Tag Archives: Storage

VMware vSphere Storage Types

VMware vSphere supports different types of storage architectures, both internally (in this case the controller is crucial, that must be in the HCL) or externally with shared SAS DAS, SAN FC, SAN iSCSI, SAN FCoE, or NFS NAS (in those case the HCL is fundamental for the external storage, the fabric elements, and the host adapters).

For local storage, with vSphere 6.x it’s possible to use USB disks, not only as boot disks, but also to run VMs. But note that USB datastores are just unsupported by VMware.

Storage types at the VM logical level

There are different types of virtual disks depending on the provisioning method, pre- allocated or dynamic. The type of virtual disks are mainly the same since vSphere 4.0:

  • An eager zeroed thick disk has all space allocated and wiped clean of any previous content on the physical media at creation time. Such disks may take a long time during creation compared to other disk formats. The entire disk space is reserved and unavailable for use by other VMs.
  • Thick or lazy zeroed thick VMDK: A thick disk has all space allocated at creation time. This space may contain stale data on the physical media. Before writing to a new block, a zero has to be written, increasing the input/output operation per second (IOPS) on new blocks compared to eager disks. The entire disk space is reserved and unavailable for use by other VMs.
  • Thin VMDK: Space required for the thin-provisioned virtual disk is allocated and zeroed on demand as space is used. Unused space is available for use by other VMs.

You can choose the disk provisioning type during virtual disk creation, but you can change the type using a cold VM migration across two datastores, or using Storage vMotion (if you have at least ESXi Standard edition). Note that you can also change the type of each individual disk, by choosing Configure per disk on the new HTML5 client shown as follows:

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There are also Raw Device Mapping (RDM) disks where a disk at ESXi level is mapped 1:1 to a VM (like a Passthrough mode), with two different types of compatibility (virtual or physical mode). Except for building guest clusters (clusters across VMs on different hosts), there is no need to use these types of disk.

There is no significant difference in performance for sequential I/O between the different types of virtual disks. For random I/O, thin VMDKs have the worst performance and higher latency (for lazy thick, it depends if you have to write a new block).

Storage types at the VM physical level

To access a block device, such as virtual disks VMDK, virtual CD/DVD-ROM, or other SCSI devices, each VM uses storage controllers; at least one is added by default when you create a VM.

There are different types of controller available for a VM running on ESXi which are described as follows:

  • BusLogic: This is one of the first emulated SCSI virtual controllers available in VMware ESX. Now it’s a legacy controller used mainly for legacy operating systems. It does not support VMDK larger than 2 TB.
  • LSI Logic Parallel: This was formally known as LSI Logic and was the other SCSI virtual controller available originally in VMware ESX, used for operating systems such as Windows Server 2003.
  • LSI Logic SAS: This was introduced in vSphere 4.0, and is the evolution of the parallel driver, working as a SAS virtual controller and used in Windows Server 2008 or newer.
  • VMware Paravirtual (or PVSCSI): This was introduced in vSphere 4.0, is an SCSI virtual controller designed to support very high throughput with minimal processing cost, working not in emulation mode, but in paravirtual mode (it requires the VMware Tools to be recognized).

Others virtual controllers are also possible in a VM, such as AHCI SATA (introduced in vSphere 5.5), IDE, and also USB controllers, but usually for specific cases (for example SATA or IDE are usually used for virtual DVD drives).

Note: When you create a VM, the default controller is optimized for good performance and compatibility. The controller type depends on the guest operating system (usually its driver is included in the operating system), the device type, and sometimes, the VMs compatibility. But sometimes you can choose a different controller to improve the performance, like the PVSCI (useful for VMFK with high load) or a new type available in vSphere 6.5.

With ESXi 6.5 and VM virtual hardware version 13, you can now also use a virtual NVMe. Virtual NVMe devices have reduced guest I/O processing overheads (over 50% compared to AHCI SATA SCSI device), which allows more VMs per host or more transactions per minute. Each virtual machine supports 4 NVMe controllers and up to 15 devices per controller.

