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NFS On VMware, Not NetApp's Sole Domain

Using NFS to store and boot virtual machine images is becoming an attractive option, and for obvious reasons NetApp has been promoting the use of its solutions as the perfect complement to a VMware on NFS strategy. However, NFS isn't the sole domain of NetApp any longer. It now has company from a variety of vendors, including EMC, ONStor, BlueArc, and
Using NFS to store and boot virtual machine images is becoming an attractive option, and for obvious reasons NetApp has been promoting the use of its solutions as the perfect complement to a VMware on NFS strategy. However, NFS isn't the sole domain of NetApp any longer. It now has company from a variety of vendors, including EMC, ONStor, BlueArc, and Isilon.Like NetApp, these companies are leveraging the strength of their NAS solutions into the VMware on NFS opportunity.

One ability of some of these solutions is that they can attach to an existing SAN, acting as a NAS gateway to storage that you already have. By leveraging the existing investment in storage, your ROI on the VMware project be realized faster, especially when you consider that this was storage sitting idly by that now can be used for thinly provisioned VMware storage. These gateways also maintain native Fibre Channel access to your storage as well. For virtual machines that need the specific performance advantages of Fibre, you can do so natively.

Another ability of some of these solutions is that they are clustered. As is always the case in storage, the term means different things depending on the supplier.

The other type of clustered solution typically uses a clustered file system that is spread across each node in the cluster. Each node has storage and computer responsibilities and is somewhat dependent on the other nodes in the cluster; there is redundancy, so that the loss of any one node does mean the loss of data. The theory being that each time you add a node, you increase the overall cluster's performance along with capacity. These solutions offer excellent scalability but less flexibility in terms of storage selection.

Some of the NAS heads are themselves clusterable, meaning that each can act in active/active fashion. They then provide the ability to create multiple Virtual NAS workloads on each machine. These workloads can then be migrated to other NAS heads based on availability or performance requirements. For example, you can move a virtual NAS workload from a NAS with high-speed Fibre drives to slower but more economical SATA-based drives to make room for another, faster workload. This kind of flexibility can be ideal in the ever-changing virtualized infrastructure.

Where NFS on VMware really shines is in data protection, a subject we will get into more detail in an upcoming entry.

Please click here for a more detailed discussion of the various protocol choices for VMware.

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George Crump is founder of Storage Switzerland, an analyst firm focused on the virtualization and storage marketplaces. It provides strategic consulting and analysis to storage users, suppliers, and integrators. An industry veteran of more than 25 years, Crump has held engineering and sales positions at various IT industry manufacturers and integrators. Prior to Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest integrators.