Announcing the new HPE Storage Extender for Azure Stack Hub

In early 2016 Microsoft announced their Microsoft Azure Stack Hub, along with their new Windows Server 2016, as an extension of the Microsoft Azure Public Cloud. From the beginning, customers sought the benefits of Azure cloud, but deployed within their own datacenter. This new hybrid cloud solution brought them the hyperscale experience of consumption-based computing, along with the ability to run the very same applications you could run on Azure.

HPE Storage Extender for Microsoft Azure Stack Hub adds enterprise-class data capacity to Azure hybrid cloud.

This on-premises version of the cloud came with constraints, however. Not all of the same services in Azure are available in Azure Stack. It’s not ‘limitless’ as it is bounded by the capacity and compute contained within a particular customers’ Azure Stack deployment.  And that configuration itself is rigidly defined by Microsoft, and available only through a few certified partners, selling predefined bundles of servers, storage and networking.

Up until now, even if they didn’t need more compute or bandwidth, if a customer’s storage needs exceeded that of the configuration that they purchased, they would have to purchase another node (predefined set of compute/storage/networking) or an entire new Azure Stack offering. With Azure Stack, the promise of cloud agility came with strict boundaries. 

But that has all changed.

Expand Hybrid cloud capacity with the HPE Storage Extender

The new HPE Storage Extender for Azure Stack Hub solution leverages and delivers scripts and technical guidance on how to expand just the data storage capacity of your Azure Stack Hub environment. This optimized implementation is initially available on HPE Nimble Storage, and works in parallel with Microsoft’s published approach for expanding capacity for Azure Stack Hub by using any iSCSI storage resource.

HPE Nimble Storage brings intelligent, self-managing flash storage to your data center and hybrid cloud environments. It is an ideal platform for your expanded Azure Stack Hub, with high availability and Data Efficiency features, and guarantees both data availability of 99.9999%1 as well as the ability to store more data per terabyte of flash storage than other all-flash arrays. Designed for advanced storage technologies such as NVMe, HPE Nimble Storage delivers industry-leading capacity efficiency as well as a future-proof architecture. You can find guaranteed data-reduction program details in the Store More Guarantee documentation2.

Azure Stack Hub and Data storage

Azure Stack Hub scales between 4 and 16 hybrid nodes and 4 and 8 all-flash nodes. Although the Azure Stack Hub does not contain all of the features of Azure public cloud, it mimics the most common features, and provides an easy transition point for data and applications moving between the cloud and on-premises. The primary method of managing an Azure Stack Hub instance is through an almost identical management portal of the Azure public cloud.

Microsoft Azure Stack Hub currently provisions storage utilizing internal disk from hyperconverged nodes managed by Storage Spaces Direct (S2D). Up to this point, external storage has not been supported under the Microsoft Azure Stack Hub design options; the total capacity and performance available was capped by the maximum number of nodes in the scale unit, the disk drive configurations available from each OEM vendor, and the specific characteristics of the virtual machine type deployed.

The initial HPE Storage Extender is based on HPE Nimble storage but this solution aligns with the Microsoft approach that can support any iSCSI storage device

The tightly enforced configurations have been at odds with customers and partners requests for flexibility, and specifically for the ability to leverage external storage arrays to support key workloads. Along with additional data capacity, external storage arrays bring with them the ability to migrate and replicate data, along with higher data availability. This is why HPE developed a means to connect HPE Nimble Storage arrays as an external iSCSI storage option, in parallel with Microsoft’s technical template for how to connect to iSCSI storage with Azure Stack Hub3.

HPE brings innovation to Windows with the world’s most intelligent storage

The HPE Storage Extender for Azure Stack Hub solution provides the key elements to enable access to external data capacity, while maintaining a customer’s supported Azure Stack Hub configuration. The solution includes:

  • HPE Nimble Storage, officially Windows Server 2019 and 2016 certified
  • Windows Server 2016 Datacenter or Windows Server 2019 Datacenter (latest build recommended)
  • PowerShell DSC extension
  • Custom Script Extension
  • Solution Deployment Guide
  • HPE InfoSight

HPE InfoSight — the IT industry’s most established AI platform — is the key feature in enabling autonomous, self-managing data storage, and is an embedded part of HPE Nimble Storage, as well as other HPE Storage and Server products. HPE InfoSight has analyzed application patterns in 1,250 trillion data points over the last decade to predict and prevent disruptions across storage, servers, and virtual machines. This has resulted in savings of more than 1.5 million hours of lost productivity due to downtime. HPE InfoSight provides the intelligent foundation for all HPE storage products, creating the industry’s only end-to-end AI capability for self-managing storage.

Get started

The HPE Storage Extender for Azure Stack Hub solution is available today. It brings additional data capacity to Azure Stack Hub — without the cost of adding additional compute.

Thanks to HPE Nimble Storage, the HPE Storage Extender for Azure Stack Hub solution is an economical way to access and use more data within your Microsoft Hybrid cloud, while benefitting from improved data management, protection and availability. The solution includes technical guidance and scripts, and is supported by Microsoft as an approach aligned with Microsoft published technical templates.

