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How Resellers Can Help Customers Realize vSAN’s Promise

Data storage

Stefan BernboBy Stefan Bembo

Partners building scale-out virtual storage for customers were enthusiastic when VMware launched its virtual SAN in March 2014. vSAN was created to enable native storage within ESXi servers and promised fast, resilient storage at scale. Server admins looked forward to using vSAN because it gave them a symmetrical architecture that did not require external storage arrays and didn’t demand specialized skills.

However, as we began to deploy vSAN, it became clear that it didn’t fill every need. One reason is a lack of file-system support.

The importance of a file system within a customer data center cannot be overstated. Without one, guest VMs cannot share files and are forced to use an external NAS as shared storage — negating the benefits of server-based storage.

Although vSAN doesn’t provide for every customer storage need, it does hasten the development and adoption of other hypervisor-based virtual storage services such as virtual file servers. However, since many organizations use more than one hypervisor, they need a virtual NAS (vNAS) appliance that works on more than just vSphere. They also need a product that works on a variety of hardware, including increasingly popular hyperconverged systems. Indeed, the proliferation of hypervisor-agnostic, hyperconverged-based data centers illustrates the advantages of a software-defined virtual storage strategy.

What does that all mean for the channel? Resellers who understand how vSAN and vNAS work together are equipped to help customers make intelligent choices to meet their ongoing storage needs and take advantage of new architectures.

Making It Work

Because a vNAS has no external storage systems, it must be able to run as a virtual machine and use the hypervisor host’s physical resources. In fact, the guest virtual machine’s (VM’s) system images and data can be stored in the virtual file system provided by a vNAS on the same host. Guest VMs can use this file system to share files, making it perfect for VDI environments as well.

Then there’s flexibility and scalability: vSAN uses a block protocol within the cluster, but when designing storage architecture, it is important to support many protocols to meet the needs of the various applications running in a virtual environment. Customers often have multiple remote sites and branch offices, each with systems that need a file system. Furthermore, remote users might need to share files with both those in their organizations and third parties, and thus require both private and public storage.

Partitioning file systems is thus a common scenario, and essential to the functioning of a typical business.  Creating a private area within a file system and letting others mount it at any given point in the other file systems delivers the flexibility needed to scale the file system beyond customer HQ office walls. Synchronizing file systems across sites ensures that users have a consistent view of information, regardless of their location. Cross-site synchronization also allows one site to be used as a backup target for others.

Furthermore, organizations are storing data both on site and in public cloud services (hybrid cloud). Being able to use just the amount of cloud storage required, depending on the group’s needs, delivers excellent performance and flexibility gains, not to mention cost savings. But since vSAN provides only block storage, it can’t be easily extended to cloud services since there is no file system. In contrast, when a hybrid cloud architecture is based on vNAS, each site has an independent file system that can be augmented with cloud file sync-and-share services.

Customer demand for storage shows no signs of slowing, so partners are – or should be – on the hunt for approaches that enable affordable scaling to meet growing needs while remaining cost competitive. Resellers can lead the way with information that helps customers understand the benefits and limitations of vSAN and how it can be supplemented with vNAS storage services that fill in the gaps for a well-rounded, economical solution.

Stefan Bernbo is the founder and CEO of Compuverde. For 20 years, Stefan has designed and built enterprise-scale data storage solutions designed to be cost-effective for storing huge data sets. From 2004 to 2010, Stefan worked within this field for Storegate, the wide-reaching Internet-based storage solution for consumer and business markets, with the highest possible availability and scalability requirements. Previously, Stefan has worked with system and software architecture on several projects with Swedish giant Ericsson, the world-leading provider of telecommunications equipment and services to mobile and fixed network operators.


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