Like all VMware techies, I have also installed shared storage in different ways, to experiment with high-availability solutions.  One thing that has always bugged me is that virtual appliances providing shared storage, need to have the virtual environment running as a prerequisite.  In a home lab, one might not have an external NAS box so if all storage is internal, then this seems a bit limiting.  I want the storage to be there and ready even before my virtual environment comes up so that I “know” my shared storage is there when my ESX servers come up.  Not just that, being a virtual appliance, there is an extra layer to deal with which ultimately affects performance.

My new machine runs VMware Workstation 9 on top of Windows 7 Enterprise 64-bit.  I thought I should now put a couple of extra SSDs in my system and use my host machine to run the iSCSI environment.  Initially, I considered running Microsoft iSCSI Software Target but I don’t run server versions of Windows on my machine as critical drivers are not available from the motherboard manufacturer.  However then I found a better choice: Starwind iSCSI SAN Software.

This is a lot better because not only it allows me to create iSCSI targets on my Windows 7 machine, I can do a lot lot more than what I could have possibly done with just making my machine an iSCSI target.  I can have as many virtual image disks as I want and use them in various shared storage configurations.  My host has a lot of RAM and I can use some of that to make super high speed disks.  Also, if I add another host with storage, I can create complex configurations with synchronous replication, heart-beating and failover capabilities.  Bear in mind that HA is limited to 128 GB disks with the free version (at the time of writing). Full list of the features and difference between the free and paid versions is here.  I will blog about these configurations in later posts, as I experiment with them.

Best of all, this brings my setup in line with what I wanted: My shared storage is up before I start bringing everything else up and it goes down after everything else is down, which is how I like it!  Plus, I can create and destroy all kinds of configuration to experiment with different scenarios and the skills developed, can easily be translated to the paid version of the software where it might be suitable for clients who can’t afford high end storage devices.

Regardless of if you are virtualisation techie, consultant or an enthusiast running a virtual lab at home, you can develop shared storage skills quite easily using this software and with all the features available, it seems like a no-brainer.

Hope this helps!