Virtual NVMe controllers are supported on vSphere 6.5 only on the following guest operating systems:

  • Windows 7 and 2008 R2 (hotfix required, refer to https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/2990941)
  • Windows 8.1, 2012 R2, 10, 2016
  • RHEL, CentOS, NeoKylin 6.5, and later Oracle Linux 6.5 and later
  • Ubuntu 13.10 and later
  • SLE 11 SP4 and later
  • Solaris 11.3 and later
  • FreeBSD 10.1 and later
  • Mac OS X 10.10.3 and later
  • Debian 8.0 and later

You can add a new NVMEe virtual controller using the vSphere Web Client (from the HTML5 web client is not yet possible) as shown in the following steps:

  1. Right-click on the virtual machine in the inventory and select Edit Settings option
  2. Click the Virtual Hardware tab, and select NVMe Controller from the New device drop-down menu
  3. Click on Add
  4. The controller appears in the Virtual Hardware devices list
  5. Click OK

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For more information on NVMe, see also KB 2147714—Using Virtual NVMe with ESXi 6.5 and virtual machine Hardware Version 13 (https://kb.vmware.com/kb/2147714).

For more information on PVSCI, see also KB 1010398—Configuring disks to use VMware Paravirtual SCSI (PVSCSI) adapters (https://kb.vmware.com/kb/1010398).

Storage types at the ESXi logical level

At the high level, VMware vSphere will access each storage using datastores—a logical paradigm to abstract all storage types, like a common operating system uses letters or mount points to access a filesystem.

VMware vSphere 6.x has the following four main types of datastore:

  • VMware FileSystem (VMFS) datastores: All block-based storage must be first formatted with VMFS to transform a block service to a file and folder oriented services
  • Network FileSystem (NFS) datastores: This is for NAS storage
  • VVol: This is introduced in vSphere 6.0 and is a new paradigm to access SAN and NAS storage in a common way and by better integrating and consuming storage array capabilities
  • vSAN datastore: If you are using vSAN solution, all your local storage devices could be polled together in a single shared vSAN datastore

New datastores could be provisioned from the new HTML5 client, starting from a data centre, a cluster, or a host; just right-click on the object, choose storage, and then new datastore:

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For local disks, if you have configured the right RAID level from the controller (remember that ESXi does not provide software RAID features), you can just format the logical disks with a VMFS datastore.

But before external storage, before adding a new datastore, you must first configure the ESXi host, the fabric, (if present) and the storage itself. This depends on the storage type and vendor and will be discussed later. You cannot directly add a vSAN datastore; the vSAN configuration is quite different, but the final result will be a vSAN datastore with its own format.

Of course, on the same host you can have multiple datastores, also with different types:

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At the datastore level, there isn’t any difference between DAS or SAN, they are just block- based storage and become VMFS datastores. The functional difference is that a SAN disk could be shared across multiple hosts, not local DAS disks (but there are also shared SAS storages that are formally classified as DAS storage).

Storage types at the ESXi physical level

Excluding vSAN, which has a specific configuration, at the physical level we can have three different main types of storage:

  • Block-based storage acceded by a hardware adapter: This includes DAS storage or a SAN FC storage.
  • Block-based storage acceded by a software adapter: This is like the SAN iSCSI storage when the software initiator is used. In this case, you need first to properly configure the network connectivity. After that, it becomes very similar to the first case.
  • NFS storage: This is where you have to configure first the IP network connectivity to your storage and then connect the NFS datastore.

For the physical storage adapters, VMware ESXi supports several types of protocols and technologies (refer to the hardware compatibility list to check the supported level):

  • Fibre Channel Host Bus Adapter (FC HBA): This is the common and historical way to implement an FC-based storage, but using a dedicated full fabric.
  • iSCSI HBA: These are specialized PCIe cards that implement completely in hardware the entire iSCSI stack, reducing the load of the host CPU.
  • CNA adapters for FCoE or iSCSI: These are mostly 10 Gbps (or greater) Ethernet adapters providing hardware (or hardware assisted) FCoE or iSCSI functionality on converged (or also dedicated) networks.
  • RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE): This is a network protocol that allows remote direct memory access (RDMA) over an Ethernet network. Starting with vSphere 6.5, RoCE certified adapters could be used for converged networks. InfiniBand HCA: Mellanox Technologies InfiniBand HCA device drivers are available directly from Mellanox Technologies. Mostly used for the network part instead of the storage part, they could be interesting in converged networks, and also in vSAN implementation.

