VMworld 2014 – Storage News Part 1

vmworld-2014-active-banner-v4Yesterday was my first day at VMworld 2014. As usual with this event, there are simply so many interesting announcements that it is hard to keep track. However, for me, there were a few things which stood out in the storage space worth calling out. These are specifically VMware focused products and features. I know that many of our partners have also made announcements in the storage space, but for today I concentrated solely on VMware. There are the two that really caught my attention.


VMW-LOGO-EVO-Rail-108You may have heard of this as another name in the past. As my pal Duncan put it, this is MARVIN = Mystic = EVO:RAIL. EVO:RAIL is a new Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCIA) offering by VMware, offering combined compute, network and storage resources into a single unit of deployment. I’m not going to go into the details here, which are many, but if you want to learn more, read this blog from Duncan, who was involved in this project from the very start. This is only going to be available via our partners by the way. As Duncan points out, customers will not be able to buy this software and build their own HCIA. The idea is for our partners to take this product, and wrap it around their own hardware configuration for ease of deployment and offer it as a single SKU (including all vSphere licensing). It also includes VSAN as its core storage, so immediately you have highly available, policy driven virtual machine deployments out of the box. The major points are:

– EVO:RAIL deploys in under 15 minutes
– it supports 100 VMs/250 desktops on a 4 node system
– it supports non disruptive upgrades using Storage vMotion
– it can scale up with 4 EVO:RAILs to a 16 node cluster
– it has a very intuitive web based UI
– it will be available in Q3 2014 but only via via partners
– it bundles Log Insight Manager for analytics

It is an interesting direction for VMware to take, I’m sure you’ll agree.

vSphere APIs for I/O Filters (VAIO)

splitter_This project was initially referred to as simply I/O Filters, but now its official name is vSphere APIs for I/O Filters, or VAIO for short. I have been aware of this development effort for some time within VMware, but it looks like it is going to be a part of our next major release. In a nutshell, this feature will allow VMware partners to plug their products/features directly into the VM I/O Path which in turn will give customers access to 3rd party storage services/features like server-side caching, deduplication, compression, replication or encryption.

Alex Jauch, the VMware Product Manager for VAIO, presented this session yesterday. He went on to explain how this feature allows partners to create high performance solutions without impacting the stability of the ESXi host. So this will not be like Microsoft’s 3rd party Device Driver program, where a misbehaving driver could blue screen the host. Instead, the filters will run in VM user space so that in the event of a failure, it only impacts the VM, and the ESXi host continues to run. There is also a requirement for the filter to add minimum latency to the I/O path, but the actual specifics cannot be shared publicly yet.

Filters are installed as a VIB on the ESXi host and are associated with a VMDK. There is no drivers needed for the Guest OS. Different VMs of the same host can have different filters. This is all done thru Storage Policy Based Management (SPBM), which is the same mechanism used for creating VM Storage Policies for both VSAN and VVols (more on VVols in a later post). Policies are created by selecting the appropriate VAIO filter and then associating that policy with the VM typically at deployment time.

Again, this feature is allowing our partners to plug right in to the raw stream of I/O coming from the Guest OS running inside the VM, and the filter could be used for any use case. However for the first release, VMware is limiting VAIO to two use cases. The reason for limiting the use cases is to make sure everything is rock solid. The two use cases are distributed flash/cache acceleration and replication. Restrictions will be loosened going forward. VMware has partnered with SanDisk’s FlashSoft team to provide a distributed flash cache filter to provide read and write acceleration of virtual machine I/O. VMware has also partnered with the EMC RecoverPoint team for creating a filter for replication.

This is a very exciting feature that may have been overlooked in the plethora of announcements at VMworld so far. However, in my opinion, VAIO is as much a game changer as VVols is for the storage array vendors. This gives our partners who create storage services like encryption, acceleration, deduplication and compression the ability to get directly into the VM raw I/O stream with their services, rather than having to do this via an appliance or driver in the Guest OS. You can tell many of them are excited about this prospect. I will be meeting with the SanDisk team later this week to discuss this in more detail, and hopefully publish more about this technology now that it is out in the open.

VMware is accepting beta nominations from partners to participate in VAIO. If you are a VMware partner and you are interested in participating in the beta to develop your own filter, contact your local VMware partner team or TAM for more information.