In today’s world of billions of connected things, creating and exchanging petabytes of data, external storage cannot be the sole solution anymore. Enterprises are looking for virtual storage solutions that can scale quickly so that they can stay competitive and stay within budget.
That is why companies were excited when, just over three years ago, VMware launched its virtual SAN. This technology enables storage within ESXi servers without the need for external storage. Companies looking to scale out virtual storage were excited by the prospect of vSAN to deliver fast, resilient scale-out storage.
VMware entered the storage array and software markets with this offering, putting current vendors on notice. 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.
Though these are significant benefits, enterprises noticed as they began to deploy vSAN across their environments that something big was missing.
Problems and Solutions
No one solution should be expected to meet every need. In the case of vSAN, the thing that is missing is support for a file system.
This is a critically important component for a data center to have. 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 enterprise setting requires support for hypervisors as well, due to the explosion of virtual environments across every industry. 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.
Because this is an environment without external storage systems, 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.
There are several reasons that vNAS is ideally suited as the foundation of a flexible and scalable storage solution. It is software-defined, supports both fast and energy-efficient hardware, has an architecture that allows users to start small and scale up, and supports bare-metal as well as virtual environments.
A discussion of storage architecture would not be complete without mentioning protocols. vSAN uses a block protocol within the cluster, but when designing storage architecture, it is 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.
The Benefit of Hybrid Cloud
Each site of a multi-site enterprise 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.
Enterprises are increasingly using hybrid cloud to store some data on site and some 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.
By incorporating vNAS, however, 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.
The flexibility needed to scale the file system beyond the office walls comes from setting aside a specific portion of a file system and letting others mount it at any given point in the other file systems. This ensures that the synchronization is made at the file system level in order to have a consistent view of the filesystem 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.
Creating the Future of Storage
Enterprises have far too much data to manage and store today than vertical scaling solutions can handle. What’s needed is a fast, scalable framework that enables rapid and cost-efficient storage. Without this option, organizations cannot remain competitive. vSAN has the needed speed and easy set-up, but it’s got to have help with file system support. vNAS solves that issue elegantly, spanning all servers to provide modern enterprises with the storage solution they need.