Support for Active Directory on vSphere

I heard something interested today from a customer, a storage vendor who sells predominantly block storage products was trying to tell them that Active Directory domain controllers are not supported on vSphere when using NFS datastores.

The context was the vendor was attempting to sell a traditional block based SAN, and they were trying to compete against Nutanix. The funny thing is, Nutanix supports block storage too, so it was a uneducated and pointless argument.

None the less, the topic of support for Active Directory on vSphere using NFS datastores is worth clarifying.

There are two Microsoft TechNet articles which cover support for  topic:

  1. Things to consider when you host Active Directory domain controllers in virtual hosting environments
  2. Support policy for Microsoft software that runs on non-Microsoft hardware virtualization software

Note: There is no mention of storage protocols (Block or File) in these articles.

The second article states:

for vendors who have Server Virtualization Validation Program (SVVP) validated solutions, Microsoft will support server operating systems subject to the Microsoft Support Lifecycle policy for its customers who have support agreements when the operating system runs virtualized on non-Microsoft hardware virtualization software.

VMware has validated vSphere as a SVVP solution which can be validated here: http://www.windowsservercatalog.com/svvp.aspx

The next interesting point is:

If the virtual hosting environment software correctly supports a SCSI emulation mode that supports forced unit access (FUA), un-buffered writes that Active Directory performs in this environment are passed to the host operating system. If forced unit access is not supported, you must disable the write cache on all volumes of the guest operating system that host the Active Directory database, the logs, and the checkpoint file.

Funnily enough, this is the same point for Exchange, but where the Exchange team decided not to support it, the wider organisation have a much more intelligent policy where they support SCSI emulation (ie: VMDKs on NFS datastores) as long as the storage ensures writes are not acknowledged to the OS prior to being written to persistent media (ie: Not volatile memory such as RAM).

This is a very reasonable support statement and one which has a solid technical justification.

In Summary, running Active Directory is supported on vSphere including both block (iSCSI, FC, FCoE) and file (NFS) based datastores where the storage vendor complies with the above requirements.

So check with your storage vendor to confirm if the storage your using is compliant.

Nutanix 100% complies with these requirements for both Block and File storage. For more details see: Ensuring Data Integrity with Nutanix – Part 2 – Forced Unit Access (FUA) & Write Through

For more information about how NFS datastores provide true block level storage to Virtual Machines via VMDKs, check out Emulation of the SCSI Protocol which shows how all native SCSI commands are honoured by VMDKs on NFS.

Related Articles:

  1. Running Domain Controllers in Hyper-V

This post covers the requirement for FUA the same as with vSphere and recommends the use of UPS (to ensure write integrity) as well as enterprise grade drives which are also applicable to vSphere deployments.

NFS Storage and the “Block Dinosaur”

Disclaimer: If you don’t have a sense of humour and/or you just really love block storage, Parental Guidance is recommend.

23-Apr-15 8-42-18 PM

For as long as I can remember it has not been uncommon for I.T “professionals” working in the storage industry or in a storage role to make statements about NFS (Network File System) as if its is a 2nd class citizen in the storage world.

I’ve heard any number of statements such as:

  • NFS is slow(er) than block storage
  • NFS (datastores) don’t honour all SCSI commands
  • NFS is not scalable
  • NFS uses significantly more CPU than block storage
  • NFS does not support <insert your favourite technology here>

People making these statements are known as “Block Dinosaurs

The definition of “Block Dinosaur” is as follows:

“Block Dinosaur”

 Pronounced: [blok] – [dahy-nuh-sawr]

Examples

noun
  1. a homo sapien becoming less common in the wild since the widespread use of NFS with vSphere and Hyper-Converged solutions
  2. a species soon to be extinct, of which attempts to spread Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) about the capabilities of NFS storage
  3. someone that provides storage which is unwieldy in size, inflexible and requires an outdated technologies such as “LUNs” , “Zoning” & “Masking”.
  4. a person unable to adapt to change who continues to attempt to sell outdated equipment: e.g.: The SAN dinosaur recommended an outdated product that was complicated and cost the company millions to install and operate.
  5. a person who does not understand SCSI protocol emulation and/or has performed little/no practical testing of NFS storage in which to have an informed opinion;
  6. a person who drinks from the fire hose of their respective employer or predominately block storage vendor;

Synonyms for “Block Dinosaur”

  1. SAN zombie
  2. Old-School SAN salesman
  3. SAN hugger
Origin of “Block dinosaur”
Believed to have originated in Hopkinton, MA, USA but quickly spread to Santa Clara, California and onto Armonk, NY before going global after frequent “parroting” of anti NAS or NFS statements.
Recent “Block Dinosaur” sightings:
  holb090203_cmyk-735392
The only cool “Block Dinosaurs” are a different species and can only be found at Lego Land.
brickdinosaurlego-dino-legoland--large-msg-12161441386298IMG_1464[activities]Saurus3_414x2
Final (and more serious) Thought:
I hope this post came across as light hearted as its not meant to upset anyone, at the same time, I would really like the ridiculous debate about Block vs File storage be put to bed, its 2015 people, there is much more important things to worry about.
The fact is there are advantages to both block and file storage and reasons where you may use one over another depending on requirements. At the end of the day both can provide enterprise grade storage solutions which provide business outcomes to customers, so there is no need to bash one or the other.

Fight the FUD – Support for MS Exchange on Nutanix

Its disappointing that some vendors have so little respect for customers time that they continue to spread FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) about other vendors products.

This post is for existing and future Nutanix customers to get the facts about support for MS Exchange on Nutanix.

First of all, Nutanix Distributed File System (NDFS) is not Network File System (NFS).

NDFS is a file system which presents storage to hyper visors (ESXi, Hyper-V and KVM) via industry standard storage protocols being iSCSI, SMB 3.0 and NFS.

Currently Microsoft do not support Exchange running with VMDKs hosted on NFS for Exchange deployments on vSphere, this is due to an outdated and baseless support policy which experts from almost every major storage vendor agree.

For more information see the below article:

Virtualizing Exchange on vSphere with NFS backed storage?

However Nutanix have a published KB providing full support for MS Exchange when running within VMDKs on NFS datastores.

Nutanix aims to provide an Uncompromisingly Simple solution for customers which gives them maximum flexibility/choice. As such, when deploying applications such as MS Exchange on Nutanix, how the application/s are deployed and what storage protocol they use is ultimately the customers choice.

The below are some of the benefits of this include:

  1. Running a standard platform and storage protocol for all workloads is a simple model which reduces the unnecessary complexity of multiple protocols and/or in-guest storage configurations.
  2. The customer has the choice to deploy in multiple configurations to suit their specific requirements
If you want to run a 100% Microsoft supported Exchange configuration on Nutanix you currently have two options:
  1. vSphere running iSCSI
  2. Hyper-V running SMB 3.0

If you understand that NFS datastores are not supported by Microsoft, but accept it is fully supported by Nutanix and you want to run Exchange in a VMDK on NFS datastores, then Nutanix will support for MS Exchange and Microsoft will provide commercially reasonable support directly or via TSAnet if the case needs to be escalated.

So there you have it, MS Exchange can be ran on Nutanix in 100% Microsoft supported configurations and Nutanix customers have the choice in how they wish to deploy with full support from Nutanix.

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