Tag Archives: vSAN

VMware vSAN HCI: Complete stack or ‘vaporware’?

Days after VMware’s CEO proclaimed his vSAN product the winner in the hyper-converged infrastructure space, the CEO of VMWare rival Nutanix countered that VMware “sells a lot of vaporware.”

“We’re crushing Nu … I mean we’re winning in the marketplace,” VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger said during his opening VMworld keynote last week. “We’re separating from No. 2. We’re winning in the space.”

Two days later on Nutanix’s earnings call, CEO Dheeraj Pandey took a shot at VMware without mentioning the company by name. “We don’t sell vaporware,” he said, when referring to why Nutanix wins in competitive deals.

In an exclusive interview after the call, Pandey admitted the vaporware charge was aimed mostly at VMware’s vSAN HCI software.

Pat Gelsinger, VMware CEOPat Gelsinger

“VMware sells a lot of vaporware,” Pandey said. “A lot of that vaporware becomes evident to customers who buy that stuff. When bundled products don’t deliver on their promise, they call us. What we sell is not shelfware.”

Whatever VMware is selling with its vSAN HCI software, it is working. VMware reported license bookings of its vSAN HCI software grew 45% year-over-year last quarter, while Nutanix revenue and bookings slipped from last year. VMware’s parent Dell also claimed a 77% increase in orders of its Dell EMC VxRail HCI appliances that run vSAN software. Those numbers suggest Dell increased market share against Nutanix, even if Nutanix did better than expected last quarter following a disappointing period. IDC listed VMware as the HCI software market leader and Dell as the hardware HCI leader in the first quarter of 2019, with Nutanix second in both categories. Gartner lists Nutanix as the HCI software leader, but No. 2 VMware made up ground in Gartner’s first-quarter numbers.

Nutanix’s Pandey attributed at least some of VMware’s HCI success to bundling its vSAN software with its overall virtualization stack. Like VMware, Nutanix has its own hypervisor (AHV) and its share of hardware partners — including Dell — but VMware has a huge vSphere installed base to sell vSAN into.

Dheeraj Pandey, Nutanix CEODheeraj Pandey

Pandey said he was unimpressed by VMware’s Kubernetes and open source plans laid out at VMworld, which included Tanzu and Project Pacific. Both are still roadmap items but reflect a commitment from VMware to containers and open source software.

“That’s worse than vaporware, that’s slideware,” Pandey said of VMware’s announcements. “Everything works in slides. We’re based on Linux; we get a lot of leverage out of open source. AHV was based on Linux, and we’ve made it enterprise grade.”

Making vSAN part of its vSphere virtualization platform has paid off for VMware. Customers at VMworld pointed to their familiarity with VMware and vSAN’s integration with vSphere, and its NSX software-defined networking as reasons for going with vSAN HCI.

 “What really end up selling it for us was, we were already using VMware for our base product and the vast majority of the deliverables that our customers request is in vSphere,” said Lester Shisler, senior IT systems engineer at Harmony Healthcare IT, based in South Bend, Ind. “So whatever pain points we learned along the way with vSAN, we were going to have to learn [with a competing HCI product] as well, along with new software and new management and everything else.”

Matthew Douglas, chief enterprise architect at Sentara Healthcare in Norfolk, Va., said Nutanix was among the HCI options he looked at before picking vSAN.

“VMware was ultimately the choice,” he said. “All the others were missing some components. VMWare was a consistent platform for hyper-converged infrastructure. Plus, there was NSX and all these things that fit together in a nice, uniform fashion. And as an enterprise, I couldn’t make a choice of all these independent different tools. Having one consistent tool was the differentiator.”

Despite losing share, Nutanix’s last-quarter results were mixed. Its revenue of $300 million and billings of $372 million were both down from last year but better than expected following the disappointing previous quarter. Nutanix’s software and support revenue of $287 million increased 7%, a good sign for the HCI pioneer’s move to a software-centric business model. Nutanix also reported a 16% growth in deals over $1 million from the previous quarter.

However, operating expenses also increased. Sales and marketing spend jumped to $254 million from $183 million the previous year. Nutanix, which has never recorded a profit, lost $194 million in the quarter — more than double its losses from a year ago. It finished the quarter with $909 million in cash, down from $943 million last year.

Pandey said he is more concerned about growth and customer acquisition than profitability.

“Profitability is a nuanced word,” Pandey said. “We defer so much in our balance sheet. Right now we care about doing right by the customer when we sell them subscriptions.”

