VSAN In The Trenches

many-hatsSo much enterprise IT is delivered by small, lean teams that have to wear many hats to get the job done.

I had a chance to recently interview Serge Kovarsky, who is using VSAN more and more to get his job done — and make things simpler in the process.

Serge is part of a four-person infrastructure team for Baron Capital Management.  He was one of the earlier VSAN adopters, but — it seems — has turned into a big enthusiast.

Serge, tell us a bit about you and what you do?

I’ve been doing IT for 23 years in the financial industry.  My first exposure to storage arrays was way back in 1997 just as SANs were coming to market.  I’ve also been a network specialist as a well as an enterprise service delivery manager.

These days, I wear many hats: servers, storage, backup, archive, disaster recovery — you name it.  So I tend to look at the big picture since that’s what I’m responsible for.

Tell me about your environment?

Well, all of our workloads are virtualized, with the exception of a few controller servers that I prefer to run physical.  We have a good population of View users, with more coming.  We have all the usual server workloads you’d expect: SQLserver, Exchange, etc.  And we have a small team of developers that works on applications for our users.

We had been using Sungard for business continuity services, but decided to switch to IO in Edison, NJ and Miamisburg, OH to bring it all in-house a while back.

How did you find out about VSAN?

Actually, it was the Fujitsu people who brought it to my attention.  The background story is that we had built out one data center in New Jersey, and had begun another one in Miamisburg, Ohio.  Rather than move equipment around, we decided to start new — which of course forced us to look at things anew.

We had mostly used Compellent arrays up to that point, with a smattering of products from other vendors.

VSAN 5.5 hadn’t shipped yet, but the Fujitsu people convinced me that this product could make storage a lot cheaper and a lot easier than what we were used to.  Besides, our IT group likes to stay on the cutting edge of things, and VSAN was certainly cutting edge.

At VMworld 2014, I was able to train myself on what I’d need to know to install and run it.

What do you like about VSAN?

Using servers to run storage really appeals to me.  When we looked at costs, VSAN was ridiculously less expensive than anything else we considered, including Compellent and Nutanix.  Performance and reliability has been good as well

We did have one bump early on with VSAN 5.5 when a flash card failed, and it turned out to be a bit messy to repair and reconstruct everything.  However, the environment stayed up and no data was lost.  The support people tell me that problem won’t happen again.

How many VSAN clusters do you have?

We have one four-node cluster with server workloads and about 40 VMs doing the usual stuff with nothing really pushing it hard.  I’ll be moving Exchange to that cluster before long — and retiring our physical array — so we’ll see how it holds up under that workload.

We also have a View cluster than I’m building out.  Our existing cluster that uses external storage doesn’t have the best performance, and I’m hoping for a huge performance bump when I get to VSAN.

And, finally, we had a bunch of slightly older servers that we’re repurposing for our developers.  We’ve upgraded to 10Gb ethernet and bought some storage components, so they will have a nice 4 node cluster all to themselves.

How would you compare the operational experience between VSAN and external arrays?

No comparison.  With the arrays we were using, we had to create multiple data stores, plan them out, make sure we put the right workloads in the right place, and so on.  With VSAN, it’s single data store where we can carve out different service levels using policy, so that’s a nice improvement.

Something that bit me badly: most external arrays use Java for their consoles.  We’re in financial services, so when Java started having security problems, my storage consoles refused to run.  That was a real problem for me.

What does the future hold?

If VSAN continues to perform, we won’t be buying storage arrays in the future.  When the reach retirement age, we’ll simply replace them with VSAN in our existing vSphere clusters.

We’re not going back to where we used to be.


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