Solution resources available at launch:

Launch webinar on the HPE Storage BrightTalk channel

Storage Extender solution brief

Learn more about HPE storage solutions for Microsoft @  


  1. “HPE Get 6-Nines Guarantee, HPE Nimble Storage” Published details available online.
  2. HPE Store More Guarantee for HPE Nimble Storage.
  3. Connect to iSCSI storage with Azure Stack Hub”, Oct 28, 2019

Insights from Deploying Microsoft Exchange at Scale on Azure Stack HCI

Microsoft Azure Stack HCI has established itself as a solid hyperconverged infrastructure offering, based on the leading operating system, Microsoft Windows Server 2019. IT staff are able to efficiently consolidate traditional workloads on this familiar platform, thanks to multiple technological features including both compute virtualization with Hyper-V as well as data storage virtualization with Storage Spaces Direct. There’s also support for the use of non-volatile memory express (NVMe) SSDs and persistent memory for caching in order to speed system performance.

However, with such dynamic technology in play at the OS layer, things get interesting when you add a sophisticated workload that also has its own intelligent performance enhancing features including storage tiering, a metacache database (MCDB), and dynamic cache. In this case we’re talking about Microsoft Exchange email, which recently introduced the new Microsoft Exchange Server 2019.

One Wall Street firm was a power user of Microsoft Exchange – with over 200,000 users, many having massive mailboxes of dozens up to 100 or more GBs in size. As part of their infrastructure planning, the customer wanted to compare the performance and cost of continuing to run Exchange on physical servers with external attached storage (JBOD), versus evolving to an Azure Stack HCI infrastructure. 

The combination of these products and technologies required complex testing and sizing that pushed the bounds of available knowledge at the time, generating learning useful for other companies who are also early in adopting various combinations of demanding enterprise workloads on top of Azure Stack HCI.

Field experts share their insight

“This customer had an interest in deploying truly enterprise-scale Exchange, and eventually the latest server version, using their HCI infrastructure,” began Gary Ketchum, Sr. System Engineer in the Storage Technology Center at HPE.  “Like vSAN or any other software-defined datacenter product, choosing the hardware is very important in order to consistently achieve your technical objectives.”

This observation especially holds true when implementing Storage Spaces Direct solutions. As stated in the Microsoft Storage Spaces direct Hardware requirements page, “Systems, components, devices, and drivers must be Windows Server Certified per the Windows Server Catalog. In addition, we recommend that servers, drives, host bus adapters, and network adapters have the Software-Defined Data Center (SDDC) Standard and/or Software-Defined Data Center (SDDC) Premium additional qualifications (AQs). There are over 1,000 components with the SDDC AQs.”

A key challenge of the implementation was in how to realize the targeted levels of improved flexibility, performance, and availability, within a much more complex stack of technologies, multiple virtualization layers, including potentially competing caching mechanisms.

Anthony Ciampa, Hybrid IT Solution Architect from HPE explains key functionality of the solution. “Storage Spaces Direct allows organizing physical disks into storage pools. The pool can easily be expanded by adding disks. The Virtual Machine VHDx volumes are created from the pool capacity providing fault tolerance, scalability, and performance. The resiliency enables continuous availability protecting against hardware problems. The types of resiliency are dependent on the number of nodes in the cluster.  The solution testing used a two-node cluster with two-way mirroring. With three or more servers it is recommended to use three-way mirroring for higher fault tolerance and increased performance.” HPE has published a technical whitepaper on Exchange Server 2019 on HPE Apollo Gen10 available today online.

Microsoft Azure Stack HCI on HPE Apollo 4200 Gen10 solution

At Microsoft Ignite 2019, HPE launched its solution for the new Microsoft HCI product, Windows Azure Stack HCI with HPE Apollo 4200 Gen10. This new software-defined hyperconverged offering, built on the high capacity yet dense Apollo storage server, delivered a new way to meet the needs of the emerging ‘Big Data HCI’ customer. A new deployment guide details solution components, installation, management and related best practices.

Exchange on Azure Stack HCI Solution Stack

The new Azure Stack HCI on HPE Apollo 4200 solution combines Microsoft Windows Server 2019 hyper-converged technology with the leading storage capacity/density data platform in its class. It serves a growing class of customers who want the benefits of a simpler on-premises infrastructure while still able to run the most demanding Windows analytics and data-centric workloads.

Findings from the field

Notes from the deployment team captured some of the top findings of this Exchange on Windows HCI testing, that will help others avoid problems as well as confidently speed these complex implementations.

  1. More memory not required – The stated guidance for Azure Stack HCI requires additional memory, specifically an SSD NVMe (cache tier) beyond JBOD physical deployment. However HPE’s Jetstress testing showed that similar performance was also possible from just JBOD. Thus the server hardware requirements are similar between Azure Stack HCI and JBOD, and even if the customer plans to deploy JBOD MCDB tier with Exchange 2019, the hardware requirements are still very similar. Note, there could be other cost factors to consider such as the cost of overhead for additional Compute and RAM within the Azure Stack HCI, as well as any other additional software licensing cost for running Azure Stack HCI.
  • Size cache ahead of data growth – The cache should be sized to accommodate the working set (the data being actively read or written at any given time) of your applications and workloads. If the active working set exceeds the size of the cache, or if the active working set drifts too quickly, read cache misses will increase and writes will need to be de-staged more aggressively, hurting overall performance.
  • More volumes the better – Volumes in Storage Spaces Direct provide resiliency to protect against hardware problems. Microsoft recommends the number of volumes is a multiple of the number of servers in your cluster. For example, if you have 4 servers, you will experience more consistent performance with 4 total volumes than with 3 or 5. However, testing showed that Jetstress provided better performance with 8 volumes per server compared to 1 or 2 volumes per server.

