SMB 3, ODX, Windows Server 2012 R2 & Windows 8.1 perform magic in file sharing for both corporate & branch offices

SMB 3 for Transparent Failover File Shares

SMB 3 gives us lots of goodies and one of them is Transparent Failover which allows us to make file shares continuously available on a cluster. I have talked about this before in Transparent Failover & Node Fault Tolerance With SMB 2.2 Tested (yes, that was with the developer preview bits after BUILD 2011, I was hooked fast and early) and here Continuously Available File Shares Don’t Support Short File Names – "The request is not supported" & “CA failure – Failed to set continuously available property on a new or existing file share as Resume Key filter is not started.”


This is an awesome capability to have. This also made me decide to deploy Windows 8 and now 8.1 as the default client OS. The fact that maintenance (it the Resume Key filter that makes this possible) can now happen during day time and patches can be done via Cluster Aware Updating is such a win-win for everyone it’s a no brainer. Just do it. Even better, it’s continuous availability thanks to the Witness service!

When the node running the file share crashes, the clients will experience a somewhat long delay in responsiveness but after 10 seconds the continue where they left off when the role has resumed on the other node. Awesome! Learn more bout this here Continuously Available File Server: Under the Hood and SMB Transparent Failover – making file shares continuously available.

Windows Clients also benefits from ODX

But there is more it’s SMB 3 & ODX that brings us even more goodness. The offloading of read & write to the SAN saving CPU cycles and bandwidth. Especially in the case of branch offices this rocks. SMB 3 clients who copy data between files shares on Windows Server 2012 (R2) that has storage an a ODX capable SAN get the benefit that the transfer request is translated to ODX by the server who gets a token that represents the data. This token is used by Windows to do the copying and is delivered to the storage array who internally does all the heavy lifting and tell the client the job is done. No more reading data form disk, translating it into TCP/IP, moving it across the wire to reassemble them on the other side and write them to disk.


To make ODX happen we need a decent SAN that supports this well. A DELL Compellent shines here. Next to that you can’t have any filter drives on the volumes that don’t support offloaded read and write. This means that we need to make sure that features like data deduplication support this but also that 3rd party vendors for anti-virus and backup don’t ruin the party.


In the screenshot above you can see that Windows data deduplication supports ODX. And if you run antivirus on the host you have to make sure that the filter driver supports ODX. In our case McAfee Enterprise does. So we’re good. Do make sure to exclude the cluster related folders & subfolders from on access scans and schedules scans.

Do not run DFS Namespace servers on the cluster nodes. The DfsDriver does not support ODX!


The solution is easy, run your DFS Namespaces servers separate from your cluster hosts, somewhere else. That’s not a show stopper.

The user experience

What it looks like to a user? Totally normal except for the speed at which the file copies happen.

Here’s me copying an ISO file from a file share on server A to a file share on server B from my Windows 8.1 workstation at the branch office in another city, 65 KM away from our data center and connected via a 200Mbps pipe (MPLS).


On average we get about 300 MB/s or 2.4 Gbps, which “over” a 200Mbps WAN is a kind of magic. I assure you that they’re not complaining and get used to this quite (too) fast Winking smile.

The IT Pro experience

Leveraging SMB 3 and ODX means we avoid that people consume tons of bandwidth over the WAN and make copying large data sets a lot faster. On top of that the CPU cycles and bandwidth on the server are conserved for other needs as well. All this while we can failover the cluster nodes without our business users being impacted. Continuous to high availability, speed, less bandwidth & CPU cycles needed. What’s not to like?

Pretty cool huh! These improvements help out a lot and we’ve paid for them via software assurance so why not leverage them? Light up your IT infrastructure and make it shine.

What’s stopping you?

So what are your plans to leverage your software assurance benefits? What’s stopping you? When I asked that I got a couple of answers:

  • I don’t have money for new hardware. Well my SAN is also pré Windows 2012 (DELL Compellent SC40 controllers. I just chose based on my own research not on what VARs like to sell to get maximal kickbacks Winking smile. The servers I used are almost 4 years old but fully up to date DELL PowerEdge R710’s, recuperated from their duty as Hyper-V hosts. These server easily last us 6 years and over time we collected some spare servers for parts or replacement after the support expires. DELL doesn’t take away your access to firmware &drivers like some do and their servers aren’t artificially crippled in feature set.
  • Skills? Study, learn, test! I mean it, no excuse!
  • Bad support from ISV an OEMs for recent Windows versions are holding you back? Buy other brands, vote with your money and do not accept their excuses. You pay them to deliver.

As IT professionals we must and we can deliver. This is only possible as the result of sustained effort & planning. All the labs, testing, studying helps out when I’m designing and deploying solutions. As I take the entire stack into account in designs and we do our due diligence, I know it will work. The fact that being active in the community also helps me know early on what vendors & products have issues and makes that we can avoid the “marchitecture” solutions that don’t deliver when deployed. You can achieve this as well, you just have to make it happen. That’s not too expensive or time consuming, at least a lot less than being stuck after you spent your money.

Setting Up A Uplink (Trunk/General) With A Dell PowerConnect 2808 or 28XX


I was deploying a bunch of PowerConnect 2808 switches that needed to provide connectivity to multiple VLANs  (Training, Guest, …)  in a class rooms. I should have figured it out before I got there with my “assumption” based quick configuration loaded on the switches if I had just refreshed my insights in how the PowerConnect family of switches work.


