VSAN-tastic!

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The word of the day is VSAN.  Twitter has been blowing up with VSAN posts since GA, it’s crazy!  But it’s crazy for a good reason.  You’ve probably heard of Nutanix and Tintri and a few other new startups that have had a big impact on the storage world the last few years but the big businesses out there still seem to be buying large SAN attached arrays so what gives… The reason, in my opinion is the trust relationship.  I say that because I recently worked for a large organization that had a great relationship with EMC, we trusted their advice and we were personally invested in their people because they had spent a lot of time with us and had become an extension of our team.  When these startups like Nutanix came along some of us engineers really liked what we saw but that deep relationship with EMC and the fact that management had never heard those names before made them a really tough sell.  Now a few years later comes VSAN.  I personally think VSAN will be a game changer, first because it’s freakin awesome! but second and maybe more importantly because it’s from a trusted source.  Management is already comfortable with VMware and also have relationships with their sales team so VSAN has that advantage over the other startups.  Now I’m not saying that everyone will kick their million dollar arrays out the door and spin up VSAN right away but I would imagine that engineers will start looking at this and stacking it up against the other players pretty quickly.  In fact I just had lunch today with some friends from a previous employer who are already looking at VSAN as a potential fit for a specific situation.  The scenarios that jump out at me as an immediate fit for VSAN are remote field offices, distribution centers, DR sites, development clusters and lab environments.  Once the technology proves itself then all bets are off.

Enough rambling,  let’s look at the problems or tasks that VSAN attempts to address.

1) Data Center space/power – If you’re renting floor space in a colocation then you know all too well how important it is to make the most out of each floor tile.  You’re power consumption is being monitored and your wallet is bleeding money.  Anything you can do to reduce the space required and power consumed has a direct effect on your wallet.  VSAN has the potential to save you on both floor space and power consumption because the storage system will be located within the ESXi hosts that you already have on the floor.

2) SAN/Fiber – SAN’s are expensive, SFP’s are expensive, fiber and fiber runs are expensive.  VSAN has the potential to eliminate the need for any of it.  You will need a couple more Ethernet runs for each host to properly support the VSAN communications though.

3) Storage Array Learning Curve – The learning curve on the many different traditional arrays out there can be steep.  In some cases such as with EMC’s VMAX it’s hard to find good people who know the platform well.  VSAN takes great strides at simplifying the storage array.  Setup is a breeze and if you know vSphere than you are already ahead of the curve.  Troubleshooting a storage issue on a VM no longer needs to go past a hypervisor.

4) Scalability – Traditionally adding new disk enclosures hasn’t always been the easiest task to accomplish.  Sometimes vendors even require you to involve support for what should be a simple task.  Also when you add those disk enclosures you’re normally just adding capacity, no extra performance included.  Adding space to your VSAN cluster is as simple as adding a new host and you’re adding CPU, Memory and Capacity.  With the ability to grow up over 4PB and do 600k to 2million IOPS it’s no slouch.

5) TCO – All of what we’ve talked about so far reduces the total cost of ownership for businesses.  This is really what will drive VSAN to be a success in my opinion.  Is VSAN going to blow away what you already have?  Probably  not.  Does VSAN drastically reduce footprint, cabling and management?  Yes, and money trumps all including great relationships.  Just like Cisco UCS crushed a ton of good relationships with Dell and HP I believe it will be a similar story here.

VSAN is very appealing to me and I’m pretty sure to a lot of businesses out there.  It will take some time for the transition to happen but it’s coming, I think… Who knows I could be completely wrong and this could be the next VDI that everyone wants but only a few take on the challenge.  Time will tell.  For now there is a ton that I still need to learn about this.  I’ve been reading and learning from these two blogs, there is a ton of content so check em’ out and get to work!  http://www.yellow-bricks.com/virtual-san/    http://cormachogan.com/vsan/

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