Where to get more info

Microsoft Azure Stack HCI on HPE Apollo 4200 Gen10 server is a new solution that addresses the growing needs of the Big Data HCI customer – those who are looking for an easy-to-deploy and affordable IT infrastructure with the right balance of capacity, density, performance, and security.  Early work with this solution, especially where it’s being combined with demanding and data intensive workloads, can create non-intuitive configuration requirements, so IT teams should seek out experienced vendors and service partners.  

A new deployment guide details solution components, installation, management and related best practices. Information in that document, along with this blog, and future sizing tools expected out from HPE, will continue to provide guidance for enterprise deployments of this new HCI offering.

The deployment guide is available online today at this link: <link to Deployment Guide>

HPE Brings Big Data to Hyperconverged Infrastructure with New Apollo Solution

If you were at Microsoft Ignite last month you may still have missed the launch of HPE’s latest hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) solution: Microsoft Azure Stack HCI on HPE Apollo 4200 storage. It would be understandable, as Ignite was a major industry event packed with technology news, especially with lots of HPE show activity, including prominent HPE mainstage appearances for both Azure Stack and the new Azure Arc.
But among the new and enhanced solutions we demonstrated at the show, our presentations about Azure Stack HCI on HPE Apollo storage were well-received and timely given the growing emphasis on HCI, hybrid cloud and all things software-defined. The key message for this solution was that it is pioneering a new area in software-defined HCI for Windows Big Data workloads. The solution uniquely delivers the convenience of hyperconverged Infrastructure on a high-capacity platform for the most data-intensive applications.

The emergence of Big Data HCI
We’ve all heard about the explosive growth of data, and that we’re in an age of zettabytes. IDC made a specific prediction, that by 2024, just data created from AI, IoT and smart devices will exceed 110 zettabytes (source: IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Cloud Predictions 2020).
At the same time, organizations are trying to simplify their IT infrastructures to reduce cost, complexity and the need for specialized expertise. The conflict is that the applications required to harvest this explosion of data can be the most demanding in terms of performance and management. I’m seeing companies – even the largest most capable enterprises – are recognizing the value of easy-to-use hyperconverged infrastructure to alleviate some of the strain of delivering these demanding, data-centric workloads.
Azure Stack HCI on HPE Apollo 4200 storage is a new solution that addresses the needs of the growing “Big Data HCI” customer. Azure Stack HCI on HPE Apollo is built on the highest capacity Azure Stack HCI qualified 2U server, bringing an unmatched ability to serve big data workloads on a compact Windows software-defined HCI appliance.

HPE Apollo HCI solution key components
Azure Stack HCI is Microsoft’s software-defined HCI solution that pairs Windows Server 2019, Hyper-V, Storage Spaces Direct, and Windows Admin Center management, along with partner x86 hardware. It is used to run Windows and Linux VMs on-premises and at the edge with existing IT skills and tools.
Azure Stack HCI is a convenient way to realize benefits of Hybrid IT, because it makes it easy to leverage the cloud-based capabilities of the Microsoft Azure cloud. These cloud-based data services include: Azure Site Recovery, Azure Monitor, Cloud Witness, Azure Backup, Azure Update Management, Azure Network Adapter, and Azure Security Center to name a few.
The Azure Stack HCI solution program includes Microsoft-led validation for hardware, which ensures optimal performance and reliability for the solution. This testing extends to technologies such as NVMe drives, persistent memory, and remote-direct memory access (RDMA) networking. Customers are directed to use only Microsoft-validated hardware systems when deploying their Azure Stack HCI production environments.

HPE Apollo 4200 Gen 10 – largest capacity 2U Azure Stack HCI system

HPE Apollo 4200 Gen10 Server – leading capacity/throughput for Windows HCI
The HPE Apollo 4200 Gen10 server delivers leading scale and throughput for Azure Stack HCI. The HPE Apollo 4200 storage system can accommodate 392 TBs of data capacity within just a 2U form-factor. This leads all other Azure Stack HCI validated 2U solutions as seen in the Microsoft Azure Stack HCI catalog ( In addition, the HPE Apollo storage system is a leader in bandwidth, supporting 100Gb Ethernet and 200Gb Infiniband options. Customers are already running large scale, data-centric applications such as Microsoft Exchange on HPE Apollo systems, and can now add Azure Stack HCI as a means to simplify the infrastructure stack, while preserving performance and the space-efficient 2U footprint.
The HPE Apollo Gen10 system is future-proofed with Intel Cascade lake processors for more cores and faster processing, along with memory enhancements and support for NVMe storage. The HPE Apollo systems leverage a big data and high performance computing heritage, and have an established Global 500 customer track record.

