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VMware bulks up vSAN against container-native threats

As VMware embraces Tanzu and Kubernetes, it expands vSAN hyper-converged infrastructure software to try to make it a better fit for developers who embrace containers.

VMware has expanded vSAN capabilities in its Tanzu container management platform, even as the rise of containers threatens the value of hypervisor-based storage.

VMware vSAN is its hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) software, available in VMware-owned Dell EMC's VxRail and other server partners' HCI products. HCI aggregates storage, compute, networking and virtualization, allowing users to provision and manage software through hypervisors. With Tanzu, VMware incorporates Kubernetes natively for container management inside its vSphere virtualization stack that includes vSAN.

Tanzu lets organizations run Kubernetes as part of vSphere, and received considerable attention at VMworld 2020 last week. The latest vSphere 7 Update 1 version released with Tanzu included expanded vSAN storage and networking functionality.

Eric Slack, a senior analyst at Evaluator Group, said Tanzu is VMware's way of staying relevant as containers become more prevalent. But he said emerging container-native storage threatens traditional hyper-converged infrastructure powered by VMware vSAN. These new software-defined storage systems run in containers on each node in Kubernetes clusters to virtualize storage without requiring a hypervisor. Today's HCI systems are hypervisor-based.

"The threat I see to vSAN is container-native storage, also called cloud-native storage," Slack said. "VMware is trying to manage the Kubernetes threat by incorporating it into their software stack. VMware is the 800-pound gorilla, and they're doing things to stay that way."

The VMware vSAN 7 update 1 release added the vSAN Data Persistence platform that enables software vendors to add plugins to complement vSAN's file and block storage. Initially, the data persistence platform supports Dell EMC ObjectScale and object storage from Cloudian and MinIO, and DataStax's Apache Casandra-based database-as-a-service.

The threat I see to vSAN is container-native storage.
Eric SlackSenior analyst, Evaluator Group

Other vSAN additions include HCI Mesh, which disaggregates compute and storage resources so customers can share them across nodes in a cluster and scale them independently. VMware vSAN also added SMB file storage support to go with its previous NFS protocol support, and Kerberos support for network authentication.

John Gilmartin, general manager of cloud platforms at VMware, said Tanzu will expand vSAN use cases by adding networking service and functionality for developers.

"We're expanding beyond storage," Gilmartin said. "We're bringing in the full software stack. Developers want something they can access in an automated way. They don't want someone to hand them a server; they want cloud experience. They want to add capacity and grow on demand. That's where Kubernetes fits in -- developers can easily access this."

According to IDC, Dell EMC is the hardware-based HCI market leader and VMware is the HCI software leader. Nutanix is second in both categories. IDC's second-quarter numbers put Dell with 28% share and Nutanix with 14% in branded systems. In HCI software, IDC lists VMware with 39% and Nutanix with 30% share. HCI revenue grew just 1% from last year, compared with its 8% year-over-year growth in the first quarter of 2020.

But Slack said he sees the long-term threat to vSAN coming from container-native storage vendors such as Portworx, Robin Systems, Red Hat OpenShift, StorageOS, Diamanti and a few others. Recent acquisitions show the value of container-native storage. Pure Storage paid $370 million to acquire cloud-native primary storage startup Portworx in September, and virtual machine backup vendor Veeam bought Kubernetes backup specialist Kasten for $150 million on Monday.

"Those vendors all have a software-defined storage layer that runs in containers, and they have their own Kubernetes distribution," Slack said of container-native storage vendors. "They create a scale-out storage system that doesn't have a hypervisor."

Slack said the Data Persistence Platform is a valuable expansion for vSAN. "It allows vSAN to get object storage without [VMware] having to develop it," he said. "This will allow vSAN to extend its reach so it will integrate with other software players and allow vSAN for block storage and Cloudian for object storage on the same cluster."

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