At VMworld2014, Michael McDonnell from Walgreens and Rick Terlep, a Sr. Systems Engineer and End-User Computing Partner Advisor at VMware, presented to approximately 5,000 session attendees regarding the reference architecture Michael designed for Walgreens' 8600 stores. Ease of deployment and maintenance were key factors in the three-year old design. As part of the deployment, Walgreens chose a converged solution.
In the session VMware also announced the release of two new vSphere editions, vSphere Remote Office Branch Office Standard and Advanced. As with all vSphere editions, high-availability requires shared storage, either in the form of an external storage array or SAN, or in the form of a software-only Server SAN.
Together with VMware's VSAN, VMware can now deliver a software solution for branch offices that eliminates the hardware-vendor lock-in of converged appliances. The all-VMware software-approach, however, still requires a minimum of three servers for high availability, which, in many deployments, is more server resource than necessary to meet application performance requirements. In fact, the presenters described a two-server deployment as the Holy Grail for most remote offices and branch offices.
Fortunately, when it comes to software-only Server SANs there are several options, including ones that eliminate not only the hardware lock-in of converged appliances, but also the lock-in of the hypervisor suppliers. During a follow-on breakout session that was limited to IT professionals working in the retail industry, one VMware customer described the two-server deployment that he architected that eliminated the need for a physical SAN and the need for a third server across more than 2,000 locations. It also works with both the company's current hypervisor supplier, VMware, and the one they are evaluating, Microsoft.
Action Item: When designing next-generation reference architectures for branch and remote office locations, consider carefully both the hardware and hypervisor lock-ins that may result. Give extra attention to software solutions that provide configuration flexibility and minimize hardware footprint and to those suppliers that by their product design philosophy and their go-to-market approach embrace customer choice. Current hypervisor and hardware-independent suppliers of software-only Server SANs include Sanbolic and StorMagic.