I'd like to get some advice on a system I'm setting up. I'm not quite sure which way to proceed. The goal is just some basic user storage space (Clients are Linux, Windows, and mac) that is baked by our SAN.

We have a ~20TB SAN that supports iSCSI. This is connected to a small VMWare ESXi 5.5 cluster configured with high availability functions. There are also a few other bare metal machines that could possibly be used as a host if need be.

I've been trying to do my research to figure out the best way to go.. My initial plan was just to throw something like FreeNAS in a VM, but upon further inspection that seems not to be a good idea. Especially on ESXi.

So, I suppose to get to my question, does anyone have any recommendations for providing file level storage from a block level storage device? I'm assuming I'm going to have to setup a box to serve as the iSCSI initiator then share the disk using NFS or SMB.. etc.. I just don't know if there are best practices I should be considering here. I've setup shares and such before, but not in this type of environment.

Any help is appreciated. Thanks!

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    A simple file server running off your ESX that use a datastore on the SAN ? The shared storage between your ESX will make that VM agile, and be able to move between your host. – yagmoth555 Jul 8 '15 at 0:59
  • That's what I was thinking at this point.. Like I said, I've done other file shares before, no problem.. but working with the SAN iSCSI backend and on ESXi etc.. are all somewhat new to me.. I didn't know if I was overlooking some other better solution out there. – toomanyfiles Jul 8 '15 at 1:14
  • Well, it's the best solution for you. It allow your datastore to be used by multiple host. Thus your VM can easily switch host to host in vmotion. In iSCSI you can multipath with multiple NIC, to prevent a downtime if a switch or physical switch burn. – yagmoth555 Jul 8 '15 at 1:18

It may sound like heresy in 2015 but I actually quite like Windows Server 2012R2 as a NAS, and I'm in a 98%+ Linux environment. It supports NFS up to 4.1 and SMB 3.0 (including 'Continuous Availability' if configured right), obviously deals with all manner of authentication, can be configured into a failover cluster, runs great in a VM when vmtools are installed, allowing hot add of CPU and Memory, has a degree of autotiering plus it's easy to manage and surprisingly quick. I'd certainly suggest anyone looking for this sort of thing should at least consider it anyway. Oh and have you checked that your SAN (you don't mention a make/model) can't be configured to provide NAS services?

  • I have checked the SAN for NAS services, it doesn't.. Only iSCSI. I'll check on using Win server.. Some of those features do sound nice. Thanks! – toomanyfiles Jul 8 '15 at 17:47
  • No problem - glad you checked, the reason I asked is because HP/3Par have started offering some NAS services on their otherwise-block-only SAN arrays and thought it was worth looking at. Oh and W2012R2 does deduplication too if that's of interest. – Chopper3 Jul 9 '15 at 7:34

You can use iSCSI (with multipathing) to mount your SAN's storage into VMware, then use that storage for a VM which acts as a fileserver - take your pick of OS options (Windows, Linux/Samba).

To all intents and purposes, your fileserver then becomes "just another VM" on your VMware cluster, and can - if you have your cluster set up correctly - use all of the nice fancy features like expandable disks, hot-add resources and vMotion.

Multipathing on iSCSI is a fairly complex set-up involving multiple NICs and iSCSI initiators (one per NIC). There are a lot of guides out there on how to properly configure it - your SAN's documentation may also help here.

  • The cluster is set up with everything mentioned, and multipathing is implemented as well. It's a pretty nice setup. I think I'll be in good shape to just run it as a linux or windows VM. Just wasn't sure if there was something else I was overlooking. Thanks for the input! – toomanyfiles Jul 8 '15 at 17:52

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