VMworld 2013: Networking and storage take center stage

VMware kicks off its annual user conference with unveilings of VMware NSX, Virtual SAN, and vSphere 5.5

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Link Aggregation Control Protocol (LACP) enhancements come in the form of expanded numbers of LACP groups per distributed switch (64) and per vSphere 5.5 host (664). VMware has also added 22 new hashing algorithms and the ability to save LACP configurations as templates for use on other distributed switches. Single Root I/O Virtualization (SR-IOV) support -- which offloads I/O virtualization tasks to physical NICS -- has been improved to include the use of port group properties, otherwise known as VLAN tagging. New hardware support includes the Mellanox ConnectX3 40Gbps adapter along with 16Gb Fibre Channel.

New storage features

The Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA) has been VMware's primary storage offering for some time. It uses replicated virtual hard disks on multiple ESXi hosts to present a virtual file store to other hosts. The latest incarnation of this concept, the Virtual SAN or VSAN, also requires a minimum of three ESXi hosts in a storage cluster to replicate and share direct-attached storage for consumption by other users. It takes the base concepts of the VSA and expands them in a number of ways.

VSAN adds features like SSD caching, along with the pooled direct access of the individual hosts. It also provides per-virtual machine service-level agreements (SLAs), which are policy-driven and managed through vCenter. The goal is to provide a simple-to-implement storage solution built on top of vSphere and tightly integrated with all features including vMotion, Storage vMotion, DRS, and HA. VSAN will scale up to eight nodes in the initial release, but VMware promises to extend that in future releases. Storage policies will allow virtual machines to be provisioned based on availability and performance requirements. One thing of note here is that the initial release of VSAN does not support the new 62TB VMDK.

New features in vSphere Replication include multiple point-in-time snapshots functionality, which preserves a subset of historical replicas. In vSphere 5.5, you can draw on as many as 24 points in time, and each vCenter Server supports up to 10 vSphere Replication appliances. Further, you can now replicate or restore a virtual machine across sites without the need for a vCenter Server in between, making it possible to replicate or restore the vCenter Server Appliance itself. Naturally, vCenter Server has been updated to support all the new replication features and to support connectivity with the new VSAN storage appliance.

VMware NSX network virtualization

VMware touts NSX as its next-generation network virtualization solution. The stated goal for NSX is to support any hypervisor, any cloud management platform, and any networking hardware.

However, NSX offers certain additional advantages in vSphere environments. The heart of the NSX optimizations for vSphere resides in the new in-kernel modules for ESXi that enable traffic filtering, distributed firewalling, and distributed routing -- including support for BGP and OSPF dynamic routing -- right on the host. These modules provide any number of advantages over a stand-alone appliance ranging from performance to manageability.

In both vSphere and multihypervisor environments, NSX gateways provide both Layer 2 (bridging) and Layer 3 (routing) functionality between virtual and physical networks. But only in vSphere environments can traffic be routed between subnets on the same host without making a trip out to an NSX gateway appliance.

Some of the key features here include logical switching that utilizes VXLAN encapsulation in a vSphere environment and adds STT or GRE encapsulation in multihypervisor installations. NSX also offers logical load balancing, supporting Layer 7 rules and SSL termination, and logical VPNs, both IPSec and SSL and either site-to-site or remote access.

VMware has lined up a number of key networking hardware vendors as a part of this product release, including Arista, Brocade, Cumulus Networks, Dell, HP, and Juniper Networks, to name a few. Cisco is another partner you can expect to be a player in the NSX arena. As this is the first product offering coming from the Nicira acquisition, much more is sure to come -- including fuller integration of the technology into VMware's own management and automation tools.

This story, "VMworld 2013: Networking and storage take center stage," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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