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Storage at the Enterprise Scale: Pairing vSAN and vNAS

By Stefan Bernbo March 02, 2017

Not only is data volume growing rapidly, but the variety of data is expanding as well – particularly the unstructured kind. IDG estimates that unstructured data grows at an annual rate of 62 percent and forecasts it will make up 93 percent of data by 2022. As an example, 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.

This velocity, variety and volume of data are maxing out current storage solutions. So, when VMware launched its virtual SAN in March 2014, allowing users to use storage within ESXi servers without the need for external storage, enterprises were excited to try it out.

Companies looking to scale their virtual storage were excited by the prospect that vSAN could deliver fast, resilient scale-out storage. Server admins were looking forward to using vSAN because it gave them a symmetrical architecture that did not require external storage, thus allowing them to use storage within existing servers. It also doesn’t require specialized storage skills.

Three years after the launch of vSAN, where is it today, and what do users think of it?

Well, no one solution can be all things to all enterprises, and as enterprises began to deploy vSAN across their environments, they noticed a significant shortcoming.

Storage Systems Need File Systems

The problem they encountered was that, though vSAN offers many benefits, it lacks 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 virtual machines (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.

An additional problem relates to the need for hypervisors. With the explosion of virtual environments across every industry, an enterprise setting requires hypervisor support 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.

vNAS creates an environment without external storage systems. For this reason, the vNAS must be able to run as a virtual machine and make use of the hypervisor host’s physical resources. The guest VMs’ 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.

vNAS has multiple properties that enable it to create a flexible and scalable storage solution:

  • software-defined
  • supports both fast and energy-efficient hardware
  • has an architecture that allows users to start small and scale up
  • supports bare-metal as well as virtual environments

In a virtual environment, there are many different applications running, and they all have different protocol needs. vSAN uses a block protocol within the cluster, but when designing storage architecture, it is important to support many protocols. In doing so, the architecture is kept flat, with the ability to share data between applications that speak different protocols, to some extent.

Storage Goes Hybrid

For enterprises with more than one site office, each site has its own independent file system. It is 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.

The trend today is to store data both onsite and in the cloud. Being able to use just the amount of cloud storage required, 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.

Each site has its own independent file system, though, if a hybrid cloud architecture is based on vNAS. 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.

When an organization is able to lay aside a specific portion of a file system and let others mount it at any given point in the other file systems, there is flexibility 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.

A Dynamic Duo

As organizations struggle to accommodate the massive influx of data coming at them, they are setting aside vertical storage solutions in favor of options that are more cost-effective and efficient. When VMware launched vSAN, enterprises were drawn to its ease of use and speed, but they discovered along the way that it needs a file server. The addition of vNAS solves that problem, making vSAN optimally effective in enterprise environments.

About the Author

Stefan Bernbo is the founder and CEO of Compuverde. For 20 years, Stefan has designed and built numerous 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.

Edited by Alicia Young

Founder and CEO, Compuverde

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