So before we go on, here are the basics on switch port (or LAG) modes in the PowerConnect family. Please realize that switch behavior (especially for trunk mode in this context) has changed over time with more recent switches/firmware. But the current state of affairs is as follows (depending on what model & firmware you have behavior differs a bit).You can put your port or LAG in the following 3 (main) modes:

Access: The port belongs to a single untagged VLAN. When a port is in Access mode, the packet types which are accepted on the port cannot be designated. Ingress filtering cannot be enabled/disabled on an access port. So only untagged received traffic is allowed and all transmitted traffic is untagged. The setting of the port determines the VLAN of traffic. Tagged received traffic is dropped. Basically, this is what you set your ports for client devices to (printer, PC, laptop, NAS).

Trunk: In older versions this means that ALL transmitted traffic is tagged.  That’s easy. Tagged received traffic is dropped if doesn’t belong to one of the defined VLAN on the trunk. In more recent switches/firmware untagged received traffic is dropped but for one VLAN, that can be untagged and still be received. Which is nice for the default VLAN and makes for a better compatibility with other switches.

General: You determine what the rules are. You can configure it to transmit tagged or untagged traffic per VLAN. Untagged received traffic is accepted and the PVID determines the VLAN it is tagged with.  Tagged received traffic is dropped if doesn’t belong to one of the defined VLANs.

Also see this DELL link PowerConnect Common Questions Between Access, General and Trunk mode

The PowerConnect 28XX Series

These  are good switches for their price point & use cases. Just make sure you buy them for the right use case. There is only one thing I find unforgiving in this day and age: the lack of SSH/HTTPS support for management.

Go ahead fire up a 2808 and take a look at the web interface and see what you can configure. In contrast with the PC54XX/55XX etc. Series you cannot set the port mode it seems. So how can this switch accommodate trunks/general/access modes at all. Well it’s implied in the configuration of ports that seem to be set in general mode by default and you cannot change that. The good news is that with the right setting a port in general mode behaves like a port in access or trunk mode. How? Well we follow the rules above.

So we assume here that a port is in general mode (can’t be changed). But we want trunk mode, so how do we get the same behavior? Let’s look at some examples in speudo CLI. (It’s web GUI only device).

Example 1: Classic Trunk = only defined tagged traffic is accepted. All untagged traffic is dropped

switchport mode trunk
switchport trunk allowed vlan add 9, 20

So we can have the same behavior is general mode using

switchport mode general
switchport general allowed vlan add 9, 20 tagged
switchport general pvid 4095   

The PVID  of 4095 is the industry standard discard VLAN, it assign this VLAN to all untagged traffic which is dropped. Ergo this is the same as the trunk config above!

Example 2: Modern Trunk = only defined tagged traffic and one untagged VLAN is accepted

switchport mode trunk
switchport trunk allowed vlan add 9, 20
switchport trunk allowed vlan add 1 untagged

So we can have the same behavior is general mode using

switchport mode general
switchport general allowed vlan add 9, 20 tagged
switchport general pvid 1  

This example is what we needed in the classroom. And is basically what you set with the GUI. So far so good. But we ran into an issue with connectivity to the access ports in VLAN 9 and VLAN 20. Let’s look at that in the next Example

Example 3: Access port mode = only one untagged VLAN is accepted

switchport mode access
switchport access vlan 9

Switchport mode general
switchport general allowed vlan add 9 untagged
switchport general pvid 9

If you’re accustomed to the higher end PC switches you define the port in access mode and add the VLAN of you choice untagged. That’s it. Here the mode is general and can’t be changed meaning we need to set the PVID to 9 so all untagged traffic is indeed tagged with VLAN 9 on the port.

Setting Up an uplink between a PowerConnect 5548 and a 2808

Here’s the normal deal with higher range series of PowerConnect switches: you normally use the port mode to define the behavior and in our case we could go with a trunk or general mode. We use trunk, leave the native VLAN for the one untagged VLAN and add 9 and 20 as tagged VLANs.

The “trunk” port of LAG is left on the default PVID


So an “access” port for VLAN 9 is is achieved by setting the PVID to 9


And an “access” port for VLAN 20 is achieved by setting the PVID to 20


While the VLAN  membership settings are what you’d expect them to be like on the higher end PowerConnect models:

VLAN 1 (native)


VLAN 9 (Corp)


VLAN 20 (Guest)


If it’s the first time configuring a PC2808 you might  totally ignore the fact that needed to do some extra work to make traffic flow. So to recap what you need to do  As described above there is no selection of access/general/trunk … on a PowerConnect 2808. The port or the lag is “implicitly” set to general and the extra settings of the PVID and adding tagged/untagged VLANs will make it behave as general, trunk or access.

  • The trick is to set any other VLAN than the default 1 to tagged on the port or LAG you’ll use as uplink. So far things are quite “standard PowerConnect”.
  • You set the VLAN membership of your “access” ports to untagged to the VLAN you want them to belong to.
  • After that in on the “access” ports you set the PVID to the VLAN you want the port to belong to. If you do not do this the port still behaves as if it’s a VLAN 1 port. It will not get a DHCP address for that VLAN but for for the the one on VLAN 1 if there  is one, or, if you use a static IP address for the subnet of a VLAN on that port you won’t have connectivity as it’s not set to the right VLAN.

