Extensive iSCSI/SAN Testing by The Home Server Blog

SAN iSCSI Testing StarwindEvery good lab needs an easy to setup, quality, reliable form of iSCSI to use for storage, even if it’s not for anything but testing. Working with ESXi in any type of production environment, you won’t be using local storage, but rather iSCSI datstores. There are a plethora of methods to getting good iSCSI targets, but I’ve found the best solution for a Windows OS is StarWind iSCSI SAN Free Edition. It’s a software that I promote, enjoy using, and respect the team over at Starwind for making a free version available to us in the IT field to use in our labs.

Starwind iSCSI SAN Overview

Starwind iSCSI SAN

Starwind iSCSI SAN

StarWind iSCSI SAN Free is an iSCSI Target that converts any Windows server into a SAN, and the free edition is available through Starwind to use in any personal or educational environment. The free edition is not a trial version and does not expire, and offers unlimited storage for a single-node device. The storage capacity of an HA device is limited to 128 GB, which is more than enough for high availability iSCSI testing. It also offers limited RAM caching in the free version (although RAM caching is unlimited in the commercial versions).

Testing Starwind iSCSI SAN

iSCSI/SAN Testing

iSCSI/SAN Testing

One of my goals this year has been to do some detailed testing on iSCSI and NFS performance in an ESXi lab. There’s not much detailed data to be had, and to this end, I decided to build a high performance SAN and set about doing some detailed tests. The team over at Starwind were kind enough to give me a time-limited commercial license for Starwind, and I’ll be testing a large amount of iSCSI target solutions on the same SAN, using the same tests.

The tested softwares will be Starwind iSCSI SAN (free and commercial versions), OpenFiler, NexentaStor Community Edition, FreeNAS, Windows iSCSI, and Windows NFS. These will be tested for IOPS, throughput, and performance, using ioMeter, HDTune Pro, CrystalDiskMark, ATTO and the Microsoft Exchange Server Jetstress 2013 Tool, using a variety of block sizes, and settings. Tests will be done with RAID cache off, RAID cache on, as well as RAM cache off and on. RAID levels will be tested at RAID0, RAID1, RAID5, RAID6, as well as RAID10.

iSCSI SAN Hardware

iSCSI SAN Hardware

Testing Hardware

Hardware needs to be constant across all tests, and for this matter, I’m building a custom SAN for testing. We’ll use an 8 core processor with 32GB of RAM, a high-performance LSI RAID card and high-performance 15.7K SAS drives for optimal loading. The hardware build is below:

SAN Hardware

  • CPU: AMD FX-8350 Vishera 4.0GHz 8 Core Processor
  • Motherboard: ASRock 970 Extreme 3
  • RAM: 32GB DDR3-1600 (4 x 8GB)
  • Power Supply: Corsair Professional Series HX 750 Watt
  • RAID Card: LSI MegaRAID SAS 9260-8i 6Gb/s 8-Port RAID Card
  • RAID Drives: Seagate Cheetah 15.7K 6Gb/s 300GB SAS Drives x 4
  • OS Drive: Crucial M4 128GB 6Gb/s SSD
  • NIC: Intel Pro/1000 PCI-e Quad Gigabit NIC

ESXi Node Hardware

  • CPU: AMD FX-8350 Vishera 4.0GHz 8 Core Processor
  • Motherboard: ASRock 970 Extreme 3
  • RAM: 32GB DDR3-1600 (4 x 8GB)
  • Power Supply: Corsair Professional Series HX 750 Watt
  • ESXi Boot Drive: Transcend 4GB USB Drive
  • NIC: Intel Pro/1000 PCI-e Quad Gigabit NIC

Both servers will have a direct connect between the GB NICs with four CAT6A patch cables, and will have jumbo frames enabled on all NIC ports used for iSCSI testing.

This weekend, I’ll build out both physical boxes, and will post pictures of the builds, along with initial testing of the RAID speeds on the SAN locally.

As this testing will be extensive, the actual results may be a couple of months out, but I did want to give a shout out to Starwind, as well as my readers to be in the loop.

If you have any recommendations on testing procedures, or any tests that you’d like to see, please let me know in the comments below!

  • David

    You might also want to include Solaris in your list, lots of folks use it in conjunction with Napp It.

  • Anton Kolomyeytsev

    We’ll be happy to assist with all the StarWind-specific tests and configs. Let us know if you’d be in need of 🙂

  • Clay

    I’ve been using OpenFiler for quite have really enjoyed it. It did take a little reading to figure out how to set up my iSCSI targets, but after that it’s been running nice and smooth