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FAQ: What makes VMware VSAN tick?

In this FAQ, learn more about VMware Virtual SAN, the company's first foray into the virtualized storage arena.

VMware's foray into software-defined storage with VMware Virtual SAN put startups -- and VMware partners -- that occupy the same virtualized-storage niche on notice.

A company based on the vSphere platform with plenty of disk space scattered across numerous hosts on its network can use VMware Virtual SAN (VSAN) to gather these disparate pieces into one cohesive block of storage for VMs. VMware VSAN was released in March, but is it the right fit for your business? This FAQ will explain how VMware VSAN works -- and how much it costs.

What is VMware VSAN?

VMware appropriated the traditional acronym of a virtual storage area network (VSAN) but VMware VSAN differs from a VSAN in a few notable ways. VMware VSAN has been integrated in vSphere 5.5 and collects hard drives and SSDs from ESXi hosts solely to store virtual machines. A traditional VSAN uses external arrays that can be provisioned for any storage purpose.

What are the requirements for VMware VSAN?

Administrators will need to update to vSphere 5.5 to implement VMware VSAN, which also must be managed by the vSphere Web Client. The beta VMware VSAN release capped the space in a disk group to six hard disk drives (HDDs) and one SSD, but the ceiling was lifted to one SSD and seven HDDs since many servers have a capacity of eight drives.

Companies that want to remove any doubt about their hardware and plunge into using VMware VSAN can also pick up a Ready Node from a VMware partner, such as Cisco, Dell, IBM or Supermicro.

Who should use VMware VSAN?

While the beta of VMware VSAN was free to give enterprises a taste of what it could do, the general availability release is not included in vSphere. Running VMware VSAN costs $2,495 per CPU and runs $50 per user when used for VDI.

Costs aside, determining whether your environment has the requisite hardware or provides the same -- or better -- functionality as a storage area network (SAN) are other factors to consider.

Are there similar products to VMware VSAN on the market?

Companies with a traditional SAN storage product that are investigating VMware VSAN may be confused by the multitude of similar offerings in the software-defined storage market. Toss in the accompanying marketing hype of each vendor, and the whole exploration process can make even the most tenacious of administrators blanch.

Storage company EMC owns a majority stake in VMware and also competes in the software-defined storage market, but there are instances where the parent company's offering is better suited for different businesses.

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