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Sep 26 2018

Fast Track to a Powerful HCI: FUJITSU Integrated System PRIMEFLEX for Microsoft Storage Spaces Direct

Since the early 2000s, concepts of building "dynamic," "software-defined" and otherwise "convergent" IT infrastructures have shaped the debate about what future data centers would and should look like. In its most recent iteration, the discussion has moved to an even more groundbreaking level: Now, everyone is talking about hyper-converged infrastructures (HCIs) that essentially virtualize all elements of the classic data center from servers through networking equipment to storage and run on industry standard servers. Fujitsu has spearheaded these developments since they first took off, and remains a market leader with offerings like PRIMEFLEX for Microsoft Storage Spaces Direct, which turns HCI into a viable option for small and midsize businesses.

For many old-timers who first honed their computer skills during the early 1980s, the idea of "doing everything with or in software" is both fascinating and slightly troubling. Fascinating because it provides their modern successors with unprecedented levels of freedom and flexibility to implement new services in an almost impromptu fashion whenever businesses and/or staff call for them to be implemented. And slightly troubling because they wonder how it's possible to overcome the obstacles that have prevented previous generations of administrators from achieving similar success and whether maybe there are unidentified traps within the simplicity and ease of management that virtualization in general and HCI in particular seem to stand for. In fact, even many so-called digital natives – who grew up as the WWW and virtualized cloud services emerged – are frequently surprised by the sheer performance gains that follow a switch to an HCI and the responsiveness of IT teams that usually goes along with it. But how exactly does the concept work, and what sets it apart from its predecessors?

HCI: A Brief Overview
The term "hyper-converged infrastructure" first emerged some five to six years ago when ICT vendors were looking for a proper description of a new class of products that integrated server, storage, networking and virtualization capabilities into a single appliance and added the software tools required for efficient management, according to a "Channel Primer" offered by TechTarget. At a 2015 conference, Gartner analyst Andrew Butler characterized it as a "centralized approach to 'tidying up' data center infrastructure[s]" that followed earlier integration attempts building on storage area networks (SANs) and blade servers, which ultimately turned out less successful than expected. In other words, an HCI appliance could be loosely described as a product that enables customers to run a data center in (or rather: from) a box.

Over time, vendors have offered two distinct types of HCI products. One group strictly develops and markets pure software solutions that run on generic hardware and are supposed to bring cloud-like capabilities to on-premises infrastructures; a proper example for this faction would be VMware. Others, such as Fujitsu, have decided to bundle the required hard- and software components into one neat package or integrated system that will provide HCI functions out of the box. From a customer perspective, this is often the more comfortable and therefore preferable variant because it's easier to order, deploy, operate and eventually scale if and when necessary.

HCI for Small and Midsize Businesses
However, we all know from experience that even perfectly reasonable, sophisticated infrastructure concepts and solutions typically have limitations of their own and may thus not be equally well-suited for each specific environment or usage scenario. Quite frequently, cost and complexity proved to be prohibitive factors for companies contemplating infrastructure upgrades or redesigns, even if they only affected parts of the network – for example in cases where SAN implementation could have led to substantial performance gains, but was cancelled because it would have required hiring additional staff to manage the new segment. Small and medium businesses in particular tend to shy away from such a combination of massive hardware investments and higher operational expenditures.

The FUJITSU Integrated System PRIMEFLEX for Microsoft Storage Spaces Direct was specifically designed to address such worries. Building on high-performance, energy-efficient standard x86 PRIMERGY servers and software-defined core functions of Microsoft Windows Server 2016, it provides customers with a simple, resilient, and agile platform that packs enough of a punch to run key business applications (e.g. databases) while helping to keep both the complexity of the HCI setup and TCO in check. Moreover, it easily adapts to evolving business needs – users may start with a small configuration that includes two server nodes and can end up with as many as 16, enough to run anywhere between 25 and 800 VMs. More specifically, the FUJITSU Integrated System PRIMEFLEX for Microsoft Storage Spaces Direct is available in five different editions, all of which are based on fourth-generation PRIMERGY RX25xx servers. All systems are at least equipped with two 8-core Intel® Xeon® Silver 4110 processors whose clock speeds range from 2.10 GHz in regular to 3.0 GHz in turbo mode, with top configurations housing up to two Intel Xeon® Gold 6134M 8C running at 3.20 (3.70) GHz; hold at least 128 GB of main memory; and use 2.5-inch SSDs as cache. While this setup may seem a little bland, the key differentiator between the editions is in their varying storage configurations – four hybrid, one all-flash – that were designed for different use cases:

