How SoftNAS Solved Isilon DR on AWS and Azure Clouds

Buurst Staff

Isilon disaster recovery (DR) on AWS & Azure Storage

We have customers continually asking for solutions that will allow them to either migrate or continuously replicate from their existing storage systems to the AWS and Azure cloud storage. The ask is generally predicated on some cost savings analysis, receipt of the latest storage refresh bill, or a recent disaster recovery DR event. In other cases, customers have many remote sites, offices, or factories where there’s simply not enough space to maintain all the data at the edge. The convenience of the public cloud is an obvious answer. We still don’t have elegant solutions to all of our cloud problems, but with the release of SoftNAS Platinum, we have at least solved one. Increasingly, we see a lot of Dell/EMC Isilon customers who want to trade out hardware ownership for the cloud subscription model and get out of the hardware management business.

I will focus on one such customer and the Isilon system for which they tasked us to provide a cloud-based storage disaster recovery DR solution to solve.

Problem Statement

Can the cloud be used as a Disaster Recovery (DR) location for an on-premises storage array?

The customer’s Isilon arrays provide scale-out NFS for their on-premises datacenters. These arrays were aging and due for renewal. The company had been interested in public cloud alternatives, but as much as the business leaders are pushing for a more cost-effective and scalable solution, they are also risk-averse. Thus, their IT staff was caught in the “change it but don’t change it “paradox.  The project lead and his SoftNAS team were asked to provide an Isilon disaster recovery solution that would meet the immediate cost savings goal while providing the flexibility to scale and modernize their infrastructure in the future, as the company moves more data and workloads into the public cloud.

Assessing the Environment

One of Isilon’s primary advantages is its scale-out architecture, which aggregates large pools of file storage with an ability to add more disk drives and storage racks as needed to scale what are effectively monolithic storage volumes. The Isilon has been a hugely successful workhorse for many years.

Like Isilon, the public cloud provides its own forms of scale-out, “bottomless” storage. The problem is that this native cloud storage is not natively designed to be NFS or file-based but instead is block and object-based storage. The cloud providers are aware of this deficit, and they do offer some basic NFS file storage services, which tend to be far too expensive (e.g., $3,600 per TB per year). These cloud file solutions also tend to deliver unpredictable performance due to their shared storage architectures and the multi-tenant access overload conditions that plague them.

How to Replace Isilon DR Storage on AWS and Microsoft Azure Cloud?

Often, Isilon replacement projects begin with the disaster recovery DR datacenter because it is the easiest component to justify and move, and thus, poses the least risk for risk-averse IT shops that want to prove out their Isilon replacement with public cloud storage and provide a safe place for employees to gain improved cloud skills.

Companies are either tired of paying millions of dollars per year for traditional DR datacenters and associated standby equipment – that rarely if ever have been used – or they do not have a DR facility and are still in need of an affordable DR solution with a preference for leveraging the public cloud instead of financing yet another private datacenter.

SoftNAS solves this common customer need by leveraging the cloud provider’s scale-out block and object storage, providing enhanced data protection and tools to help in the migration and continuous sync of data.

SoftNAS leverages the cloud providers’ block and object storage

Isilon Disaster Recovery (DR) Solution Requirements

  • Active Cloud provides subscriptions with the ability to provision from the marketplace
  • 1 x SoftNAS Platinum v4.x Azure VM (recommend VM with at least 8 x virtual cores, 32GB memory, min. 1GBPS network)
  • Network connectivity to an existing AD domain controller (CIFS) from both on-prem and SoftNAS VMs
  • Source data-set hosted via on-prem Isilon & accessible via SMB/CIFS share and NFS exports
  • Internet access for both on-prem and SoftNAS VMs

Isilon Disaster Recovery (DR) Step by Step

  1. Spin-up SoftNAS from the Marketplace and present a hot file system (share).
  2. Setup another SoftNAS machine as a VMware® VM on-prem using the downloadable SoftNAS OVA.
  3. From the on-prem SoftNAS VM, using the built-in Lift & Shift wizard, create a replication schedule to initially copy the data from the Isilon to SoftNAS VM into the public cloud. If there’s any issue with the network during the transfer process, there’s a suspend/resume capability that ensures large transfers do not have to start over (very important with hundreds of terabytes and lengthy initial transfer jobs).
  4. Once the initial synchronization copy completes, Lift & Shift enters its (Continuous Sync), making sure any production changes to local Isilon volumes are replicated to the cloud immediately.
  5. Now that the data is replicated to the cloud, it is now instantly available should the on-prem services cease to function.  This affords customers a quick transition to cloud services during DR events and should the local applications need to be spun up temporarily or eventually fully migrate to the cloud to improve performance.


