Artem Berman, CEO at StarWind Software (, says:

Server and desktop virtualization has become the new normal in the majority of IT departments. Companies can no longer ignore the benefits of virtualization, and a key component to virtualization of servers and desktops is to use a shared storage appliance. Virtualization combined with data increasing at an increasingly rapid pace means IT managers face huge problems when it comes to investing in high-performance storage environments that are cost effective. SAN’s are one of the biggest costs in the virtualization stack.

iSCSI is no longer new, and neither is virtualization, but what is new are the optimizations and cost reductions as new, agile vendors such as StarWind Software find niches where specialization provides huge benefits over conventional vendors. The best thing any IT manager can do is look at what they would do with storage, backups, disaster recovery and virtualization if they had the same budget as a fortune 500 company. Considering topics such as off site replication, virtual servers and virtual desktops, the ability to perform snapshots, or use thin provisioning. And when researching these topics to know that big name vendors who are advertising and marketing their products can’t compete with smaller vendors in the conventional way. The lesser know vendors can provide in many cases identical, and sometimes better solutions for far less cost, and support becomes less of an issue when using standard components such as Ethernet switches and commodity servers.

StarWind iSCSI SAN is a software solution that turns any Microsoft server OS into highly available enterprise-class iSCSI storage. StarWind’s iSCSI SAN software provides an easy to manage shared storage environment with exceptional scalability and an enterprise feature set. StarWind can be used as a single storage node, or for mission critical environments dual storage nodes provide a High Availability (HA) SAN. With dual nodes if one of the storage node fails, whether it’s the CPU, RAM or disks, the second node will take the full load of storage traffic with zero data loss and no down time to applications. StarWind iSCSI SAN supports snapshots, volume clones, thin provisioning and both asynchronous & synchronous replication – providing an ideal solution from shared storage for critical applications to a fast backup to disk appliance, or anywhere that data need to be replicated for disaster recovery and enhanced data protection. Any server, running any OS from Windows to Linux, VMware to Hyper-V or XenServer can connect to a StarWind iSCSI SAN.

The key reasons why StarWind’s iSCSI software is gathering so much attention is because StarWind allows companies to create a SAN based on industry standard servers using a Microsoft Server OS. The cost saving are huge since customers are no longer tied into the costs of proprietary SAN disks and controllers, and the associated support & maintenance agreements on the hardware. The FC vs iSCSI debate is still relevant too, as iSCSI is hands down the best choice for the vast majority of small and medium size customers. But it’s really the flexibility of controlling your own destiny with a SAN architecture that balances vendor support with an open architecture.
Many of StarWind’s iSCSI SAN customers start out by repurposing an older server for use as a fast backup to disk appliance to eliminate backup windows and improve restore times. Once customers get a feel for the basic StarWind feature set it’s become a no-brainer to replicate this data off site, or to a separate rack, and take it to the next level and implement StarWind as a full production SAN for primary data or for a testing & development SAN. The low cost of StarWind is only a small part of the story, it’s the time customers save with features such as snapshots, and the resiliency and ease of storage management when used with virtual machines such as VMware or Hyper-V.

StarWind provides customers with the core set of tools needed for data protection whether in a physicl or virtual environment. The benefits of iSCSI are quite well know, allowing customer to leverage skill sets and investments in IP networking. As data centers include more virtual servers, tiers of storage will need to be implemented that are cost effective for the applications the support. It doesn’t make sense to put every server on the same SAN if it’s going to break the bank. For mid size customers StarWind can be the only SAN and also work great as a backup to disk appliance. For larger customers that already own a SAN such as EMC or NetApp, adding a StarWind SAN can save more money than simply adding more disks, keeping in mind the cost of vendor lock-in when forced to buy disks (and shelves) from the SAN vendor. StarWind permits an open architecture, no different than any Microsoft based application where the customer has the freedom to choose the underlying hardware vendor while keeping the software layer consistent.

Another key growth area we see for StarWind is desktop virtualization, this is an area of huge interest, customers want to regain control both in terms of security and to simplify desktop provisioning and help desk operations. But the major financial set back to desktop virtualization isn’t the cost of the servers to run the virtual machines in the back end, or the cost of the hypervisor, the bulk of the cost is a SAN that has dual controllers. No IT professional wants to have a single point of failure bring down all their desktops, so a dual node SAN is critical for desktop virtualization to take off in any significant way. But for many small companies even spending $15,000.00 on a dual controller SAN is too much, the break even point is a hard sell for the IT Manager to convince the CFO to spend that much cash, when they still need to refresh the client hardware on the desktops. StarWind is ideally positioned here, no other low cost SAN has dual controllers.

Synchronous Replication is another key benefit to StarWind, this allows multiple storage nodes to be placed in separate racks in a datacenter, protecting the storage not just at the disk and controller level, but also at the rack level. Consider what happens with a conventional SAN in one rack, and the power to that rack fails, all the storage is down. If a rack fails with a StarWind SAN you would loose one node, but the remaining node is fully redundant, so you don’t loose any data or suffer any downtime.

All you need to build a StarWind iSCSI SAN is an 1GigE network for all SAN traffic (or 10GigE for higher performance, if you need it), 2 x NICs and high-performance IP switches. A Server running a Microsoft Server Operating System and an iSCSI initiator for each client (the free StarWind iSCSI initia¬tor or the free Microsoft iSCSI initiator can be used, as well as various Linux, Unix initiators, iSCSI HBAs and iSCSI TOE NICs.)

The following benefits can be gained when using a StarWind iSCSI SAN:

1. Use all the features of server & desktop virtualization such as Vmoton & HA (VMware) or LiveMigrate (Hyper-V).
2. Manage unlimited Terabytes of disk space.
3. Use Thin Provisioning to save disk space & reduce storage providing times.
4. Replicate data off-site or to a local backup server.
5. Perform point in time snapshots for fast disk-to-disk backups and restores.
6. Clone entire volumes for testing or backup.
7. Turn direct attached storage into a SAN.
8. Increase storage security with the iSCSI standard.