test each section/feature before implementing the next and dramatically reduce any troubleshooting you may have to perform. I also recommend for your initial deployments that you follow well laid out guides from Microsoft, Mellanox, and others to create your first clusters. As you become comfortable with the product you’ll be able to grow its capabilities in a linear and modular fashion on an as-needed basis. For an example of the full extent of what Storage Spaces Direct can provide, look no further than Azure, Microsoft’s public cloud-based platform, as it runs on Hyper-V with Storage Spaces Direct.
  • Hardware is critical. What I mean by this is that your Storage Spaces Direct experience will only be as good as the hardware you choose to run it on. One of the major selling points of Storage Spaces Direct, in my opinion, is its use of off-the-shelf components. For the best experience make sure the components you choose to conform to the Windows Server Catalog and have the SDDC Premium/Standard certification. We looked at many different vendors offering Microsoft-validated designs during our proof of concept phase and found DataON to provide the best hardware at the best price. One of DataON’s recommendations was to use Intel Optane NVMe SSDs for the cache tier and that delivered a vast improvement in latency and IOPS. Finally, make sure you size your physical nodes’ CPU and RAM properly. While small and getting smaller all the time, Storage Spaces Direct and the ReFS file system does have some minimal overhead associated with its use. DataON can be instrumental in helping you size your nodes correctly.
  • Take the time to build out a deployment PowerShell script that you can re-use. This is the perfect way to ensure that you are configuring each node of your cluster with the same features, functionality, and configuration in a repeatable fashion. Also, as a side benefit, by using a script you are automatically documenting your implementation at the same time. There are lots of resources in the blogosphere on examples of how to leverage PowerShell cmdlets to install all aspects of Windows Server, Hyper-V, and Storage Spaces Direct. On that note, GitHub is your friend. Microsoft has a phenomenal resource for Storage Spaces Direct help located here. Also, the PowerShell script I created to automate my Storage Spaces Direct cluster implementation is located here.
  • Software Defined Networking (SDN). A big part of Hyper-V and Storage Spaces Direct revolves around the use of SDN. It is very important to layout an IP/Subnet and VLAN scheme before you install Storage Spaces Direct. Some features (vSwitches come to mind) can only be configured during creation and not after. A MUST read resource is provided by Microsoft here. Another item to consider is the costs/features of “white box” switches and Cisco/Arista/Juniper. I love Mellanox’s SN2700 Series switch coupled with Mellanox adapters. It is a fraction of the cost of a Cisco solution, is highly performing at 100Gb per port, and makes configuring RoCE RDMA solution very simple. Community support for configuration designs/questions is also really good at Mellanox.
  • For management of your Storage Spaces Direct environment, I personally really like to use Failover Cluster Manager for most of my VM management tasks. As Windows Admin Center features continue to grow this will become more and more my go-to management tool. We also use System Center Virtual Machine Manager. I personally would only recommend using SCVMM if you have a Role Based Access requirement at your company as managing Hyper-V via Failover Cluster Manager or Hyper-V manager requires Administrator rights.

The best advice I have ever received in my 20 years of being in IT is to “make time every day to read the latest tech news and blogs.” This will help you to stay current, learn new ways of doing things, and discover pitfalls to avoid.

Here are a few sites I follow that provide information on Storage Spaces Direct and troubleshooting advice:

Twitter is also a great resource!

I hope you find the above information useful. Storage Spaces Direct coupled with DataON hardware is an amazing alternative to monolithic designs of storage and compute most companies are used to. I highly encourage companies of all sizes to try it for themselves.