The reason we used the PowerConnect 2808 series here is that we needed silent ones (passive cooling) and they need multiple ones in the training rooms to avoid to many cables running around the place. That was the 2 minutes at the desk of the project managers quick fix to a changed requirement. The real solution of cause would have been to get 24+ outlets to the room in the correct places and add 24+ ports to the normal switch count in the hardware analysis for the building solution. But after the facts you have to roll with the flow.

DELL Has Great Windows Server 2012 R2 Feature Support – Consistent Device Naming–Which They Help Develop

The issue

Plug ‘n Play enumeration of devices has been very useful for loading device drivers automatically but isn’t deterministic. As devices are enumerated in the order they are received it will be different from server to server but also within the system. Meaning that enumeration and order of the NIC ports in the operating system may vary and “Local Area Connection 2” doesn’t always map to port 2 on the  on board NIC. It’s random. This means that scripting is “rather hard” and even finding out what NIC matches what port is a game of unplugging cables.

Consistent Device Naming is the solution

A mechanism that has to be supported by the BIOS was devised to deal with this and enable consistent naming of the NIC port numbering on the chassis and in the operating system.

But it’s even better. This doesn’t just work with on board NICs. It also works with add on cards as you can see. In the name column it identifies the slot in which the card sits and numbers the ports consistently.

In the DELL 12th Generation PowerEdge Servers this feature is enabled by default. It is not in HP servers for some reason, you need to turn in it on manually.

I first heard about this feature even before Windows Server 2012 Beta was released but as it turns out Dell has been involved with the development of this feature. It was Dell BIOS team members that developed the solution to consistently name network ports and had it standardized via PCI SIG.  They also collaborated with Microsoft to ensure that Windows Server 2012 would support all this.

Here’s a screen shot of a DELL R720 (12th Generation PowerEdge Server) of ours. As you can see the Consistent Device Naming doesn’t only work for the on broad NIC card. It also does a fine job with add on cards of which we have quite a few in this server.image

It clearly shows the support for Consistent Device Naming for the add on cards present in this server. This is a test server of ours (until we have to take it into production) and it has a quad 1Gbps Intel card, a dual Intel X520 DA card and a dual port Mellanox 10Gbps RoCE card. We use it to test out our assumptions & ideas. We still need a Chelsio iWarp card for more testing mind you Winking smile

A closer look

This solution is illustrated the in the “Device Name column” in the screen shot below. It’s clear that the PnP enumerated name (the friendly name via the driver INF file) and the enumerated number value are very different from the number in Name column ( NIC1, NIC2, NIC2, NIC4) even if in this case where by change the order is correct. If the operating system is reinstalled, or drivers changed and the devices re-enumerated, these numbers may change as they did with previous operating systems.


The “Name” column is where the Consistent Device Naming magic comes to live. As you can see you are able to easily identify port names as they are numbered consistently, regardless of the “Device Name” column numbering and in accordance with the numbering on the chassis or add on card. This column name will NEVER differ between identical servers of after reinstalling a server because it is not dependent on PnP. Pretty cool isn’t it! Also note that we can rename the Name column and if we choose we can keep the original name in that one to preserve the mapping to the physical hardware location.

In the example below thing map perfectly between the Name column and the Device Name column but that’s pure luck.image

On of the other add on cards demonstrates this perfectly.image

Fixing Two Small DELL Compellent Hardware Hiccups

Here’s two little tips to solve some small hardware issues you might run into with a Compellent SAN. But first, you’re never on your own with CoPilot support. They are just one phone call away so I suggest if you see these to minor issues you give them a call. I speak from experience that CoPilot rocks. They are really good and go the extra mile. Best storage support I have ever experienced.


  • Always notify CoPilot as they will see the alerts come in and will contact you for sure Smile. Afterwards they’ll almost certainly will do a quick health check for you. But even better during the entire process they keep an eye on things to make sure you SAN is doing just fine. And if you feel you’d like them to tackle this, they will send out an engineer I’m sure.
  • Note that we’re talking about the SC40 controllers & disk bays here. The newer genuine DELL hardware is better than the super micro ones.

The audible alert without any issues what so ever

We kept getting an audible alert after we had long solved any issues on one of the SANs. The system had been checked a couple of times and everything was in perfect working order. Except for that audible alarm that just didn’t want to quit. A low priority issue I know but every time we walk into the data center we were going “oh oh” for a false alert. That’s not the kind of conditioning you want. Alerts are only to be made when needed and than they do need to be acted upon!

Working on this with CoPilot support we got rid of it by reseating the upper I/O module. You can do this on the fly – without pulling SAS-cables out or so, they are redundant, as long as you do it one by one and the cabling is done right (they can verify that remotely for you if needed).


But we got lucky after the first one. After the “Swap Clear” was requested  every warning condition was cleared and we got rid of the audible alert beep!  Copilot was on the line with us and made sure all paths are up and running so no bad things could happen. That’s what you have a copilot for.

Front panel display dimming out on a Compellent Disk Bay

We have multiple Compellent SANs and on one of those we had a disk bay with a info panel that didn’t light up anymore. A silly issue but an annoying one as this one also show you the disk bay ID.