Azure Stack HCI on HPE Apollo solution – more than just hardware
The HPE Apollo 4200 system is at the core of this Microsoft software-defined HCI solution, but there’s much more to the solution. HPE solution engineering teams perform testing on all solution designs, and publish technical whitepapers to provide guidance on implementation, administration, and performance optimization, for example the recent Microsoft Windows Server 2019 on HPE Apollo 4200 implementation guide. HPE also trains authorized reseller partners to help assure fast, successful deployments and fast time-to-solution for customers.
Windows Admin Center (WAC) is becoming the new standard interface for Windows system management. HPE is developing Extensions for WAC that will make it easier to manage HPE Apollo systems within Windows Server 2019 environments as well as specifically within Azure Stack HCI clusters.
As an HPE Storage solution, customers also enjoy high availability through HPE InfoSight predictive analytics that deliver the uptime benefits of AI to the datacenter.

Get started with HPE Apollo HCI
The Azure Stack HCI on HPE Apollo solution is available today. It’s the largest capacity 2U Azure Stack HCI validated solution available, and has been officially qualified for All-Flash, Hybrid SAS SSD, and NVMe providing options for affordable and high-performance data storage.
The Azure Stack HCI on HPE Apollo solution is the go-to choice for analytics and data-centric Windows workloads. Get easy to manage infrastructure with native Microsoft Windows administration. Available with the solution are published technical guidance including whitepapers and related resources, with WAC extensions on the way.
The launch webinar was recorded and is available on demand – watch it to learn more:

Deeper Dive inside Exchange on Apollo

Our solution engineers are constantly configuring, testing, benchmarking and documenting our Microsoft solutions, providing vital guidance to our customers and resellers so that they can quickly and confidently deploy them. I had a moment to go back over some recent work we did on our Microsoft Exchange Solution, and I wanted to share some highlights that can be missed if you didn’t have the time to read through these detailed technical publications.

The widening orbit of Apollo

First off, the HPE Apollo 4200 Gen10 has been our go-to Storage server for some time. A key offering in the HPE Storage product line, it serves as the company’s lead platform for Software-defined storage solutions. It shares a heritage with the Apollo HPC compute systems (e.g. model 2000s, 6000s) around HPC storage and big-data usage. Storage use evolved to include object storage, scale-out file systems, backup, archive and other data-intensive workloads. Of course Microsoft Exchange is the grand-daddy of business email, a classic data-intensive application, esp. if you’re regularly sharing multi-MB sized powerpoints.

As we continue to build-out our Microsoft solution business, we’ve hit upon a powerful use scenario for Apollo as a leading platform for Azure Stack HCI. You’ll continue to see more news and innovation coming from us in this area in the coming months.

Innovative design provides some of the highest storage density in a 2U system

HPE Apollo 4200 Gen10 server with Exchange 2016 ESRP
Our team undertook testing based on Microsoft’s testing benchmark/certification known as the Exchange Solution Reviewed Program. The program combines a storage testing harness (Jetstress) with solution publishing guidelines, and has been used by Storage OEMs for over the past decade as a standard testing framework. Customers and resellers have been eager consumers of the publications as a way to compare results across vendors and to help design their Exchange storage architectures and deployments.

This specific testing used the HPE Apollo 4200 Gen10 storage system, which is a 2U server available either in a 24 large form-factor (LFF) drive configuration or a 48 small form-factor (SFF) drive configuration.

The remarkable feature of the 4200 is that the drive cages use two trays, with the second tray accessed by simply pulling the front tray forward on internal rails and can be done while the server is operational. This unique chassis design produces probably the highest storage density available in a 2U server in the industry.

The bigger brains of the Apollo 4200 Gen10
The HPE Apollo 4200 Gen10 contains 16 DIMM slots, which support up to 1TB RDIMM (registered) or 2TB of LRDIMM (Load reduced) memory. Individual DIMM capacity has doubled in this latest platform update, going from 32GB to 64GB RDIMMs and 64GB to 128GB LRDIMMs.

The CPUs have been upgraded to use next-gen Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors, the same ones designed for AI/Deep learning workloads, and future-proofed with support for Intel Optane PMEM. The upgraded CPU enables an increase from 24 cores to 28 cores and with the clock speed increasing from 2.1 to 2.3GHz.
There are 5 PCIe slots accessible from the rear of the unit. The 16x slots support 100Gbe Ethernet connections, and the 24x slots support up to 6 NVMe SSDs.

Get flexible with the Apollo
Another feature of the HPE Apollo 4200 Gen 10 is its flexibility. Multiple configurations are possible, depending on capacity and performance needs, making this a valuable platform for Exchange deployments of any size.

The rear drive cage alone can be re-configured in a number of ways:

  1. Five low-profile PCIe slots with two processors
  2. Or, Four LFF rear drive cages, along with the Five low-profile PCIe slots with two processors
  3. Or, Two SFF rear drive cages + two full-height half-length risers, and the Five low profile PCIe slots with two processors
  4. Or, Six SFF rear NVMe cages, along with the Five low-profile PCIe slots with two processors

The Ultimate Exchange Building Block
This HPE solution for Microsoft Exchange Server 2016 was designed using a building block approach, with a multi-copy database design using Exchange Database Availability Groups (DAGs). A DAG is a group of up to 16 mailbox servers that host a set of databases, providing automatic recovery from failures that affect databases or individual servers.

Designed as a building block for various size enterprise email needs

This solution used a single DAG in two building blocks, which are two servers in the primary site and two servers in the secondary site, to support 4,000 mailboxes per building block with a 25 GB capacity, and a messaging profile of 200 messages sent and received per user, per day. Using the building block approach, customers can scale their Exchange environment to a size that fits their needs.

