VMware, LeftHand offer iSCSI SAN as virtual machine

Channel partners will bundle LeftHand's virtual SAN appliance with VMware licenses for an ESX infrastructure that can run on one piece of physical hardware.

LeftHand Networks Inc.'s Virtual SAN Appliance (VSA) today becomes the first software-only storage device named to VMware's hardware compatibility list. The two companies' mutual channel partners will begin selling the VSA packaged with VMware's Infrastructure Acceleration Kits this week.

The bundles of 2 TB VSA licenses with VMware's small and medium-sized business (SMB) license packages turn an iSCSI SAN into a virtual machine running on the same physical server as virtualized applications, eliminating the need to support separate storage devices in small environments.

"VMware is showing it means to take the value of the hypervisor well beyond server virtualization with this release," said Mark Bowker, an Enterprise Strategy Group analyst. "This shows a new way for virtualization to leverage the same hardware platforms."

Distributors Alternative Technology Inc. and Avnet Inc. will resell the Virtualization Solution Kits in four flavors:

  • The Complete Highly-Available Virtual Infrastructure Solution contains up to 35 virtual machine licenses and three VSA licenses for $24,990.

  • The Highly-Available VM Applications with VSA storage bundle contains up to 30 virtual machine licenses and one VSA license for $15,990.

  • The Highly-Available VM Applications with Highly-Available VSA storage bundle contains up to 25 virtual machine licenses and two VSA licenses for $10,990.

  • The Highly-Available VM Applications with VSA storage bundle contains up to 20 virtual machine licenses and one VSA license for $6,990.

    Wants VSA to support more than 2 TB of storage

    At least one user would like to see the VSA support more storage. "I'd definitely like to see them expand beyond 2 TB," said Pat O'Day, chief technology officer of IT infrastructure service provider BlueLock LLC, which is planning to offer its smaller clients prepared packages of server hardware with the VSA bundles. "You can always set up SAN/iQ on a server, but some clients have older disk shelves and are looking for an economical way to turn them into an iSCSI SAN."

    BlueLock uses the VSA to save space in its data center, further compressing its iSCSI SAN environment by loading VMware and the VSA on Hewlett-Packard c-Class blade server chassis. Using VSA this way turns HP's SB40c blades into networked storage for VMs running on direct-attached server blades. O'Day said he's hoping to see HP break the hard-coded relationships between server blades and SB40c blades in the chassis, so he can also use Storage VMotion to move VSAs around.

    O'Day added, "The only thing I don't have with this setup right now is the ability to have the same redundancy for my storage as I do for my virtual servers."

    Christopher Kalos, network manager for medical publishing company Jobson Medical Information LLC, said he recently installed a VSA on the same box as VMware hosts at a small branch office to eliminate the need for on-site IT staff and tape backups. "We can give this environment true remote support this way," he said. Backups are snapshots sent through LeftHand's replication to a secondary site for disaster recovery. Staff at the company's headquarters can log in and manage all the storage and server software remotely.

    Cost and remote support were the two main factors in Kalos's decision to put in the VSA. "It cost us about $6,000 for the VSA, and the cheapest module of LeftHand's software otherwise is still about $13,000," he said.

    Like O'Day, Kalos said the single-box approach cut down on the redundancy of the system. "If I want to do maintenance on the box, I can't do it whenever I want like I can with the full LeftHand SANs where I can use the two-way replication [between servers] and failover," he said.

    Because of the limitations of the VSA approach, one analyst said it's a good idea to go with the full iSCSI SAN if possible. "For very small businesses and branch offices, this is a very good solution," said Chris Wolf of the Burton Group "But if users have the resources and physical space to do a full SAN, that's definitely what they should be doing."

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