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VMware and NetApp in cahoots?

Network Appliance strives to tighten the integration of its software --particularly its snapshot capabilities -- with VMware virtualization.

Sources close to VMware Inc. and Network Appliance Inc. say that engineers at the two firms are working closely to improve integration between VMware's ESX virtualization platform and NetApp's storage software, specifically its snapshot capabilities.

"They are basically developing a SnapManager for VMware, just like they have for SQL Server or Exchange," said a systems integrator familiar with the companies' roadmaps. Right now, NetApp storage can do a snapshot of virtual machines at the logical unit number (LUN) level, he explained, but "NetApp can't directly quiesce a virtual machine today."

That's not to say that people don't use NetApp snapshot technologies in VMware environments today; they do. But in order to get a consistent copy of a VMware virtual machine, they need to use VMware's own snapshot function, which consumes resources on the host. In contrast, NetApp performs its snapshots on the array, consuming no CPU resources.

Today, integrating the two technologies also requires some VMware scripting prowess. For example, in the NetApp bulletin "Five ways to use NetApp SnapShot copies and VMware VI3," NetApp professional services consultant Mike Slisinger describes one joint customer, Loyola Marymount University (LMU), which uses NetApp Snapshots to protect its VMware environment. To do so, "LMU developed its own script to automate backups and is working with NetApp to document its implementation," Slisinger wrote. "This script uses the VMware snapshot capability to quiesce the virtual machine so that a consistent NetApp Snapshot copy can be created."

NetApp neither confirms nor denies
A NetApp exec's corroborates the notion of collaboration between the two companies. Server virtualization "creates a powerful need for storage virtualization," said Phil Brotherton, NetApp senior director of enterprise alliances and solutions. "VMware integration is good today, but we are committed to tightening it up even more."

"VMware," Brotherton added, "is my life right now."

By NetApp's own account, catering to VMware users is critical to its future. As it stands, the company counts more than 4,000 of its systems connected to VMware ESX -- and many more if you include servers running VMware Server, the company's free product, Brotherton said. Given market predictions, that number will only increase. "NetApp believes that, within three years, 50% of servers will be running within VMware or some form of virtualization."

Brotherton estimated that about 40% of NetApp customers connect their arrays to ESX hosts via Fibre Channel, another 40% via iSCSI, and 20% via NFS.

NetApp storage software already has a lot to offer VMware environments, Brotherton added. Take FlexClone, the snapshot implementation built on top of the FlexVol flexible volume manager in Data ONTAP 7G. When creating a clone, "we only store the changed blocks, so you basically get a clone for free," Brotherton said. In storage-hungry VMware environments, the ability to consume minimal resources when cloning virtual machines is a compelling feature.

It should be noted that NetApp is not the only vendor working to integrate its storage software with VMware virtual environments. Vizioncore with its esxRanger and esxReplicator backup and replication software has emerged as one of the leading third-party VMware tool providers; replication vendors like Double-Take Software have VMware-centric versions of their products, and all the major backup software vendors -- Symantec Corp., CommVault, and EMC Corp./Legato, to name a few -- have announced integration with VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB), VMware's tool for offloading the backup of virtual machines from the ESX host.

EMC no obstacle
In the technology industry, it's rare to find a company that's enthusiastic about its primary competitor. But even though EMC owns VMware outright – and will continue to own about 90% of it following VMware's initial public offering this year -- Brotherton is undeterred.

"VMware has been absolutely great as a partner and operates on a very level playing field," Brotherton gushed. "They treat all the major vendors equally, including EMC."

The IPO should only strengthen that position. "It will level the playing field even more, making it contractually level."


Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, News Director.

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