|By Stefan Bernbo||
|January 8, 2017 12:00 PM EST||
A Pair of Virtual Technologies to Create True Scale-out Storage
Almost three years ago, VMware introduced the world to its virtual SAN. This new solution enabled customers to use storage within ESXi servers without the need for external storage - an exciting promise for organizations that wanted to quickly scale their virtual storage. Now, it's time to check in on this technology and see if it's living up to its promise.
VMware became a player in the storage array and software market when it launched vSAN. Server admins were looking forward to using vSAN because it gave them a symmetrical architecture that did not require external storage, thus being able to use storage within existing servers. It also doesn't require specialized storage skills. However, no one solution can be all things to all enterprises, and as enterprises began to deploy vSAN across their environments, they noticed something big was missing.
The Benefits of Adding vNAS
The big thing vSAN was missing was support for a file system. The importance of having a file system within a data center cannot be overstated. Without a file system, the guest VMs cannot share files between them and are forced to use an external NAS solution as shared storage. Without a file system overlaying this data, it becomes impossible to scale efficiently.
That's not the only issue. As virtual environments have taken hold in every industry, an enterprise setting requires support for hypervisors as well. Therefore, a scale-out vNAS needs to be able to run as a hyper-converged set-up. As a result, a software-defined infrastructure strategy makes sense here.
When no external storage systems are present, the vNAS must be able to run as a virtual machine and make use of the hypervisor host's physical resources. The guest virtual machine's (VM) own images and data will be stored in the virtual file system that the vNAS provides. The guest VMs can use this file system to share files between them, making it perfect for VDI environments as well.
With an architecture that allows users to start small and scale up, vNAS creates a flexible and scalable storage solution. It is software-defined, supporting both fast and energy-efficient hardware and bare-metal, as well as virtual environments.
Protocols are an important consideration as well. vSAN uses a block protocol within the cluster, but when designing storage architecture, it's important to support many protocols. Why? In a virtual environment, there are many different applications running, having different protocol needs. By supporting many protocols, the architecture is kept flat, with the ability to share data between applications that speak different protocols, to some extent.
For enterprises that operate from multiple offices, each site has its own independent file system. It's probable that different offices have a need for both a private area and an area that they share with other branches. So only parts of the file system will be shared with others. This common scenario, so essential to the functioning of a typical business, cannot be achieved with a vSAN.
Hybrid cloud set-ups are increasingly common today as organizations find the benefit of storing data both onsite and in the cloud. Being able to use just the amount of cloud storage needed depending on the group's needs delivers excellent gains in performance and flexibility. The challenge is that in vSAN, there is no file system that can be extended to cover the data in the cloud, and files cannot be shared between the onsite location and the cloud.
But when vNAS is being used as the basis for a hybrid cloud architecture, each site has its own independent file system. In a typical organization, different offices will need both a private area and an area that they share with other branches. As a result, only parts of the file system will be shared with others.
Allocating a certain section of 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 the office walls - ensuring that the synchronization is made at the file system level in order to have a consistent view of the file system across sites. Being able to specify different file encodings at different sites is useful, for example, if one site is used as a backup target.
Coming Full Circle
Data centers are transitioning from vertical scaling, which cannot keep pace with today's data demands, to efficient and cost-effective options that will supply the storage they need. vSAN's symmetrical architecture and ease of use are one part of the storage answer; vNAS's file system support is the other. By creating a single file system spanning all servers, vNAS enables vSAN to fulfill its promise.
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