VMware PEX: VMware Introduces VSAN 6, Takes Wrapper Off VVOLs

Alberto Farronato

VMware Monday expanded its storage capabilities with the release of the latest version of its VMware Virtual SAN software-defined storage technology and the long-awaited release of its VMware vSphere Virtual Volumes technology for adding native virtual machine awareness to third-party storage systems.

The news was unveiled at this week's VMware Partner Exchange, or VMware PEX, and headlines what is expected to be a wide range of storage releases for VMware-centric virtualized environments.

The introduction of VMware Virtual SAN, commonly known as VSAN 6, and VMware vSphere Virtual Volumes, or VVOLs, are important releases that let VMware take a big leap forward in its storage road map, said Alberto Farronato, director of product marketing at VMware, Palo Alto, Calif.

[Related: EMC Combines VCE, VSPEX Into New $1B-plus Converged Infrastructure Business]

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The big emphasis on storage technology should not be viewed as competing with EMC, which is VMware's parent company and the IT industry's top storage vendor, Farronato told CRN.

"We look at this from the EMC Federation viewpoint," he said. "It's not an us vs. them thing. The key here is, VVOLS is centered on the data center ecosystem, and not on EMC. Storage in the data center comes in many forms. The EMC Federation is in position to capitalize on the opportunities."

New from VMware this week is VMware VSAN 6, the latest version of VSAN that provides a simple hyper-converged storage solution for virtual machines that runs on any x86-based server hardware, Farronato said.

VSAN already has more than 1,000 paying customers in the nine months since it was released. "With the new capabilities, we will be able to expand the technology into new areas including business-critical applications," he said. "Customers and partners have asked why we are so conservative."

New with VSAN 6 is an all-flash storage architecture that allows customers to use flash storage including SSDs separately as cache and as primary persistent storage, Farronato said.

"It provides a 100 percent write cache buffer as the first tier, along with flash capacity at the second tier," he said. "Ideally, it can be deployed with expensive SSDs for caching and less expensive SSDs for capacity."

The scalability of VSAN has been doubled with version 6 to a maximum of 64 nodes, with each host able to run up to 200 virtual machines, Farronato said.

NEXT: Channel Take On VSAN 6's Improved Performance And Scalability

Performance was increased nearly five times vs. VSAN 5 to 90,000 IOPs thanks to a new file system and the new tiered flash storage architecture, he said. VMware also added a new back-end file system via its 2013 acquisition of data storage optimization software developer Virsto, he said.

Also new are enterprise data services including the ability to take up to 32 data snapshots and clones per virtual machine, the ability to distribute multiple nodes in a cluster between racks to provide rack-based in addition to node-based failover, and extended support for connecting non-RAID arrays to server blades, he said.

The ability to configure VSAN 6.0 with up to 64 nodes is a real game-changer, said Andrew Anvari, data center specialist at FusionStorm, a San Francisco-based solution provider and longtime VMware channel partner.

While not a lot of clients need that kind of scalability, they are asking about it, Anvari said. "Few solutions would go to 64 nodes," Anvari told CRN. "But this legitimizes VSAN in the enterprise."

VSAN 6 makes it possible for customers to consider the technology as a lower-cost alternative to other storage solutions, Anvari said.

"We were talking with a good customer about FlexPod for VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure]," he said. "Now they can go with VSAN for 1,200 virtual desktops for their call center-type environments with about 600 concurrent users. We've generously allocated 6 GBs of memory per virtual desktop."

For that customer, FusionStorm is using 10 nodes, each of which is a Cisco UCS C240M4 server with 24 cores, 384 GB, two SSDs, and six spinning drives per server, to support 600 concurrent users, with one more node for high availability.

Such a solution would cost about 150 percent higher using FlexPod, or double using VCE, Anvari said. "But the beauty is not just price or deployment simplicity," he said. "The beauty is, in this environment, the customer doesn't need a storage administrator. Once the solution is up, a midlevel VMware administrator can do everything."

There are still a lot of environments, including Oracle and SQL, where shared storage is the preferred solution, Anvari said. "But for a lot of VMware-focused workloads, solution providers need to evaluate VSAN 6 as an alternative," he said.

NEXT: Introducing VMware vSphere Virtual Volumes, Or VVOLs

The new VMware vSphere Virtual Volumes, or VVOLs, gives customers the ability to expand their policy control plan to VVOL-enabled storage systems to automatically enable VMware virtual machine-aware storage, Farronato said.

"Today, there's a misalignment between the hypervisor and the SAN," he said. "vSphere knows how to operate around disks, while arrays operate around LUNs and volumes. But VMware-aware storage Virtual Volumes understand where disks start and end, and can conduct storage operations at the granularity of the virtual machine to create and delete LUNs for virtual machines."

The VVOL's architecture includes VMware vSphere Storage APIs - Array Integration (VAAI) for hardware acceleration, as well as new VMware vSphere API for Storage Awareness (VASA) to let arrays do new services and execute virtual machine storage commands, Farronato said.

VMware has already signed up 29 storage vendors to its VVOLs technology with a number of them, including EMC rivals NetApp, Hewlett-Packard and Dell ready to launch.

"If you implement Virtual Volumes, it doesn't change the competitive dynamics between vendors," he said. "If they don't have Virtual Volumes, they may be at a disadvantage if selling into VMware-based infrastructures. Each storage vendor may have their own capabilities which are implemented by them, and not by VMware."