This tutorial is an excerpt from “Mastering VMware vSphere 6.5” by Andrea Mauro, Paolo Valsecchi & Karel Novak and published by Packt. Get the ebook for just $9 until Aug. 31.

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Software-Defined Storage: Getting Started

Drawn by the combined lures of automation, flexibility, increased storage capacity, and improved staff efficiency, a growing number of enterprises are pondering a switch to software-defined storage (SDS).

SDS lets adopters separate storage resources from the underlying hardware platform. The approach enables storage to become an integral part of a larger software-designed data center (SDDC) architecture in which resources can be more easily automated and orchestrated.

SDS has moved from the early adoption stage into the mainstream, with enterprises in banking, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, media and government rapidly transitioning to the technology. “These customers have adopted SDS for a variety of use cases, including long-term archives, backup storage, media content distribution, big data lakes and healthcare image archives,” explained Jerome Lecat, CEO of Scality, a cloud and object storage technology provider.

Greg Schulz, founder of and a senior advisor at storage consulting firm Server StorageIO, said enterprises of all types and sizes are now poised to make the move to SDS. “Across the board, big and small, from government sector to private sector,” he said., “Likewise, across different types of applications.”

Getting started

Successful SDS adopters typically began by selecting a discrete use case as a starting point. “Within the enterprise, we see Tier 2 applications, such as backup and archive, as an optimal way to store mission-critical data that is large-scale and a perfect way to demonstrate the scalability, availability and cost-advantages of SDS,” Lecat said. “Over time, more use cases, including big data and deep learning, can be brought online to further improve the economic advantages of SDS.”

Enterprises that recently moved to a hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) are already working with SDS, noted Sascha Giese, a senior sales engineer at IT infrastructure monitoring and management technology provider SolarWinds. “A good starting point for such organizations would be to evaluate whether HCI has benefitted your organization and, if so, consider whether to expand the SDS footprint in your data center.”

Even organizations that haven’t embraced HCI usually already have some type of virtualization in their environments, observed Matt Sirbu, director of data management and data center infrastructure at Softchoice, an IT infrastructure solutions provider.

“VMware, HyperV are really software-defined compute solutions,” he said. Software-defined storage products extend virtualization benefits to the data layer, but adopters also need to closely examine the supporting infrastructure. “Any business, when they come up to their next infrastructure refresh cycle, should start to evaluate newer technologies to see what the benefits will be to their organization by leveraging software-defined across all layers, compute and storage,” he said.

Jonathan Halstuch, co-founder and chief technology officer of RackTop Systems, a data management technology supplier, noted that it’s important to find an SDS product that can meet both current and future storage requirements, particularly in critical areas like compliance and security. “Be discriminating and find a solution that will reduce complexity and tasks for the IT department,” he advised. “Then begin to migrate workloads that are the easiest to migrate or are datasets that have special requirements that are currently being unmet, such as encryption, performance or accessibility.”

The end of a refresh cycle is a logical time to begin exploring SDS. “An organization should assess their technology roadmap for the next few years and consider making the switch to an SDS solution,” said Maghen Hannigan, director of converged and integrated solutions at technology products and services distributor Tech Data. “If an existing environment is in need of a new storage administrator, it may be worth considering (hiring) a new systems administrator proficient in software-defined storage.”

A refresh cycle-motivated commitment to SDS can be either large or small.  “It may be as simple as dropping in an SDS solution in place of legacy storage,” Halstuch explained. “However, it may make more sense to rethink the current architecture, review a hybrid cloud strategy and review the current staffing profile to determine what is the best SDS solution to adopt and how it fits into the long-term vision of the organization.”

