This article is part 10 in our continuing blog series on Modernizing Your Infrastructure with Hybrid Cloud being published by the US IT Pro team at Microsoft.  In this article, we’ll discuss enabling “cross-premises data mobility” within a Hybrid Cloud by leveraging a new cloud-enabled storage solution: Microsoft StorSimple 8000.

Microsoft Azure and StorSimple 8000
Microsoft StorSimple 8000 Hybrid Cloud Storage Solution

When migrating application workloads to a cloud platform, such as Microsoft Azure, moving the OS and application bits to the cloud is usually pretty manageable.  The virtual disks for VM’s containing OS and application binaries are usually somewhat small in size and can be moved rather quickly over common business-grade Internet connections.  Moving application data, however, can be a different story – some applications have vast amounts of data, hundreds of gigabytes or several terabytes in size, and it could take days or weeks to move all that data to the cloud over the Internet.  By leveraging Microsoft Azure and Microsoft StorSimple 8000, bi-directional mobility of enterprise data between on-premises and cloud locations can be realized to allow organizations to quickly leverage Hybrid Cloud architectures when considering business scenarios that involve large data sets.

What is Microsoft StorSimple?

Prior versions of Microsoft StorSimple have been around for some time now. StorSimple provides a Hybrid Cloud Storage Array – that is, a physical iSCSI storage appliance that sits in your on-premises datacenter and acts just like a normal enterprise-grade iSCSI SAN, but also includes built-in "cloud intelligence" in managing that storage footprint.  Just like a normal iSCSI SAN, you can provision iSCSI storage LUNs and connect them to iSCSI initiators running on your on-premises Windows, Linux, Hyper-V and VMware servers.  Internally, a StorSimple appliance includes SSD and HDD storage tiers that provide super-fast access speeds to commonly used data. But, that's where the similarities between StorSimple and traditional storage appliances end ...

What makes StorSimple unique is that, unlike traditional iSCSI SANs, a StorSimple appliance can also be connected to Microsoft Azure cloud storage as an additional, automatically-managed storage tier.  When connected to an Azure storage account, StorSimple can transparently manage the movement of the least-frequently accessed iSCSI blocks from the appliance to durable storage in the Azure cloud and then back to the on-premises appliance if/when that data is accessed again down-the-road.  This optimizes on-premises storage for the data that is truly accessed on a regular basis, while providing an inexpensive, elastic storage tier for all other data – all without the need to manually manage a hierarchy of traditional storage tiers and without having to make any changes to on-premises servers consuming that storage.  Of course, all of the data is de-duplicated and compressed for performance, and then encrypted for security, on the appliance before ever attempting to migrate anything to the cloud. 

Learn more about the Microsoft StorSimple solution by watching this quick 6-minute Chalk Talk video:

This Hybrid Cloud Storage Array approach makes a ton-of-sense when you consider that, in many cases, only 30-to-40% of an organization’s total data footprint is commonly accessed on a regular basis. Often times, all of that “other data” is kept online because it may need to be referenced occasionally. StorSimple balances storage performance, cost and security so that an organization can optimize their on-premises storage budget for the data that really needs to be referenced on-premises, instead of the year-over-year storage budget growth that many organizations otherwise see.  Customers that have implemented StorSimple have generally seen their storage budgets reduced by as much as 40-to-60%.

What’s NEW in Microsoft StorSimple 8000?

Microsoft StorSimple 8000 adds several new features to the existing StorSimple solution offering, including

  • New! Higher storage capacities – as much as 500TB of total usable capacity
  • New! Fast 10 Gb/s Ethernet interfaces
  • New! Support for ODX and VAAI for super-fast on-array copies
  • Updated! Expanded scenarios for tier-2/tier-3 SQL databases and VM storage
  • New! Multi-appliance management via Microsoft Azure StorSimple Manager
  • New! Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA) for providing iSCSI SAN arrays in the Cloud to Azure VMs

Learn more about the new capabilities of Microsoft StorSimple 8000 in this 5-minute Chalk Talk video:

Enabling Data Mobility with Microsoft Azure StorSimple

While all of the new features in Microsoft StorSimple 8000 are certainly welcome additions, I’m most excited about the Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA) capabilities.  VSA provides the ability to provision and run StorSimple virtual appliances in the Microsoft Azure cloud, so that you can provide iSCSI storage to Azure virtual machines running Windows and Linux.  Since these virtual appliances are running StorSimple, you can manage them using the Azure StorSimple Manager much like a physical StorSimple appliance. From a migration standpoint, this unlocks some really cool scenarios when migrating data volumes from an on-premises datacenter to the cloud:

  • FAILOVER StorSimple Volume Containers to Cloud VSA
    When migrating VM workloads to the Azure cloud platform, quickly move data volumes to the cloud by using StorSimple’s integrated failover capability.  Similarly, volume containers can also be moved back to an on-premises appliance by using StorSimple failover.  When combined with Azure Site Recovery for replicating on-premises VMs to Azure, this scenario can support fast workload migrations to the cloud for applications with very large data sets.  This failover capability could be used in a Disaster Recovery scenario as well as part of a "lift-and-shift" application migration strategy to the cloud.
     
  • CLONE StorSimple Volume Containers to Cloud VSA
    In some cases, instead of failing-over volume containers to the cloud, you may wish to instead create a copy of an on-premises data set in the cloud.  For instance, development teams may need to have a copy of an on-premises data set for application projects in a cloud-based dev/test environment.  In addition, operations teams may wish to conduct functional, patch or performance testing in the cloud against a full data set.  Other organizations may wish to offload analytics, indexing and reporting operations to the cloud, and they need to have a full copy of their data in the cloud to do so.  These types of scenarios can be accomplished by using the StorSimple’s clone capability to quickly copy entire volume containers to a cloud-based VSA running on Azure.  This cloning can be performed manually, or can be scheduled to occur on a regular recurring basis.

Learn more about Hybrid Cloud Storage …

In this article, we’ve discussed how Microsoft Azure StorSimple can reduce traditional on-premises storage costs and, at the same time, prepare your organization for easy workload migrations to the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. To learn more about Microsoft StorSimple, Microsoft Azure and other hybrid cloud storage solutions, be sure to check out these great online courses on Microsoft Virtual Academy:

And ... be sure to check out our complete series on Modernizing Your Infrastructure with Hybrid Cloud to learn about other tools, resources and approaches for maximizing the benefits of a Hybrid Cloud architecture.