VMware vSAN has been available since 2014, and is among the most mature hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) software products on the market. The vSAN 7 update 2 version launched in March 2021 contained no ground-breaking features but did move to eliminate concerns about HCI scaling while making incremental improvements for edge deployments, container storage and data protection.
One criticism of hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) from the start was that it limited independent scaling of resources. Because of its aggregated architecture, customers had to add compute and storage together in HCI nodes, even if they only needed one of those resources.
That limitation led vendors to come out with what they called disaggregated HCI. These include NetApp HCI and HPE Nimble dHCI, which enable independent scaling of compute and storage. However, these disaggregated models lose the tight integration between the compute, storage and virtualization layer that give HCI much of its value.
VMware addressed the issue with vSAN Version 7 update 2 by adding the ability to scale compute and storage separately through HCI Mesh.
VMware first introduced HCI Mesh in vSAN 7 Update 1 in September, 2020. The original HCI Mesh enabled customers to share storage resources across HCI clusters. For example, a vSAN cluster running SQL server could share extra capacity with a space-constrained vSAN cluster running Oracle.
With vSAN 7, update 2, vSAN clusters can now share storage capacity with compute-only clusters. HCI Mesh now allows vSAN to share resources from HCI clusters to non-HCI clusters, and manage them through a single console. The new version also increases scalability to 128 nodes per vSAN datastore, up from the previous HCI Mesh limit of 64.
VMware is also extending its vSAN Storage Based Policy Management (SBPM) to support compute clusters, so customers can provision storage while setting their virtual machines.
This independent scaling enables new vSAN use cases, including the ability to deploy storage-only clusters for servers that were not being used for HCI. A customer with servers under warranty can adopt HCI by connecting to vSAN storage-only clusters. vSAN storage clusters can also serve as external storage for blade servers. Customers can put databases on compute-only servers and provision capacity on storage-only nodes to reduce licensing costs. Customers can also set up storage tiers though SBPM, provisioning the amount and type of storage required for application needs.
VMware vSAN is part of the vendor’s vSphere virtualization platform, and shares features from the vSphere 7 update 2 release. Other additions to vSAN 7 include:
Cloud native support. VMware added non-disruptive persistent volume sizing. That allows users to resize persistent volumes without have to take them off line. The vSAN Persistence Data Platform supports S3-compatible object storage through Cloudian HyperStore and MinIO Object Storage plug-ins. VMware is also providing a migration path for customers who used vSphere Cloud Provider (VCP) storage for Kubernetes to its vSphere CNS CSI platform.
High availability. Stretched clusters now scale to 20 nodes for a primary site and 20 nodes for a secondary site, up from 15 nodes per primary and secondary sites.
Edge HCI: 2-node minimum for ROBO deployments; support for new vSphere Native Key Provider for data at rest encryption of VMs to simplify encryption for edge clusters.
Data protection. API integration with major backup vendors for file services.
vSAN is the most common HCI platform, based on Evaluator Group studies over the last four years. VMware claims it has more than 30,000 customers (it’s main HCI rival Nutanix claims 18,770 customers). Now established in a mature market, vSAN has all the fundamental storage services and is beginning its move into disaggregation, cloud-native and edge deployments.
But as part of the vSphere stack, vSAN’s development is largely tied to VMware’s major transformational initiatives: its Tanzu portfolio for containers and Project Monterrey for hardware -centric data acceleration. These are VMware’s major focus points, and we’ll be watching closely to see the impact they have on vSAN and HCI over the coming months.
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