vSAN: Answering the What’s, How’s, and Why’s

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vSAN or virtual SAN has become an integral part of most enterprise IT infrastructures. It’s the next step for organizations that relied primarily on SAN appliances. In this blog post, I’ll discuss the basics of virtual SANs and attempt to answer the what’s, how’s, and why’s for vSAN.

What is Virtual SAN (vSAN)?

Quick Definition: It’s the virtualized equivalent of a SAN system.

In-Depth Explanation: Virtual SAN is deployed directly on a hypervisor. It’s a software that enables users to set up a virtual environment similar to a SAN system. This virtual environment can be used for block-mode storage and to run applications, programs, and databases such as SAP HANA, MySQL servers, Oracle databases, etc.

The compatible hypervisor varies depending on the chosen vSAN software. For instance, VMware vSAN will only run on VMware ESXi hypervisor, whereas StoneFly vSAN is hypervisor-agnostic. It can be deployed on VMware, Hyper-V, KVM, Citrix, or StoneFly Persepolis.

Difference Between vSAN and Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA)

There are a number of similarities between vSAN and virtual storage appliances (or VSAs). And a lot of customers or end-users end up confusing the two or using them interchangeably.

The key difference between the two is how they configure available storage pools for virtual machines (VMs).

VSAs provision storage resources on a per VM basis. This is done by configuring dedicated LUNs (Logical Unit Numbers) or by setting up CIFS or NFS NAS volumes.

vSANs, on the other hand, combine all storage resources in a single pool. This makes them capable of provisioning dedicated resources without having to provision fixed LUNs.

Other differences also include the scale at which VSAs and vSANs can be used. VSAs are usually meant for small scale deployments — three or four nodes — whereas vSANs are more suitable for enterprise data centers.

How to Effectively Leverage vSAN Technology?

One of the key use-cases of vSAN technology is data center consolidation, but that’s not only the only way to use vSANs.

Here’s a brief list of vSAN use cases to show you how you can truly leverage the affordable technology:

  • Virtual Dev and Test Environments: Instead of setting up dedicated servers for your departments or your clients, vSAN enables you to provision easily scalable virtual servers. Unlike fixed hardware, vSAN is flexible with an on-demand increase in processing capabilities, system memory, and storage capacity. This makes it a great fit for dev and test environments. Furthermore, when your organization or client is done with provisioned vSAN, you can repurpose it effortlessly for other use-cases.
  • DR Site: Compared to expensive disaster recovery (DR) sites, vSAN is a cost-effective alternative. Clustering vSAN volumes is also simpler in comparison to clustering hardware appliances. And it’s relatively easier to setup vSAN offsite then setting up a secondary physical server for DR purposes.
  • VDI: vSAN also replaces the typical way of deploying virtual desktop infrastructures (VDIs). This makes a good use-case for managed IT service providers or large organizations looking to provision dedicated environments for employees, different projects, and applications.
  • Server Virtualization: Instead of setting up dedicated servers for use-cases like web hosting, set up vSAN environments. vSAN can not only replace the hardware but also make it comparatively quicker, simpler, and more cost-effective to scale when needed.

Why Use Virtual SAN (vSAN)?

Once we understand what vSAN is and how to effectively use it, the benefits or the answer to the question “Why use vSAN?” becomes abundantly clear.

Here are three major benefits that business owners, MSPs, and large organizations get with vSAN technology:

Less Hardware, More Capabilities: A virtual SAN software replaces most of the hardware while providing more capabilities than dedicated storage silos.

Better Scalability, Fewer Costs: Not only can vSAN volumes scale easily, and on a larger scale, but they also cost less than what the hardware would.

More vSAN, Simpler Management: Unlike dedicated servers that require a proportional amount of staff for maintenance and management, vSAN simplifies management. Regardless of the number of vSAN volumes, management is usually through a single centralized interface. It requires less staff, less training, and consumes less time.

Conclusion

vSAN simplifies Data Management, reduces TCOs, improvises ROIs, and effectively leverages hyperconverged integrated systems.

The virtual SAN technology is the next step and an “almost necessary” SKU to use with HCI solutions.

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