VMware Surges Ahead in the Virtual SAN Sector with vSAN 6.6

Tuesday May 30th 2017 by Paul Rubens
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VMware vSAN 6.6 makes its debut with significantly improved performance and a host of new features, including strengthened security and the vSphere Docker Volume Driver.

VMware's vSAN is growing up. When the company launched the virtual SAN software some three years ago it was a comparatively barebones product developed to provide virtual SAN storage by aggregating the physical directly-attached storage on a cluster of VMWare host nodes and then present it as a shared block-access resource pool.

Fast forward to today and VMware vSAN now a much more sophisticated product, having been regularly updated by VMware with new versions offering enhanced features and capabilities. The sixth and most recent version, VMware vSAN 6.6, was announced in mid-April.Virtually Speaking

So what does vSAN 6.6 have to offer? Many things.

One of the key changes is increased performance: vSAN 6.6 offers up to 50% better all-flash IOPS performance compared to the previous version, according to the server virtualization technology company.

That means performance on the order of 150,000 IOPS per host, which translated means it is certainly no slouch. It will come in handy for mission-critical workloads, and newly validated architectures now provide support for Hadoop, Citrix XenApp, InterSystems Cache, and Splunk.

That performance boost is due to the use of "optimized data service algorithms," according to VMware. What exactly does that mean? Specifically, some of these performance enhancements include:

  • Reduced overhead of checksum
  • Improved deduplication and compression
  • De-staging optimizations
  • Object Management improvements
  • iSCSI for vSAN performance improvements

vSAN 6.6 also now supports Intel's high speed 3D XPoint-based Optane SSDs, which can help boost the performance of write-intensive applications like big data and streaming analytics.

What Else Is New in VMware vSAN 6.6

What else is new? Well, VMware has also beefed up the security of vSAN with some new encryption capabilities. "In order to deploy vSAN and accommodate compliance requirements, some companies require data encryption at rest," Michael Haag, a VMware manager, told Virtually Speaking.

As a result, vSAN 6.6 now includes data-at-rest encryption, which is hardware agnostic, so it can be deployed on existing storage hardware (including Optane drives). Things can be kept (relatively) simple using a single key per cluster, which can be managed by standard key management systems. The encryption is dedupe- and compression-aware — basically that means that all three features work together. Which is nice.

The latest version of vSAN has also been designed to be far more resilient in the face of hardware failures, according to Haag. For example, it offers enhanced Stretched Clusters with local protection to provide resiliency against both site and local component failures.

That means if you lose one site, you are still OK, and you are still good even if one or two nodes then fail at the second site. All this can be yours, VMWare promises rather fuzzily, "for up to 50% less than leading traditional storage solutions."

Make of that what you will, and take it with a pinch of salt. And take note that Enhanced Stretched clusters, as well as the new encryption capabilities, are only available in the vSAN Enterprise Edition.

There is also a new redundant management plane, meaning it is still possible to manage vSAN storage even if vCenter goes down. That's because each node now has a GUI that is independent of vCenter and enables users to manage storage in the event of a vCenter meltdown.

No discussion of anything to do with virtualization is complete these days without a nod to containerization as well, so here goes: there's now a vSphere Docker Volume Driver, so vSAN 6.6 provides snapshotting and cloning capabilities and multi-tenancy for Docker users deploying their Docker containers on vSAN through the Docker API.

All in all, it's a big update to vSAN, and it should be available from May 5. Pricing is from $2495 per CPU, with vSAN for Desktop pricing starting at $50 per user.


Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.

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