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VMworld pushes vSAN HCI to cloud, edge

VMware executives predict the vSAN hyper-converged software platform will grow rapidly into a key building block for the vendor’s strategy to conquer the cloud and other areas outside the data center.

VMware spent a lot of time discussing the roadmap for its vSAN hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) software roadmap at VMworld 2018 last month. The vSAN news included short-term specifics with the launch of a private beta program for the next version, along with more general overarching plans for the future.

VMware executives made it clear that vSAN HCI will play a big role in its long-term cloud strategy. They painted HCI as a technology spanning from the data center to the cloud to the edge, as it brings storage, compute and other resources together into a single platform.

The vSAN HCI software is built into VMware’s vSphere hypervisor, and is sold as part of integrated appliances such as Dell EMC VxRail and as Ready Node bundles with servers. VMware claims more than 14,000 vSAN customers, and IDC lists it as the revenue leader among HCI software.

VMware opened its private beta program for vSAN 6.7.1 during VMworld, adding file and native cloud storage and data protection features.

VSAN HCI: From DC to cloud to edge

During his opening day keynote at VMworld, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger called vSAN “the engine that’s just been moving rapidly to take over the entire integration of compute and storage to expand to other areas.”

Where is HCI moving to? Just about everywhere, according to VMware executives. That includes Project Dimension, a planned hardware as a service designed to bring VMware SDDC infrastructure on premises.

“The definition of HCI has been expanding,” said Yanbing Li, VMware senior vice president and general manager of storage and availability. “We started with a simple mission of converging compute and storage by putting both on a software-defined platform running on standard servers. This is where a lot of our customer adoption has happened. But the definition of HCI is expanding up through the stack, across to the cloud and it’s supporting a wide variety of applications.”

VSAN beta: Snapshots, native cloud storage

The vSAN 6.7.1 beta includes policy-based native snapshots for data protection, NFS file services and support for persistent storage for containers. VMware also added the ability for vSAN to manage Amazon Elastic Block Storage (EBS) in AWS, a capacity reclamation feature and a Quickstart guided cluster creation wizard.

If it pans out as we hope, it will be data center as a service.
Chris GreggCIO, Mercy Ships

Lee Caswell, VMware vice president of products for storage and availability, said vSAN can now take point-in-time snapshots across a cluster. The snapshot capability is managed through VMware’s vCenter. There is no native vSAN replication yet, however. Replication still requires vSphere Replication.

Caswell said the file services include a clustered namespace, allowing users to move files to VMware Cloud on AWS and back without requiring separate mount points for each node.

The ability to manage elastic capacity in AWS allows customers to scale storage and compute independently,

“This is our first foray into storage-only scaling,” Caswell said.

The automatic capacity redemption will reclaim unused capacity on expensive solid-state drive storage.

Caswell said there was no timetable for when the features will make it into a general availability version of vSAN.

Mercy Ships was among the customers at VMworld expanding their vSAN HCI adoption. Mercy Ships uses Dell EMC VxRail appliances running vSAN in its Texas data center and is adding VxRail on two hospital ships that bring volunteer medical teams to underdeveloped areas. They include the current Africa Mercy floating hospital and a second ship under construction.

“The data center for us needs to be simple, straightforward, scalable and supportable,” Mercy Ships CIO Chris Gregg said. “That’s the dream we’re seeing through hyper-converged infrastructure. If it pans out as we hope, it will be data center as a service. Then, as an IT department we can focus on things that are really important to the organization. For us, that means serving more patients.”

VSAN hyper-converged users offer buying, implementing advice

LAS VEGAS — Today, VMware paints vSAN hyper-converged technology as a key piece of IT everywhere, from the data center to the cloud to the edge. But early vSAN customers remember when it was still a nascent concept and not fully proven.

As a customer panel at VMworld 2018, vSAN hyper-converged software users offered advice for buying and implementing what, in some cases, was still a suspect technology when they adopted it. The customers were split between using vSAN on integrated appliances, such as Dell EMC VxRail hardware, or buying on servers as vSAN Ready Nodes. Either way, they faced similar buying decisions and implementation challenges.

Here is some of the advice offered for going down the road of vSAN hyper-converged and hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) in general.

Start small and prove its value

Several of the vSAN hyper-converged customers said it was difficult to gain support originally for moving from a traditional three-tier architecture to HCI. It helped to start with a specific use case to prove the technology and then grow from there.

