vSphere Storage Appliance Overview

 

When VMware announced vSphere 5 they mentioned a new storage appliance called VSA or vSphere Storage Appliance (VSA).  It is intended to be used by smaller VMware environments who don’t/didn’t have a SAN or NAS array at their disposal. You know, because SAN’s are expensive, complex and such. Prior to this you could still deploy vSphere but you were heavily limited on the things that made vSphere so cool; vMotion, and HA for example.

That Sounds Nifty, how does that work?

It simply makes use of your server’s internal hard drives as a pooled shared resourced, pretty simple really.

Here is some more detail. For every ESXi server you will have a VSA deployed to it as a virtual machine. Making use of the available of the local disk (those hard drives that came with your server) on the ESXi host and it will pool these together and provide a replicated NFS volume for the ESXi server.  Once you do this on several hosts, then you should have a highly resilient storage backup system, since it will replicate these across all of the hosts providing a clustered and shared data store across all of your hosts.  Make sense?

Why I like it:

  •  Easy set-up, 5+ clicks and you are good to go, supposedly done in less that 10 minutes
  • Managed from vCenter, which is nice (doesn’t depend on vCenter to stay active, so you are safe if vCenter crashes)
  • Help lower CapEx and OpEx for your IT department, this is huge!
  • Because it uses Network Mirror and local RAID it is really robust with little investment on your part
  • Some rather unique custom settings: RAID 10, RAID 1, replacement of Node in case of failure.

 So does this mean you can kick EMC and NetApp to the curb?

Sorry not yet, keep writing those big checks but it will help in a variety of different scenarios.

Any remote location or branch office where you used to put a small SAN is a perfect example. Just simply beef up the hard drives on your servers and use those hosts as pooled storage.

Lab Environments are literately perfect for this. Now instead of waiting for some ancient hardware to come your way or beg management for a little money you can have a fully functioning SAN in your environment.

Very Small environments work great too, but just know this isn’t a permanent solution as of yet and wouldn’t replace a fully robust storage platform.

Limitations:

  • This is version 1 which means that while they claim it is 99.9% availability there isn’t any guarantees, and there may be some bugs
  • There is a limited list of compatible hardware
  • It doesn’t scale too well. Only supporting three virtualized hosts per instance
  • JBOD or external disk isn’t supported. Only Internal, I believe this is due to the RAID card built into the physical server hence why it needs to be on the HW compatibility list
  • Disk Capacity and VSA-Node count cannot be changed after set-up
  • Only vSphere 5 or later will support it at this time
  • Doesn’t support non VMware Machines…as in Hyper-V or Citrix
  • You need at least 2 nodes to make it work, so you will need at least 2 servers
  • Since it is replicated data, eats up space quickly on each server
  • Haven’t seen the performance numbers, but there will be some overhead and could limit the density of your server farm
  • Lastly, it is only local backup and won’t solve geographic disaster recovery

Big Picture:

This isn’t really a new idea, virtual iSCSI appliances have been around awhile and network RAID isn’t new either, LeftHand. But what it is doing is removing external needs for a VMware environment. By taking away the need for a 3rd party storage device it shortens the deployment time for your virtual environment. I highly doubt that this is the last involvement that VMware will have with storage and see them providing much more significant tools for managing your virtual information.  More to come.

For a Technical indepth view, take a look at this link.

Running Hyper-V in vCenter!

With the announcement of vCenter Operations a few months ago I was thinking about how vCenter and how useful this interface has become over the last few years. For whatever reason I started to wonder if vCenter could handle the management of non-vSphere virtual machines. As I had a few conversations I was met with some weird expressions and utter confusion. “Why would you want to?” seemed to be a common response, more on that later.

I knew that Microsoft Virtual Machine Manager claims to manage VMware VM’s (I wouldn’t vouch for the performance ) so I was sure VMware had some sort of tool of their own, right?  After some research it turns out I was half right.

Why?

