StorMagic’s virtual SAN for VMware is destined to disrupt SMB market

Written By: Peter Williams
Published:
Content Copyright © 2009 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

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.