SMB storage vendor StorMagic has stolen a march on its higher end counterparts by introducing StorMagic virtual SAN (SvSAN) - the very first virtual SAN storage appliance to run as a virtual machine (VM) under VMware and integrated with vCenter; the storage is accessible from other VMs.
By leveraging powerful VMware features normally only available to enterprises, then adding its own high availability with optional mirroring, this low cost software is bound to punch well above its weight in the mid-market. A major SMB benefit is to lower the cost of entry to the server virtualisation market; but that is only the start.
The software creates a virtual SAN using the VMware ESX server's internal disk storage and any attached external arrays. The single virtual appliance (SVA) virtualises the disk storage and presents it to ESX as an iSCSI LUN and can scale into a dedicated SAN.
One result is that advanced ESX features such as VMotion are handled automatically while the data stores are sharable by multiple applications across clustered ESX servers. Another first is that StorMagic's own management framework is integrated with VMware's vCenter so that the user manages end-to-end the data storage, RAID and virtual SAN simply from a single console.
So, from within vCenter, the user can create, provision and manage the data storage, configure and manage embedded RAID functionality, and automatically discover all existing StorMagic appliances. Additional services include replication and snapshots for data protection with fast recovery.
"The virtual SAN is a disruptive event," Mike Stolz, StorMagic's VP of sales and marketing, told me. "We are able to leverage [VMware's] resources at very low cost."
He accepted that this would not provide enterprise performance (for now at least) - but StorMagic is anyway focused on the SMB market and this approach does offer rich functionality.
StorMagic was wise enough to realise that SvSAN on a single ESX server was vulnerable to failure so there was a need to access the data storage from another VM in the event of a failure - either of the storage or of the virtual server itself. So the data storage can be automatically mirrored to another SVA running on physically different servers and, after a failure, the SVA will automatically re-synchronise the mirror.
"This is pretty compelling," enthused Stolz. "This is high availability without the resource and complexity, with no specialisation or long courses for staff." Nor does it carry the capacities limits of some traditional SANs.
Another reason for its potential attraction to small VMware users, according to Stolz, is that half the VMware market uses direct attached storage (DAS) at present. So this could prove rather liberating for those VMware users.
The base price of $995 is for an SVA licence for VMware ESX with capacity management for 2TB of disk. Adding high availability is a further $995. For ESX 3.5 and above (ESX 4.0 to come soon) the base rises to $1,495 but also supports 4TB. Even more eye-watering for end-users is the option of receiving a fully-featured copy of the basic software free on trial, with a promotional key.
Clearly, in time, others who offer SANs in software will be forced to follow suit. But Stolz said the StorMagic architecture was very flexible. "Some competitors have a lot of application dependent on their specific hardware or business model, so this low cost will be difficult for them."
In this time of the credit crunch SvSAN's very low cost and hence very fast ROI will be a strong factor in encouraging companies to switch - and their current storage hardware presents no obvious barrier. Users can add some of the more advanced features later if budgets are very tight right now.
So, as long as performance proves acceptable, I think SMBs will be interested and competitive software SAN vendors very worried.