Do we really replace the disk bay to solve this one? As that light had come on and of a couple of time it could just be a bad contact so my colleague decided to take a look. First  he removed the protective cover and then, using some short & curved screw drivers, he took of the body part. The red arrow indicates the little latch that holds the small ribbon cable in place.


That was standing right open. After locking that down the info appeared again on the panel. The covers was screwed on again and voila. Solved.

FREE WHITE PAPER: Configuring a VEEAM Off Host Backup Proxy Server for backing up a Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V cluster with a DELL Compellent SAN (Fiber Channel)

Whilst I’m attending TechEd North America 2014, being able to learn and network again with the community at large I think this is a good moment to share. So here’s a little contribution to that community: it’s a white paper on How to configure a VEEAM Off Host Backup Proxy server for backing up a Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V cluster with a DELL Compellent SAN (Fiber Channel).

VEEAM Back & Replication is currently under and extensive test before we make the decision. So far it is going (very) well. And no, VEEAM or DELL did not sponsor this. It’s sharing with the community. A prosperous, successful community makes my professional live better to!

I have to applaud VEEAM for allowing such easy access to their software for trials, to their engineers for assistance and to their support forum and resources even without yet being a paying customer. This is how it should be: vendors having faith in their products both in quality and ease of use. It’s a refreshing experience as some vendors don’t want you to get your hands on new versions of their products even as a existing paying customer “because due to its complexity we might get the wrong impression”. It’s even near impossible with some to get a test license for the lab of the version you currently use with some of them. Not so with VEEAM and that’s great.

I hope you enjoy it. As you might realize I don’t have this kind of infrastructure in my home lab so some of the screenshots have been edited / blurred. I’m sure you can live with that. Otherwise feel free to provide me with the gear in a paid for data center.

DELL Enterprise Forum EMEA 2014 in Frankfurt

As you might have noticed on Twitter I was in Frankfurt last week to attend DELL Enterprise Forum EMEA 2014. It was a great conference and very worthwhile going to. It was a week of multi way communication between vendor, marketing, engineering, partners and customers. I learned a lot. And I gave a lot of feedback. As a Dell TechCenter Rockstar and a Microsoft MVP in Hyper-V I can build bridges to make sure both worlds understand each other better and we, the customers get their needs served better.

Dell Enterprise Forum EMEA 2014 - Frankfurt

I’m happy I managed to go and I have some people to thank for me being able to grab this opportunity:

  • I cleared the time with my employer. This is great, this is a win win situation and I invested weekend time & extra hours for both my employer and myself.
  • I got an invite for the customer storage council where we learned a lot and got ample of opportunity to give honest and constructive feedback directly to the people that need to hear it! Awesome.
  • The DELL TechCenter Rockstar program invited me very generously to come over at zero cost for the Enterprise Forum. Which is great and helped my employer  and myself out. So, thank you so much for helping me attend. Does this color my judgment? 100%  pure objectivity does not exist but the ones who know me also know I communicate openly and directly. Look, I’ve never written positive reviews for money or kickbacks. I do not have sponsoring on my blog, even if that could help pay for conferences, travel expenses or lab equipment. Some say I should but for now I don’t. I speak my mind and I have been a long term DELL customer for some very good reasons. They deliver the best value for money with great support in a better way and model than others out there. I was sharing this info way before I became a Rockstar and they know that I tell the good, the bad and the ugly. They can handle it and know how to leverage feedback better than many out there.
  • Stijn Depril ( @sdepril,, Technical Datacenter Sales at RealDolmen gave me a ride to Frankfurt and back home. Very nice of him and a big thank you for doing so.  He didn’t have to and I’m not a customer of them. Thank buddy, I appreciate it and it was interesting ton learn the partners view on things during the drive there and back. Techies will always be checking out gear …

Dell Enterprise Forum EMEA 2014 - Frankfurt

What did all this result in? Loads of discussion, learning and sharing about storage, networking, compute, cloud, futures and community in IT. It was an 18 hour per day technology fest in a very nice and well arranged fashion.

I was able to meet up with community members, twitter buddies, DELL Employees and peers from all over EMEA and share experiences, learn together, talk shop, provide feedback and left with a better understanding of the complexities and realities they deal with on their side.

Dell Enterprise Forum EMEA 2014 - Frankfurt

It has been time very well spent. I applaud DELL to make their engineers and product managers available for this event. I thank them for allowing us this amount of access to their brains from breakfast till the moment we say goodnight after a night cap. Well done, thank you for listening and I hope to continue the discussion. It’s great to be a DELL TechCenter Rockstar and work in this industry during this interesting times. To all the people I met again or for the first time, it was a great week of many interesting conversations!

For some more pictures and movies visit the Dell Enterprise Forum EMEA 2014 from Germany photo album on Flickr

Copy Cluster Roles Hyper-V Cluster Migration Fails at Final Step with error Virtual Machine Configuration ‘VM01′ failed to register the virtual machine with the virtual machine service

I was working on a migration of a nice two node Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V cluster to Windows Server 2012 R2. The cluster consist out of 2 DELL R610 servers and a DELL  MD3200 shared SAS disk array for the shared storage. It runs all the virtual machines with infrastructure roles etc. It’s a Cluster In A Box like set up. This has been doing just fine for 18 months but the need for features in Windows Server 2012 R2 became too much to resists. As the hardware needs to be recuperated and we have a maintenance windows we use the copy cluster roles scenario that we have used so many times before with great success. It’s the Perform an in-place migration involving only two servers scenario documented on TechNet and as described in one of my previous blogs Migrating a Hyper-V Cluster to Windows 2012 R2 for your convenience.

