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How Cisco and Nexenta software defines storage for HyperFlex HCI

See how Nexenta's virtual storage appliance software can extend Cisco HyperFlex HCI storage capabilities without additional hardware or complex system reconfigurations.

Cisco and Nexenta Systems Inc. have joined forces to bring advanced software-defined storage capabilities to HyperFlex, Cisco's hyper-converged infrastructure platform. Earlier this year, Cisco certified Nexenta's virtual storage appliance software, NexentaStor VSA, to run on the platform's cluster nodes, along with VMware vSphere and Cisco's hyper-convergence software. NexentaStor VSA extends the storage capabilities built into HyperFlex to better support enterprise workloads.

HyperFlex meets NexentaStor VSA

HyperFlex is one of those hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) platforms that can make it easier to implement and maintain the infrastructure necessary to run many of today's workloads, such as virtual desktop infrastructures (VDIs). But such workloads often require additional high-volume storage to handle user and application data, backups and archives, and other storage needs.

To accommodate these requirements, IT must often implement additional storage systems, including NAS devices and file servers based on the NFS or SMB protocols. Whatever the solution, the result is often additional cost and complexity, which can undermine some of HCI's advantages. But the Cisco and Nexenta partnership offers an alternative: advanced software-defined storage (SDS) file services implemented directly within the HyperFlex infrastructure.

By deploying NexentaStor VSA, IT can extend HyperFlex's capabilities and still use its existing storage components.

By deploying NexentaStor VSA, IT can extend HyperFlex's storage capabilities and still use its existing storage components. This is possible because users can deploy NexentaStor VSA virtually, enabling the software to run within the HyperFlex environment without requiring additional hardware or complex system reconfigurations. Once installed and configured, NexentaStor VSA adds the extended file services necessary to deliver a complete enterprise storage solution.

Integrating HyperFlex and NexentaStor VSA

HyperFlex is a fully engineered HCI system that's built on Cisco's Unified Computer System (UCS) architecture. The platform provides an end-to-end software-defined infrastructure that operates within a single UCS management domain. HyperFlex uses a hypervisor, such as VMware ESXi or Microsoft Hyper-V, to virtualize CPU and memory resources and provide software-defined computing.

Cisco HyperFlex hyper-converged infrastructure components.
HyperFlex is a fully engineered hyper-converged infrastructure system built on Cisco's Unified Computer System architecture.

In addition, Cisco's HyperFlex HX Data Platform software delivers built-in SDS capabilities, which can support both hybrid and all-flash arrays. HyperFlex uses a high-performing, log-based file system to store the virtual machines (VMs) running the virtualized workloads. For the software-defined networking (SDN) component, HyperFlex includes Cisco United Fabric, which works in conjunction with Cisco's UCS fabric interconnects. The figure to the left provides a conceptual overview of the components that make up the HyperFlex infrastructure.

In this case, VMware vSphere is shown as the hypervisor because that's what's required to support NexentaStor VSA, which is installed in a vSphere VM. In addition to vSphere, the software layer includes Cisco HyperFlex HX Data Platform and Cisco United Fabric, along with management interfaces, such as VMware vSphere and Cisco HyperFlex Connect.

Cisco has tested, validated and certified NexentaStor VSA for HyperFlex HCI environments. NexentaStor VSA extends the storage capabilities built into the platform, using the same storage resources provided with the HyperFlex platform, including the physical elements that connect the disk media.

The NexentaStor VSA difference

NexentaStor VSA is hardware-agnostic software that uses vSphere virtual machine disks in the HCI cluster to create virtual storage pools. The software employs an advanced caching algorithm to deliver high performance and includes features that support lifecycle management, user access control, data resiliency, high availability and data efficiency.

To implement NexentaStor VSA within a HyperFlex cluster, you must download and install the VMware OVA file that contains the NexentaStor VSA software. An OVA file is a virtual appliance that can be implemented in the vSphere environment. Nexenta also provides a plug-in for VMware vCenter that makes it possible to manage NexentaStor VSA from the vCenter console.

Adding NexentaStor VSA to your HyperFlex environment can offer several advantages. For example, NexentaStor VSA supports high-performing NFS and SMB storage, including concurrent NFS and SMB sharing. NexentaStor VSA also integrates with Active Directory and other Lightweight Directory Access Protocol services, as well as with the Kerberos network authentication protocol. Other product features include support for snapshots, antivirus software, inline I/O acceleration and data reduction, and continuous and scheduled replication.

HyperFlex with NexentaStor VSA can potentially support a number of use cases, such as VDI, departmental storage, remote and branch offices, and backup and disaster recovery scenarios. However, Cisco and Nexenta have been focusing primarily on VDI, providing four standard configurations aimed at different sized virtual desktop workloads. The smallest of these supports as much as 8 TB of storage, with one virtual CPU (vCPU) and 8 GB of RAM per virtual desktop. The most extensive configuration supports as much as 64 TB of storage, with two vCPUs and 32 GB of RAM per virtual desktop. Customers looking for larger deployments or special configurations should contact Cisco sales.

The HyperFlex-NexentaStor VSA union

The Cisco and Nexenta joint venture is relatively new, so customer feedback and industry reactions are still forthcoming. IT shops that have already purchased HyperFlex systems might consider giving NexentaStor VSA a try, although they may be hesitant to install the software on a production system, especially if they've invested in high-volume storage systems to support their workloads.

Organizations new to HCI that don't have high-volume storage systems in place might be the ones that really benefit from the Cisco and Nexenta partnership if it fits their workloads and budgets. Whether this is enough for buyers to choose HyperFlex over other HCI platforms is yet to be seen. It's also uncertain whether NexentaStor VSA might find its way into other hypervisors or HCI platforms before too long.

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