Potential pitfalls

One mistake organizations often make when planning an SDS transition is to view the technology as a “point product” decision. “Software-defined solutions are ideally part of a larger stack that offers a common operational model for compute, storage, network and cloud,” said Lee Caswell, VP of products, storage and availability at VMware. . “The software-defined solution offers a digital foundation with investment protection for any hardware, any application, and any cloud.”

“In general, we see organizations regret their decisions to move to SDS either too abruptly or without proper planning,” said Daniel Gilfix, marketing manager of Red Hat’s storage division. “We witness the frustration of those who venture into the area without the proper skill sets, as if any storage administrator or cloud practitioner can pick up the knowledge and training overnight.”

Perhaps the biggest mistake SDS newcomers make is believing that the technology is a “silver bullet” for all workloads. “It’s important to look at the workload demands,” Sirbu stated. “All organizations can benefit from (SDS) for a large portion of their workloads, but it really comes down to analyzing business requirements with available IT resources to come up with the optimal solution to run their operations.”

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Data Storage War: Flash Vs. Hard Drives

The struggle for market share between flash-based drives and hard-disk drives is so similar to physical conflict that we can apply the same language. Wars are essentially territorial, with outcomes determined by who owns the battlefield. Logistics chains and technological leadership often determine point battles and having superiority of resources is always a major factor in sustaining an attack.

We often see the flash/HDD battle portrayed as a cloudy whole, forgetting that there are in fact a series of battlefronts. The devil is in the details and a map of the storage world today shows how, insidiously, flash-based products have gained almost all the available territory.

Storage today ranges from small drives used in medical and industrial gear to super-fast all-flash arrays that deliver millions of I/O operations per second. Factors such as weight, physical size, and power help determine the best storage match, together with price and performance. Logistics — for example, the availability of component die — are a major factor in setting storage prices and thus the balance of competitiveness.

To complicate issues, however, flash and HDDs are miles apart when it comes to performance. Using a solid-state drive may make a server run three or more times faster than the same configuration using HDDs. This is the technology component of the battlefront. Many comparisons of HDD and SSD prices ignore the impact of the difference on overall TCO, so consequently they overstate the cost of SSD-based solutions. This oversight has slowed SSD sales for years, though the industry today has mostly savvied up.

As we fly over the storage drive battlefields, what do we see? SSDs have established total technological dominance in most areas. For example, 15K and 10K RPM hard drives are topped out and starved of future investment; they just can’t keep up with SSDs and they cost more. This concedes the enterprise drive space to SSDs, with a resulting decline in RAID arrays and SAN gear. It’s interesting that SANs aren’t surrendering yet, but I’ll touch on that later.

The mobile PC space faces a race to the bottom, which has forced vendors to enrich configurations to make any margin. An obvious play is to go all-flash, implying longer battery life and less weight, among other benefits. SSDs now own most of this territory.

As we go territory by territory, we see that flash has won or is winning handily. The one exception is nearline bulk storage, where top hard-disk drive vendor Seagate, projects 10 more years of HDD dominance in bulk storage. I don’t buy that story and you’ll see why in this slideshow!

Note that battles may be won, but storage is a conservative market and change takes years. Businesses are still buying 15 K hard drives and nearline SATA drives won’t go away overnight!

(Image: Satakorn/Shutterstock)

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Software-Defined Storage Products: IT Pro Perspective

Software-defined storage describes storage products in which the storage virtualization separates storage management software from the underlying hardware. In some cases, SDS products may offer storage resource pooling, abstraction, management workflow automation, and artificial-Intelligence (AI)-based resource allocation. SDS may also enable use of commodity hardware.

This article offers insight into some of the top software-defined storage products, according to online reviews by enterprise users in the IT Central Station community. The products reviewed include Dell EMC ScaleIO, HPE StoreVirtual, IBM Spectrum Virtualize, Red Hat Ceph, and StorPool.

What do enterprise IT pros actually think about these products? Here, users offer a balanced view of  their benefits and shortcomings.