Virtual Machine Configuration ‘VM01′ failed to register the virtual machine with the virtual machine service

As the source host was running on Windows Server 2012 we could have done the live migration scenario but the down time would be minimal and there is a maintenance window. So we chose this path.

So we performed a good health check. of the source cluster and made sure we had no snapshots left hanging around. Yes it’s supported now for this migration scenario but I like to have as few moving parts as possible during a migration.

It all went smooth like silk. After shutting down the VMs on the source cluster node, bringing the CSV off line (and un-presenting the LUN from the source node for good measure), we present that LUN to the target host. We brought the CSV on line and when that was completed successfully we were ready to bring the virtual machines on line and that failed …

Log Name:      Microsoft-Windows-Hyper-V-High-Availability-Admin
Source:        Microsoft-Windows-Hyper-V-High-Availability
Date:          4/02/2014 19:26:41
Event ID:      21102
Task Category: None
Level:         Error
User:          SYSTEM
‘Virtual Machine Configuration VM01′ failed to register the virtual machine with the virtual machine management service.




Let’s dive into the other event logs. On the host the application security and system event log are squeaky clean. The Hyper-V event logs are pretty empty or clean to except for these events in the Hyper-V-VMMS Admin log.

Log Name:      Microsoft-Windows-Hyper-V-VMMS-Admin
Source:        Microsoft-Windows-Hyper-V-VMMS
Date:          4/02/2014 19:26:40
Event ID:      13000
Task Category: None
Level:         Error
User:          SYSTEM
User ‘NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM’ failed to create external configuration store at ‘C:\ClusterStorage\HyperVStorage\VM01′: The trust relationship between this workstation and the primary domain failed.. (0x800706FD)



Bingo. It must be the fact that no domain controller is available. It’s completely self contained cluster and both domain controller virtual machines are highly available and reside on the CSV. Now the CSV does come on line without a DC since Windows Server 2012 so that’s not the issue. it’s the process of registering the VMs that fails without a DC in an Active Directory environment.

Getting passed this issue

There are multiple ways to resolve this and move ahead with our cluster migration. As the environment is still fully functional on the source cluster I just removed a DC virtual machine from high availability on the cluster. I shut it down and exported it. I than copied it over to the node of the new cluster  (we’re going to nuke the source host afterwards and install W2K12R2, so we moved it to the new host where it could stay) where I put it on local storage and imported it. For this is used the “Register the virtual machine in-place option”. I did not make it high available.


After verifying that we could ping the DC and it was up and running well we tried the final phase of the migration again. It went as smooth as we have come to expect!

Other options would have been to host the DC virtual machine on a laptop or other server. If you could no longer get to the the DC for export & import or heck even a shared nothing migration depending on your environment can help you out of this pickle. A restore from backup would also work. But here in that 2 node all in one cluster our approach was fast and efficient.

So there you go. Tip to remember. Virtualizing domain controllers is fully supported, no worries there but you need to make sure that if you have a dependency on a DC you don’t have the DC depending on that dependency. It’s chicken an egg thing.

Use Cases For Fluid Cache For SAN With DELL Compellent In High Performance Virtualization With Windows 2012 R2

Fluid Cache For SAN

At Dell World 2013 in Austin Texas I spent some time talking to engineers & managers about Fluid Cache For SAN. The demo in the keynote was enough to grab my distinct attention, especially as a Compellent customer.

What is it?

Dell already has Fluid Cache for DAS available in its PowerEdge servers. Now it’s time to bring this to their best SAN offering, the Compellent, and make Fluid Cache shared storage suitable for shared storage clustering. The way to do that cost effective and high performance is to build on the success of on board (local to the server) high performance storage and make that shared through software in a physical shared nothing replication/sync model. To make this happen they use a 10/40Gbps Ethernet solution leveraging RoCE (RDMA over Converged Ethernet). Yes that very technology I have been investing time & effort in for SMB Direct and which we leverage for CSV & Live Migration traffic and with SOFS in Windows 2012 R2.

Basically the super low latency an high throughput enable the memory to be synced across all nodes in a cluster and as such each node sees all the cluster memory. For redundancy you will need at least 3 nodes in a cluster. Dell will scale Fluid Cache For SAN to 128 nodes. Windows Server 2012 R2 can handle 64 nodes, which some think is ridiculously high, but then again, Dell aims even higher so it’s not as weird as you think. Some people have really huge computing needs. Just remember that 10 years ago you probably found that 16GB of RAM was extravagant.

Why this architecture?

