My favorite new cluster feature in Windows Server 10 is the Cloud Witness. The Cloud Witness is another option in addition to the traditional disk witness and file share witness which are used when configuring the quorum in a Windows Server Failover Cluster. For a complete history of cluster quorums and their options please read my article on the Microsoft Press blog http://blogs.msdn.com/b/microsoft_press/archive/2014/04/28/from-the-mvps-understanding-the-windows-server-failover-cluster-quorum-in-windows-server-2012-r2.aspx
So what exactly is a Cloud Witness? A Cloud Witness utilizes a Windows Azure IaaS Storage Account to act as a vote in your cluster quorum. It can be used instead of a disk witness or a fail share witness. The cluster nodes simply need public internet access to reach an Azure storage account that you have provisioned as part of your Azure subscription.
So why would I use a disk witness? In most shared storage clusters you will still use a node and disk witness majority quorum. However, when you are doing #SANLess clusters, or multisite clusters, you now have another option to consider instead of a file share witness. Let’s look at some scenarios where a Cloud Witness would make more sense than a File Share Witness.
Scenario 1 – Multisite Cluster
If you have done your research on multisite clusters, you will have discovered that if you want automatic failover in the event of a complete site loss, the only safe way to do this is to have an even number of cluster votes in each site and to configure a File Share Witness in a 3rd site. In addition, the network connection between your primary site and your DR site must be completely independent of the network connection you have between this 3rd site and your primary and DR sites.
The cost associated with maintaining a completely independent network and having access to a 3rd data center for hosting a file share witness is not always possible. This is where having a Cloud Witness in Windows Azure comes in handy. Assuming you have an equal number of cluster votes in each data center and each data center also has access to the internet, you can define a Windows Azure Storage account as a Cloud Witness instead of a File Share Witness. Using a Cloud Share Witness eliminates the cost associated with maintaining a 3rd data center. There will be a slight monthly fee for the Azure Cloud service, but this will be minimal in comparison to the cost associated with maintaining a File Share Witness.
Scenario 2 – #SANLess Hyper-V Cluster at Remote Office/Branch Office (ROBO)
Here is the scenario. You run a fast food chain, department store chain, drug store chain, etc. You have the need to run a handful of servers to support your local operations at each of your store fronts. You decide that running these servers as virtual machines in Hyper-V are the way you want to go. Having these servers highly available is very important, so you decide it would be best to implement a two node cluster at each location. To minimize costs and to make management easy, you decide to purchase an identical pair of servers for each location and use the locally attached storage to build a #SANLess cluster with DataKeeper Cluster Edition. You come to realize that because you went #SANLess you don’t have access to a disk witness. And also, because you didn’t plan on purchasing a 3rd server for each location, a file share witness is also out of the question. You are in a real conundrum…a 2 node cluster NEEDS A WITNESS!
Here is where the Cloud Witness in Windows Azure comes and saves the day. Assuming your servers have access to the internet, a simple Cloud Witness can be configured and now you can support a 2-node #SANLess Hyper-V Cluster in each location. I would configure a non-clustered DC VM on each physical server and then create as many highly available VMs as a need in the cluster just using local attached storage.
Cloud Witness is a great new option in Windows Server 10. The only thing that would make it better is if they back ported it to Windows Server 2012 R2 so I could use it today!