VSPHERE VSA VS HP P4000 VSA

I just read an interesting article by Chris Mellor over at The Register regarding the new vSphere Storage Appliance (VSA) and wanted to talk a little about it.  I say “interesting” because Chris felt that VMWare’s initial description can be misleading in regards to features and I tend to agree.  Below is the quote taken from the VSA product’s website.

“Before vSphere Storage Appliance, implementing virtualization required specialized knowledge in shared storage hardware. For example, a SAN configuration may require an FC Switch, a Server HBA, FC cables, and an external RAID Storage hardware. But with VSA, installation involves just a few mouse clicks and entering the desired IP address. And because VSA is integrated with vCenter Server, you can manage your entire IT environment in one place.”  Source: http://www.vmware.com/products/datacenter-virtualization/vsphere/vsphere-storage-appliance/overview.html

At face value the description tends to convey the message of a product with SAN like qualities.  Chris went on to point out many things that you DON’T get with VMWare’s VSA offering and it got me thinking a little.  When vSphere 5 was announced last week I was immediately overjoyed when I heard that VMWare would be diving into the Virtual SAN Appliance market.  My firm has been a big advocate of HP/Lefthand’s VSA, which operates as a virtual machine and turns your ESX server’s local hard drives into an iSCSI based shared storage pool.  One of the downsides with HP’s VSA offering was pricing, which ran several thousand dollars per server.  Getting back to VMWare’s VSA, I really like the feature of being able to manage everything through vCenter Server and one license covering support for 3 nodes all for around 6K.  Doing the math with HP, purchasing VSA for three servers can easily becomes a 10K+ endeavor.  The 800lb gorilla (VMWare) once again crushes the competition, right??  Well, lets do a quick comparison with what I feel is relevant to an everyday admin between the HP P4000 VSA and VMWare’s VSA.

HP P4000 VSA VMWARE VSA
PROTOCOL iSCSI NFS
VAAI SUPPORT YES NO
GENERAL FILE STORAGE YES NO
FULL VMWARE HCL SUPPORT YES NO
SCALABILITY > 3 NODES YES NO
VOLUME BLOCKS ACROSS NODES YES NO

Right away you can see that we are not comparing apples to apples here.  For a few grand more the P4000 VSA seems to be more attractive.  With HP’s VSA you pretty much emulate a full SAN like feature set.  You are getting a mature, proven piece of software with years or optimization.  I’m sure VMWare’s product is ready for prime time and will definitely be trying it out when it becomes available and SMB’s will certainly love the price.  At the end of the day both products will prevent all of those local server hard drives from being useless after moving over to a SAN.

The bottom line is to just make sure you are clear on what you are not getting with VMWare’s VSA offering.  With this being version 1.0 of the product, I’m sure most of the features that HP offers will find its way into VMWare’s future.  For now, VMWare’s VSA will surely meet the needs of most SMB requirements and provide some use for all of those hard drives lying around in the data center. For now, let’s just call VMWare’s offering an NFS filer. :)

-Justin Vashisht

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