Azure Stack HCI is the name given to hyperconverged solutions running Windows Server 2019 on validated partners’ hardware and controlled by Windows Admin Center software. Windows Server 2019 includes the Hyper-V hypervisor, Storage Spaces Direct (S2D) software-defined storage and Software Defined Networking (SDN).
Azure Stack HCI is marketed by server vendors in partnership with Microsoft, including Dell EMC, HPE, Fujitsu, Lenovo, Axellio, Supermicro and others. HCI solutions can also be created using Windows Server 2016, providing most of the same features. Azure Stack HCI clusters can also connect easily to the Azure public cloud for cloud-based services like backup, disaster recovery, monitoring, etc.
Storage Spaces Direct (S2D) provides the shared capacity for an HCI cluster supporting virtual machines on Hyper-V, which is also included in the Windows Server OS. S2D runs in the Windows Server kernel, not as a VM like the software-defined storage technologies that support most other HCI solutions, providing potential performance and cost advantages.
Azure Stack HCI clusters contain a minimum of two nodes, a maximum of sixteen, with a max capacity of 4PB (raw). All servers must have the same number of drives and Microsoft recommends that server nodes be of the same make and model. Nodes can be configured with either storage or compute functions on each node, enabling the cluster to scale storage and compute resources independently. Microsoft calls this the “converged” mode. S2D can also be set up with both storage and compute functions residing on the same node, called the “hyperconverged” mode.
S2D uses Cluster Shared Volumes (CSV) as a clustered file system layer. CSV performs metadata synchronization and I/O forwarding between nodes using the SMB (Server Message Block) protocol. S2D is built on the Storage Bus Layer (SBL), a virtual bus architecture that creates a fabric connecting all disks across all nodes with using SMB as the protocol transport. With a feature called SMB Direct, SBL can use RDMA-enabled NICs (iWARP or RoCE) over 25GbE (recommended for 4+ node clusters),
although SMB Direct can support smaller and larger bandwidth networks.
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