A detailed description of technologies used in providing the solution

Who is SoftNAS?

SoftNAS  NAS Filer has been focused 100% on cloud-based file storage and NAS solutions since 2013. The SoftNAS product has been tried and tested by thousands of customers located, in 36 countries across the globe. SoftNAS has brought enterprise features like high-availability (HA), replication, snapshot data protection, and AD integration to the two major cloud providers AWS and Azure. The software exists in the marketplace and can be spun up as on-demand instances or as a BYOL instance.

How is DR data replication handled by SoftNAS?

After deploying the instances, the next challenge is establishing replication and maintaining DR synchronization from on-premises Isilon shares to the public-cloud SoftNAS DR system/s. SoftNAS provides an incorporated flexible data synchronization tool along with a fill-in-the-blanks “Lift and Shift” feature that makes replication and sync quick and easy.

Easy to setup

As shown below, the admin just chooses the source file server (and any subdirectories) via the SMB or NFS share, then configures the transfer job. Once the transfer jobs start, it securely synchronizes the files from the Isilon source and transfers them into the SoftNAS filer running in the cloud.

Monitor Progress

A progress dashboard shows the percent complete of the replication job, along with detailed status information as the job progresses. If for any reason the job gets interrupted, it can simply be resumed from where it left off. If there’s a reason to temporarily suspend a large transfer job, there is a Pause/Resume feature.

Less than optimal network links

In the case that the remote Isilon file servers (or Windows or other file servers) also need to be replicated to the same cloud-based DR region; e.g., from factories, remote offices, branch offices, edge sites, or other remote locations over limited, high-latency WAN or Internet/VPN connections, SoftNAS addresses this barrier with its built-in UltraFast™ global data accelerator feature.

SoftNAS UltraFast provides end-to-end optimization and data acceleration for network connections where packet loss and high round-trip times commonly limit the ability of the cloud to be used for file replication.

SoftNAS UltraFast allows remote sites to accommodate high-speed large file data transfers of 600 Mbps or more, even when facing 300 milliseconds of latency and up to 2% packet loss on truly dirty or congested networks or across packet-radio, satellite, or other troublesome communications conditions (shown below). UltraFast can also be used to throttle or limit network bandwidth consumption, using its built-in bandwidth schedule feature. See the example of UltraFast vs. TCP performance:

Why the Customer Chose SoftNAS vs. Alternative DR Solutions

SoftNAS provides an ideal choice for the customer who is looking to host data in the public cloud in that it delivers the most granular configuration capabilities of any cloud storage solution. It enables customers to custom-build their cloud NAS solution using familiar native cloud compute, storage, networking, and security services as building blocks.

Cost optimization can be achieved by combining the correct instance type with backend pool configuration to meet throughput, IOPS, and capacity requirements. The inclusion of SoftNAS SmartTiers, SoftNAS UltraFast and Lift and Shift as built-in features make SoftNAS the most complete cloud-based NAS solution available as a pre-integrated Cloud DR and migration tool. Even though the customer started with the Isilon DR solution, it now has the infrastructure in the cloud for DR replication of all its remote Windows and other file servers as a next step.

Alternatively, customers must pick and choose various point products from different vendors, act as the systems integrator, and develop their own DR and migration systems. SoftNAS’s Platinum product provides all these capabilities in a single, cost-effective, ready-to-deploy package that saves time, reduces costs, and minimizes the risks and frustrations typically encountered using the alternative methods.

Summary and Next Steps

Isilon is a popular, premises-based file server that has served customers well for many years. Now that enterprises are moving into the hybrid cloud and public cloud computing era, customers need alternatives to on-prem file servers and dedicated DR file servers. A common first step we see customers taking at SoftNAS® is to start by replacing the Isilon file server in the DR datacenter as part of a bigger objective to eliminate the DR datacenter in its entirety and replace it with a public cloud. In other cases, customers do not have a DR datacenter and are starting out using the public cloud as the DR datacenter, while keeping the Isilon, NetApp, EMC, and Windows file servers on-prem.

In other cases, customers wish to replace both on-prem primary and DR datacenter file servers with a 100% cloud-based solution, then either rehost some or all the applications in the public cloud or access the cloud-hosted file server via VPN and high-speed cloud network links. In either case, SoftNAS virtual NAS appliance is combined with native cloud block and object storage to deliver the high-performance, cloud-based file server solutions the customers want in the cloud, without compromising on performance, availability, or overspending on cloud storage.

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