Included with VMware’s recent announcement of vSphere 5 is VMware’s first virtual storage appliance (VSA). Dubbed the vSphere Storage Appliance (VSA), it is arguably the biggest storage-related part of the announcement. This is not because it is a superior product. Indeed, it has oodles of limitations and barely competes with other products from many vendors who have offered VSAs for some time. But it does pool together internal direct attached storage (DAS) on two or three servers and allows this storage to be shared among VMs. Moreover, VMware touts it as “shared storage for everyone”.
With vSphere 5, VMware also announced host-based replication software. Again, it is limited in scope but works with all VMware’s HA, DRS, and SRM capabilities.
VMware positions these new components as targeted toward SMBs who do not have shared storage and cannot afford the cost of SAN hardware and the cost of external storage controllers with replication features.
Then there is VMware’s focus on the cloud. The entire vSphere 5 announcement was, according to VMware, about enabling infrastructure for the Cloud – private clouds in particular. VMware claims to be building a mainframe for the cloud. Such a mainframe must certainly provide a robust I/O subsystem, and with these enhancements we are beginning to see some of the underpinnings of this subsystem.
Adding to these underpinnings is a bevy of startups that plug directly into the kernel/hypervisor and provide high-performance, highly-available storage functions including remote replication. Examples include Tintri, Nimbus, Solidfire, FlashSoft, and IO Turbine to name just a few.
All of this directly threatens traditional storage vendors who offer SAN-based, two-controller external storage subsystems. These same vendors have spent the last decade shifting to industry standard (read Intel) platforms which is precisely what VMware runs on. And a major part of their target market is SMBs, which is precisely where VMware has targeted. These storage vendors are increasingly challenged to play well with VMware while continuing to enjoy high-margins on hardware and replication software. At the same time, the real innovation is being done by the startups. Doubtless we will see some of these startups quickly snapped up by the big system and storage vendors.
Action Item: Traditional storage vendors must have virtual machine solutions that exploit new VMware capabilities in virtual machines. The old model of having huge margins at the array level is going away. While there's still money to be made by hopping on the VMware bandwagon by taking intellectual property and putting it into virtual machines as VSAs, the model is changing. Vendors must look to broaden their portfolios and realize that selling external arrays is not the only way to go. Specifically they must learn to sell to the VM administrator.