Provided directly from VMware, this image illustrates the integration of VSAN into the actual vCenter stack. Notice in this image that VMs actually sit on top of vSphere and VSAN, not next to them. Also, note that there are no silos of storage vendors below the vCenter servers. The fact is each of the servers is a storage device.
I repeat: there are no silos of storage below the vCenter servers. The servers ARE the storage. Tiering, snapshots, and all of the policies are configured and managed within vSphere.
Because of this, a customer is now able to select off-the-shelf servers and even the components in them, such as which drive or flash accelerator. That is, of course, as long as it is selected from a compatibility list provided by VMware. A sample integrated solution looks like this:
In this sample configuration, there are three separate physical servers that have a variety of drives implemented in each providing three tiers of storage: SSD, SAS, and SATA. All three physical servers would be part of a vCenter Server where all of the storage would be pooled and managed by VSAN. When it comes time to expand, the customer has flexibility to select the next best configuration that matches their budget, risk, and performance requirements.
According to early information out of VMware, this will scale to 16 nodes that can support up to 35 drives each (in addition to five SSDs or PCI-e flash devices). With SATA drives now available in 4TB capacities, that comes out to over 2PB in a single cluster.
The cost savings of this could be astronomical. Of course, it will depend greatly on what the licensing cost for VSAN is. Sure, a customer can save a ton of money buying off-the-shelf equipment, but the value would be greatly negated if there were high licensing fees from VMware.
Aside from costs savings, though, there is the added benefit of having the intelligence built right into the stack. The shared visibility between compute, application, and storage is a large step forward to a true software-defined datacenter. Instead of having to pre-configure LUNs and then presenting them to applications to be consumed, applications will be able to consume storage on an as-needed basis. In the big datacenter world of dynamic workloads, that is a tremendous benefit from a performance and cost perspective. This will become an even bigger story as VMware eventually integrates their software-defined network technology from the Nicira acquisition.
One final thought: Where other vendors have attempted to be the magical intermediary that freed the software management piece from the hardware, VMware has one gigantic advantage: they already have a very sizeable install base and a mass of users that know how to use their products. They have the partnerships in place for both interoperability and integration at customer sites.
If the technology holds up and the licensing fees are attractive, it is quite possible VMware could be in a position to turn the storage industry on its head.