The Infrastruggle

Storage: Reaching Out by Dumbing It Down

On vSAN, MARVIN, and storage shinola.

Reading storage-related articles in current tech magazines and e-zines is a lot like reading Seventeen Magazine's College Preview edition. I happened to peruse the latter while waiting in a doctor's office recently. Instead of offering the articles one would expect from a college preview -- you know, articles covering important issues like which majors are more likely to enable one's little snowflakes to support themselves after graduation with an above-poverty-level-wage-despite-oppressive-college-loan-debt -- the magazine instead provided the latest advice for developing an insta-hottie look in all of my selfies that will have others Instagram-stalking me for style guidance.

After my 13 year old explained to me what that meant, I realized that storage rags are offering much the same fare. A headline we will likely be seeing shortly: vSAN or MARVIN? Which VMware style will give you the most cover for your chipped mani -- whether you are attending that boardroom meeting or heading to a special hook-up with that hot new BFF?

More than a quirky social commentary or Twitter joke, the question I am asking in this column is a serious one: Why are we dumbing down storage? Is it to reach out to barely storage-savvy server admins, because real storage expertise is getting harder to come by in contemporary corporate IT shops? Or are hypervisor vendors just trying to dominate the entire hardware/software stack with so-called "hyperconverged" hosting platforms?

Yes, vSAN is a way to cobble together the storage components either inside your server or directly attached to it, thereby placing them under control of the hypervisor so that the whole thing looks like a seamless unit of technology. I get that. The computer scientist in me even appreciates the idea of simplifying kit and working toward the creation of some sort of "atomic unit of compute" that enables the ready allocation and deallocation of resources to workflow. (See, I have been listening.)

However, you are creating problems for yourself if you are letting a single hypervisor vendor become the brains of the cobble IRL. That "everything in one pretty little popstar package" can lead to some big problems.

One is the inability to handle diversity. Late last year, a survey conducted by TechTarget showed that more than a third of hypervisor users were planning to change hypervisor software this year. Between the lines, the message was: VMware is charging way too much for its clusterfrack of microkernels, while less pricey contenders like Hyper-V and KVM are looking ever-so-much-more stylish these days. In most shops, consumers reported using a mix of hypervisors ... not to mention keeping really important transaction processing apps hosted on hypervisor-free servers, natch. Can storage controlled by one hypervisor vendor's BFF algorithm give you all of the fashion looks you need?

Second, we need to remember that going with lock-in technologies today translates to higher cost of ownership over time and tends to limit your choices in technology downstream. It's a lot like filling your closet with today's haute couture styles, a decision that will typically necessitate a wholesale wardrobe upgrade next season. That helps the fashion industry, of course, but your wallet? Not so much.

Finally, vSAN -- and its coming hardware implementation, MARVIN -- are oh so retro. I mean, we have spent two decades trying to move away from those isolated islands of storage and to move toward a shared storage infrastructure model like SANs. I know that SANs are sometimes difficult to do -- it's like finding the right way to rock a pair of jeans in different super stylish ways for both summer and fall. But there is a lot of inspo out there in all of the stylish shops that are making the SAN look work year round.

Want alternatives to vSAN that can let you kill your storage challenges and maybe spend more time on the couch surfing the web for great deals on stylish fashions? Check out DataCore Software, which is currently giving away a vSAN hyperconvergence technology. In fact, their SANsymphony-V software, technically, doesn't require you to change a hair of your storage infrastructure -- good news if you are already have a closet full of SAN.

And have a look at StarWind Software's Virtual SAN, with its pooling through mirroring strategy. Not as friendly toward pre-existing SAN storage as DataCore, but definitely an alternative to one-hypervisor only products like VMware is delivering these days.

Solving your storage challenges shouldn't require you to become a slave to one vendor's fashion. Next time: Tips on waterproofing your mascara.

About the Author

Jon Toigo is a 30-year veteran of IT, and the Managing Partner of Toigo Partners International, an IT industry watchdog and consumer advocacy. He is also the chairman of the Data Management Institute, which focuses on the development of data management as a professional discipline. Toigo has written 15 books on business and IT and published more than 3,000 articles in the technology trade press. He is currently working on several book projects, including The Infrastruggle (for which this blog is named) which he is developing as a blook.

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