VMware flies deeper into storage virtualization

The jam-packed VMworld show this week in San Francisco has been VMware’s launchpad for flights deeper into storage, an area that the company thinks is due for more virtualization.

While VMware’s new NSX network hypervisor has sent shockwaves through that industry, the company is also introducing or teasing products that bring some new ideas to storage. The idea is the same in both cases: Let enterprises pool their IT resources and apply them to applications and VMs (virtual machines) as needed.

The highlights include software to pool server-based storage into a shared resource and a tool to bring external storage into the age of VMs. Across both, VMware is introducing policy-based control that’s designed to let enterprises fine-tune their allocation of storage to specific VMs and applications. 

Storage virtualization is an industry trend that could affect how enterprises deal with data, Gartner analyst Chris Wolf said. In addition to VMware’s latest strides, Microsoft is doing similar things with its Storage Spaces technology, he said.

“To us, this is really technology that’s inevitable,” Wolf said. Storage virtualization in hypervisors will allow many enterprises to do more with less expensive commodity storage, leaving control of those resources to the software, he said.

However, virtualization of storage and other areas of IT may take more than technology. Steven Williamson, a solutions engineer at industrial supply company W.W. Grainger, said after a VMworld session that his company needs to virtualize its storage as part of an eventual movement into hybrid cloud computing. How to do so raises a number of questions that Grainger still hasn’t answered, but the bigger challenge is organizational, he said. Different parts of IT will need to communicate and cooperate more closely, with someone to oversee and drive the overall transition to the cloud. 

On Monday, VMware launched the public beta of VSAN (virtual SAN), its software for pooling server-based flash among multiple physical servers. VSAN creates what is effectively a hybrid storage array using flash and hard disk drives on each of a cluster of servers. The software is designed to be built into the hypervisor. Because of that integration, and because it uses storage that’s close to the server CPUs where applications run, VSAN can simplify storage and lower costs without taking a hit in performance, said Alberto Farronato, director of product marketing in VMware’s Storage and Availability group. 

VSAN is designed for workloads, such as VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure), that make intensive use of storage I/O. Tests have shown that a VSAN can match the performance of an all-flash external storage array in this application but costs only 25 percent as much, Farronato said. Both server-based flash and spinning HDDs are less expensive per gigabyte than flash for external arrays, he said.