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VMware VSAN - Introduction

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Choosing the right storage solution for a VMware environment is a hard thing to do. Luckily because that's the reason you would call someone like me. But during the last few months/years new storage vendors came to market with products that are easy to understand, easy to manage and easy to scale. The offer a lot of functionality and are perfectly suited for virtual environments as they are not build on top a a general usage rule but rather optimized for virtual workloads. Examples for theses systems are Nimble, Nutanix, Tintri, Pure Storage, Simplivity etc. 

On the other hand the software defined storage market evolved and promised to be the solution for nearly every workload.

VMware began to talk about the Software Defined Datacenter a few years ago. Compute was never a problem, with vSphere they already were and still are market leader in this area. Next was storage. With the VSA they tried to go to market but this VM-based storage solution was never a success. So they went to network. With Nicira they bought a company already developed a software defined networking solution and integrated NSX completely in their vSphere network stack. So the last area that wasn't covered in a good way was storage.


Throwing the VSA concept over board VMware started to develop a completely new solution for the ESXi hypervisor. The solution had to be simple, fully integrated and perfectly scalable. During the last two years VMware VSAN evolved from a long-term beta product to a stable and extremely intersting storage platform. The speed of the development, the feature richness of the product and the stability for a software that is only 3-4 years old is remarkable.

There are a lot of articles about VSAN on the internet. One of my favorite web blogs is from Duncan Epping who is one of the top guys around VSAN. You can read his blog at First site to check if you have any technical questions regarding VSAN.

So I will only give you a short roundup in a more or less non-technical fashion.

Starting with VSAN 1.0 two years ago the product was only meant for developers, low performance tier 2 or 3 applications or VDI. Although the first version wasn't hyper-fast it already offered features established storage products suffered. N+3 redundancy (that is up to 4 copies of every data can be spread across the storage nodes), policy-based storage (you configure the performance and redundancy aspects by simply creating profiles and the storage will do the rest), full integration in vSphere Web client, extremely easy setup and a HCL for hardware (which is often a problem for SDS solutions). One year later tier 1 applications were able to run on top of VSAN 1.5 and other enhancements like rack awareness (data copies are placed in an intelligent way) were added. With VSAN 2.0 the all-flash configuration was available. With the latest version 6.1 (6.1 is the direct successor of 2.0 as the naming convention was changed to reflect the vSphere version it depends on) that came with vSphere 6.0 Update 1 in August 2015 stretched-cluster configuration is now possible and the management of VSAN is getting more and more easy.

I attended several VSAN based sessions this year at VMworld Europe in Barcelona and I have to say, VMware has a strong focus on that product. Nothing else was so present in the whole conference, most VSAN sessions were completely filled up with partners, customers and distributors so VSAN is the latest "hype" at VMware.

I have to correct myself. A hype is someting probably overrated that is only interesting for a short period of time. I don't think VSAN will be one of these hype products. VSAN is a solid product and a perfect storage solution for VMware based environments. I've never seen such a simple product and you can say it'a all about simplicity. 

I will give you an example. Beside the stretched cluster feature, the most remarkable feature of the latest version is the integrated health check plugin. This plugin will give you most of the  information you need. Additionally it will check your whole VSAN environment for configuration errors. It will also check your choosen hardware against the VMware HCL for VSAN to tell you if all your componentens like SAS controller, driver, firmware, disks, SSDs, etc. are on the HCL. If not it will give you a warning. But that's not all. It also includes a configuration check to see if everything is configured as it should. Okay, that's quite common in any way but this was something you had to get on the CLI in the previous version. So this will tell you VMware is really working on making the VSAN concept even more easy to handle.

One of my absolut favorites with the new version is the performance check. Doing performance tests in SAN environments is often hard and interpreting results is even harder. So VMware thought about it and included a fully functional performance test for your VSAN deployment. By simply starting the test with a click, the vCenter system willd eploy several preconfigured Linux based VMs on your VSAN datastore, all loaded with IOMeter and special workload configurations. The performance check simply starts the IOmeter test, graps the performance data and tells you if your VSAN storage is working good or not. Isn't that a near-perfect solution?


VSAN installations will probably one of my key activities during 2016. In contrast to NSX which is also a really good product but is only suited for few customers, VSAN is a more "general" product. Everyone needs a reliable and scalable storage solution and with VSAN you get both and easy of manage on top. So this producty probably isn't something you have to convince your customer from. Simply showing him will probably be enough.

If you think about buying a new storage solution in 2016 ask yourself these questions:

  • do I have a VMware based environment?
  • do I want to have a simple, scalable and reliable product?
  • do I want to avoid finger-pointing between vendors?
  • do I have only limited ressources in my storage team?
  • do I trust the concept of software defined storage?

If you answered all the questions above with a "Yes" don't keep on searching for a product, you've already found the right one. VMware VSAN. 


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