VMware VSAN 6.2 launches with dedupe, QoS

With data efficiency upgrades to VSAN, VMware is also expanding its Ready Nodes partner program to include OEM bundles of hyper-converged software and licenses.

VMware today formally launched Virtual SAN 6.2 hyper-converged software with long overdue features such as data deduplication and compression. VMware also expanded its Ready Node program with new OEM partners and bundling options.

VMware is adding data efficiency and protection features as it tries to catch up with rivals such as Nutanix and SimpliVity that have been in the hyper-converged market longer. VSAN 6.2 will perform dedupe and compression on all-flash storage nodes, erasure coding for RAID 5 and RAID 6, and quality of service.

VMware sells VSAN as standalone software or with certified x86 server hardware from partners. This is the fourth generation of VSAN since its 2014 launch.

Customers have been asking for data reduction since the beta days of VSAN. VMware claims VSAN 6.2 can provide up to seven times data reduction rates with little impact on CPU and memory overhead because of flash. However, it does not work with VSAN running on hybrid nodes that use flash and hard disk drives.

"We think these capabilities are much more critical for flash," said Gaetan Castelein, VMware senior director of storage and availability product management. "They put IO stress on systems and hybrid systems are less able to handle the load."

Dave Russell, distinguished analyst at Gartner, said lack of data reduction likely hurt VMware in the market.

"I'm sure VMware got left out of some deals because it didn't have deduplication," he said. "When something is considered a killer feature like this, it's a big issue when it's omitted and it can be a bit anti-climactic when it's added. But in this case, it has significance. It helps get more usable storage capacity from a data payload perspective on flash in your servers."

Russell said he expects VMware will extend data reduction to its hard disk drives and eventually DRAM.

VSAN 6.2 supports erasure coding for RAID 5 and RAID 6 for all-flash nodes only. RAID 5 erasure coding requires a four-host minimum and guards against one drive failure. Castelein claims VSAN 6.2 allows 1.3x overhead instead of the normal 2x overhead for RAID 5. RAID 6 erasure coding requires at least six hosts and can survive two disk failures. Castelein said VSAN's RAID 6 overhead is 1.5x instead of 3x.

VSAN 6.2's quality of service manages IOPS consumed by each virtual machine to eliminate the "noisy neighbor" problem that can impact performance. Customers can assign resources by setting a maximum IOPS per VM. VMware also added built-in performance and storage capacity monitoring to VSAN.

VSAN 6.2 is expected to be available by the end of March, with pricing starting at $2,495 per CPU. VSAN for Desktop starts at $50 per user.

Making Ready Nodes more ready

With VSAN 6.2, VMware is also giving its Ready Node hardware partners the option of pre-installing its vSphere hypervisor and VSAN with certified drivers and firmware. Previously, Ready Nodes were certified but did not ship with VSAN installed or include licenses.

Partners joining the new Ready Node OEM program will be able to install VSAN and bundle VSAN licenses, or allow customers to use existing licenses with Ready Nodes. Castelein said VMware has 11 server Ready Node OEM partners, and Fujitsu and Supermicro will be the first to offer Ready Nodes with software installed. VMware's parent company EMC is expected to launch a VSAN turnkey appliance next week. Dell, which is in the process of acquiring EMC for $67 billion, is also likely to offer Ready Nodes with installed software and licenses soon.

With the expanded Ready Node program, VMware appears to be phasing out its EVO:RAIL OEM program, which allowed partners to sell VSAN and a complete software stack on their own storage or server platforms. EVO:RAIL has had a tepid response from partners and customers with few VSAN sales going through those systems.

"EVO:RAIL still exists," Castelein said, "but from an OEM perspective we will put emphasis on the VSAN Ready Node program."

EVO:RAIL has had its problems. EVO:RAIL partners were limited to older versions of VSAN and could do little to differentiate their products. VMware had to lower its pricing after customer complaints. When Hewlett Packard Enterprise dropped its EVO:RAIL product nine months after launch, many industry insiders thought the EVO:RAIL program was doomed.

"I've never seen such polarizing reactions to the same code just because of different packaging," Gartner's Russell said. "VSAN as standalone software and with Ready Nodes got a pass. People said, 'We'll wait until dedupe, but we're still interested.' But when packaged with EVO:RAIL as a whole solution, people became upset with the capabilities that were lacking. It was a different reaction to the same software. Now that VMware has the capabilities to really go after Nutanix and SimpliVity, its figuring out packaging issues."

Castelein said VMware might have misjudged the allure of EVO:RAIL as a one-stop hyper-converged product. "When we introduced VSAN, we positioned it as software-defined storage and EVO:RAIL as hyper-converged infrastructure," he said. "I think that was a mistake on our part. If you look at the way customers are using these products and what they get once an appliance has been deployed, it's about streamlining infrastructure. They want a webscale infrastructure like Google and Facebook have."

Is VMware No. 1 in hyper-converged?

However people buy VSAN, VMware claims it has the most hyper-converged infrastructure deployments with more than 3,000 customers. Nutanix, widely considered the hyper-converged market share leader, claims 2,100 customers as of October 2015. Nutanix appears to have a big edge in revenue, though. In its SEC filing ahead of becoming a public company, Nutanix reported $241 million in revenue for the fiscal year that ended July 31, 2015, and $87.8 million for the quarter that ended Oct. 31. VMware claims it is on pace for $100 million in VSAN revenue over the next year.

"But that's software only," Castelein said of VMware's VSAN revenue. "There's more money being spent on the underlying hardware than the software piece."

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