VMware has an unquestionable leadership in the virtualization market but Hyper-V is gaining ground and the number of storage solutions that can take advantage of specific Microsoft’s features are becoming more and more relevant.

Better than VMware

With the introduction of Windows Server 2012 (and Hyper-V Server 2012), Microsoft has added a load of new and interesting storage features to its platform. The list is very long but, to me, the most important ones on the virtualization side can be found in Storage Spaces, SMB3, ODX, deduplication and SMI-S support for storage integration.

In some cases Microsoft is doing even better than VMware. If I compare SMB3/Hyper-V to NFS/ESXi support it’s not difficult to find a winner (and it’s not a NFS fault): features like scale-out SMB, SMB Direct, SMB Multichannel, transparent failover, VSS for SMB, are the most visible to the users and they make SMB fast, reliable and more efficient. Primary vendors are releasing SMB3 support for Hyper-V and it’s quickly becoming the most interesting storage option for Hyper-V (especially if on the other side you have CSV!).

SMI-S support

Another good move for Microsoft was to bet on SMI-S (Storage Management Initiative – Specification). It is an ISO standard designed and maintained by SNIA (now at version 1.6) and certified with more than 800 hardware products. Hyper-V uses SMI-S to provision and manage storage arrays of many different vendors only needing SMI-S providers (to make it simple: a small software component that converts SMI commands to native commands. It can be implemented as a separate service/proxy or directly into the array). Im makes it easier for storage vendors to work with Microsoft and for end users to find a certified storage solution.

And more

Up to now, I’ve mentioned two examples of protocols that vendors provide to all their customers and for which Hyper-V support comes at nearly no cost. Fortunately someone is doing something more.
Last week, thanks to Storage Field Day 4, I met GridStore for the second time and I was really impressed.
I was briefed exactly one year ago about the old version of the product but, at that time, it seemed half baked and I didn’t pay too much attention to it. Today things have drastically changed.

logo-gridstoreGridStore shifted its focus from general purpose file based storage for Windows Server environments to primary storage for Hyper-V. It remains 100% compatible with Windows but this is the first storage really optimized for Hyper-V.
GridStore’s design is quite brilliant under many aspects providing 100% scale-out storage and a very fine grained control over VMs. The architecture is based on a server-side virtual Controller (vC) and intelligent disk nodes. In practice the vController is software installed, as a device driver, into each server of the Hyper-V cluster and it has the tasks to supersede all I/O operations, optimize the traffic and talk to the storage nodes.
Thanks to the architecture and the tight integration with the upper layers it is possibile to have snapshots at the VM level, QoS and a good overall performance that linearly scales by adding more nodes.
It isn’t free of flaws (you can consider this as the version 1.0 of the mature product) but If I was a Hyper-V SMB end user I’ll take into consideration.

Bottom line

This is the first time that I spot an “optimized for Hyper-V” storage system. It reminds me of Tintri in many aspects (in a theoretical comparison with the VMware world) but with even more interesting characteristics (like Scale-out and VSS integration).

In any case, Microsoft efforts about storage are commendable and it’s good that also vendors are beginning to take it into account…
BTW, If you are interested to go deeper into this topic, I recently published a paper about Windows Server and the benefits of its new storage features (here the link).