Vladimir G., infrastructure services system administrator, wrote about the advantages he sees with Dell EMC ScaleIO:

“There is no built-in system for viewing history data, such as volume IOPS. We have to provide graphing by Prometheus and Grafana, which would be a good new feature in ScaleIO. The next good new feature would be moving volumes between different storage pools, e.g., from a SAS pool to a SSD pool. It would be nice to set minimum IOPS per volume, besides just the maximum, to be able to satisfy this demand from customers out of the box, not by calculating number of disks, etc. It would be nice to have better integration with monitoring and other vendor provisioning and orchestration tools. I am aware that this is a hard-to-achieve task, where it is necessary for product not to be proprietary and to become industry standard.”

Joe H., R&D engineer at a tech company, highlighted the product’s benefits:

“The ScaleIO UI has been working with storage for a long time. Therefore, they know how to clearly present any important data, including data flow and each drive’s IOPS/bandwidth, and allow the user to easily monitor bottlenecks and problems, especially the rebuild and rebalance status of child objects. It controls them, as well as maintaining them well.”

He also said if ScaleIO “could introduce a write cache feature, the product would be perfect overall.”

HPE StoreVirtual

Matthew A., system and network administrator at a non-tech company, described what he sees as HPE StoreVirtual’s valuable features: “Ease of carving out storage and the seamlessness behind the scenes of block management. I just let it do its thing. I don’t worry too much about it.”

An IT manager for infrastructure at a government agency who goes by the handle InfraITMgr243 said the product has benefitted his organization:

“StoreVirtual has been real good for us. We started with the original P4300 LeftHand SANs before they became StoreVirtual. What I love about those is the two nodes and the mirroring back and forth, and you can’t lose anything. It’s very solid, and we haven’t really had any trouble with those either. We have a newer StoreVirtual that we’ve connected to one of the C3000 Blade Enclosures and it runs well. We lost a system board once and we lost a couple of servers, but we were able to bring everything back. Equipment-wise, it allows us to do all our work. We’re real happy with that.”

Benoit H., WIS system engineer at a paper and forest products company, offered thoughts on how HPE StoreVirtual could improve: “Features like data deduplication would be great because in the end, this solution requires a lot of raw disk space because of the use of RAID5 on the hardware and RAID1 on the network.”

Philip S., solutions engineer at an insurance company, would like to see a new user interface:

“The user interface needs to be updated. It’s getting kind of long in the tooth, and the user interface makes it look a lot more complex than it actually is to manage, and I think that you can mask a lot of that with a refresh of the user interface. While HPE has created a new HTML5 UI for the HyperConverged 380, it is not available to the rest of the StoreVirtual population.”

IBM Spectrum Virtualize

Craig J., storage administrator at a retailer, described the benefits of IBM Spectrum Virtualize for his company:

“The product helps us to manage our storage in a way that allows us to put different frames inside or out of our storage infrastructure and migrate. The benefits are that it speeds up provisioning of the storage across different tiers and allows a small team to manage that function, for many petabytes of data.”

A storage engineer for a healthcare company who goes by the handle StorageEc5c3, also likes the software:

“It gives us a lot of flexibility and ease of management. We have all the tools in one place. We pretty much do all our storage using the Spectrum Virtualize. It makes it really easy for us to manage all our storage. It gives us the flexibility to move things in between these. I think a lot of the benefit is just the ease of use of the tool itself.”

But a storage admin at a financial services firm that uses the handle StorageA62f0 cited drawbacks with the product:

 “There is third site replication. Right now, we’re limited in our ability to migrate data between clusters. Like I said, we had to scale wide rather than tall and continue to protect our data while we migrate. Additionally, if we wanted to set up a third site for additional DR, we don’t really have a good option for that.”

Joshua M., technical analyst III at a healthcare company, also cited some shortcomings with Spectrum Virtualize:

“The feature that’s kind of missing is getting us up to the point where we can help the application owners see where their data is at, understand it, and potentially help us breakout. We’ve used easy tiered functions in the pools, so we’re trying to help step that storage down. If they can get visibility somehow into that data, help us further break that down, or better tier and separate out their data, that would be helpful.”

