IT Hero: Moving on From Something Familiar, Making the Change to Windows Server 2016

Matt Roper, Facilitator of Technology Support Services, Office of Technology & Information Services, Cherokee County (GA) School District Matt Roper is the Facilitator of Technology Support Services in the Office of Technology & Information Services for the Cherokee County School District, one of the largest K-12 public school systems in Georgia. Matt has over 12 years of experience in managing desktop, datacenter, and network infrastructures.

Sometimes it can be difficult to move on from a product that has always been reliable. After I realized that Hyper-V was as good or better than VMware, it didn’t make sense to continue using VMware just because it was familiar. We were already paying for Windows Server 2016 Datacenter Edition, so it was an opportunity to save on VMware support costs. As the 8th largest school district in Georgia, we needed a solution that could keep up with the demands of our 42,000 students and 6,000 staff. From an IT perspective, we needed to simplify things and replace our existing fragmented virtualization solution. Our storage platform consisted of a SAN and local storage. For compute, we had a mix of anything from Dell PowerEdge 2950s to R730s. This solution didn’t come close to meeting our performance needs, so it was time for us to look at other options.

I attended Microsoft’s Ignite conference in 2016 and was intrigued by Microsoft’s Storage Spaces Direct hyper-converged solution. I was extremely impressed by the amount of IOPS you could get out of a simple two-node cluster. In addition, I liked that Storage Spaces Direct offered:

  • Easy management – Windows Server 2016 comes with built in tools that are intuitive to manage your VMs. The next evolution of this is Project Honolulu.
  • Low cost and high performance – You’ll get better performance than a SAN at a fraction of the cost.
  • High reliability – Being able to sustain up to 2 server or drive failures at a time will give you peace of mind.
  • A trusted platform – Microsoft is a trusted and proven solution provider for virtualization and storage needs.

At the end of one of the presentations, I saw a partner demo that featured DataON, and I made a mental note to remember them. I didn’t think a whole lot about them until we decided it was time to replace our Dell EqualLogic SAN, and I started doing research on potential hyper-converged infrastructure vendors.

After hearing proposals from several vendors, we decided it made sense to go with DataON:

  • Not only had they already implemented over 100 real world deployments of Storage Spaces Direct, but they were exclusively providing Microsoft software-defined data center solutions.
  • They were the only vendor to achieve the Windows Software-Defined Data Center (SDDC) Premium certification for Windows Server 2016 Storage Spaces Direct hyper-converged platform deployments.
  • They were the only hyper-converged vendor to support 40GbE networking and NVMe.
  • Their turnkey solution for onsite deployment was invaluable because we needed to implement this over the Summer before students returned for the start of the school year.

Some of the challenges we faced during implementation were related to networking. Specifically, integrating with our existing Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE) infrastructure. Both of our Mellanox SN2100 switches are uplinked at 40Gbps to our ALE OmniSwitch 10K Chassis. While 40Gbps would have been good enough to get us started, we wanted to maximize performance. Our goal was to create an 80Gbps link-aggregation (port channel for those that are familiar with Cisco) to our core. To do this, we had to create a dynamic link-aggregation on our 10K (via LACP 802.3AD). On the Mellanox side, we configured MLAG. As a side note, it’s important to ensure that spanning tree is enabled.

Another issue we had to address was migrating our existing VMware VMs to Hyper-V. We tested 5nine V2V Easy Converter and bare metal recovery through Microsoft’s Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2016.  Both options are sufficient, and most of our migration was completed using DPM.

My experience moving from VMware to Windows Server 2016 has been a good one. The entire deployment was much faster than our previous VMware deployment.  The money we saved on VMware licensing fees is being reallocated to other projects!

If you’re considering a move to a Windows Server 2016 software-defined infrastructure and have questions, contact the experts at DataON!

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