The Microsoft Jetstress testing validated that the storage subsystem was capable of the IOPS needed to support the configured number of mailboxes as well as providing additional headroom for growth.

Where to get the rest of the story
The HPE Apollo 4200 Gen10 with Exchange 2016 ESRP document is available online today. Entitled, “HPE Apollo 4200 Gen10 Server 4000 mailbox resiliency Microsoft Exchange 2016 using 8 TB 7.2K large form factor drives”, it is based on Microsoft’s ESRP 4.0 testing framework. The technical whitepaper contains details on the tested performance results, configuration best practices, product photos, and includes extensive Jetstress output.
The document can be downloaded here.

Office Space 2019 revisited

I was going to write a blog on the new office space my group is moving into, and my thoughts on it, and realized someone had already written about it: It’s interesting the universality of opinions on modern corporate Open Office design. In our case the move was a bit more stark, as we were exiting a start-up environment of comradery over free food, intensity of a shared mission, tight collaboration across organizations, and even a garden with bee hives(!) – which has been reengineered to an open office design, with piped-in ambient water sounds, as part of a far flung global organization.

“An open plan design will move the goalpost and give us low hanging fruit we can leverage 110%”

Granted, much has been written about open plan offices being better for collaborative work and that they may be better aligned with the habits of a younger work force. It’s certainly more space efficient – taking the traditional average space per worker ranging to 250 square feet, now with these high density designs, down to 100 sf or less.

My take-away? Clearly office design needs to map to business objectives the same way compensation programs, supply chain, financial strategy, and corp dev have to. Being within the vortex of this change makes it challenging to be completely objective, but being a participant provides the credibility of directly experiencing the pros and cons. I’m seeing the Open Plan approach should be applied primarily to realize more efficient collaboration for integrative work-teams, not in cases where the workgroup process requires quiet attention to detail, thoughtful strategic thinking, or significant private/sensitive communications, to name a few.

Recent Developments in SQL Server Performance and Data Protection

Customers, partners and members of the HPE Community converged on Las Vegas this past week for Discover 2019. It’s the company’s largest customer event which provides hands-on learning and training on HPE products as well as direct contact with members of the teams who make them.

One of the topics covered in the show was Hybrid cloud, and how to keep important data protected and available. New performance statistics were released from recent testing, with one of them relating to Microsoft SQL Server. This comes at a time when the company has released an update to Recovery Manager Central for SQL Server (RMC-S), which has been a popular means to ensure Application consistent database copies.

HPE Storage solutions for MS SQL Server
HPE has been investing to deliver outstanding levels of both Performance and Manageability for SQL Server. First off, HPE Data Storage makes SQL Server Faster. HPE has multiple lines of All-Flash storage arrays HPE 3PAR StoreServ, HPE Nimble Storage, and now the all new HPE Primera, that let you run Microsoft SQL Server in production at the highest levels of performance and availability. With HPE flash storage you get reliably fast performance: up to 3.8 million IOPS (I/Os per second) on 3PAR, and about 2 million IOPS on a cluster of Nimble storage all-flash arrays. And all at a consistent sub-millisecond latency.

Recently we added to this performance boost with the addition of Memory-Driven Flash. This is an all-flash array with an NVMe Storage Class Memory (SCM) cache. Recent testing with a SQL Server database on Memory-Driven Flash has shown a 59% decrease in latency (sec/read) compared to when SCM is disabled. Decreased latency translates to faster database query responses and a better user experience.

We’ve also invested to make SQL Server administration better. HPE delivers the most consistent availability with Intelligent Storage and HPE InfoSight, delivering 99.9999% guarenteed uptime. This means your data remains available, and in the rare event that there is an issue, the storage proactively alerts you to potential problems. HPE Storage comes with copy data management capabilities, and extends them across your hybrid cloud. It’s easy to create SQL-consistent snapshots or archival copies to Azure. HPE Storage arrays support data workflows and tasks that can manage live copies on and off-premises for DR, test/dev, reporting, analytics, patching, & upgrading. And HPE Storage enhances SQL Server DevOps as we are the only vendor to offer rich data services for both Windows and Linux Containers, and have interop with all the leading container platforms including Docker, Kubernetes, Mesos. HPE storage was the first to provide persistent volumes for containers.

How Recovery Manager Central improves SQL Server data protection
HPE Recovery Manager Central software, and specifically the RMC-S plug-in, allows SQL Server administrators to protect SQL Server instances and databases with application-consistent recovery points. The snapshots are managed on HPE 3PAR storage, and you can use RMC-S with either HPE StoreOnce, HPE Data Protector, Symantec NetBackup, or Symantec Backup Exec to protect and restore these snapshots.
Recent testing has shown that creating a database clone with RMC-S takes just 1 minute and 22 seconds. This is compared to the traditional and very manual process of creating a clone with SQL Server which can take 45 mins. The automated process of RMC vastly outperforms the manual process of creating new database, copying the schema, and then inserting and verifying data within every individual table. Compared to the traditional approach, RMC-S lets you copy a database in one step and 32 times faster.

