Thinking Outside the Checkbox of VM-awareness – by Eric Slack

By Eric Slack, Monday, November 7th 2016

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There certainly are a lot of “check box” items in our industry. These are the long lists of features that populate technical data sheets. In an effort to keep up with the competition, it seems that vendors feel compelled to match each other, line by line. The problem is that the way these features are implemented are very different from one product to the next, one vendor to the next, even when they’re called the same thing. It’s left up to the potential end users to think “outside the check box” and understand these technologies, such as “VM-awareness”, to accurately compare the products. At Evaluator Group we dig into these similarly worded features and point out the differences.

Snapshots and Dedupe

Years ago, snapshots were a relatively new concept in storage and IT circles and different products used different methods. Copy on Write technology was much less efficient than the Redirect on Write process used by vendors like NetApp, to the extent that it effectively limited the number of snapshots a system could support. But all the vendors that used this process still listed snapshots on their data sheets and many users, assuming “a snapshot was a snapshot”, ended up disappointed. Similarly, deduplication has evolved greatly from the original “post process” method that was essentially introduced by Data Domain for backup. There were multiple dedupe technologies in use, but all still showed up as “deduplication” on the data sheet.

Quality of Service

Nowadays, Quality of Service (QoS) is a feature that shows up on data sheet checkboxes for many storage products. Like snapshots and dedupe, there’s more than one way to implement QoS. Some storage systems simply limit the amount of bandwidth given to a certain host or the number of IO transactions they allow. Others give you more control to guarantee a minimum level of these resources, in addition to maximums. Some add the ability to dynamically control these limits, in response to fluctuations in demand on the system. While all of these methods can rightly be called QoS, there’s obviously a big difference in the “quality” of service they can be expected to provide.,

VM Awareness

As companies become more virtualized their VMware admins are taking on more of the management and operation of the infrastructures supporting these environments. In response to this, products like hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) appliances are becoming more “VM aware”. These can be very useful features, such as the ability to set data protection levels for each VM, to control what type of storage is allocated or even set the block or page size used for each virtual machine.

But the variation in this new checkbox item is potentially greater than ever. Vendors are adding new VM-based features with every new release and expanding the definition of VM awareness. To help clarify this issue, Evaluator Group is conducting research into VM-centric operation. In it we’ll define this new checkbox item, discuss what technologies are available in the HCI space and what IT professionals should be aware of.


The amount and diversity of technology available in infrastructure products can be overwhelming for those trying to evaluate appropriate solutions. In this blog we discuss pertinent topics to help IT professionals think outside the checkbox of features and functionality.

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