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VMware vSAN HCI users share cloud strategies, battle scars

Hyper-converged infrastructure has meant change to IT organizations, and VMware vSAN customers consider evolving their cloud plans in an age of hybrid and multi-cloud options.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Now that they've converged IT tiers and staffs, vSAN customers are figuring out how much of the public cloud they want to connect to their hyper-converged infrastructure.

VMworld 2019 included no significant updates to vSAN, although it did add container support through Cloud Native Storage. But vSAN is a key piece of VMware's hybrid cloud push as a building block of VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF), which connects on-premises HCI to AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and IBM Cloud.

Having converged traditional IT tiers and, in some cases, teams, VMware vSAN HCI users at the conference said they are looking at their cloud strategies.

Dan Scotti said his title of engineering software developer at MathWorks changed three weeks ago to senior cloud engineer. It's now his job to implement his vSAN-heavy shop's cloud strategy.

"My role now is to build an internal cloud for MathWorks and then figure out how to connect it to AWS and Azure and Google Cloud," Scotti said during a VMworld panel on vSAN. "VSAN is part of our cloud strategy, and it's a work in progress."

The engineering software developer based in Natick, Mass., has moved off traditional storage to vSAN over the past three years and now runs it on Lenovo ThinkAgile VX HCI appliances in its data centers and 18 remote offices. Scotti said MathWorks is looking at using VCF and its vRealize Suite for cloud management.

"As my group evolves into a true service-based organization, I'm going to want vRealize Automation," he said. "We already had licenses, and it didn't make sense not to use it. I'm using vSAN resource pools and non-vSAN resource pools, and I can connect the two. We're in our infancy there."

Scotti said one big challenge is figuring out what his company already has in the public cloud, due to "rogue" users who have already moved data there. "Because anyone who has a credit card can go out and move corporate data," he said, "I don't even know how much is on the cloud now."

VMware vSAN HCI users ponder public, private or hybrid cloud

Thomas Fukuyama, senior director of IT operations for Travelers Insurance, said his company will likely keep its applications where they are but wants to use the cloud for disaster recovery.

He said Travelers runs vSAN Ready Nodes on a variety of server hardware in its data centers and field offices.

"We have applications in the cloud, and they stay in the cloud," Fukuyama said. "We have applications in the data center, and they stay in the data center. When the cloud was first pitched, the plan was: When we have an app that needs to burst, we can burst to the cloud. We can burst now. The thing for us is making sure we're prepared for disaster recovery. We have multiple data centers. That's where VCF makes sense. We can use it whether it's AWS or Azure. So, those are the next steps for us."

Lester Shisler, senior IT systems engineer for Harmony Healthcare IT, said his company is exploring several cloud options. Shisler said Harmony, which is based in South Bend, Ind., has about 1.3 petabytes of data running on 20 vSAN hosts. He said that capacity total has quadrupled over four months.

"It's still in the air if we're going to continue only on premises, if we're going to migrate completely to the cloud or merge the two," he said. "There is a future for our company in the cloud and being able to scale to a certain level. We don't know what that is yet, but it will be fun figuring it out."

Haridas Vhadade, expert systems engineer for Allscripts, said public cloud is not an option for much of the IT healthcare provider's data because of regulation issues. He said he uses vSAN as a private cloud with a little bit of data on AWS.

"We don't have plans to connect vSAN to the public cloud because our private cloud is huge, about a petabyte of size," Vhadade said. "Whenever we need storage dedicated for our offices, we use vSAN."

Shifting IT dynamics

Along with cloud strategies, administrators running vSAN said HCI has also changed their companies' staffing dynamics. Cutting across traditional silos, HCI has forced members from different IT teams to work together.

"We still have a bunch of teams in silos, but for projects, we come together," Travelers' Fukuyama said. "With hyper-convergence, our lead virtual infrastructure resource has worked with other folks to make sure we have a successful implementation. We've had some network folks who have worked with them, and even some folks who were working on VBlocks [converged infrastructure] came over to make sure it was a combined effort."

Shisler said, in Harmony's seven-person IT shop, there are no silos for deploying infrastructure. "It's me," he said.

But he said using VMware vSAN HCI has helped IT work closer with Harmony's developers than was possible when using a traditional three-tier architecture.

"We've become much closer with the development team," he said. "Having vSAN on-site gives them the chance to test and spin applications. Development has moved more towards a DevOps structure. And we've become more involved in that. So, where development used to be this far-off thing and they used to be a pain in our butts because they would want things that were unrealistic, now it's evolving into a working relationship with them. And they say, 'We need this,' and it's 'Oh yeah, we can get you that.'"

Staffing changes sometimes result in pains before gains become evident. Matthew Douglas, chief enterprise architect at Sentara Healthcare, said he has the "wounds and scars" of an early HCI adopter. He deployed hyper-convergence and cloud in a previous job, but when he joined Sentara in 2018, the move to HCI got off to a rocky start. Eventually, most of the staff united into one strong team.

"The first month was horrible; they hated me," he said. "They were like, 'This guy, all this stuff's going to change.' I was surprised it was so quick, though. Six months in and things were changing. People are starting to break down the silos, storage is starting to work with guys in compute and system administrators are starting to work with developers."

"All those guys are sitting in a room talking about how we're now one digital transformation team. We're not the storage team; we're not the compute team. Now, we're all one team. Some people like it. Some people are quitting. Some of the older guys want to retire; they want their old jobs back. But our teams have energy. They're embracing a digital transformation."

Scotti knows how that change can feel. He was a virtual server engineer three weeks ago, and now, he's MathWorks' senior cloud engineer.

"Change is hard," he said. "We've taken your cheese and moved it."

He said members of his company who had a homegrown storage system weren't keen to move to vSAN until they couldn't get into their home directory because "the storage had a hiccup, and it's not there. By moving that into vSAN, we improved the user experience."

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