VMware vSphere and VI3 have always put large enterprises at the forefront of the solutions. However, over time, VMware has released more and more solutions for the small and medium business (SMB) market. VMware vSphere 5 introduces the vSphere Storage Appliance, which is targeted for small environments that may be new to shared storage. I like that the vSphere Storage Appliance leverages direct attached storage on an ESXi host to provide a virtual NFS datastore for use in a vSphere cluster.
Many environments don't have shared storage resources (which can be expensive), and direct attached storage only isn't that useful for virtualization. The direct attached storage resources of a modern server capable of running ESXi are very powerful storage resources, frequently leveraging SAS or SATA drives on a fast local controller.The vSphere Storage Appliance deploys a virtual appliance to either two or three ESXi hosts on a vSphere 5 cluster and presents a mirrored NFS datastore available to both of these hosts. Figure A outlines how the connectivity and presented storage would appear. Figure A
This solution can be leveraged with clusters that have more than three hosts; the additional hosts don't run the vSphere Storage Appliance, yet they can access the NFS datastores it presents.
The initial release of this technology is NFS only. This is somewhat of a surprise given that the VMFS file system is a purpose-built file system by VMware for virtual machines. I'm a big fan of the VMFS file system, and this is one of the only features I'm aware of that are only supported with NFS. Historically, all new features for vSphere technologies are released with VMFS support first or at the same time with NFS. VMware states that this technology came from an acquisition and that the roadmap includes VMFS support, but a confirmed release product or date hasn't been made available.
If I were a new customer considering a storage solution without the expense of SAN technologies, I'd think about the vSphere vStorage Appliance. If all of my other storage resources are VMFS, I'd wait for VMFS support with this solution.
The one caveat with this solution is that vCenter cannot be run on this datastore. This is another example of vCenter being treated differently than other virtual machines (another is example is Update Manager with vCenter). This effectively presumes that vCenter will run as a virtual machine on local storage on one of these ESXi hosts (which should be fine for many customers).
Does this solution appeal to you? If so, let us know why in the discussion.Also read: vSphere 5 introduces VMFS 5 and vSphere 5 introduces Storage DRS.
Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.