Dell uses server based “shared nothing flash storage” & high speed low, latency synchronization to create a logical cluster wide shared pool of flash memory. This means the achieve stellar low latency as the flash storage is inside of the servers, close to the processors and as such delivers excellent performance for the workloads. Way better that “just” flash only SAN can. For data integrity they commit the data only when it written to the Express Flash drive(s) of one server and then also to another and verified. This needs to happen very fast and that where the RoCE network come sin to play. Later, at less speed critical times the data is pushed out to the Compellent SAN for storage. If that SAN is a flash based setup think about the capabilities this gives you in performance. Likewise data reads of the SAN that are highly active are pushed from the Compellent SAN and cached (also in multiple copies) on the Express Flash modules. While two servers with each a copy of the data on Express Flash modules would suffice DELL requires at least three. This is just a plain common sense N+1 redundancy design to have high availability even when a node fails. A cool think to note is that you can build larger clusters with 3 nodes each having one or more Express Flash modules and additional nodes don’t need it as long as they can read the cache of those 3. So the cost of this can be managed. The drawback is that you don’t read & write to a local Express Flash module on those extra node. If you want that you’ll need to put more $ on the table.


The thing to note here is that the Servers/SAN are connected over RoCE/RDMA. Well this look familiar. What technology can also leverages RDMA? SMB Direct in Windows Server 2012 R2! And where do we use this amongst other things? Storage IO in Scale Out File Server, CSV traffic, Live Migration …

The big benefit of this design it just it takes your SAN to the next level but also, if DELL does this right, they won’t break any of the good stuff like VSS aware snapshot with Replay Manager, Automatic Data Tiering, Live Volumes, Live Migration etc. A lot of the high IOPS/low latency solutions out their based on fast local flash break a lot of the good stuff and reduces centralized storage management. What if you can have your cookie and eat it to?

Demo Time at Dell World

Dell demonstrated an Oracle database load on an eight node cluster of PowerEdge R720 servers with Intel Xeon E5 processors, with Linux (no Windows Server 2012 R2 support yet Sad smile) These servers each used 350GB PCI-Express flash cards (“only” PCI-Express 2.0 capable by the way). This cluster, using a Compellent SAN, managed to get a result of more than 5 million IOPS at 6 millisecond response times, delivering 12,000 tps for 14,000 client connections. This was read only. If they dropped the Fluid Cache for SAN they  could “only” achieve 2,000 clients (6 times less clients due to 4 time less transactions and 99% slower responses). See this movie for more info: and watch the keynote from Dell World 2013 here


Where would I use this?

Cost will determine use cases and this is unknown for now. We can only look at what Fluid Cache for DAS cost right now and speculate. I for one hope/bet on the fact that DELL won’t price itself out of the marked (they have a lot of competition from big & smalls players in a “good enough is good enough” world with a cloud mindset all around). So make it too expensive and we might be happy with “just” 500.000 IOPS at much less cost. It’s a fine line. Price it right, support it well and you might win the bulk of sales in the storage wars. Based on the DAS solution we’re looking at least 8000 $ per server (license is 3500 for DAS => see  + cost of PCI-Express flash module (> 5000$ => see &  yearly maintenance fee. Then we need to factor in the cost of the RDMA/RoCE capable NICs & the (dedicated) Force10 switches – 2 for redundancy  that are at least 10Gbps (S4810?) or probably 40Gbps (S6000?) & cabling. So this is not a cheap solution and you won’t just “throw it in” on a quiet afternoon to see what it does for you. Not that there will be a DIY “throw it on kit” I think, it’s a step above plug and play. If they keep it affordable and do some other things for Windows Server 201 R2 / Hyper-V they can be the absolute number one SAN vendor for any Microsoft customer. But that’s another blog topic.

Cost is indeed something that might make it a show stopper for us. I just can’t tell yet. One of the key factors is that if affordable it could give the point solutions we now see pop up more and more in storage. a run for their money. While cheap and workable in good enough is good enough scenarios it takes some of the centrally shared storage advantages away. But if we ever do a state full VDI project in an environment with high end physical desktops (500GB or more local storage, SSD disks, 8 core CPU, 8-32GB DDR3, dual or more screens) that run ArcGis, AutoCad, Visual Studio, SQL Server, Outlook with 5GB mailboxes, large documents & huge files (images) this might be the enabler we need to make VDI happen & works as desired with current all-purpose Compellent SANs. IIf the price is right it could enable VDI in now “NO GO” scenarios.  And those are plentiful, … Another use case I see is a virtualized SQL Server environment on Hyper-V with general purpose shared storage. We’re doing very well but the day might arrive that we need those IOPS in order to take it even further. Don’t laugh but realize how much IOPS an SSD delivers to a workstation today and that’s what your users expect & demand. Want to fail at VDI? Have it outperformed by a 4 year old physical PC where you slapped an SSD into.

Could it help in keeping excessive IOPS away from the SAN, making that capable of doing more over a longer life time? In other words can it play a part in the Storage QoS issue across server/cluster/storage system issue for non workload aware storage solutions?

So I might have some homework to do. For our next SQL Server cluster we’ll look at the next generation of servers & start counting our PCI Express slots. We now already consume 4 PCI-Express slots for 2*FC & 2*Dual Port 10Gbps) in our Hyper-V design. That’s another discussion, but they are built purposely for performance under any condition & to be highly redundant. A health check / improvement track by Microsoft for our SQL Server environment has proven this to be an outstanding setup (nice e-mail to see your bosses get by the way). I digress, free PCI-Slots should not be an issue, as we also don’t need the FC cards in the Fluid Cache Nodes. The storage IO uses the RoCE network, to which the Compellent SAN attaches.

