Almost every organization today is looking at or implementing some sort of cloud strategy. Cloud, along with this IT transformation era we are in is providing organizations with a more cost-effective, agile environment – freeing up resources and time to allow our IT personnel to focus on generating business revenue rather than simply keeping the lights on. That said, production deployments in the cloud come with many challenges and a lot of organizations shy away from going “all in” on the cloud right away. Instead, we are seeing a trend of organizations adopting some sort of hybrid cloud, using the public portions as a means for disaster recovery – and hey, why not? It’s cheaper, it’s easy, and we don’t have to worry about maintaining hardware just for our insurance purposes. However, while this Hybrid Cloud DR approach gives organizations the best of both worlds it still comes with many challenges; security, the simplicity of management and availability are all factors which tend to discourage organizations. We want the security “piece of mind” which comes with on-premises deployments, however, they also want the agility of which cloud can provide. And honestly, the thought of having to manage two distinctly different environments is a nightmare. So how do we best leverage a public cloud to our advantage, all the while doing so with a familiar, simple management interface?  The StarWind Hybrid Cloud solution aims to do just this!

StarWind Hybrid Cloud

StarWind’s Hybrid Cloud solution aims to bridge the gap between our public and private clouds when looking at utilizing Microsoft Azure for DR purposes. In its simplest form it basically allows us to set up an instance within Azure, and use a single console in order to manage both our Azure and on-premises Hyper-V deployment. This active-active architecture goes as far as allowing us to live migrate our workloads between our Azure and Hyper-V environment, seamlessly, within the same console. The key software component behind this unique deployment is none other than the flagship StarWind product the StarWind Virtual SAN. As always with any distributed cluster networking provides the most challenges, but this is not the case with the StarWind Hybrid Cloud scenario – so with that, let’s have a closer look at the actual architecture of this solution.

The design requires at minimum two nodes of StarWind Virtual SAN; one located in your on-premises deployment and one virtual instance which lives up inside of Azure. It should be noted that the instance within Azure running StarWind Virtual SAN is in itself a fully functioning Hyper-V host, meaning it utilizes nested virtualization and can be used to essentially run other workloads alongside Virtual SAN if need be. The two instances, both on-prem and in the cloud are connected via a VPN tunnel and some nifty software-defined network technology wrapped around it. It’s in this tunnel where the magic really happens. Aside from just providing a cold disaster recovery solution StarWind leverages Active-Active synchronization between both environments ensuring that any data which lives on your on-premises deployment also resides on the cloud deployment – on the flip side, new data created within the cloud will also be replicated back to your on-premises deployment.

As we can see above we basically have a duplicated, synchronized environment living within the Azure cloud. This can be achieved in many ways, however, the automation and ease of deployment of the StarWind Hybrid Cloud solution are really where it stands out from the rest. For example, if we were to lose our host in our on-premises deployment those VMs which were currently running on it would automatically be Quick Migrated to the cloud and restarted within Azure. This literally happens within minutes of the failure. Once our on-premises deployment is functioning properly again, StarWind automatically re-establishes the VPN tunnel between the nodes and repeats this process, only this time Live Migrating back from the cloud with no downtime. This is all without us, the end users, doing a thing! There are not a lot of solutions on the market which offer this type of failover/failback automation today.

Enterprise features without the price tag

In the end, StarWind provides a very cost-effective solution within reach of almost any IT department – We see many enterprise benefits and features which don’t come along with the enterprise requirements and cost.

  • Minimalistic cluster design – A StarWind cluster can be instantiated with just one node, although to get the Hybrid cloud scenario you will need at the very least, two.
  • Cloud consolidation – Although solutions today are only available with Azure, StarWind has plans to release the same solutions for both AWS and Google Cloud this year.  Meaning we can essentially adopt a hypervisor agnostic, cloud agnostic solution.
  • Automated failover and failback – Although we see a lot of cloud-based DR solutions provide us with an automated failover solution we don’t see a lot do the same for failback.  StarWind seamlessly fails over our workloads and will do the EXACT same once our on-premises deployment is available again.
  • Active-Active data replication – There is no such thing as a restore point in this solution.  At all times StarWind ensures that our data has been synchronized between nodes, meaning when a failover occurs we can ensure that there was absolutely no data loss when it restarts within the cloud.  If restore points or air-gapped backups are something you are interested in, however, you can look into the StarWind VTL in order to ship those backups off to blob storage.  I’ve written about their Veeam specific solution here.
  • Management – Again, we see a lot of cloud-based solutions require that certain nodes are available or we end up losing our management capabilities.  The StarWind solution can be managed by any part of the cluster – if on-premises is down, simply log in to our cloud instance, and vice-versa.
  • Quick & Easy – this has always been a major selling point for StarWind solutions and nothing has changed with their Hybrid Cloud approach. The solution can be set up with minimal experience and ProActive support is available directly from your time of purchase, guiding you through the complete lifecycle of the product, from installation to failover to failback.

StarWind has a great, Microsoft supported solution available today in order to provide us with active-active storage between our on-premises Hyper-V workloads and Azure. The ease of setup and minimal “jump on” requirements are really great features in my opinion. Cloud is hard, and this solution mitigates that! We all know ingest costs to get our data to the cloud are very attractive, which makes this solution a great disaster recovery/failover solution to protect our on-premises workloads and back them up in the cloud. You can try out StarWinds Hybrid cloud solution today – simply pull down a free trial of Virtual SAN for your local deployment and search up Virtual SAN within the Azure marketplace. To find out more information, check out the official StarWind Hybrid Cloud landing page, as well as there is a great introduction webinar on YouTube Also, watch for support of AWS and Google Cloud coming soon!