Where to get more info
There’s much more information available on the advantages of HPE storage for Microsoft SQL Server, as well as for all the important Microsoft business workloads such as Windows Server, Exchange and newer solutions like Azure Stack and Azure Stack HCI. Here are some key resources below:

Webinar: Get more from your Data with HPE Microsoft Storage solutions
Reference Architecture: Microsoft SQL Server with HPE 3PAR Memory-Driven Flash
Blog: Cut SQL Server Latency in Half with Memory-Driven Flash Storage
HPE Storage Microsoft Solutions webpage:

Converged Graffiti

There’s a very wicked ’55 Chevy lookin’ for you

I was nostalgic when I read the story about VxBlock hitting 10.  I had been working in Converged computing going back some time, and helped grow the FlexPod business.  So to acknowledge this passage of time also recognizes just how old this space is, esp. in technology terms (i.e. ‘Internet dog years’).  This product started as an entire freestanding business – the Acadia then VCE joint venture back in 2009. The article cites how EMC once had a full line of Vblocks – which evolved into VxRack, VxRail and VxFlex among other offerings – but today this whole business and converged product line has since been trimmed to one single model, the VxBlock 1000, because as they say themselves, “they’re outdated”.

File that under C.S.

The Converged market is in the throes of a metamorphic change. What was once the big story, popular Certified Reference and Integrated systems like VxBlock and FlexPod revolutionizing the datacenter, are now shrinking and in decline, about a third of the market and dropping over 6% annually.  The overall space is still growing, but the data shows that it’s all due to Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI).

flexpod cake
FlexPod birthday cake

Then why celebrate? The same reason why we celebrated in the FlexPod team. It’s still an important milestone – it marks the passage of time, the accomplishment of another year of business, it’s certainly about the comradery of those in the business ecosystem, and an appreciation that this offering continues to pay the bills for those workers at Dell/EMC.

But is it a time to celebrate for IT customers?

If brains were dynamite you couldn’t blow your nose

Like the ending of American Graffiti, with the main character staring out the window thinking about what might have been, the folks at Dell must have been thinking longingly about the good ‘ol days as they cut into their VxBlock birthday cake. The Converged market for them is a slow glide, riding out the themes of a bygone era of IT. Their website promotes “turnkey converged”, “power” and “mission critical” like it’s a 60’s muscle car.  But we’re now solidly within the jet age of Hyperconverged, software-defined infrastructure and cloud-based computing.

I love it when guys peel out

HCI is the new hot rod in town. It’s overtaking all things converged, integrated and “Stack/Block”.  HCI is the fastest growing segment in that infrastructure space, and has surpassed the legacy reference architecture and converged segments.  It’s currently on a 57% annual ascent and now accounts for almost half of an over $16B market.  The customer has spoken: convenience of the more compact form-factor with both storage and compute combined is preferred over the proclaimed benefits of separate “best in class” components or the ability to scale storage resources separately from compute.

For info on an ideal x86 platform for software-defined HCI look no further than the HPE Apollo 4200.  It’s built for demanding, data-centric workloads, and currently hosts Windows-based HCI and vSAN environments.  Continue to watch this space for more news on new offerings in the area coming from Microsoft and HPE.

Cut SQL Server Latency in Half with Memory-Driven Flash Storage

Memory-Driven Flash is a new class of enterprise storage that combines the benefits of memory-speed storage media with the traditional economics and manageability of a hybrid flash architecture.

HPE Memory-Driven Flash is being used to enable business databases and applications to achieve new levels of performance while adding virtually no additional administration. Specific studies are showing Microsoft SQL Server database reads are up to 50% faster, which in turn speeds transactions and improves end-user experience.

This architectural approach uses new Storage Class Memory (SCM) as a caching tier to store frequently used blocks of data and enable access to them at near Memory speed, rather than requiring the system to read the data from the storage media tier.  HPE’s productization has involved tiering back-end storage media with a layer of Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) solid state drives (SSD), which adds persistent, near-memory performance on top of all-flash SSD. SCM represents the industry’s latest innovation: a low-latency persistent storage media that bridges the performance gap between DRAM system memory and NAND SSD storage. The SCM price/performance level is 10X beneath DRAM and as much as 100X above NAND.

Cache in on the MDF opportunity

In some ways MDF is the modern day evolution of traditional hybrid or ‘adaptive flash’ tiering.  Whereas in the past the tiering was between SSDs and spinning disk hard drives, this new instantiation is SCM over SSD.  And just as with the previous generation of systems, the unique value of a manufacturer’s product was both superior mechanical design, but also in the intelligent algorithms that identified the ‘hot’ frequently accessed data to cache and optimally managed the precious cache capacity. The image below illustrates how with MDF, the SCM layer can serve up Reads directly from this higher-performance media, rather than accessing SSD. The higher the SCM hit rate, the lower the latency.  This approach primarily serves to reduce latency rather than increase system IOPS or some other measure of performance.

NVMe SCM as a cache to speed access to random read data.

NVMe is an open logical device interface protocol for accessing nonvolatile storage over the PCIe interface. The low latency NVMe protocol bypasses and eliminates the overhead of other standard storage protocols such as SAS or SCSI. The NVMe SCM device used in HPE 3PAR storage systems has the NVMe PCIe controller interface as part of the unit, so the NVMe SCM is attached directly to the PCIe bus, and uses the NVMe protocol for faster communication with the HPE 3PAR controller.

