VMware Poised To Unleash vSAN Storage Tech, But Pricing Still Unclear

As VMware heads into it annual Partner Exchange conference in San Francisco next week, all eyes are on vSAN, the storage technology currently in beta whose potential impact on the storage market is already being felt.

vSAN is seen as VMware's attempt to muscle into the storage market and start competing in a segment it used to leave to its partners. As first reported by CRN last week, storage partners Nutanix and Veeam pulled out of next week's conference after VMware asked them to keep a low profile at the event.

Howard Ting, vice president of marketing and product management at Nutanix, speculated that VMware is planning to reveal vSAN-related news at the event and doesn't want to be upstaged by partners.

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vSAN works by clustering storage from server hard drives and solid-state drives into a shared pool, with capacity of up to one-half petabyte per cluster. Among vSAN's touted benefits are lower costs for virtual desktops and the ability to provision virtual machines on the fly.

The big questions VMware partners -- and competitors -- have at this stage are how much is vSAN going to cost and how will it be licensed.

While customers that have kicked the tires on the vSAN beta are pleased with its features, they’re not going to commit to using the technology until VMware provides these important details, sources told CRN.

vSAN is seen as a replacement for the vSphere Storage Appliance, a product VMware launched in 2011 that lets smaller companies without shared storage use features like VMotion, data recovery and business continuity.

One VMware partner, speaking on condition of anonymity, predicts VMware will use a basic per-terabyte pricing model for vSAN, pitching it as a replacement for the vSphere Storage Appliance for smaller customers and as an add-on for larger ones.

VMware's goal with vSAN is to undercut hybrid storage array vendors like Tintri and Nimble Storage, the source said. VMware wasn't immediately available for comment.

VMware's vSAN uses a similar storage approach as converged infrastructure startups like Nutanix and SimpliVity, Jason Nash, CTO at Varrow, a Greensboro, N.C.-based VMware partner, told CRN. While the model isn’t new, the fact that VMware is embracing it has more organizations paying attention, he said.

While storage decisions are typically handled by a dedicated team inside an organization, vSAN stands to remove this barrier. "We’re seeing the virtualization teams making storage decisions in many customers," Nash told CRN. "Instead of the traditional SAN/NAS type configuration, they want storage that is simpler to manage."

Another purported benefit of vSAN is reducing storage costs for View, VMware's virtual desktop software. Jamie Shepard, North America regional vice president at Lumenate, a Dallas-based VMware partner, told CRN that vSAN is a way for VMware to take market share from cloud storage providers.

"Instead of using cloud-based storage for View, customers can use vSAN to quickly build and control their own View cloud," Shepard told CRN, adding tier 2 and tier 3 workloads "can be very agile and low-cost" as a result of vSAN.

The flexibility vSAN provides for IT administrators makes it a starring component of VMware's "software-defined data center," which also includes virtualized pools of server and networking resources. The idea behind abstracting these resources from the underlying hardware is to let organizations deploy IT resources more quickly than they could before.