VSphere Storage Appliance to replace mid-range arrays: analyst

An analyst says VMware’s vSphere Storage Appliance, launched today, will eventually cause the demise of products like EMC’s Clariion and NetApp’s low-end FAS.

VMware’s new vSphere Storage Appliance (VSA) is the beginning of the end of for mid-range arrays, according to IBRS Analyst Dr Kevin McIsaac, who feels that “within 5 years it will be chasing EMC and NetApp’s midrange. This is the beginning of one of the biggest shifts I have seen since Wintel displaced Unix and RISC.”

VSA is a new product that allows users to create shared storage without the need for a dedicated storage area network (SAN). To use VMware’s flagship vSphere product users must have a source of shared storage. SANs from storage leaders like EMC and NetApp fill this role comfortably, while smaller storage vendors like Netgear and Synology have released sub-$2000 desktop unified storage devices aimed at allowing smaller organisations to provide shared storage and therefore take advantage of virtualisation.

VSA removes the need to acquire such devices, instead using servers’ own storage as virtual shared storage. The product seeks out capacity from servers, creates a pool of shared storage and also replicates data from the physical disks used by each server in a kind of virtual RAID array. The product only scales to three servers.

VMware Australia’s Michael Warrilow said at a press event today that the product is intended for organisations running up to 30 virtual machines and is designed to give smaller businesses the chance to virtualise without the cost or complexity of adding a SAN. When pressed on why a user would create virtual shared storage when small unified storage devices are affordable, he said it is “another option.”

McIsaac thinks it is a revolutionary option.

“If you look at storage array they are quite expensive. Why? It’s really just an Intel box. The answer is all the engineering that goes into it.” But that engineering, he feels, is not needed because the kind of architecture VSA uses is capable of delivering comparable speed without the complexity of another physical appliance.

Basing his comments on conversations with users of HP’s LeftHand products, which have a similar approach to storage, McIsaax said “you can get very high IOPS. The disk to processor connection is the same as in a storage array anyhow. The real question is how does the data get from the storage node to the compute node? With VSA they could be in the same memory,” an arrangement which is potentially faster than other arrangements as it means data does not need to traverse the network or internal connections to reach the CPU. Nor would servers need to revert to larger form factors required to house multiple disks to scale a VSA-style system: McIsaac says disk drawers sitting alongside blade servers will become common to scale virtual shared storage arrays like those VSA now enables.

That easier scalability and high performance, plus the benefits that come from avoiding the acquisition and operating costs of arrays, represent disruption to the midrange market, although McIsaac also said he believes VMware has deliberately started small with VSA and the concepts it uses.

“VMware does not want to scare its partners like EMC and NetApp. But if you think about all innovative technology it starts at the low end – think about the initial reaction to Windows NT and Intel processors for big workloads.

“Just like Windows and Linux and Intel put the kybosh on Unix and RISC, this will disrupt midrange arrays,” he said. “Within five years it will be chasing EMC and NetApp’s midrange and within seven modular storage will be on the ropes.”

He therefore predicts that small unified storage vendors will be hurt by today’s announcement.

VMware said it has offered such vendors “briefings” to make them aware of the situation.

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