VMware vSAN: 2016 Edition

Both in 2014 and in 2015 I wrote pieces on the current status of VMware vSAN, and it’s time to revisit it for 2016.

My previous posts:

2014: VSAN: The Unspoken Future
2015: VMware VSAN: More than meets the eye.

vSAN 6.5 was released with vSphere 6.5, and brings a few new features to the table:

  • Virtual SAN iSCSI Target Service
  • Support for Cloud Native Apps running on the Photon Platform
  • REST APIs and Enhanced PowerCLI support
  • 2-Node Direct Connect
    • Witness Traffic Separation for ROBO
  • All-Flash support in the standard license (Deduplication and compression still needs advanced or enterprise)
  • 512e drive support

In my opinion, the first three items on that list are the most interesting. Back in 2015 I talked about VMware turning vSAN into a generic storage platform, and the new Virtual SAN iSCSI Target Service is a step in that direction. This new feature allows you to share vSAN storage directly to physical servers over iSCSI (VMware is not positioning this as a replacement for ordinary iSCSI SAN arrays), without having to do that through iSCSI targets running inside a VM.

The same goes for Cloud Native Apps support, where new applications can talk with vSAN directly through the API, even without a vCenter!

Both of these bypass the VM layer entirely, and provide external connectivity into the core vSAN storage layer.

Clearly these are the first steps towards opening up vSAN for external usage, expect to see more interfaces being exposed externally in future releases. An object store resembling Amazon S3 doesn’t sound too far fetched, does it? Perhaps even with back-end replication and archiving built-in. Stick your files in a vSAN and let the policies there determine which object should be stored locally, and which should be stored on S3? Or which should be replicated to another vSAN cluster, located somewhere else?

Being able to use SBPM for more than VM objects is a good idea, and it makes management of those non-VM workloads running in your vSAN cluster easier to monitor and manage.

Sure the rest of the items on the list are nice too, the two 2-node Direct Connect feature allows you to connect two nodes without the need for external 10 GbE switches, cutting costs in those scenarios. All-Flash support on all license levels is also nice, but as is the case with 512e drive support, it’s natural progression. With the current price point on flash devices, the vSAN Hybrid model is not going to get used much going forward.

All in all, the vSAN 6.5 release is a natural evolution of a storage product that’s still in it’s infancy. That’s the beauty of SDS, new features like this can be made available without having to wait for a hardware refresh.

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VCSA – The default choice. Always.

I’ve been a big proponent of the VMware vCenter Appliance for a long time, I even did a talk called VCS to VCSA Converter or How a Fling Can Be Good for You! on migrating to the VCSA at the Nordic VMUG last year.

The VCSA has gone through a few iterations and versions by now, coinciding with the vSphere releases.

History

vCenter Server Appliance 5.0 August 2011
vCenter Server Appliance 5.1September 2012
vCenter Server Appliance 5.5 September 2013
vCenter Server Appliance 6.0 March 2015
vCenter Server Appliance 6.5 TBA

Since v6.0 scaling has been on par with it’s Windows based counterpart, supporting the same number of  hosts and VMs.

When it comes to features, VCSA 6.5 surpasses the Windows version. New tools like the Migration Tool, vCenter High Availability, Backup / Restore and the new Management Interface are all exclusively available on the VCSA.

In my opinion, the most noteworthy of these are vCenter High Availability and the Backup / Restore options.

vCenter High Availability adresses one of the main concerns with vCenter in general since the discontinuation of vCenter Server Heartbeat in June 2014. This new HA setup enables you to have a passive VCSA ready if your active one should fail, with the added protection of a witness that keeps track of it all. This is a native feature of the VCSA, and not available in it’s Windows counterpart (or little brother as it is now…)

The Backup / Restore feature is very nice as well. One of the (few) arguments I’ve heard surrounding running the VCSA vs the Windows vCenter is surrounding backup. Thankfully the myth regarding image level backups of it was debunked in v6, but the new backup / restore functionality takes that a step further. Native backup is now available in the VCSA, either via the management interface or via a public API. The backup files (HTTP(s), FTP(s), and SCP transfer protocols are supported) make up the entire VCSA configuration, and you can restore those directly from the VCSA 6.5 ISO image in case of an emergency. This means that you can image level backups of the VCSA as usual, and script the backup file generation as added protection.

Also worth noting is that in v6.5, VMware Update Manager has been included in the VCSA, and runs natively on the appliance. The last argument for keeping your Windows vCenter has just disappeared.

With the upcoming vSphere 6.5 release it’s clear that the VCSA should be the default deployment model for a new vCenter. There is really no question about it anymore. #migrate2vcsa you should.

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VMworld Europe 2016 – My takeaways

VMworld Europe 2016
VMworld Europe 2016 in Barcelona is a couple of weeks old now, and most of the dust has settled. Besides the general announcements around vSphere 6.5 and surrounding products, the next big thing might just be Cross-Cloud Architecture and of course VMware Cloud on AWS. The announcements around vSAN 6.5 (yes, it is now vSAN and not Virtual SAN/VSAN anymore), are also very interesting. Perhaps it’s time I revisit my earlier VMware VSAN; More than meets the eye post and update it for vSAN 6.5?

What really stands out after having time to digest it, is how VMware and VMworld felt energetic again. The keynotes were good, especially on day 1. That keynote is probably the best VMware keynote I’ve ever seen. Everything VMware has been talking about for years, perhaps without actually being able to get the message clearly across to everyone, seems to click neatly into place now. There is a vision now, a vision you can actually relate to, and believe in. Even the tagline be_tomorrow, makes more sense now.

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but it feels like something has changed internally in VMware in the last year and a half or so.  There seems to be a new drive, a clearer focus. To be frank, it feels fun again, something it really hasn’t for the last couple of years.

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As per usual, my biggest take-away from attending VMworld is networking and talking to real life people —  The same people I “talk” to virtually all the time. I even met quite a few new people this year, and that’s always awesome!

My Session highlights:

I attended a few sessions too, and would like to highlight two of them:

Both these sessions were awesome. If you work as an architect and haven’t had a look at VMware Validated Designs yet, drop what you’re doing and go have a look. Right now.

VMware Cloud on AWS was a little light on details (naturally, since it’s not even released/available yet) but for now this one gave a really good overview of what is is, and perhaps more crucially what it isn’t.

Other highlights:

As a VMUG Leader I  attended the VMUG Leader Lunch, which had an awesome Q&A session with Pat Gelsinger and Joe Baguley —That session should have been recorded too.

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I met up with Ed and Chris, all three hosts of vSoup were finally in the same city at the same time, for the first time since 2011! We recorded a quick vSoup Podcast, and even got Emad Younis as a surprise guest. That recording is still unreleased, hopefully we can get the audio cleaned up and it published pretty soon.

Overall

VMworld 2016 has left me happy. Happy with the direction VMware is going, happy with the event and really happy I wore that shirt for the vRockstar party. As a side note, my FitBit logged 108,427 steps while I was in Barcelona, not to bad for under a weeks worth of conference.

Now, can someone tell me where VMworld Europe 2017 will be held?

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