VMware prepares VSAN 6.1, promises dedupe next

VMware launches VSAN 6.1 and prepares beta for the next version of the hyper-converged software, which will finally deliver data deduplication.

SAN FRANCISCO -- VMware added add availability and data protection in the third version of its Virtual SAN (VSAN) hyper-converged software rolled out at VMworld 2015. It also opened a beta program for the next VSAN version with data deduplication and erasure coding.

VMware also revealed that EVO:RACK is now called EVO SDDC (software-defined data center) and will not be available until next year. EVO SDDC is an enterprise scale hyper-converged bundle that includes VSAN.

VSAN is part of the vSphere hypervisor and allows customers to build storage systems incorporating compute, storage and networking in one chassis. VSAN 6.1, which launched Monday, included the ability to create a stretched cluster between two or more sites for synchronous replication, and support for remote and branch offices with a two-node cluster (it previously required at least three nodes).

VSAN now supports vSphere replication and VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM), which the vendor claims can reduce recovery point objectives to five minutes, multi-processor fault tolerance, Windows Server Failover Clustering (WSFC) and Oracle Real Application Cluster (RAC).

For a performance boost, VSAN will be able to run on hardware using ULLtra DIMM solid state drives and Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) server-based flash. 

VSAN 6.1 is expected to be available by the end of October.

Deduplication -- a request of VSAN customers since the software was first launched -- did not make version 6.1 but it is in the beta for the next version that VMware previewed Monday. The beta testing will start this year.

Inline dedupe will be applied on a per-Disk Group basis.

"One of the top asks of our customer base is for data efficiency in terms of capacity utilization, so we're releasing a beta with deduplication, compression and erasure coding," said Alberto Farronato, VMware director of product marketing for cloud storage and availability.

Storage efficiency focus of next release

The next version after 6.1 will also allow users to employ erasure coding instead of mirroring with RAID 5 or RAID 6, which can increase usable capacity by at least 50%. Erasure coding will use CPU cycles and may slow performance, however.

Michael Feld, CEO of consultant VertitechIT, serves as interim CTO of two healthcare companies that he said use VSAN and will make it their primary storage within two years. Feld spoke at a VMworld session on hyper-converged Monday and outlined how he installed VSAN at Baystate Health in Springfield, Massachusetts, and Lancaster General Health in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

He set up a three-data center VSAN active-active-active cluster at Baystate, and said VSAN and NSX software-defined networking is a key piece of his infrastructure. "You need rock-hard storage connectivity to do that," he said of the cluster across data centers.

Feld said you buy traditional storage in a "stair-step" way that makes it hard to control costs. "With EMC storage, I buy disks, then shelves, then cabinets, and then they sell me a whole truckload of new stuff to scale," he said. "Now [with VSAN] I'm spending 'x' amount on storage and I get the hosts for free. Or I spend 'x' amount for hosts and get the storage for free."

Feld said he would like to see VSAN make data available to other systems outside the cluster it is stored on in a future version. He also said he is looking forward to EVO SDDC.  "I'm waiting for that," he said. "It looks at the entire data enter. The control, management and automation of all the bits and pieces that makes this work is essential."

VMware previewed EVO:RACK at VMworld 2014 when it launched EVO:RAIL, which allows hardware partners to hyper-converged systems based on VSAN. EVO:RACK was expected to ship this year but that will not be the case.

EVO SDDC includes VSAN, NXS and the new EVO SDDC Manager automation software. EVO SDDC will pool compute, storage and network across a minimum of eight and maximum of 192 rack nodes.

VSAN is selling, but EVO:RAIL is slow to catch on

VMware claims more than 2,000 VSAN customers in 18 months of shipping the software. Farronato said most of them have deployed it by downloading the software and running it on Ready Nodes, certified hardware bundles that ship without the software. EVO:RAIL systems have not been a popular option according to many in the industry. Hewlett-Packard, an early partner, recently discontinued its EVO:RAIL system after nine months.

Ravi Venkatasubbaiah, IT leader for Malvern, Pennsylvania-based manufacturing company Vishay and a VMUG (VMware user group) director, said "Hyper-converged is picking up, but EVO isn't picking up as much as VMware wants it to."

Venkatasubbaiah said "VSAN makes life easier for a lot of people. It's high performance storage at a low price" but added that VMware has too much control over EVO:RAIL's technology to suit its hardware partners. "They don't seem to be giving partners the independence they need to differentiate," he said.

VMware's Farronato said the vendor looks at overall sales more than how those sales are made.

"From VMware's standpoint, we don't look at it platform by platform," Farronato said. "Our goal is to make all the options available to our customers and let them select what's best. We don't push customers towards one way or the other."

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