Cold, hard cache

The math behind the MDF caching is to maintain data on a higher-performing tier of Storage Class Memory that can deliver Reads at an average of just 10 microseconds. This saves considerable time, in preventing the need to access a data tier of solid state storage that may deliver Reads at 90 microseconds (and compare that to a hard drive tier that would take 10 thousand microseconds to perform that same Read operation).

The results of MDF can be seen both from the perspective of the array itself or the host system accessing the data. In either case, when the Storage Class Memory feature is engaged and populated with hot data, the benefit of reading data from the cache has been shown to reduce system latency by 50% on average.

The chart below shows the results achieved in the lab with Microsoft SQL Server 2017 running on a ProLiant Gen10 server and an HPE 3PAR 9450 array with Storage Class Memory.

Perfmon Avg. Disk sec/Read response time for the SQL Server database disk using Memory-Driven Flash

From the host perspective, in this test there was shown to be a 59% decrease in latency (sec/Read) with Memory-Driven Flash compared to when the NVMe SCM is disabled.  Decreased latency translates to faster database query responses.

From the admin and user perspective, Memory-Driven Flash is simple to use.  It’s an embedded component of the system – another storage device that serves as a selectable level of cache in the storage system.

How to Cache in on MDF

Memory-Driven Flash will provide a substantial reduction in I/O response times for small block OLTP type read intensive workloads. However, it will not be beneficial for write intensive or large sequential read or write workloads. Here are some specific guidelines to keep in mind for MDF:

  • Memory-Driven Flash does not requires any special SQL Server configuration
  • Memory-Driven Flash works with one or more groups of volumes – for best results only enable volume sets that need the boost in performance
  • Memory-Driven Flash benefits random read data sizes of 4 KiB to 64 KiB, such as read intensive OLTP type workloads – SQL Server workloads have pre-fetch I/O sizes that are typically 8 KB
  • Memory-Driven Flash does not benefit write I/O response times
  • Memory-Driven Flash can benefit multiple applications and virtual volume sets concurrently

Get the details on MDF

A new technical whitepaper was just published that details the testing performed on SQL Server running on HPE MDF.  <Here’s a link to the paper>

Track the latest news and happenings with HPE Microsoft Storage solutions on twitter at @mhardi01.


5 Strategies to address Microsoft Business Applications End of Support

There are important Microsoft applications reaching end of support as soon as next month, and organizations are scrambling to make sure they will not only be compliant with up-to-date software, but more importantly have the systems and infrastructure in place that will carry them and their business successfully through to the next refresh cycle, years from now.

A recent blog on Supportageddon and other things you didn’t know about HPE Microsoft Solutions called out the applications that need to be considered, such as Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008 and Exchange Server 2010.  And it also provided valuable related eos-imagesolutions available from HPE.  But it didn’t go into much detail on modernization strategies or specific upgrade approaches. New findings are being published on these topics, and the following are top strategies to consider in addressing your own Supportageddon challenge.

  1. Think through your right mix

For your overall portfolio to achieve the agility and speed you are seeking, you’ll want to evaluate a mix of workload modernization options. This ‘right mix’ means striking a balance between on-premises, cloud-based and hybrid cloud IT deployments.  In a recent analyst conference, IDC shared that by 2023, 30% of IT systems in enterprise DCs and Edge locations will be running pubic cloud-sourced services.  And this is the average – we know of many organizations who have embraced a ‘Cloud First’ policy to the extent that all new applications are residing off-premises.  But each company needs to find the right balance for themselves.   A study by 451 Research Advisory team took the results of a 1,800 IT Decision-maker survey and developed a “Right Mix” tool, enabling organizations to have data-driven guidance regarding on- and off-premises cloud mix decisions. Results of this study are available via consultative engagements.

  1. Modernize & consolidate your on-premises infrastructure

Streamlining your IT operations starts with making your infrastructure more streamlined – with storage, servers and networking that can deliver more effective capacity, performance and throughput in the same space and energy footprint, and ideally at a lower cost per output.  Along with new, more efficient traditional hardware, other options include Hyperconverged products, as well as hybrid solutions that leverage cloud-based volumes, compute and Backup/DR capabilities.  There are numerous permutations of Microsoft workloads and infrastructure platforms to consider, with the right one available to match your right mix objectives.

  1. Microsoft Azure Stack hybrid strategies

Azure Stack is an integrated hardware/software solution that allows organizations to deploy a reduced set of Azure Cloud services in their own data center. A key benefit of Azure Stack is that if you write to the Azure API, you have a “write-once/deploy on-prem or cloud” option for apps in the Azure Public Cloud or on-premises, without having to change a single line of code. Azure Stack is a relatively new offering with a limited installed base, but a Piper Jaffray survey indicated that 72% of Azure Public Cloud customers intend to deploy on Azure Stack over the next 3 years. If you’re contemplating this solution in your datacenter, there are related Data Protection and Storage Networking solutions that will help safeguard and accelerate your data.

  1. Cloud first strategies

As mentioned earlier, many enterprises are taking a ‘cloud first’ approach, made popular by the U.S. government mandate a decade ago.  This sea change can be seen in the numbers, with 35% of all production apps expected to be cloud-native by 2022, totaling 500M new cloud-native apps (source: IDC).  With enterprises moving to Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions, a top cloud service provider to consider is Microsoft Azure. What makes Azure stand out is the ability to use products with which you’re familiar, such as SQL Server and Exchange, but as online versions, or in a hybrid mode that delivers the best of on-premises control with cloud-based ‘limitless’ resources.

