NetApp VSC, VASA, VAAI for VMware vSphere: Why do I need this?

In most software meetings, round tables, and customer reviews and councils I have been part of, the feedback has been about a common topic the majority of the time. Customers want to have a single location/interface to manage multiple products. Fortunately, some aspects of NetApp storage can be managed through VMware’s WEB UI by leveraging Virtual Storage Console (VSC), VASA provider, and VAAI for VMware.

VSC is a vCenter plug-in that delivers VM management for environments running NetApp storage. VSC allows for storage configuration and monitoring, datastore provisioning and VM cloning, online VM optimization as well as backup and recovery of VMs and datastores. VSC is a very useful and convenient tool that will give you a glance of your storage status and also allow you to optimize your VMs that have not been properly aligned by migrating them to another storage target and aligning the VMDKs properly.

VSC_Main

 VSC Main Page

 

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VMDK alignment using VSC

 

The VASA provider for NetApp ONTAP is a virtual appliance that supports VMware’s VASA (vStorage APIs for Storage Awareness). It leverages VSC as the console and provides information to the vCenter about NetApp Storage that has been associated with VSC. VASA allows for the management of storage profiles defined as Service Level Objectives (SLO) as well as alarms to monitor the NetApp environment when aggregates and volumes are nearing their storage capacity.

The last piece of the puzzle is VAAI. VMware VAAI (vSphere Storage APIs – Array Integration) allows for hardware acceleration and offload certain operations that originally occurs at the host level, to the storage system. This reduces the overhead and consumption of resources on the ESXi host and improves performance. VAAI is great for speeding up I/O operations on the VMware side.

You could pick and choose which of these components to install as you see fit, but ideally you would want to deploy all three to take advantage of these enhancements and integration. The VSC software is installed on a server and associated with a specific vCenter. The NFS plug-in for VMware VAAI is installed on each VMware host and the VASA provider is deployed as a virtual appliance. It is important to point out that VSC  can also be utilized to set NetApp’s recommended values on ESXi hosts for better performance.

 

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 VSC ESXi Host Options

 

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VSC VM Options

 

Storage Virtualization: Yep, NetApp

Just as VMware has been the pioneer for server virtualization, NetApp seems to be the virtualization player to beat in the realm of storage at this moment. Although NetApp’s ONTAP Cluster Mode (C-Mode) is not a new release, it is taking some of the legacy, 7-mode users some time to not only understand, but also implement C-Mode given its complexity compared to 7-mode. But an easy way to think of C-Mode, is to find the similarities with VMware’s vSphere.

Cluster mode breaks apart the physical aspect of the storage into a virtualized setup where several virtual storage environments can be created to segregate the diverse logical configurations. C-Mode can be a great use case for a public cloud service provider where the segregation of storage virtual machines is necessary; but let’s keep in mind, that this kind of segregation can also be heavily utilized within a private environment for many use cases.

Having recently achieved a master’s degree in Cyber-security and Information Assurance (CIA), I learned a few things about securing not only public environments, but also making sure we are internally secure. Your company is only as strong as its weakest link. After all, a great number of the attacks are generated internally by users with lack of knowledge or even malicious users. Through storage virtualization and the segregation of storage virtual machines, we can achieve not only better security but also better management through the use of policies.

NetApp_Stor_Virt

 

This virtualized storage environment allows for a more direct relationship with virtualized server environments such as VMware, where more granular control is needed. In my humble opinion, NetApp C-Mode and VMware vSphere are not that much different from each other. As I was preparing for my NCDA certification for NetApp (C- Mode), I couldn’t help but notice the similarities in their architectures. C-Mode acts as the Hypervisor, or in this case vSphere, and both platforms have virtual machines that act as independent identities. Such identities have their own personalities such as IP addresses, login information, mappings to a physical underlying network, etc.

While VMware uses servers for the physical platform, NetApp C-Mode uses their hardware and data ONTAP software to deliver storage virtualization; that once joined with VMware, become an extremely powerful solution for businesses of all sizes. Clearly, I am drinking the NetApp cool-aid, but I believe their technology in addition to VMware’s products make up for great SMB, and enterprise solutions. The two companies provide even better integrations and solutions through the use of VASA, VAAI, VVols, VSC, etc. More on them soon…