Until recently, SANs were exclusively an enterprise technology. The cost and complexity of installing a SAN put it out of reach for most SMBs. Now, StarWind 5.0 turns the storage market on its ear by providing almost all the benefits of high-end SAN storage at a price that smaller businesses can afford.

StarWind 5.0 isn't a traditional hardware-based storage device; rather, it’s a software-based service that runs on Windows Server 2008 or Server 2008 R2. It requires at least a 2GHz processor, 4GB of RAM, a 1Gb Ethernet connection, and 10GB of free disk space. The StarWind Server software essentially lets the Windows Server system function as an iSCSI server. Running on Windows Server frees you from the necessity of purchasing a dedicated SAN device, and it makes the StarWind SAN extremely easy to configure and work with because you use the same Windows tool set. However, the upshot is that the base system has the same management requirements as Windows Server and requires regular patching and software updates.

I installed StarWind Enterprise HA Unlimited on a Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard Edition system. This system had 8GB of RAM and 2.53GHz quad-core Intel Xeon processor. The entire installation took only a couple minutes and required only 1.2MB of disk space. The product includes the StarWind iSCSI service, which permits Windows Server to act as an iSCSI target, and the StarWind Management Console, which lets you create SAN partitions out of storage attached to the Windows Server system.

Immediately following the installation, StarWind Enterprise HA Unlimited was up and running. Mysteriously, I couldn't access the StarWind Management Console either from the desktop shortcut or the Start menu but was able to open it from the system tray. Figure 1 shows the StarWind Management Console.

 

Figure 1: The StarWind Management Console
Figure 1: The StarWind Management Console

 

In the StarWind Management Console, you create iSCSI targets—essentially, storage locations. You can choose physical volumes, optical drives, or virtual disks as targets; physical disks consume the entire volume, and virtual disks are image files that StarWind creates on the physical disk. Both physical and virtual disks support clustering, caching, and high-availability options. The product's Getting Started guide—included with the online Help—does a good job of stepping you through SAN setup. Oddly, you can’t control the StarWind iSCSI service from the StarWind Management Console.

I tested Enterprise HA Unlimited as a Windows storage platform using basic file serving, Windows Failover Clustering, and Hyper-V live migration. StarWind worked flawlessly in all these scenarios. After opening firewall port 3261, I was able to use Windows Server’s iSCSI Software Initiator to connect to the StarWind server with no problem and use Windows Disk Management to assign storage. It passed the Windows Failover Clustering storage-compatibility test and also complied with Hyper-V Live Migration’s requirements for persistent iSCSI reservations.

StarWind Enterprise HA Unlimited 5.0
PROS: Inexpensive; easy to manage; compatible with Windows Failover Clustering, Hyper-V Live Migration and VMware VMotion
CONS: Requires Windows Server 2008 or Server 2008 R2
RATING: 4.5 out of 5
PRICE: StarWind Server $395; StarWind Enterprise $995; StarWind Enterprise Unlimited $2495; StarWind Enterprise HA $2995; StarWind Enterprise HA Unlimited $5995
RECOMMENDATION: StarWind Enterprise Server is a great choice for any organization that’s looking for an affordable and easy to manage SNA solution.

CONTACT: StarWind Software • 617-449-7717 • www.starwindsoftware.com

In my tests, the performance of the StarWind Enterprise HA Unlimited SAN was excellent. Although it might not equal the performance of a dedicated SAN, it's a fraction of the cost. It also boasts a comparable feature set. StarWind Enterprise HA Unlimited can perform storage snapshots as well as synchronous mirroring, asynchronous replication, and automatic failover between two StarWind servers.

StarWind offers a number of editions, and you dive into the details of each to get the feature set you want. At the low end, the basic StarWind Server—limited to 2TB of storage and 4 iSCSI connections—is great for testing and for R&D deployments. At the high end, StarWind Enterprise HA Unlimited has no limits on storage or connections. The license for the StarWind Enterprise HA Unlimited edition includes the right to run on two servers, letting you set up high availability at no additional cost. Check out the StarWind Editions Comparisons page (www.starwindsoftware.com/buy/editions-comparison) for more information.

StarWind’s support for VMware and Hyper-V make it a great choice for small businesses that want a SAN for virtualization or for businesses seeking an affordable iSCSI SAN for testing and development. I highly recommend giving it a close look.