William Dufrin, IT manager of client virtualization engineering and architecture at General Motors, said the early case was virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).

“In our environment, change is kind of rough,” Dufrin said. “We’re a large organization, and it could be difficult to make changes like vSAN instead of traditional storage.”

He said IT developers started using vSAN for VDI in 2014, “and in four years, we’ve seen a huge adoption rate inside the organization because of the values and the savings. It’s been stable, and performance has been phenomenal.”

Dufrin said General Motors now has around 10,000 virtual desktops running on a six-node cluster, with two fault domains for availability.

Mark Fournier, systems architect for the United States Senate Federal Credit Union in Alexandria, Va., said his bank started with vSAN Ready Nodes in remote branches. The HCI implementation came around the time USSFCU began virtualizing in 2014.

“Going to vSAN was a challenge against some of the traditional technology we had,” Fournier said. “Even though we were virtualizing, we were still siloing off storage, compute and networking. To get into what seems to be the future, we upgraded our branches using vSAN Remote Office Branch Office licensing. That allowed us to implement hyper-converged architecture in our branches for a lot less money than we expected.”

Fournier said the credit union put Ready Nodes on all-flash blade servers in three branches. He said a four-node all-flash implementation in one branch is so fast now that some of his organization’s developers want to move workloads to the branch.

“With the new PowerEdge M7000 from Dell, options for onboard storage are more flexible, and [it] allows us to bring vSAN out of the branches and into the data center now that management sees the benefit we get out of it,” Fournier said.

Think platform and relationships, and consider all options

The panelists said they did a lot of research before switching to HCI and picking a vendor. They evaluated products from leading HCI vendors, different offerings from the same vendor and compared HCI to traditional IT before making buying decisions.

Mariusz Nowak, director of infrastructure services at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., said cost played a large role — as is often the case with educational institutions.

“I was sick and tired of replacing entirely every traditional storage array every few years and begging for new money, hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. “My boss, and everyone else, wasn’t happy to have to spend tons of money.”

Oakland University was a VMware customer since 2005, and Nowak said he looked at early versions of vSAN hyper-converged software, but felt it wasn’t ready for the university. After VMware added more enterprise features, such as stretch clusters, deduplication and encryption, Oakland installed the HCI software in 2017. It now has 12 vSAN hosts, with 400 guest virtual machines and 350 TB of storage on vSAN Ready Nodes running on Dell EMC PowerEdge servers.

I was sick and tired of replacing entirely every traditional storage array every few years and begging for new money, hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Mariusz Nowakdirector of infrastructure services, Oakland University

“I choose Ready Nodes so I don’t have extra overhead,” Nowak said. “With VxRail, you have to pay more. With Ready Nodes, I can modify my hardware whenever I need, whether I need more capacity or more CPUs. Some HCI vendors will say, ‘This is the cookie-cutter node that you have to buy.’ We have more flexibility.”

Alex Rodriguez, VDI engineer at Rent-A-Center, based in Plano, Texas, said his company did a proof of concept (POC) with Dell EMC VxRail, Nutanix and SimpliVity — since acquired by Hewlett Packard Enterprise — when evaluating HCI in 2016. He said price and vendor relationships also figured in the final decision.

“When we did a POC, Nutanix won out,” he said. “But we saw a cost benefit with VxRail, and we decided to go in that direction because of our relationship with VMware. And each generation of this [vSAN] software has gotten a whole lot better. Performance is better and manageability is easy. You may find an application that’s better for one stack or another, but overall we think VxRail is a better platform.”

Divide and cluster

Several of the panelists suggested using clusters or stretch clusters with vSAN hyper-converged infrastructure to help separate workloads and provide availability.

Nowak said Oakland University installed 10 nodes in a stretched cluster across two campus data centers, with 10 Gigabit Ethernet uplinks to a witness site connecting them.

“For little cost, I have an active-active data center solution,” he said. “If we lost one data center, I could run almost my entire workload on another site, with no disruption. I can technically lose one site and shift my workload to another site.”

Rent-A-Center’s Rodriguez set up a four-node cluster with management applications and a 12-node cluster for VDI and other applications after installing Dell EMC VxRail appliances in 2016.

“We wanted to make sure we could manage our environment,” he said. “If we would’ve consolidated the management stack with the VDI stack and something happened, we would’ve lost control. Having segmentation gave us control.”