vSphere 5.1 storage enhancements and future vision

We discussed last year’s vSphere 5 storage changes in a previous post.  And at last week’s VMworld2012 in San Francisco, VMware announced a few new enhancements for vSphere 5.1 but showed more on their vision for the future of storage in VMware environments.

vSphere 5.1 storage enhancements were not as significant as last year’s enhancements.  Specifically, vSphere 5.1 storage oriented changes include:

  • VDP – vSphere Data Protector is a new agentless, deduplicating backup solution from VMware (and EMC) which is now bundled into vSphere and comes free for all users at the Essentials+ level and above. VDP is based on EMC’s Avamar Virtual Edition and provides a new integrated data protection management tab in vCenter Operations Manager GUI.  VDP replaces VDR.
  • vMotion changes - vMotion now supports non-shared storage and specifically, VSA storage environments.  To do this vMotion will now perform a standard storage vMotion to the targeted host before the VM vMotion takes place to move the data to the new location.
  • vSphere replication auto-failback with SRM - SRM 5.1 now supports vSphere replication service automated failback. SRM 5 supported storage array based replication automated failback but had no support for the then announced new VMware, host based replication service. This has been rectified with SRM 5.1.
  • SRM packaging changes – SRM standard now comes at no additional charge with the vCloud Suite Standard license option.  And a new entry level SRM (for 6 CPUs, 3 hosts) comes with Essentials+ to match and provide DR services for VSA environments.

VMware storage vision

VMware took the opportunity to discuss their vision for future offerings in the storage arena.  Specifically,

  • vSphere volumes (vVols) -  vVols will become the new defacto standard unit of granularity and abstraction for storage systems, providing a new allocation unit behind VMDKs and eliminating VMFS.  vVols are intended to define a new interface between vSphere and networked storage systems so that VMDKs can now be replicated, snapshot, cloned, etc.  alone without impacting other VMDKs on the storage system.  vVols are intended to replace LUNs and/or files used as previous holding containers for VMDKs.  vVols -should eliminate the mess of having to define 1000s of LUNs required to support VDI or cloud data centers implementations
  • Virtual flash - VMware’s first internal support for server side flash.  VMware will now be able to partition and allocate the flash on PCIe cards to VMs executing in the ESX server just like physical memory and vCPUs are today.  Also VMware will be able to copy flash cache contents when vMotion-ing VMs to other physical servers.  The intent is to fully support PCIe flash cards for vMotion by warm starting the flash in the target server and bring fast access storage closer to VMs.
  • VSAN – also called distributed storage, takes VSA like services and scales it out to support many more hosts/CPUs and networked storage.   The ultimate goal here seems to be to provide a shared, mid-tier, distributed storage system based on VMware DAS, which will better support vSphere execution and high availability.  VSAN will provide compute and storage within the same host.  It’s intended that VSAN be easier to configure, deploy and manage than current VM shared storage solutions.

Where are they going with all this?

I believe VMware is signaling an intent to get more involved in the storage arena.  Last years move with VSA now seems like just the beginning.

If examined together with their other thrusts for the virtual data center, it all starts to make sense. When these three future storage capabilities are in place, VMware should be better able to configure and support virtual cloud data centers (VCD) built out of commodity servers, commodity storage and commodity networking gear.  With all this in place VCDs should be better able to compete with AWS and other cloud service providers.

The end of enterprise storage, …

I was talking with one IT analyst, Dr. Kevin McIsaac with IBRS in Australia who feels when these three capabilities start rolling out, it signals the beginning of the end of enterprise storage as we know it.  He compares  this to what happened to specialized Unix servers (from HP, Sun, IBM, etc.) prominent at the end of the last century and early this century with the introduction of VMware and commodity high-performance, Intel servers/microprocessor chips.  Although these proprietary Unix servers still exist they are no longer growing market share.

In Kevin’s view, VMware is just following that playbook again, only this time it’s enterprise storage in their sights.  Of course, the other side of this is the enterprise networking that starts to be commoditized by all the virtual networking capabilities VMware is rolling out in VxLAN and Nicira integration as well. (Perhaps subject for another post).

… Not quite yet.

I understand his point and can’t help but agree with parts of it at least at the low end and potentially mid-tier storage.  IMHO however, enterprise storage vendors have a viable defense to all this but it involves providing even more functionality, performance and capabilities than they available today in their systems.

I see it every time I look at my performance charts, anytime you start getting over 300 disk drives, storage sophistication matters more to performance, than just throwing more hardware in the mix.  For an example of this effect checkout my last post on SPC-2 performance correlations.

And of course, VMware might be straining their very profitable relationship with storage vendors today such as Dell, HP, IBM, NetApp, EMC, etc. all of which today highlight and push their virtualization solution throughout their partner community.   If they decide to stop recommending VMware and start focusing on other virtualization offerings this might also stall VMware’s vision.

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In the end I can’t help but feel that in VMware’s view their challenge, in the long run will come from AWS, Google and other cloud service providers. Whatever they can do to better prepare to compete with this gaggle of cloud purveyors, the better they succeed for their enterprise customer. And ultimately that means more business for VMware.  If enterprise networking and storage vendors have to adapt to that vision, then so be it.

Comments?

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