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VMware vSAN features in 6.6 signal bright future

Since its release, vSAN has developed into a powerful product. Despite some limitations, improvements in encryption, performance and resiliency show why it's a popular product.

Like many IT pros, I was first introduced to VMware vSAN at a conference in Las Vegas. A friend at EMC asked to discuss a VMware storage product under development. We talked about this idea of combining a host's local storage into a clustered data store.

In the years since, VMware has commercialized vSAN and developed vSAN features, like encryption for data at rest and improvements in resiliency and performance, that prove vSAN still has immense potential.

VSAN has come a long way

When VMware finally announced vSAN -- then named Virtual SAN -- I was excited to see the product come to light, but I was disappointed in the lack of features. The idea was sound, but I still felt like it wasn't enough to compete with a traditional storage array.

VMware eventually worked to close the gap between vSAN and traditional storage while competing with other software-defined storage offerings. It took a few major releases, but eventually, enough vSAN features led me to check that good enough box.

VSAN 6.6 has, in my mind, moved from good to great. This version offers significant improvements to its hyper-converged infrastructure platform and is packed with new features and across-the-board improvements.

VMware vSAN features show how the product has developed

The most exciting of these new vSAN features is support for native encryption of data at rest. I think everyone in IT has seen demands for increased security, especially for data encryption. Sometimes, we do that at the OS or application level, but often, that can take a lot of effort. With vSAN 6.6, we can instead provide at-rest encryption with the simple check of a box.

Beyond security, we also like to see improvements in performance and resiliency. VMware vSAN 6.6 claims up to 50% greater IOPS for all-flash with optimized checksum and dedupe. Who doesn't want a software update that makes your storage faster?

VSAN, especially 6.6, is leaps and bounds better than the initial release.

Also, VMware now supports some next-generation storage, like Intel's Optane, for installations that need the added horsepower. This new version also improves how vSAN handles disk failures, which boosts the timeliness and effectiveness of rebuilds. The new cloud analytics options should, when enabled, provide better health alerting and performance suggestions in real time.

Competitors beat vSAN on data efficiencies

Despite these improvements and its massive customer adoption, I think vSAN is still lacking in a few areas. The biggest problem I see is that data deduplication and compression are only available in all-flash configurations. VMware says this is because it needs all-flash to handle performance, but in my mind, the performance vs. capacity choice is for customers to make, and not VMware. When I look at what vSAN competitors are doing with data efficiencies compared to VMware, vSAN doesn't match them.

VSAN is still a good product, even with its faults in mind. VSAN, especially 6.6, is leaps and bounds better than the initial release. We are well beyond the days of vSAN features not being up to snuff with traditional enterprise storage. Hopefully, VMware continues to invest in vSAN and its future.

This was last published in December 2017

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