Make way for VAS: the era of VM-aware storage
By Claudio Polla, Regional Manager, Middle East Africa, Tintri
For 20 years or more, conventional storage has been confined to physical workloads in the form of block level storage and file storage, both of which support enterprise applications.
Block level storage was ideal for almost any kind of application, including file storage, database storage and virtual machine file system volumes. File storage was more attractive for companies seeking to save and order large amounts of data created by the digital transformation. Before virtualisation appeared, the storage world was simple, divided into direct attached storage (DAS), storage area network (SAN) and network attached storage (NAS), depending on the use case.
Then virtualisation arrived, taking storage away from physical workloads, transforming the IT industry and bringing a number of challenges for legacy storage solutions. Now, along with DAS, SAN and NAS, storage has another term, VM-aware storage (VAS), says Claudio Polla, Regional Manager, Middle East Africa, Tintri.
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The history of data storage goes back decades. The reality is large enterprise storage solutions for mainframes existed long before the PC-era kick-started an explosion in storage. While the initial focus was on DAS to PCs and servers, organisations started looking to the network over time to deliver storage resources across their operations using NAS or SAN.
Conventional storage, whether direct or network attached, has defined storage for decades – and would probably have continued to do so for years if not for two unforeseen developments that changed everything: virtualisation and the rise of cloud technology.
Shift away from physical workloads
Today, around 75% of all workloads in modern day data centres are virtualised – and this number is only expected to grow. Legacy storage technologies like DAS, SAN and NAS are ill-equipped to support virtualisation because they were designed for a physical world, decades before virtualisation even existed.
The two biggest bottlenecks when it comes to storing data are performance and management complexity, while the greatest concerns for virtualisation and storage admins are application performance and random IOs. Virtual environments generate far more random input/output (IO) patterns than physical ones, causing serious issues with storage. Servers can support upwards of thousands of virtual servers, each generating its own IO stream, but conventional storage can't keep up.
To overcome the technological limitations of conventional storage solutions, vendors have used the benefits of flash to quench the thirst for higher IOPS. Flash can achieve up to 20 times lower latencies and tens of thousands of IOPS, while offering high density and low power consumption. Although expensive in the beginning, the declining price of flash has allowed storage vendors with struggling conventional physical storage systems to stick an expensive band-aid on their products to bypass the storage bottleneck. Adding a flash layer seemingly solved the performance issues customers were facing from the increased workloads and demand of virtualisation and cloud computing.
Advent of VM-aware storage (VAS)
But, while they are faster, legacy storage systems with added flash have a fundamental limitation; their approach is still LUN and volume-based.
VM-aware storage (VAS) that provides VM-level management capabilities is essential for virtual environments, which are now commonplace in organisations. Flash storage puts a lot of IOPS at an organisation's disposal, but identifying where to put the flash to work is vital for efficiently growing a virtualised footprint. This requires storage admins to be able to see performance and behaviour for individual VMs through VAS storage, which provides visibility at the VM level, rather than grouping them into crowded LUNs. Using VAS real-time analytics, the needs of individual VMs can be brought to light and effectively balanced across all-flash and hybrid-flash devices. Real-time and predictive analytics also help storage teams make informed decisions about changes to their environments and plan for future needs.
Companies that start to think less in conventional storage terms – LUNs, volumes, and so on – and more in VMs, will be able to guarantee every VM's performance, while troubleshooting any issues, quickly and accurately, and enabling constant access to business-critical data. At the same time, optimising their storage footprint, refining the location of every single VM, saving companies on both physical space and expense. After all, storage doesn't drive business value, applications do, and only VAS storage can take the focus off storage and direct it at the applications that matter.