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VMware sets sights on storage expansion for 2009

VMware plans to pack a punch in 2009 with storage products that will support thin-provisioned datastores, iSCSI performance enhancements and storage resource management, all part of VMware's move toward creating its Virtual Datacenter OS.

LAS VEGAS – At VMworld this week, VMWare Inc. demonstrated several products due out next year that will impact storage.

The storage products include storage resource management within Virtual Center (now named vCenter), thin provisioning for virtual machine file system (VMFS) volumes, hot expansion of virtual disks, iSCSI performance enhancements, extensible multipathing support, enhancements to Storage VMotion and DataRecovery, a new backup application.

These products are part of VMware's initiative to create the Virtual Datacenter OS (VDC-OS). VDC-OS enables VMware's hypervisor to gather and manage data center resources while taking advantage of underlying infrastructure tools from other vendors. VMware CEO Paul Maritz said storage infrastructure providers would use vStorage services to signal to the VDC-OS what capacity their devices have "so we can take advantage of that capacity."

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VStorage will provide storage resource monitoring through vCenter, a VMware-developed tool that will report on storage allocation, utilization, snapshot space use and multipathing status. VCenter also shows which disks, LUNs, SCSI volumes, SCSI adapters or NAS (NFS) mounts the virtual machine is attached to.

VStorage monitoring will also generate usage reports, show storage resources connected to virtual machines in topology maps and allow customers to group datastores in folders and apply policies against them. Finally, the software will provide alerts and alarms to VMware administrators about storage capacity, including capacity on thin-provisioned volumes.

Thin provisioning for expanding volumes

VMware is also brushing up its support of thin provisioning. Today, if a LUN is dynamically expanded by a virtual SAN, the VMFS volume presented to the virtual machine can't be expanded with it, though 2 TB "extents" can be tacked on to the end of the VMFS volume. A new feature called VMFS Volume Grow will allow the original VMFS volume to expand and cover the new capacity of the array's LUN without appending a new extent. VMware plans a similar update called Hot VMDK Expand for the individual VMDK that each server sees as internal disk.

VMware officials also demonstrated a new feature called Fault Tolerance, which uses synchronous replication for high availability to eliminate the need for reboot during failover. Updates for Storage VMotion include the ability to migrate storage volumes from thick- to thin-provisioned devices, migrate from Raw Device Mapping (RDM) volumes to VMDK, migrate from RDM to RDM, change block tracking for live migrations and management integration into Virtual Center.

Multipathing, jumbo frames and fast paths

VMware's plans for 2009 also include extensible multipathing support through a new plugin that will take advantage of storage vendors' multipathing approaches, such as EMC's PowerPath and Symantec's Veritas Dynamic Multipathing. VMware also revamped its iSCSI software initiator to take advantage of jumbo frames and other code optimizations to boost performance. Next year, a similarly optimized guest SCSI driver will also be available in order to create a "fast path" between virtual machines and disk. Today, guest machines use the same SCSI drivers that they use in the physical world, and they're not necessarily optimized for traversing the hypervisor.

VMware senior product marketing Manager Jon Bock said VMware isn't looking to compete with storage vendors with these updates; VMware is targeting shops without advanced storage systems or dedicated storage teams. "How users deploy these features and what they'll choose to deploy, depends on their internal IT organization," Bock said. VMware integrates with its partners wherever possible, such as making calls back to the array for the "heavy lifting" with Storage VMotion, he added.

DataRecovery challenges Microsoft DPM

VMware is moving further into backup with its new DataRecovery application. VMware already offers snapshots of system state information, but leaves application and user data backup to third-party vendors. DataRecovery, based on VMware Consolidated Backup, will allow snapshots of both system information and data, and will also include data deduplication – a key technology of many backup vendors.

But there are limitations to DataRecovery that will relegate it to the low end of the market and shops without storage expertise, Bock said. DataRecovery only supports backup to disk, and requires a third-party tool to transfer those backups to tape if the user desires. The backups will be local only and won't feature the kind of application-specific integration backup vendors offer with applications like Oracle, SQL and Exchange.

But, DataRecovery does allow granular recovery of individual files within virtual machine images, a feature backup vendors have been rolling out over the last year. Bock suggested that DataRecovery will be a good fit for remote and branch offices, also a hot backup market today.

VMware is intensifying competition with Microsoft, which has entered the server virtualization market with its Hyper-V product. DataRecovery will compete with Microsoft's Data Protection Manager (DPM) low-end snapshot utility. "This isn't meant to replace something like [Symantec] NetBackup," Bock said. "Most users are using more than one tool for virtualization backup already."

"It's a necessary step [for VMware] to compete with Microsoft," said Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Lauren Whitehouse. "It'll impact some [backup vendors] more than others – some of the smaller companies may feel that DataRecovery validates what they're already doing in the market."

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