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Hyper-convergence can reduce storage complexity, management silos

Hyper-converged appliances reduce the use of management silos, but storage admins have to give up control of primary storage and adjust to a world without LUNs.

Hyper-converged customers say adoption of the technology has reduced management silos in their companies and made it easier to handle basic storage tasks.

Those were common benefits mentioned on two Virtual SAN (VSAN) panels at VMworld in Las Vegas last week. Most of the panelists agreed the move to hyper-convergence through the VSAN software reduced complexity as well as costs of a traditional SAN. They also spread the responsibility for storage management.

Andrew Schilling, team leader of IT Infrastructure at Baystate Health, based in Springfield, Mass., and a self-described "server guy," said bringing IT teams together was a highlight of switching to hyper-convergence.

"We were very siloed," Schilling said. "The network people had their domain, servers had their domain, storage had their domain. The coolest thing that happened from this hyper-converged project is we brought all those groups together. Now people are getting more interested [in managing VSAN]."

Who's in charge of hyper-converged systems?

It is not always clear at the beginning who will manage hyper-converged systems, which combine storage, compute and virtualization. Storage teams may be reluctant to give up control over their domain if hyper-converged appliances are used for primary data. Glenn Brown, systems engineer at Stanley Black & Decker, said after early skepticism, the storage team turned over management of VSAN to the systems group.

"After we got into VSAN, the storage team said 'We'll take a look,'" he said. "After they looked at it for about two minutes they said, 'OK, there's nothing for us to do. You guys keep that.' It just became much easier. We own everything that's VSAN-related."

One of our challenges with a traditional SAN is when you try to remove a LUN. It's always a huge project, and a lot of times it goes wrong.
Tom Croninsenior staff specialist in the platforms engineering group, M&T Bank

Brown said management silos remain at Stanley Black & Decker, but he is hoping VSAN acceptance will lead his storage team to embrace another VMware storage project as it becomes acclimated to a world without LUNs.

"We still have towers," he said. "We try to show [the storage team] VSAN, they say 'How do we cut the LUN for you?' We say, 'There is no LUN.' They're slowly getting their head around it, and I think it will lead to a conversation around VVOLs."

Eliminating management silos and LUNs

Other VSAN customers said they were happy to avoid those conversations with their storage colleagues about LUNs.

"Before, I would go talk to my storage team and I say, 'I need a LUN.' They say, 'How big do you need it, and how many IOPS?' I said, 'I need a LUN,''' Baystate's Schilling said. "So now [with VSAN] I throw another host in and add some disks, and off we go. I don't miss a lot of that [LUN] stuff."

"One of our challenges with a traditional SAN is when you try to remove a LUN," said Tom Cronin, senior staff specialist in the platforms engineering group at M&T Bank. "It's always a huge project, and a lot of times it goes wrong. Now, if I miss-size a cluster and it's too big, I can just put the host in maintenance and take it out. It's simpler and much safer."

The initial move to hyper-convergence didn't always create warm feelings between various IT groups at the panelists' companies.

Adam Cook, senior systems support engineer at Amway, based in Ada, Mich., said "there was resistance from the storage team" when his company went to VSAN as part of a move to a private cloud. "We were trying to let them be involved and we keep them involved, but there are still some hurt feelings," he said.

That wasn't a problem for Michael Noone, senior system administrator at Sugar Creek Packing Co., based in Cincinnati. He wears multiple hats, so he had no management silos to cut through. "I'm the storage team as well as the VM admin, so it was a pretty simple decision to go to VSAN," he said. "I would have been arguing with myself."

Michael Caruso, assistant vice president of corporate information systems at Synergent, based in Westbrook, Maine, said his financial services firm does not have a dedicated storage team either. It switched to hyper-convergence to make it simpler to manage storage more than to cut through management silos.

"We have a small technical staff, we don't have separate storage people, separate security. We wear all hats," he said. "The traditional SAN that we used for years presented a lot of overhead that we didn't want. We tried to make things easy, just distill it down to simple building blocks that didn't take a lot to learn and manage."

Still, he said his team tried out hyper-convergence for about six months before using it in production.

"We're skeptical about any new technology, so we started comparing it to other storage systems," Caruso said. "We took our time to make sure it was performing up to par. It's a lot cheaper than a traditional SAN, and we don't have to worry about a three-year uptick when maintenance renewal comes in."

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