Software-Defined Storage: Distribute to Get the Most from Virtualization

By Christian Black and Scott Doyle

Christian Black and Scott Doyle are Datacenter Solutions Architects within the Non-Volatile Memory Solutions Group (NSG) at Intel Corp. Black leads the Big Data and HPC domains and is responsible for delivering and communicating business-relevant and TCO reducing datacenter use cases for Intel solid state drives (SSDs).  Doyle heads up the virtualization and cloud domains and is responsible for delivering and communicating business-relevant and TCO reducing datacenter use cases for Intel SSDs.

Many enterprise organizations are hoping to gain agility and efficiency with a virtualized data center. However, server virtualization places new demands on traditional storage architectures, which can bottleneck performance and cripple a storage area network’s (SAN) ability to supply timely IOPS – negating the very benefits most IT organizations want to gain.

To handle the data flows of a virtualized data center, IT administrators have had little choice but to build larger SANs. While SANs remain useful storage tools for structured data, they are very costly and complex to install, provision, and manage in the way required to support the massive random data flows generated by today’s unstructured data.

With the launch of VMware’s Virtual SAN* (VSAN), enterprise IT now has another option: a distributed, software-defined storage platform that provides high performance, resilient, shared storage, specifically designed and optimized for virtualized environments. Software-defined storage refers to an abstracted storage infrastructure that is managed and automated by software rather than by proprietary storage hardware. The software dynamically pools the local (Direct-Attached) storage resources of individual virtual machine (VM) hosts for virtual machine workloads.

VSAN is built in to the VMware vSphere* kernel and implements a distributed architecture that leverages high-endurance solid state drives (SSDs) for high performance I/O caching. By extending the hypervisor to pool both compute and direct attached storage resources, VSAN minimizes storage latency and enables VM-centric, policy-based management that defines specific storage attributes, such as capacity, performance, and availability, as simple policies associated with individual or multiple VMs, groups, or clusters.

A VSAN solution built on Intel® SSDs, Intel® Xeon® processors, and 10 Gigabit Intel® Converged Network Adapters is very attractive for enterprise IT because now compute and storage functionality can reside on the same host systems. This not only minimizes latency, it also enables IT organizations to take full advantage of SSD caching resources. The Intel/VMware solution allows your applications to run faster, with higher performance, and can also help reduce your dependence on high-maintenance SANs.  Additionally, direct attached storage can scale out in tandem with your compute infrastructure, by adding Virtual SAN functionality incrementally as you add hosts to your VSAN cluster.

At Intel, we took VMware’s VSAN for a test drive, comparing the IOPS and latency between HDD-backed storage environments and storage systems based on Intel SSDs, both running an infrastructure built on Intel Xeon processors and 10 Gigabit Intel Converged Network Adapters. We’ll share the results at our session at VMworld 2013, Exploring VMware Virtual SAN and SSD - Driving Lower TCO with the Right Disks and Drives for Your Workload. We hope to see you there!

Visit Intel Storage Technologies for more information about how Intel can help you tackle your data center storage challenges.