Azure StorSimple: Hybridizing the Enterprise IT Ecosystem

Hybrid cloud deployments are becoming a norm rather than exception in enterprise IT strategy. For organizations with large data estates, hybrid cloud storage brings in the best of both worlds, as they could benefit from the scale and agility of cloud all the while leveraging it as an extension of on-premise resources in an on-demand basis.

But such operations don’t come without challenges. Data migration, replication, and management are some of the main areas of concern when implementing hybrid cloud storage architectures. A preferred hybrid solution should include capabilities for all of those requirements. One offering that Microsoft has for this is Azure StorSimple, which offers efficient integration between Azure-based on-premises storage systems and the Azure cloud.

Azure StorSimple is an Azure hybrid cloud storage solution offered as a physical and virtual array, and is custom built to meet the existing and future storage needs of applications without compromising on performance and capacity. 

In this blog we’ll explore the features of Azure StorSimple that bring in this unique value proposition through hybrid cloud storage technology, and how this relates to NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP for hybrid deployment.

The Enterprise Use Case for StorSimple

Azure StorSimple is designed to simplify hybrid storage, where a SAN storage device is integrated seamlessly with cloud services. It offers a single interface for administrators to manage both cloud and on-premises storage. StorSimple fits into almost all enterprise use cases, be it providing high performance storage for file services, application hosting, database hosting etc. or cost-effective cloud storage for backup, logs, archive, and more.

Let’s explore some of these use cases in detail and see how StorSimple help customers get the most out of their hybrid storage investment.

Storage tiering for efficient data management:  Effective storage management of inactive data is one of the major challenges faced by organizations. Though they aren’t accessed on a daily basis, backup data, monitoring logs, old archives, etc. are still be important for BC/DR purposes or to meet regulatory and compliance norms.

StorSimple has an automated storage tiering feature that keeps the active data in high performance on-prem SSD drives, while data that is accessed less frequently is tiered to HDDs and archival data is tiered to Azure Cloud object storage. The data is moved based on the usage pattern and does not need any user intervention. When data stored in the cloud is accessed, it is moved back to local storage, without affecting the user experience.

Data protection through snapshots: StorSimple devices support scheduled and on-demand backups through VSS-integrated snapshots. These snapshots help to recover critical applications in the event of data corruption or accidental data loss. As the snapshot technology is natively integrated with VSS, the resultant backups are application consistent.

Since these snapshots are incremental, they are very cost effective. The time required for the backup is minimal and only the data that has changed since the last backup is considered for subsequent backups, which minimizes storage usage and costs.

Achieve storage economy: StorSimple uses thin provisioning technology, where only the storage resources needed to meet data requirements are allocated, as opposed to allocating the full size of a volume in advance. Cloud storage is leveraged to increase capacity when required and the available storage would appear to be greater than the physical resources available.

StorSimple also uses deduplication and compression technologies to reduce the storage footprint. Duplicate copies of data are not saved, and the system is intelligent to identity and store the changed data only. Data is stored in a compressed format to reduce the use of storage. While used for applications that handle extremely large data sets, thin provisioning, deduplication and compression collectively helps in achieving storage economy.

Business continuity and DR: StorSimple offers cloud snapshots, where the copy of data is stored in the cloud which can be used for setting up a secondary site during DR scenarios. Cloud snapshots help organizations eliminate tape-based backups and other tools to implement an operational BC/DR process. The on-prem environment can also be recovered in Azure, thus eliminating the need of investing in a separate physical DR environment.

CAPEX to OPEX conversion and agility:  StorSimple helps organizations be more agile in the IT deployment process as they can easily spin up environments from snapshots. The data available in Azure StorSimple cloud appliances can be easily accessed by other VMs in Azure and hence users are not restricted by the location of the data. StorSimple also eliminates huge upfront investments to increase storage capacity. It can effectively use cloud storage as an extension of on-premise storage, thereby converting CAPEX to OPEX.

