Insights, Best Practices and Forward Thinking from the Customer Facing Team, Solution Architects and Leaders on Extreme Performance Applications, Infrastructure, Storage and the Real-World Impact Possible

Software Defined Datacenter for Windows

by VIOLIN SYSTEMS on April 21, 2014

Windows in the Enterprise has been a SQL Server, SharePoint, Exchange kind of thing, with a little Hyper-V thrown in.  In many cases there might be several, even hundreds of SQL databases throughout the enterprise, sometimes consolidated under Hyper-V, sometimes not.  Apps such as SharePoint and Exchange can sometimes grow to the point where a difficult and hard to maintain.  One of the common sore points in datacenter computing, not just Microsoft environments, is the I/O.  Mechanical storage is just too slow.  Caching helps.  Overprovisioning helps.  They don’t fix the problem, however.

To really fix I/O problems, you need to rethink the datacenter.  Microsoft and Violin have done that with the new Windows Flash Array.  For maximum flexibility, availability and affordability, you need to virtualize each of the 3 datacenter layers: compute, network and storage.  You’ve probably heard this described as software defined computing.  In the first layer, compute,  resources are virtualized by Hyper-V in a Microsoft datacenter.  Although this has not been extensively used, it is included in your Windows Server license, and is much improved, so use it.  In the second layer, network,  resources are virtualized in the latest Windows Server 2012 R2.  This enables the use of SMB Direct and multichannel networking.  This provides link failover, bandwidth balancing, and with SMB Direct, screaming performance with remote direct memory access (RDMA) which can bypass most of the OS software stack, and operate at better than Fibre Channel speeds, for less money.

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Finally, storage needs to be reformed.  This comes in two pieces: the file system and the storage itself.  Windows Server 2012 R2 includes support for SOFS, or Scale Out File System.  This provides a uniform naming convention that allows seamless growth for storage as applications grow.  This layer is critical for the software defined datacenter, and it is now available from Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2012 R2.  Violin’s Windows Flash Array provides the hardware platform that makes all this possible with a Flash array that has been tuned to take advantage of Windows Storage Server 2012 R2.  That’s right, Violin’s Windows Flash Array and Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 have been designed to work together.  So far, Violin is the only vendor so honored by Microsoft.

You might be thinking “that sounds neat, but is there any real benefit to me?”   Windows applications using Violin All Flash Storage Arrays do perform at an extreme level.  Windows applications using the Violin Windows Flash Array take performance to a new level.  By using SMB Direct to connect the application server and the Violin Windows Flash Array you can get up to 2x the performance of the leading all flash array.  It also gives you the proven storage features of Windows Storage Server 2012 R2, such as deduplication, compression, thin provisioning, snapshots, mirroring, encryption, migration, tiering and virtual desktops.

This is interesting enough, but taken to the next step, it provides a framework to remake your Windows datacenter using SMB Direct with RDMA.  Remaking your Windows datacenter with this architecture almost eliminates the software stack latency, and is the basis for that humongous increase in performance, ease of use and manageability.  It does make one think.