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VMware VSAN … and the great missed opportunity

Cloud firm part of storage landscape, but where’s the money?

Comment One of the most interesting announcements at VMworld was VSAN 6.1. The product is quickly maturing and new features are being added version after version (so here's what’s new).

Even though some of the features could easily be disputable – like the 2-node cluster for ROBO, with its workarounds to make it work – VSAN is becoming a competitive product. The fact that VMware owns all the stack makes this solution even more appealing from the simplification and support points of view.

I don’t know why, except that such a product can directly hurt EMC revenues, but I think that the potential of VSAN is totally under-utilised.

VSAN is storage

VSAN is a distributed scale-out storage platform and it is designed to offer (primary) storage resources within a VMware cluster.

But, I’d like to repeat ... scale-out, distributed, storage. In fact, this is very similar to what some startups are doing in the hyper-convergence/software-define space.

Hedvig, Cohesity, Nutanix, Rubrik (just to name a few) have a similar design, and even though the design principles and primary use cases are different ... they are all distributed, scale-out storage platforms (again).

Do you see the similarity now? Without questioning the pros and cons of any single available product available, VSAN could have something to say in this space too.

Adding NFS/SMB or backup capabilities or any other data service you can think of, equals to adding one or more VMs/Containers doing that specific job.

Scale-out File services (SMB/NFS), Object storage (S3/Swift), Backup, HDFS and more, can be very easy to implement on top of a similar storage repository, and these are just the first things that pop into my mind. I’m sure that it won’t be difficult to find many more storage applications, especially because you can run sophisticated VMs (or containers now) on top of the storage cluster to do whatever you want!

A different licensing model

All the services I have mentioned are part of what we usually call secondary storage, not your database or VM storage.

This product should see the light with a specific vSphere/VSAN licensing model based on capacity and with a strong limit on supported/allowed VMs per node. But it would be a killer!

Nutanix, for example, has already caught on and is going to release a specific version of its product to address the capacity needs of its customers.

End users need more (and more) capacity

VMware needs to play the same game and opportunities are plenty. All end users want more (and more) capacity but traditional vendors can’t seem to offer solutions that fully satisfy users. TCA, TCO, ease of use and scalability are all key factors and a VSAN-based secondary storage system could satisfy their needs:

  • Same architecture that they love in their clusters
  • Same UI
  • Same functionalities
  • Same vendor for all their infrastructure
  • Same monitoring tools

Without adding all the advantages for VMWare's channel partners, they already know about each single piece of this technology; it’s just a different use case.

Why not?

Technically speaking I’m sure that something like this already exists in VMware labs, and the potential is too huge to be ignored.

On the other hand I also think that the relationship between EMC and VMware is stopping this from happening, as well as many other innovations/evolutions. In fact, allowing a storage system like this to develop could be a great success for VMware in term of revenues, but the first victim would be EMC itself, a company that is still Number One in the storage market but, at the same time, is already seeing a decline in its hardware revenues.

Closing the circle

It was 2011 when I started talking about VMware as a potential big storage vendor. Now, four years later, VMware is still part of almost any storage conversation ... but it isn’t making a lot of money out of it.

I’m still confident about VMware’s potential but it really needs to think more about storage as a source of revenue and being more aggressive before it’s too late ... and rumors about a VMware-led takeover of EMC definitely isn’t helping matters for the moment.

If you want to know more about this topic, I’ll be presenting at next TECH.unplugged event in Amsterdam next 24/9. ®

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