Cost is very important in determining if we’ll ever get to deploy it. The cloud is here, and while that is far from cheap either, it’s a lot easier to sell than internal IT for various reasons. That’s just how the powers that be roll right now & how things are.

What we’ll get in our hands

There was a lot of love between Dell & Samsung at Dell World. Talking to Dell at the server/storage/networking boots I understood that Samsung is going to produce flash modules for this that support PCI-Express 3.0 and the industry backed NVM Express host interface for solid state drives which will reduce latency with 1/3 compared to now. As it seems they will produce higher capacity cards than what was used in the demos (800 GB and 1.6 TB). So capacity will increase & latency will drop even more. They leverage the Force10 10Gpbs or 40Gbps switches for the RoCE network. As Dell & Mellanox are cooperating heavily (Mellanox Collaborates with Dell to Deliver 10/40GbE Solution for Mainstream Servers and Networking Solutions) my bet is on Mellanox for the cards. Broadcom is not there yet for it to happen in time and Intel has no RoCE cards afaik. They seem to be playing the waiting game before they jump in.

Magic Ball Time, Speculation & Questions.

I’m not a DELL Server / Storage designer or architect, and those that are don’t tell me to plaster it all over the internet, so this really is magic ball time …


I’ll show my ignorance on what Samsung does under the hood when I hear that the next generation of DELL servers can have 6TB of RAM I can only speculate that with the advent of DDR4 in servers & ever dropping cost the path is open to leverage NV-RAM disk for the read/write cache in Fluid Cache for SAN as well a bit like what IDT did The persistence comes from writing the DRAM content to NAND at shutdown, can we do that fast enough at 1.6 TB sized caches? Can we fit enough of  those modules on a card? What would that do for IOPS & latency? Does that even make sense at this moment in time?

What if we could leverage the DDR4 dims in the server itself? This would perhaps cut costs and also save us some valuable PCI-Express 3.0 slots for our 10Gbps or better addiction Smile. Sure there is no persistence than but the content is distributed redundantly over the cluster anyway? Is that safe enough to make it feasible? What if we need to shut down the cluster? I guess it’s not that easy and perhaps we just need to make sure future motherboards have 8 or more PC-Express 3.0 slots & not worry about that. Or move to 40/100Gbps & have less need for NICs. Yeah that’s what was said of 10Gbps in the early days …

Support for Windows?

While it’s not there yet I have absolutely no doubt that they will bring it to Windows Server 2012 R2 and higher. Well Windows is a huge on premise market for native workloads like SQL Server, VDI and Hyper-V. The number of sales opportunities in the Microsoft ecosystem is growing (despite cloud) while others are stagnant or dropping. On top of that the low cost of Hyper-V leaves money to be spent on Fluid Cache for SAN. As Dell is in business to make money, they will not leave that big chunk of cash on the table.

When can we get our hands on this technology?

Timing wise that will be early to late Q2 in 2014, which is my best guestimate. Interesting times people, interesting times

DELL World 2013 – Tour Of the Acoustic & Storage Testing Labs & Presenting at the Dell TechCenter User Group

While at Dell World 2013, a group of us had the opportunity to visit the Dell offices as part of the Trends in Data Center Technology Think Tank. We saw advancements in fresh air cooling, a hot house,


the storage lab and, new to me, the acoustic labs. Below is a picture of Chris Peterson, the acoustic Architect (he was involved in the design of the DELL VRTX, which is a unique solution and achievement in the industry). Like wise the also have thermal engineers and both of these expertises are closely related.

I will never look at acoustic / thermal engineering for servers & storage in the same way I used to and I have way more respect for the effort and a better understanding of what efforts go in to this research and why.

For some more information on the acoustic lab read this white paper Dell Enterprise Acoustics and watch these videos:

Dell thermal & acoustic engineers discussing the VRTX
Chris Peterson on Dell PowerEdge Generation 12 Server acoustics

Next to all that I attended briefings, had one to one conversations with network, storage & server managers & engineers. I had a lot of information, questions & request to share from our Microsoft MVP Community in regards to our needs & wishes for the best possible support for Windows Server 2012 R2, Hyper-V, ODX, UNMAP, SMB Direct, SOFS, Management & cloud. I even jumped into an open source breakfast discussion on * cloud computing. Last but not least we joined fellow Rock Stars Jonathan Copeland (@VirtSecurity), Rasmus Haslund (@haslund) & Dell Tech Center’s community manager Jeff Sullivan (@JeffSullivan) to discuss what community & social media means to us.


I also shared our experiences with Windows Server 2012 R2, Hyper-V, DVMQ, vRSS & ODX at the Dell Tech Center User Group during Dell World 2013.