Lets back up and explain the why. First and my favorite response is always “why not?” If it can be done, why not prove it. Second and a more responsible and applicable reason is because hyper-v is free.* I am not saying replace your VMware environment, I am saying from a cost perspective if you wanted to spin up a few fully functioning VM’s for test/dev or branch office tier 3 applications hyper-v is a good and inexpensive choice.

The Solution

The part why I was only partially correct. So it turns out there is a program called vCenter XVP Manager and Converter, and it does just that.  As stated from their website.

VMware vCenter XVP Manager and Converter provides basic virtualization management capabilities for non-vSphere hypervisor platforms towards enabling centralized visibility and control across heterogeneous virtual infrastructures. It also simplifies and enables easy migrations of virtual machines from non-vSphere virtualization platforms to VMware vSphere.

But, and it’s a big but, it is part of VMware Lab’s department and isn’t fully supported. So while it is a tool that exists, I can’t claim it is a full-fledged product. With that said use at your own risk.

Fine Print

It is new and doesn’t look like it was tested very much as the forums are looking a bit full. The technical requirements are a little strict. For example you actually need Virtual Machine Manager running and the host must also have Windows Remote Management (WinRM) v1.1. Performance and features are limited with its primary purpose bridge to managing a mixed environment.

*I don’t want to get bogged down on true cost of Hyper-V, it has been overly communicated if you want more information feel free to Google it, but just know nothing is free and you do end up paying something for Hyper-V.

Below is some more details and I have provided some links.

Features

  • Management of the following Microsoft Hyper-V platforms:
    • Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008
    • Microsoft Windows Server 2008 (64-bit) with Hyper-V role enabled
    • Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2
    • Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V role enabled
  • Familiar vCenter Server graphical user interface for navigating through and managing non-vSphere inventory
  • Ease of virtual machine migrations from non-vSphere hosts to vSphere inventory
  • Compatible with VMware vCenter Server 4.0 & 4.1
  • Scalable up to management of 50 non-vSphere hosts

If you find it interesting:

-Here is a link on a guide to Hyper-V Features for the VMware administrator.

CapIQ Can Help Streamline Your Virtual Environment

One the primary goals for IT is usually better efficiency, which tends to be a contestant obstacle as new and larger technologies are released. VMware and virtual machines is no exception to this challenge. VMware does make a tool that is pretty helpful when it comes to managing and planning your capacity needs. Capacity IQ uses the following tools to help predict what physical resources will be necessary to run a virtual machine within your performance SLA’s:

  • Physical Capacity-CPU, memory, disk space, I/O, etc…
  • Virtual Machine Capacity- Measurement of abstract capacity. Basically converting physical properties into virtual machine measurements.
  • Past through Present Trends- Tracks speed of capacity and gives insight of where and how fast it is increasing, decreasing or staying stagnate.
  • Estimated Time Remaining- This helps with planning for future upgrades and refreshes.

Once you have gone through the program and looked at the different dashboards you should be able to go through an extensive amount of information. You can now turn that data and optimize your host for capacity regaining unused resources. To do this select the Views tab, select Virtual Machine Optimization – Summary.

And you should see something below:

Which will give you the following:

  • Assess Virtual Machine Capacity usage.
  • Identify Oversized Virtual Machines.
  • Identify Undersized Virtual Machines.
  • Discover Idle Virtual Machines.
  • Discover Powered-off Virtual Machines.

You can also use a helpful tool that will allow the creation of scenarios. These “what-if” scenarios would show how capacity could change based on certain conditional changes without making actual changes to your virtual infrastructure. This is really helpful for when you want to know what deploying an application would do to your environment in advance versus just throwing it in your environment and hoping for the best.

Price:

MSRP is $495.00 per processor and you licenese it based off of vCenter servers.

Summary:

Mananging capacity can be one of the most difficult parts of managing and infrastructure. Getting the most of what you have and knowing when to upgrade or expand can feel a lot like playing the stock market. CapIQ can help resolve most of these issues.

More Information.