  • The "Entry Capacity" configuration is based on our PRIMERGY RY2530M4 rack server. Its 2-tier storage configuration consists of up to 960GB cache and up to 12 TB storage capacity in a 1U housing.
  • The following three configurations are based on the PRIMERGY RX2540 M4 server. These "Capacity" models offer the same configuration as above, with either 2.5-inch drives serving up to 3.84TB cache capacity and up to 44 TB of storage capacity or 3.5-inch drives, which provide a maximum HDD capacity of 90 TB and a cache of up to 5.76TB.
  • The "Performance" category also builds on the PRIMERGY RX2540 M4 server and consists of an all-flash model that combines NVMes and SSDs for cache and regular data, respectively. The cache size is 3,2 TB or higher, whereas the 'data store' scales from 3,84 to 42,2 TB.


Fig. 1: The FUJITSU Server PRIMERGY RX2540 M4, seen here in a configuration with 2.5-inch SSDs, serves as the basis for most PRIMEFLEX for Storage Spaces Direct editions

But hardware's only one half of the package – equally important is the software that goes along with it and includes the second part of its namesake, Windows Server 2016 with Storage Spaces Direct. Windows Server 2016 is the latest release of Microsoft's server operating system, which first appeared in the market about 22 months ago and has since been moved to a "Semi-Annual Channel" release scheme in fall 2017. One of its key features is Storage Spaces Direct, effectively an extension of the Storage Spaces technology that debuted in 2012. Storage Spaces Direct, aka S2D for short, was intended to help enterprises build highly available, software-defined storage clusters for both regular and hyper-converged infrastructures. Moreover, S2D reduces storage complexity, increases scalability, and enables users to work with storage devices they couldn't use before, such as SATA or NVMe SSDs. To achieve this, it employs SMB 3.x technologies that would typically allow for the LAN to be used as high-speed, low-latency storage fabric, which in turn eliminates the need to set up an extra shared SAS fabric. As a result, an administrator simply has to add more servers if he wants to increase storage capacity and I/O performance in a regular infrastructure. In hyper-converged setups like the one at hand, it brings about a massive performance boost that feels as if the server/storage combo has been put on steroids: With data transfer rates of up to 150,000 IOPS per server node and 2.4 times greater storage efficiency, PRIMEFLEX for Microsoft Storage Spaces Direct offers more speed and capacity than you will be able to attain in regular virtualized environments and definitely wouldn't expect from an out-of-the-box solution. And the list of advantages doesn't end here, since 'PRIMEFLEX for S2D' also allows for

  • Faster time-to-production for virtual infrastructures – administrators can deploy the first cluster within 15 minutes
  • Simplified management – thanks to the well-known Windows Server UI and the built-in virtualization layer, our solution can be monitored and operated by small IT teams or ones with limited skill sets, as one often finds in branch offices or remote locations
  • Substantial reduction in storage costs – since PRIMEFLEX for Microsoft Storage Spaces Direct only uses local storage, customers no longer need to invest in complex SAN infrastructures, extra software tools and storage management classes
  • Massive savings in floor space, power and cooling – consolidation of all relevant components in an industry-standard server reduces the infrastructure footprint, saves floor space, and cuts back power and cooling expenses

Usage Scenarios
The FUJITSU Integrated System PRIMEFLEX for Microsoft Storage Spaces Direct is well-suited for a variety of use cases. Customers may use it as a starting point for implementing virtualized and/or private cloud services or to replace outdated and costly virtualization platforms. The solution is particularly fitting for IT service providers and CSPs with a limited customer base. The hybrid variants also cover all deployments outlined in Microsoft's Windows Server Software-defined (WSSD) program.

Sabine Axt


About the Author:

Sabine Axt

Product Manager Microsoft Solutions and Hadoop, Fujitsu EMEIA


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