  1. Database modernization

Databases are so central to many organization that they earn their own strategy considerations. Companies should explore ways to accelerate business with a modern data platform, while achieving better economics, more performance, improved security, and greater agility. Speeding time to insight has been the central driver for new big data analytics and visualization projects. Options exist today, either on-premises or in the cloud, that will deliver faster transactions and queries, as well as potentially simplified management while still accommodating more data and data types. Consider new polybase architectures that can layer data and graphical management on top of traditional RDBMS and non-structured data, as a means achieve a data lake without creating siloed resources and expertise.

Solve your EOS problems with HPE Microsoft solutions

A new webinar on how to get more from your data with Microsoft on HPE Storage was just recorded and made available through In this webinar, featuring yours truly, we share how to plan major Microsoft upgrades, improve performance with flash memory, ensure data availability for Azure Stack, and how HPE InfoSight brings AI intelligence to data center infrastructure.

Access recorded webinar on here

Supportageddon and other things you didn’t know about HPE Microsoft Solutions

HPE Storage does more than SQL server

When I first took this role as Product Manager for the Microsoft Storage solutions at HPE, it really seemed that all we did was store MS SQL Server data on HPE Nimble and HPE 3PAR storage.  It turned out that HPE has a whole line of Microsoft Storage Solutions delivered to customers across many of our Storage products — Nimble, 3PAR StorServ, MSA, Apollo, and related networking and services.

In fact, our biggest solution area so far this year is Microsoft Exchange on Apollo. Traditionally we’ve served many very large organizations with this solution, and we expect that to continue with the upgrade to Exchange 2019.  To note – this solution typically uses the Apollo platform, which you may be more familiar with in relation to Big Data analytics.

But the HPE Apollo 4200 Gen10  is an ideal platform for Exchange – esp. when you match it up vs. the new Exchange Server 2019 Preferred Architecture (PA): 2U, x86 server, dual socket, up to 48 total physical processor cores.  Up to 512GB of memory – exceeding the 256GB in the PA. We accommodate up to 54 hot-pluggable drives within the server chassis, way beyond the 12 needed in the PA. Apollo meets the requirement to mix HDD and solid-state storage SAS or SATA SSD within the same chassis – and we added a rear drive cage for NVMe options as future-proofing.  The 4200 also comes with a 96W battery-backed Smart Array write cache controller.


Supportageddon is coming

So what exactly do I mean by ‘Supportageddon’ and does this have something to do with a big snow storm?  Many of you depend on Microsoft apps for business-critical systems, and many of these popular apps are going EOS as soon as this April!  By EOS I really mean “End of Extended Support”.  This impacts a number of areas very important to enterprise IT:

  • Security: There will be no access to critical security updates, opening the potential for business interruptions
  • Compliance: As support ends, your organization may fail to meet to meet compliance standards and industry regulations
  • Maintenance: Maintaining legacy servers, firewalls, intrusion systems, etc. gets expensive quickly

Specific versions going EOS that we see especially critical to our customer base are Windows Server 2008 (and R2), SQL Server 2008, and Exchange Server 2010.  In the case of Exchange for instance, which goes EOS Jan 2020, though the software will continue to run, Microsoft is telling customers to migrate as soon as possible. There will be no support extensions.

Don’t think “Cloud First” – think “Hybrid Cloud First”

Hang on, “Cloud First” was the New way to think about IT, right?  Well, actually if by new you mean 2010, then sure. That was when US federal government agencies received the mandate to start using cloud computing in their IT operations.  Since then, there has been a lot of design and engineering going into IT products, which have been evolving from being completely on-prem equipment, to cloud-compatible, to cloud-ready, and many nowadays being ‘built for cloud’ and even multi-cloud use.

Having said that, there are still a large number of companies who will happily choose a refresh of what they already have in place. A great example is Burkhalter group who did a considerable study of how best to meet the needs of their growing business – cloud vs. on-premises – and decided to keep Exchange on-prem, and upgraded to an HPE 3PAR Storage and Synergy composable compute infrastructure.  They reduced admin costs 20% with the cloud-like scale and automation they got with the HPE solution in their own datacenter.

With the products available today, smart customers are thinking “Hybrid Cloud first” and are looking for infrastructure and app solutions that bridge the on-prem/cloud divide for them.  For instance, back to Exchange, the latest version can natively support both on-prem and Office365-based users together in the same instance.  Similarly, there is data storage infrastructure available with service extensions like HPE Cloud Volumes and HPE Cloud Bank Storage so that at the infrastructure level, data volumes can reside on-prem, or in the cloud, and retain mobility to move back or across cloud providers. For production data, secondary data, or back-up/DR.

Hardware still makes a difference

Who’d have thought this can be, today in the age of all things “Software defined” and “Cloud”.  But actually the hardware you chose makes a big difference – more applications are requiring specific hardware features and capabilities, such as embedded AI intelligence.

Here’s a recent blog specifically about how “How HPE hardware brings out the best in Microsoft Exchange Server 2019”.  Enjoy.

Track the latest news and happenings with HPE Microsoft Storage solutions on twitter at @mhardi01.