Want to talk and demo DVMQ & vRSS? Start with the basics: RSS Smile 

To all my community buddies a very festive end of the year and a great 2014! If you want to know even more about how rewarding being part of a community can be, check out this blog Mindset of the community by Marc van Eijk (@_marcvaneijk)

I’m In Austin Texas For Dell World 2013

This is the night time sky line of where I’m at right now. Austin, Texas, USA. That famous “Lone Star State” that until now I only knew from the movies & the media. Austin is an impressive city in an impressive state and, as most US experiences I’ve had, isn’t comparable with anything in my home country Belgium. That works both ways naturally and I’m lucky I get to travel a bit and see a small part of the world.image

Dell World 2013

So why am I here?  Well I’m here to attend DELL World 2013, but you got that already Smile


That’s nice Didier but why DELL World? Well, several reasons. For one, I wanted to come and talk to as many product owners & managers, architects & strategists as I can. We’re seeing a lot of interest in new capabilities that Windows Server 2012 (R2) brought to the Microsoft ecosystem. I want to provide all the feedback I can on what I as a customer, a Microsoft MVP and technologist expect from DELL to help us make the most of those. I’m convinced DELL has everything we need but can use some guidance on what to add or enhance. It would be great to get our priorities and those of DELL aligned. Form them I expect to hear their plans, ideas, opinions and see how those match up. Dell has a cost/value leadership position when it comes to servers right now. They have a great line up of economy switches that pack a punch (PowerConnect) & some state of the art network gear with Force10. it would be nice to align these with guidance & capabilities to leverage SMB Direct and NVGRE network virtualization. Dell still has the chance to fill some gaps way better than others have. A decent Hyper-V network virtualization gateway that doesn’t cost your two first born children and can handle dozens to hundreds of virtual networks comes to mind. That and real life guidance on several SMB Direct with DCB configuration guidance. Storage wise, the MD series, Equalogic & Compellent arrays offer great value for money. But we need to address the needs & interest that SMB 3.0, Storage Spaces, RDMA has awoken and how Dell is planning to address those. I also think that OEMs need to pick up pace & change some of their priorities when it comes to providing answers to what their customers in the MSFT ecosystem ask for & need, doing that can put them in a very good position versus their competitors. But I have no illusions about my place in & impact on the universe.

Secondly, I was invited to come. As it turns out DELL has the same keen interest in talking to people who are in the trenches using their equipment to build solutions that address real life needs in a economical feasible way.  No, this is not “just” marketing. A smart vendor today communicates in many ways with existing & potential customers. Social media is a big part of that but also off line at conferences, events and both contributor and sponsor.  Feedback on how that works & is received is valuable as well for both parties. They learn what works &n doesn’t and we get the content we need. Now sure you’ll have the corporate social media types that are bound by legal & marketing constrictions but the real value lies in engaging with your customers & partners about their real technological challenges & needs.

Third is the fact that all these trends & capabilities in both the Microsoft ecosystem and in hardware world are not happening in isolation. They are happening in a world dominated by cloud computing in all it’s forms. This impact everything from the clients, servers, servers to the data centers as well as the people involved. It’s a world in which we need to balance the existing and future needs with a mixture of approaches & where no one size fits all even if the solutions come via commodity products & services. It’s a world where the hardware  & software giants are entering each others turf. That’s bound to cause some sparks Smile. Datacenter abstraction layer, Software Defined “anything” (storage, networking, …), converged infrastructure. Will they collaborate or fight?

So put these three together and here I am. My agenda is full of meetings, think tanks, panels, briefings and some down time to chat to colleagues & DELL employees alike.

Why & How?

Some time ago I was asked why I do this and why I’m even capable to do this. It takes time, money and effort.  Am I some kind of hot shot manager or visionary guru? No, not at all. Believe there’s nothing “hot” about working on a business down issue at zero dark thirty. I’m a technologist. I’m where the buck stops. I need things to work. So I deal in realities not fantasies. I don’t sell methods, processes or services people, I sell results, that’s what pays my bills long term. But I do dream and I try to turn those into realities. That’s different from just fantasy world where reality is an unwelcome guest. I’m no visionary, I’m no guru. I’m a hard working IT Pro (hence the blog title and twitter handle) who realizes all to well he’s standing on the shoulders of not just giants but of all those people who create the ecosystem in which I work. But there’s more. Being a mere technologist only gets you that far. I also give architectural & strategic advice as that’s also needed to make the correct decisions. Solutions don’t exist in isolation and need to be made in relation to trends, strategies and needs. That takes insight & vision. Those don’t come to you by only working in the data center, your desktop or in eternal meetings with the same people in the same place. My peers, employers and clients actively support this for the benefit of our business, customers, networks & communities. That’s the what, why and who that are giving me the opportunities to learn & grow both personally & professionally. People like Arlindo Alves and may others at MSFT, my fellow MVPs (Aidan Finn, Hans Vredevoort, Carsten Rachfahl, …), Florian Klaffenbach & Peter Tsai. As a person you have to grab those opportunities. If you want to be heard you need to communicate. People listen and if the discussions and subjects are interesting it becomes a two way conversation and a great learning experience. As with all networking and community endeavors you need to put in the effort to reap the rewards in the form of information, insights and knowledge you can leverage for both your own needs as well as for those in your network. That means speaking your mind. Being honest and open, even if at times you’re wrong. That’s learning. That, to me, is what being in the DELL TechCenter Rock StarDELL TechCenter Rock Star program is all about.

Learning, growing, sharing. That and a sustained effort in your own development slowly but surely makes you an “expert”. An expert that realizes all to well how much he doesn’t known & cannot possible all learn.  Luckily, to help deal with that fact, you can turn to the community.