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Changes and new features come with VSAN 6.2 and vRealize Suite 7

There are now three editions of licenses in VSAN 6.2 while the latest vRealize Suite has rearranged its licensing model.

At VMware's Digital Workspace event in February 2016, the company focused on two topics -- end-user computing and enterprise infrastructure -- and had some interesting new features to talk about.

The launch of VSAN 6.2 is a game changer by VMware, offering a software distributed storage product with data services you would typically find on an enterprise SAN or NAS device. VMware's vRealize Suite is a comprehensive management platform with integrated operations, automation and business capabilities delivering insights and visibilities that is not possible with separate point-based products.

VMware's Hybrid Cloud event focused on enterprise infrastructure. The goal was to showcase its vision of "One Cloud, Any Application, Any Device" in order to enable the digital enterprise to seamlessly move from the data center to the cloud, while ensuring there is a unified platform to show the visibility of workloads wherever they reside. The event was split in two: hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) and cloud management platform. HCI enables end users to be flexible with their infrastructure yet helps to drive breakthroughs in efficiency. Cloud management platforms provide advanced operational management closely aligned with automation to speed application development and delivery.

Hyper-converged software

Challenged by high costs, poor performance and lengthy deployment times, modern IT enterprises are opting for HCI. It's clear that a HCI offering is first and foremost about the underlying software. Previously, VMware had a two-pronged approach to HCI. On one hand was EVO:RAIL -- a fully automated appliance which could be deployed within minutes, and on the other was VMware Virtual SAN (VSAN) ready nodes, which pools local storage for each node. Many customers liked the EVO:RAIL concept, but didn't like how inflexible it was with regards to the hardware configuration and the licensing model -- it also wasn't very cheap. Surprisingly the product didn't really take off, and after two years VMware is now focusing its attention elsewhere -- meanwhile VMware has teamed up with VCE to announce VxRail.

VSAN, on the other hand, has been a relative success, with VMware adding more than 3,000 customers over the same two year time period. With that, it comes as no surprise that VMware is now focusing solely on VSAN as part of its new "Hyper-Converged Software" stack -- which packages vSphere, vCenter and VSAN together. VMware hyper-converged software offers several consumption options to end users, with access to a broad ecosystem of hardware vendors. Whether you're deploying the hyper-converged software stack on x86 systems with Virtual SAN Ready Nodes, or deploying it as an appliance (e.g., VxRail), this software stack remains the common foundation enabling HCI.

VSAN 6.2 now offers cost-efficient performance and adds a number of new features customers have been crying out for since the first version, such as deduplication, compression and erasure coding, Quality of Service (QoS) and IPv6 support. Of these new features dedupe, compression and erasure coding are the enterprise data services that were sorely missing from previous versions of VSAN. However, the dedupe and compression features are currently only available for all-flash configurations.

Nearline dedupe is enabled at the cluster level, but with the domain being the disk group in each host, it occurs on fixed 4 KB data blocks as data is destaged from the VSAN cache onto the capacity tier. After dedupe is complete, compression is then performed. The thinking around this initial offering is that because flash is more expensive than spinning disks, admins benefit more from data reduction techniques, in addition to the performance that flash can offer when implementing data services.

Erasure coding is configured through the VM Storage Policies and allows you to choose between the previous RAID 1 (mirror) and the newer RAID 5 or 6 striping. Depending on what is chosen for Failure to Tolerate (FTT), data and parity blocks are striped across multiple VSAN nodes. With the FTT set to 1, RAID 5 is used and requires a minimum of four hosts -- three data and one parity. With FTT set at 2, RAID 6 is used and requires a minimum of six hosts -- four data and two parity.

VMware has also made it much simpler to purchase, deploy, consume and manage HCI by expanding the VSAN Ready Node program and allowing vendors to deliver precertified hardware with preinstalled software. There are now three editions of licenses for VSAN 6.2. It's worth noting that the new data services are only available in the Advanced and Enterprise editions, and that Stretched Clustering has moved from the Advanced edition to the new Enterprise edition, which also adds QoS.

VMware vRealize Suite improves again

A cloud management platform should be able to continuously monitor resource utilization and also scale up or down resources as necessary to meet changing business demands. Once a service is no longer needed, a cloud management platform should also provide the ability to reclaim capacity and to make that capacity available for new requests -- a practice called lifecycle management. It should also allow users to choose the platform best suited for the workload they wish to provision -- whether private, public or a hybrid cloud -- while offering a simple way of managing that workload regardless of where it's located.

VRealize Suite provides IT with the ability to leverage business and operational insight to improve decisions involving IT/business alignment. Then businesses can take action in an agile manner while also maintaining control of workloads and resources.

With the launch of vRealize Suite 7.0, VMware has completely repackaged its cloud management platform to provide a service for three key use cases: Intelligent Operations, Automated IT to IaaS and DevOps Ready IT. Each use case has an aligned edition of vRealize Suite that offers products that best fit their requirements in order to help streamline data center operations and increase infrastructure delivery automation.

VMware is aware that many customers have virtualized their infrastructure but do not have a proactive monitoring or management offering in place yet, and in my mind vRealize Suite Standard is the most obvious next step for these customers as they transition IT toward becoming a broker of services.

VRealize Suite Advanced will enable IT to start automating their infrastructure deployment, with the ability to provide a self-service portal where consumers can deploy services from a catalog.

VRealize Suite Enterprise extends this offering to enable application monitoring and automation, providing IT the control required as they start providing infrastructure to a DevOps environment.

VMware also introduced a new licensing model for vRealize Suite called the Portable Licensing Unit (PLU). PLU gives you the flexibility to utilize vRealize Suite to manage workloads regardless of whether they are on vSphere, third-party hypervisors, physical servers or supported public clouds. PLU switches automatically when the workload being managed by vRealize Suite moves from one environment to another. One PLU allows usage of vRealize Suite to manage unlimited VMs deployed on one on-premises vSphere CPU or up to 15 operating system instances deployed on the public cloud, third-party hypervisors or physical servers. This new licensing model aligns perfectly to end users who may transition workloads from on-premises infrastructure to the cloud.

Another important change is that vCloud Suite is now aligned with vRealize Suite. VCloud Suite now becomes a cost-effective cloud infrastructure bundle that includes vRealize Suite and vSphere Enterprise Plus. Please note:  Site Recovery Manager has been dropped from the Enterprise edition.

VMware seems to be focusing less on vSphere and this could be because VMware sees that vSphere revenue streams have plateaued and are actually on the decline.

There is a lot more focus on complimentary products – with priorities shifting to how VMware can continue to take a customer on his journey to the SDDC and cloud. With hardware becoming less and less important due to the switch to a software control layer, the hypervisor is increasing becoming a commodity and it's the HCS and the cloud management platform where the value-add comes from and where VMware is trying to set itself apart from its' competitors.

The new features on VSAN will be welcomed by end-users, but there will be quite a number who will be disappointed that they are only available on All-Flash Arrays and require at least VSAN Advanced licenses.

Next Steps

VMware VSAN launches with new features

EMC launches VSAN-based hyper-converged appliance

An essential guide to VSAN features

VSAN 6.2 offers businesses benefits and challenges

This was last published in March 2016

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