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VMworld 2016 vox pop: VMware users cool about VSAN

As VMware announces upgrades to its VSAN hypervisor-based storage software, event attendees seem to think it is a costly product and possibly unsuited to high-end use cases

At VMworld in Barcelona this week, VMware announced that it had upgraded its Virtual SAN (VSAN) storage software to version 6.5, but it was hard to find many attendees whose organisations were using it or were even very enthusiastic about it.

VSAN has been around for at least four years (it came out of beta in 2014) and VMware claims 3,000 customers.

But speaking to VMware customers at VMworld, it was difficult to find a current user. Those I spoke to seem to see it as an effective product, but costly for smaller organisations. And although some consider it a potential replacement for a traditional SAN, others have their doubts.

James Atkinson of healthcare software and services provider Emis Health said his organisation was considering VSAN for some use cases, but not others.

“We don’t use VSAN currently but we will be looking at it, for non-clinical data,” he said. “We do a lot of extraction services, medical records, that sort of stuff. And dev/test environments. We wouldn’t use it for clinical data where we absolutely can’t lose data and it has to be bullet-proof. At this stage, we’re not going to put all our eggs in one basket.”

Joachim Sandvik, an ICT architect with Norwegian toll road services provider Q-Free ASA, said high cost was a factor in his organisation replacing VSAN.

“We did use it and were quite early adopters, but we changed to a competitor as it was quite expensive for us,” he said. “The licensing was expensive, so we moved to StorMagic. We used it for small ROBO. Performance was very good – it was just the cost.”

Read more about VSAN

  • VMware Virtual SAN now supports containers with persistent storage and allows physical server storage access to its shared pool of capacity via the iSCSI SAN protocol.
  • Grass Roots was struggling with capacity and performance on its NetApp SAN, so it deployed VMware VSAN on servers with HGST PCIe server flash and helium HDDs.

Meanwhile, Harry, a datacentre specialist with German e-commerce service provider Bechtle, also cited cost as an issue with VSAN.

“Some of our customers use VSAN,” he said. “For us it’s very difficult to sell VSAN because of the price. On the one hand it seems to be quite nice for small companies, but small companies often say ‘It’s too expensive. We prefer to buy some commodity storage.’ My experience is that it’s not selling very quickly, but it is quite a good solution.”

One attendee with high hopes for VSAN was Eldar Hovda, IT director at Norwegian state bank Husbanken.

“We use a traditional enterprise SAN solution, but we are considering using VSAN from 2017,” he said. “We have a production site and recovery site and we are thinking about using it in the production site because we need to replace the SAN. We’ve done some examinations and we believe it will cover all use cases, maybe even better than the hybrid flash SAN we have now.”

VSAN provides software-driven storage functionality in vSphere that allows pooling of storage for virtual machines across up to 64 nodes. It provides shared storage across these nodes with data distributed between them.

At VMworld this week, VMware announced upgrades to VSAN that included support for containers, for physical servers via iSCSI and changes that would help reduce its cost, such as allowing flash storage to be used with VSAN on a (less costly) standard licence and the ability to directly connect remote office nodes in remote office without storage switch hardware.

Read more on Flash storage and solid-state drives (SSDs)