Posts Tagged ‘software mirror’

Surviving SAN failure – Revisited (vSphere)

Some time ago I posted Surviving total SAN failure which I had tested on ESX 3.5 at the time. A recent commenter had trouble getting this to work on a vSphere 4.0 environment. So I set out to test this once more on my trusty vSphere 4.1 environment.

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Surviving total SAN failure

Almost every enterprise setup for ESX features multiple ESX nodes, multiple failover paths, multiple IP and/or fiber switches… But having multiple SANs is hardly ever done, except in Disaster Recovery environments. But what if your SAN decides to fail altogether? And even more important, how can you prevent impact if it happens to your production environment?



Using a DR setup to cope with SAN failure

One option to counter the problem of total SAN failure would of course be to use your DR-site’s SAN, and perform a failover (either manual or via SRM). This is kind of a hard call to make: Using SRM will probably not get your environment up within the hour, and if you have a proper underlying contract with the SAN vendor, you might be able to fix your issue on the primary SAN within the hour. No matter how you look at it, you will always have downtime in this scenario. But in these modern times of HA and even Fault Tolerance (vSphere4 feature), why live with downtime at all?


Using vendor-specific solutions

A lot of vendors have thought about this problem, and especially in the IP-storage corner one sees an increase in “high available” solutions. Most of the time relative simple building blocks are simply stacked, and can then survive a SAN (component) failure in that case. This is one way to cope with issues, but it generally has a lot of restrictions – such as vendor lock-in and an impact on performance.

Why not do it the simple way?

I have found that simple solutions are generally the best solutions. So I tried to approach this problem from a very simple angle: From within the VM. The idea is simple: You use two storage boxes which your ESX cluster can use, you put a VMs disk on a LUN on the first storage box, and you simply add a software mirror on a LUN on the second storage. It is almost too easy to be true. I used a windows 2003 server VM, converted the bootdrive to a dynamic disk, and simply added the second disk to the VM, choose “add mirror” from the bootdisk which I placed on the second disk.

Unfortunately, it did not work right away. As soon as one of the storages fails, VMware ESX reports “SCSI BUSY” to the VM, which will cause the VM to freeze forever. After adding the following to the *.vmx file of the VM, things got a lot better:

scsi0.returnBusyOnNoConnectStatus = “FALSE”

Now, as soon as one of the LUNs fail, the VM has a slight “hiccup” before it decides that the mirror is broken, and it continues to run without issue or even lost sessions! After the problem with the SAN is fixed, you simply perform an “add mirror” within the VM again, and after syncing to are ready for your next SAN failure. Of course you need to remember that if you have 100+ VMs to protect this way, there is a lot of work involved…

This has proven to be a simple yet very effective way to protect your VMs from a total (or partial) SAN failure. A lot of people do not like the idea of using software RAID within the VMs, but eh, in the early days, who gave ESX a thought for production workloads? And just to keep the rumors going: To my understanding vSphere is going to be doing exactly this from an ESX point of view in the near future…

To my knowledge, at this time there are no alternatives besides the two described above to survive a SAN failure with “no” downtime (unless you go down the software clustering path of course).

Soon to come