Storage

Network-based storage options for robust home labs

Building a proper home lab should involve some form of shared storage. That doesn't necessarily mean purchasing a SAN product targeted for small business, as Rick Vanover points out.

Last week's post by Brad Bird hit home with me. Making a home lab is important, but it can really add up! I maintain a private lab at home where I do extensive testing with virtualization for various network and Windows Server technologies. The one technology, above all else, that needs to be in place to make any degree of home lab effective is some form of shared storage.

My lab has a DroboPro device for my network-based storage. Both the DroboPro and DroboElite units can function as an iSCSI target for SMB or home lab situation. Be sure to check Scott Lowe's review of the DroboElite in this TechRepublic post. I've used the DroboPro as a storage target in my lab, and have been generally satisfied with it. The Drobo series of iSCSI storage devices support VMware connectivity, but not fully supporting Hyper-V with clustered shared volumes (CSV) as persistent SCSI-3 reservations are required for Hyper-V virtualization in clusters.

Another popular product is the iomega StorCenter series of products. These offer iSCSI connectivity at a nice entry price as well. Storage expert Stephen Foskett has done a nice independent review of the ix4-200d device on his personal blog site. The StorCenter does have VMware and Hyper-V compatibility, but again does not support persistent SCSI-3 reservations for clustering operations with Hyper-V.

The shared storage wish-list item does not have to be met by purchasing a storage device, however. There are a number of free products that can function as shared storage resources for labs. Here is a breakdown of the one's I've used over the years:

StarWind Free: This free software engine can virtualize the storage on a local server, and present it as an iSCSI target. You can purchase software to increase the feature set, including mirroring and failover. StarWind does support Hyper-V clustering with persistent SCSI-3 reservations with their iSCSI target implementation.

Openfiler: This free software-based storage virtualization engine is multi-protocol, including iSCSI and NFS. Should also have a fibre channel or CIFS itch to scratch, this free product can help here as well.

NexentaStor: This software-based storage virtualization engine also can do many different protocols, including iSCSI and NFS. Further, there is a VMware-based image as a storage device to plug into your existing test installation.

FalconStor Network Storage Server: This software-based storage virtual appliance has a free offering for the small business or remote office.

When it comes to deciding between a dedicated, purpose-built storage device like the Drobo or StorCenter devices or software-based devices like StarWind or Openfiler; there are a number of considerations one must take into account. First of all, both products should be given their own network. Running a storage protocol over a network that may approach line rate with normal traffic will be less than optimal. Performance wise, you may have better disk access from the software-based solutions that utilize potentially higher-performing array controllers.

One last recommendation is to create two classes of logical unit numbers (LUNs). One class would be for static data that will never be erased. The second class would be true lab use LUNs. The best way to distinguish between them is to do both LUN masking at the storage controller (if possible) and in my case, I make them a special size. For example, I know that the 2 TB LUN is the permanent LUN with all of my CD-ROM .ISO files and permanent virtual machines. Therefore, any 1 TB LUN is a lab-use LUN that I can break down and re-use as needed.

Above all else, dedicated storage allows the lab to reset and be rebuilt. Whether or not virtualization is in play, it is important to have a storage environment that is relatively removed from the constant tear-down and rebuild of the lab systems.

How do you provision storage in your lab? Do you use a network-based storage protocol? If so, which product?

About

Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.

13 comments
dgeron
dgeron

Thanks for this very good post, i learned a lot.

thomasj
thomasj

I've recently bought a NAS device to support Hyper-V with CSV. I chose a QNAP TS-439 Pro Turbo NAS (http://www.qnap.com/pro_detail_software.asp?p_id=110), which (I think with the latest firmware update) supports SPC-3 Persistent Reservation. This is true for the entire Pro series of devices that span 2-, 4-, 5-, 6- and 8-bay devices. My choice was based on very compelling feature set to a decent price - and good reviews (e.g. http://www.guru3d.com/article/qnap-ts439-pro-turbo-nas-review-test/12 and http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/networking/display/qnap-ts439pro_12.html)

violentwhisper
violentwhisper

what about open solaris, with the ZFS file system, it's brutal

soren.mikkelsen
soren.mikkelsen

And not to forget the NetApp Simulator, which not only can provide you with iSCSI and NFS SAN, but CIFS NAS as well. Furthermore, gives you the ability to fully test a NetApp FAS (Fabric Attached Storage), even in a FAS (SAN/NAS) cluster, and in various versions of NetApp's Data ONTAP. Read more on http://blogs.netapp.com/dave/2006/11/simulate_netapp.html Kind regards, Soren

rkekeny
rkekeny

Hey Rick, have you just disconsidered it or just forgot about it?

techrepublic
techrepublic

Don't forget Open-E!!! (http://www.open-e.com/) They have both a FREE lite version as well as a FULL commercial version. In my [impartial] opinion, this is a brilliant product. It supports a wide range of hardware and has a stack of useful feautures, including iSCSI, NAS, NFS, LDAP, UPS management, multi-NIC bonding, Rsync (data) and DRDB (volume) replciation. All managed with an excellent Web interface. If you have some spare hardware lying around, I'd wholeheartidly encourage you to give it a go!! Best regards TFZ

jesew
jesew

Take a look at the EMC and LeftHand (HP) Virtual Stotage Appliances "VSA"

rhino777
rhino777

i use freenas and am quite happy with it for regular storage and as an iscsi target...

b4real
b4real

Rkekeny: I have not used FreeNAS -> I'll check it out. Thanks for the tip!

jhoward
jhoward

I have used FreeNAS in the past without issue and aside from getting it to work on some more obscure hardware platforms it is relatively easy to work with. I would recommend FreeNAS to anyone looking to do this quickly and on the cheap. I am however looking more at the open-iscsi project coupled with Linux software RAID (as opposed to relatively expensive hardware controllers and relatively poor host RAID drivers). The Linux software RAID stack has proven itself worthy to me in the past (despite some early pitfalls) and modern commodity processors are actually cheaper and more powerful than most hardware RAID controllers. Add in the Linux HA model (heartbeat, DRBD etc.) and you can see where I am going with this. If like me you have a graveyard full of older PCs/servers you can put together some very interesting scenarios. Be warned this is a much more time consuming approach than the listed pre-packaged software solutions but I am finding it to be extremely helpful in my understanding of how all of this works under the hood.

dbilling
dbilling

I've been contemplating this myself as I don't have the extra money to purchase the Drobo products. This seems to be a good use of spare equipment, all I need to do is purchase the PCI SATA RAID card and 4 drives.

louspag
louspag

FreeNAS gets my vote. I've been using it for sometime for all kings of testing and it is versatile. Mostly I use it for backup and data storage for streaming. I also keep a virtual FreeNAS machine available for quick testing. Launch VMware, run the virtual of FreeNAS conduct my testing, and shut it down. No additional hardware required.

UteGoc
UteGoc

FreeNAS is free - and this is good. BUT the deal was about robust backup functions, and what can FreeNAS propose for this? Not a lot, right?

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