VMware Expands Software-Defined Storage With New VMware Virtual SAN (VSAN)

VMware on Monday kicked off its part in the annual VMworld conference with the unveiling of a new software-defined storage solution that ties to the company's VMware vSphere private cloud and virtualization platform.

The new VMware Virtual SAN, or VSAN, helps advance the storage leg of VMware's plan to develop a software-defined data center platform, which will allow customers to build their own Google-like infrastructures, said Alberto Farronato, director of storage product marketing at VMware.

VMware on Monday also expanded on its software-defined data center strategy at the VMworld conference, held this week in San Francisco.

[Related: Software-Defined Storage: Separating The Reality From The Hype ]

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"But we don't want customers to build their infrastructures from scratch," Farronato said. "So we're focused on the software-defined data center. We're extending compute virtualization to other parts of the infrastructure for a much more automated approach to management."

VMware's laying out of its software-defined storage strategy is timely, said Jamie Shepard, regional vice president at Lumenate, a Dallas-based solution provider and partner to both VMware and storage vendor EMC, which is a majority owner of VMware.

"It's good news, especially now that EMC is becoming more involved with VMware," Shepard said.

While VMware is looking for ways to extract and pool storage resources in such a way that it could appear that it is lessening the value of the storage technology of other vendors including EMC, that is not the case, Shepard said.

"VMware's partnerships with companies like Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Hitachi are strong," he said. "VMware is not trying to create products that compete with the storage industry. It's creating a new category of storage."

Software-defined storage, like software-defined data centers, has three key requirements, Farronato said, including the ability to abstract resources, pool those abstracted resources, and automatically provision resources from those pools.

However, of all the parts of the software-defined data center, the hardest to implement is storage.

For instance, Farronato said, storage in virtualized environments has to work with both new cloud applications, which scale out much more than traditional applications. Furthermore, he said, different applications leverage server-based flash storage in different ways. Storage in virtualized environments also needs to work with object storage storage BLOBs (binary large objects) and virtual storage arrays, he said.

NEXT: Introducing VMware Virtual SAN (VSAN)

"This is an incredibly diverse impact on customers' ability to manage storage," Farronato said. "Today, there are a lot of silos. Performance is unpredictable. And cost is out of control because of a need to overprovision."

VMware is tying its software-defined strategy to vSphere because vSphere has an inherent knowledge of all applications running on the platform, Farronato said. VSphere also has a global view of the entire infrastructure, and is hardware-agnostic, he said.

While VMware already has multiple storage technologies in its stable, it is introducing several new technologies that add software-defined storage capabilities to customers' existing infrastructures.

Foremost among them is VMware Virtual SAN, or VSAN. VSAN redefines the hypervisor to let vSphere cluster the SSDs and hard drives from three to eight servers into a shared storage pool. Each server can support up to five disk groups consisting of an SSD and up to seven hard drives, providing a capacity of over a half-petabyte on a single VSAN cluster.

Farronato said VSAN gives customers a scale-out architecture with built-in SSD caching based on those pooled storage resources.

"The great thing is, it provides for fully automated provisioning," he said. "Out of the box, a customer can specify policies to a virtual machine, then self-tune the provisioning in response to changes in their workloads. This gives the ability to have a scale-out storage environment."

With VSAN, virtual machines are provisioned on the fly, each potentially with its own policies, Farronato said. The virtual machines can be provisioned against any storage in the pool, with storage dynamically scalable by the addition of nodes or capacity.

Storage provisioned with VSAN is resilient, with mirroring at the read and write levels, replication on the storage side and high availability capability that allows a failed virtual machine to automatically restart on a different host, he said.

While VSAN virtualizes servers' storage resources, performance is quite high, Farronato said. Write-intensive workloads with 4-KB random writes perform at 14,000 IOPS per node, while read-intensive workloads with 4-KB random reads perform at 22,000 IOPS per node. A typical mixture of 70 percent reads and 30 percent writes provides performance of 100,000 IOPS in an 8-node cluster, he said.

VSAN has been in private beta since the first quarter of 2013, and in the third quarter will move to public beta, Farronato said. He did not say when it would be in general availability.

NEXT: VSAN Does Some Array Functions, But Is Not An Array

Chuck Hollis, who this month left EMC to become chief strategist at VMware, wrote in a Monday blog post that, while VSAN does many of the things a traditional storage array does, it is not a traditional storage array.

"(VSAN is) a software-based storage array that uses clusters of commodity server hardware to do its work. Storage and compute workloads run together on the exact same resource pool," Hollis wrote.

The idea of carving multiple storage service levels from available resources is not a new idea, Hollis wrote.

"Doing so dynamically at the time of provisioning without having to pre-allocate and pre-configure the pools -- well, that's a new idea. This on-demand approach to service level provisioning will likely prove to be more popular than its predecessors," he wrote.

VMware also unveiled vSphere Flash Read Cache, which virtualizes the flash storage in multiple servers for use, has a hypervisor-based read cache for virtual machines, Farronato said. Included with vSphere Enterprise Plus edition, vSphere Flash Read Cache can accelerate mission-critical application performance by up to 10 times the original performance, he said.

VSphere Flash Read Cache operates similarly to such hardware-based flash storage pooling technologies as the QLogic FabricCache 10000 adapter, Farronato said. However, not all customers have the high-end storage cards required for hardware-based solutions.

VSphere Flash Read Cache is slated to ship with vSphere 5.5 in the third quarter, he said.

VMware also plans to continue developing the storage virtualization technology it received with its February acquisition of Virsto, but is not showing any new Virsto technology at VMworld, Farronato said.