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VMware hyper-convergence takes small steps with VSAN 6.5

Version 6.5 of VMware's VSAN hyper-converged platform aims to simplify VSAN deployment in remote offices and all-flash nodes, but the update lacks groundbreaking features.

VMware's next release of Virtual SAN will include features designed to make it easier to use the hyper-converged...

software in remote offices and in all-flash nodes, and will enable it to serve as back-end storage for physical servers.

VSAN is part of VMware's vSphere virtualization platform, and the VSAN upgrades will be included in the vSphere 6.5 release due by the end of the year. VMware officially launched vSphere 6.5 today at VMworld Europe. The VSAN 6.5 release did not include encryption for data at rest and cloud-based analytics, which VMware promised in future releases at the U.S. VMworld in August.

VSAN 6.5 supports two-node-minimum clusters for remote offices and the ability to use VSAN as an iSCSI target for physical servers. It also works with 512e hard disk drives and solid-state drives to improve performance for high-capacity drives, and it can serve as persistent storage for containerized applications through VMware vSphere Integrated Containers. VMware will also upgrade the VSAN API and vSphere PowerCLI, which will allow customers to automate configuration and management of cluster settings, disk groups, fault domains and stretched clusters.

Can VSAN 6.5 compete?

Eric Sheppard, IDC's storage research director, said VSAN 6.5 features show how hyper-convergence is maturing.

"VMware is expanding VSAN's addressable market and making it more attractive to a new set of workloads," Sheppard said. "This shows hyper-converged is becoming a genuine option for enterprises and mission-critical applications. Today, you can stick with your SAN architecture and refresh your SAN, but you can also think about putting workloads on hyper-converged."

This is the first VSAN upgrade since version 6.2 launched in February. That release added features VSAN competitors already had, such as data deduplication, compression, erasure coding and performance monitoring. The features in VSAN 6.5 aren't groundbreaking, either; hyper-converged market leader Nutanix added iSCSI support for physical workloads and persistent storage for containers last June, and several competitors support two-node clusters for remote offices.

But Lee Caswell, VMware's vice president of storage products, argued that because VSAN is part of vSphere, VMware customers can get into hyper-convergence without adding another platform.

"We have one software stack instead of two," Caswell said. "Everybody else has to run in a separate software stack outside of the hypervisor. It's only if you own the hypervisor that you have common management across compute, storage and networking. The downside is you have to upgrade to the latest version of the hypervisor to get the latest version of VSAN software."

VSAN no longer requires three-node minimum

Until now, VSAN required clusters of at least three nodes. VSAN 6.5 eliminates the need for switches or routers between systems in remote offices, which enables VSAN in remote offices without requiring 10 Gigabit Ethernet connectivity. The two nodes now connect by crossover cables instead of the switch that was previously required as a third node. Customers can use two crossover cables between nodes to increase availability.

Caswell said iSCSI support for physical servers was driven by requests from customers who want to use VSAN as their SAN for the physical workloads. It is designed mainly for clustered applications.

"It's useful for things like Microsoft Cluster Server, where you need separate physical servers," he said. "It allows those servers to be part of VSAN storage. Now, you can take a physical server that you don't want to move to a virtualized environment -- because it's running well and you don't want to change that -- and you can connect it to SAN-based storage."

More licensing options for all-flash

VSAN previously supported all-flash hardware configurations, but 512e support will help it work better with larger solid-state drives and new technologies, such as NVMe.

VMware also said VSAN Standard Edition licensing will cover all-flash configurations, which previously required Advanced or Enterprise licenses. Deduplication, compression and erasure coding -- key features for all-flash -- will still require Advanced or Enterprise licenses, however. VMware will also add a VSAN Advanced license for remote and branch offices that will support deduplication, compression and erasure coding. This opens the door for all-flash VSAN in remote offices.

VSAN 6.5 list price starts at $2,495 per CPU.

VMware claims 5,000 customers currently use VSAN. These customers either purchased VSAN directly through VMware, or through hardware partners that sell it on integrated appliances or certified in Ready Node configurations.

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