Red Hat Ceph

Anthony D., a senior software engineer, praised the community aspect of Ceph:

“By being open source, Ceph is not tied to the whim or fortunes of any one vendor. The community of Ceph code contributors and admins is large and active. Ceph’s ability to adapt to varying types of commodity hardware affords us substantial flexibility and future-proofing.”

Diego W., founding partner tech lead and DevOps consultant at a tech services company, values Ceph for its reliability.I have experienced failures and human mistakes. However, Ceph was able to recover automatically the data with a special procedure,” he wrote.

However, Flavio C., senior information technology specialist at a tech consulting company, said he sees room for improvement:

“In the deployment step, we need to create some config files to add Ceph functions in OpenStack modules (Nova, Cinder, Glance). It would be useful to have a tool that validates the format of the data in those files, before generating a deploy with failures.”

George P., systems engineer at a marketing services firm, highlighted a challenge for Ceph:

“Ceph lacks a little bit only in performance. It needs to scale a lot and needs very fast and well-orchestrated/configured hardware for best performance. This not a downside though, it is a challenge. Ceph only improves the given hardware.”


Suha O., CEO at a tech company, gave high marks to StorPool:

“StorPool is a software-only solution with practically unlimited expansion capabilities. Its performance is very high. We were able to replace our SSD-only local storage systems without any performance penalty. Its price/performance is very high!”

He also suggested an improvement: “It would be good if, with next releases, StorPool provide a better GUI for monitoring and statistics. This would make our experience even better and complete.”

Richard L., a company president, likes StorPool’s manageability: “Managing StorPool is much simpler than our previous storage system, especially having a CLI option which our previous storage system was lacking.”

Maria R., head of IT services operations center at a communications service provider, said a better interface would help. “At times we need to check the disks and do some minor operations. A friendlier user interface would be useful in such cases.”

To learn more about SDS solutions, download IT Central Station’s SDS Buyer’s Guide based on real user reviews.


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Open Source Storage: 6 Benefits

Storage software creation, delivery, and support are all evolving at a high rate today. We’ve added open source coding, support-services bundling, platform pre-integration, code as a service, microservice architectures, and scalable  software-defined storage services to the traditional bundled proprietary code approach. Open source packages in the storage word are now mainstream solutions.

The acceptance of open source storage is no accident. The leaders in the space, such as Ceph and Gluster, are all characterized by large communities, well-organized communications between developers, liaison with the customer base, and the support of a commercial vendor delivering full technical support and, typically, for-profit enterprise editions with additional features. These open source storage products compete with for-profit code and maintain leadership in most areas other than prices.

Apart from the leading packages, we see many other examples of open source storage code arising from communities of interest, such as the Btrfs and OpenZFS file systems, the LizardFS and Lustre distributed file systems, and Pydio, a file sharing system. , These projects vary in fullness of feature set and code quality, so that in their early stages it is definitely buyer beware. These packages, however, are a rich source of innovation for the storage industry and some will likely grow beyond their niche status in a couple of years, so it is impossible to dismiss them out of hand.

The community nature of open source means several things. First, it makes niche solutions easier to obtain since the community pre-defines a receptive customer base and a roadmap of needs. Compare this with the traditional startup – raising funds, defining an abstract product, developing it, and then finding customers. Community-based solutions lead to much more innovation. Often, solutions serving your specific needs are available, though a thorough evaluation is needed to offset risk.

In and of itself, open source storage code would not be interesting without the availability of commodity  hardware platforms that are much cheaper than gear from major league traditional vendors. It’s relatively easy to integrate open-source code onto these low-cost, highly standardized platforms. Generally, the standardization inherent in commodity hardware makes most open source code plug-and-play, irrespective of the hardware configuration.

In this slideshow, I delve into six open source storage benefits, and why you should consider open source storage for your data center.

(Image: Camm Productions/Shutterstock)

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