StorSimple Deployment Options

Azure StorSimple devices are available in three deployment options that can be leveraged by customers based on the architecture required: StorSimple Physical Array, Virtual Array, and Cloud Appliance. All devices are managed centrally from the Azure cloud portal through the StorSimple Device manager service, thus providing a single pane of management for on-premises as well as cloud storage.

StorSimple Physical Array: Microsoft Azure StorSimple 8000 series physical array comprises both SSDs and HDDs and is deployed in customer data centers. It can be accessed over iSCSI protocol by supported devices. StorSimple Physical Array is shipped with built-in dual storage controllers configured in active-passive mode to ensure high availability for the device. The processor and storage is shared among the controllers for easy takeovers during failovers. The device is also integrated seamlessly with Azure cloud storage for tiering cold data as well as for cloud snapshots.

The two models in 8000 series are 8100 and 8600. 8100 series is a 2U series device with local usable capacity of ~15 TB and the total storage capacity scalable to 200 TB including cloud storage. 8600 is a 4U device that includes an Extended Bunch of Device (EBOD) enclosure that provides a local capacity of ~38 TB and the total capacity can be increased to 500 TB by leveraging cloud storage.

StorSimple Virtual Array: Organizations that do not have the infrastructure to deploy a physical device can deploy the StorSimple Virtual array in supported virtualized platforms, i.e., Hyper-V and VMware. It is best suited for small-scale environments such as a data room in a branch office. Virtual Array supports a maximum local capacity of 6.4 TB, which is expandable to 64 TB by leveraging Cloud Storage. Volumes can be exposed to other Microsoft Azure Services as iSCSI or SMB targets.

StorSimple Virtual Array offers all the features of physical device, such as data tiering, snapshots, backup, and DR, without any additional costs of procuring and deploying a physical storage device. However, considering the lower storage capacity when compared to physical device, it is best suited for backup and archival data use cases, where the majority of the data would be tiered to cloud storage.

StorSimple Cloud Appliance: The StorSimple cloud appliance is an add-on capability that is available for customers who have purchased StorSimple Physical devices. As the name indicates, it is deployed in Azure in a single-node VM and serves the purpose of backup and DR in the cloud. 

If the physical device is not available during a DR scenario, the data can be failed over to StorSimple Cloud Appliance. The data can be accessed by VMs in Azure through iSCSI connections. Cloud appliance is available in two models: 8010 and 8020 series. Premium disk storage is supported in 8020 series and hence can be used for high performance workloads.

Extending the Hybrid Cloud Storage Landscape

Enterprise data management, migration, and synchronization are the most important features for a hybrid cloud storage solution, along with other capabilities like BC/DR and storage economy. While StorSimple has offered these in Azure, Microsoft has announced the end of life for these products. Azure StorSimple Virtual array will reach end of life in December 2020 and Physical array will be phased out by December 2022.

What can enterprises looking to deploy hybrid environments do? Options within the Azure ecosystem include Azure File Sync and Azure Data Box Online devices. But NetApp can help here too. NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP for Azure cloud is another alternative to hybrid deployment with StorSimple that can be leveraged by enterprises in hybrid architectures. It caters to workloads deployed in Azure that need access to cloud storage over NAS and SAN protocols.

Cloud Volumes ONTAP is deployed and managed from NetApp Cloud Manager, thereby providing a single pane view to manage ONTAP systems on-premises as well as in Azure. It offers the benefit of data fabric architecture, that provides the same data management experience across multicloud and hybrid environments, with features and benefits such as:


StorSimple and Cloud Volumes ONTAP are enterprise class hybrid deployment solutions available to Azure, without compromising on data security, availability and integrity. NetApp ONTAP storage is a trusted storage solution by organizations for over 25 years and Cloud Volumes ONTAP offers the same benefits and management experience in hybrid and multi-cloud architectures.

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