Stifel analysts Aaron C. Rakers, Joseph Quatrochi, and Andrew Shinn weigh in on the latest news concerning VMware; namely, the much-ballyhooed beta of their Virtual SAN.

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VMware Hosts Virtual SAN Event

As we have highlighted in our IT Hardware & HDD/SSD Weekly reports over the past few weeks, this afternoon (3/6) VMware, Inc. (NYSE:VMW) hosted an event for the well anticipated launch of its Virtual SAN – beta launch (via vSphere 5.5) occurring in August 2013 w/ company today reporting +12,000 customer participants; in mid-February the company highlighted 10,000 registered beta customers. The company noted that there were over 6,500 people participating in today’s launch. VSAN will become generally available next week. While this has been very actively previewed over the past few months, we want to again highlight / emphasize this launch as important given what we believe is an accelerating concern / confusion on the architectural changes playing out in the enterprise storage market (e.g., NetApp highlighting enterprises evaluating the changing delivery models for enterprise storage [cloud, SDS, etc.], EMC’s ViPR/ScaleIO strategies, momentum in SDS/hyper-converged vendors such as Nutanix, Datacore, Nexenta, etc.). As the competitive landscape in enterprise storage has become increasingly confusing, we believe VMware, Inc. (NYSE:VMW)’s VSAN launch will create another layer of questioning around how the overall storage market will evolve over the next 3-5 years. We would highlight the following takeaways from this event:

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  • VSAN will become generally available next week with 13 total preconfigured server options from Cisco Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ:CSCO), International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM), Dell Inc. (NASDAQ:DELL) and Fujitsu (previously reporting an expectation of 10 VSAN Ready Nodes upon GA; along with 150 components for build-your-own deployments). The company noted that VSAN can also be built via individual components.
  • VSAN takes distributed directly-attached server-side storage (both Flash and HDDs; SSD required in each server) and converts it into one pool of centrally-managed storage resources. VMware, Inc. (NYSE:VMW) highlighted that one of VSAN’s advantages is that it is fully integrated into VMware’s vSphere ESXi kernel (and simple to install from vSphere) whereas competitive software-defined storage solutions must run on a dedicated virtual machine. VSAN is an object-based storage system, from which VMware’s focus is to make vSphere as a platform for provisioned shared storage services. VSAN leverages vSphere functionalities such as vMotion, Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS), and High Availability (vSphere HA). Given the clear success / dominance that VMware has seen on the compute side of the data center, and the trend toward commoditized converged scale-out infrastructure, we believe VMware is in a strong position to disrupt the overall storage landscape over the longer-term.
  • VSAN builds on VMware, Inc. (NYSE:VMW)’s prior VM Storage Profile introduced in vSphere 5.0. Virtual SAN takes distributed directly-attached server-side storage (Flash and / or HDDs) and converts it into single pool of centrally-managed storage resources. Administrators see a single shared datastores shared across all clustered x86 hosts – datastores are placed within the VM Storage Policy. VSAN looks to capitalize on one of the aforementioned characteristics of software-defined storage in that it provides VM-level management granularity and thus eliminating the manually intensive legacy management of LUNs / datastores.
  • The company announced that at GA, systems can be configured from 3 to 32 nodes (vs. previously citing a max of 16 nodes) with max capacity of 4.4PB, 3,200 VMs, and can scale out to deliver up to 2M IOPS (100% read) and 640K IOPS (70/30 read/write). This would equate to a max number of HDDs and flash devices of 1,120 and 160, respectively. We believe it is important to note that VSAN requires the deployment of at least one SSD per hosts (server) when participating in a VSAN cluster, which acts as a write buffer / read cache.
  • VMware, Inc. (NYSE:VMW) cited a broad partner ecosystem for VSAN support including Cisco Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ:CSCO), International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM), Fujitsu Limited (OTCMKTS:FJTSY), Lenovo Group Limited (OTCMKTS:LNVGY), Dell Inc. (NASDAQ:DELL), Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ), HDS, EMC Corporation (NYSE:EMC), Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. (LON:BC94) (KRX:005930), Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC), LSI Corp (NASDAQ:LSI), Fusion-IO, Inc. (NYSE:FIO), Virident, SanDisk Corporation (NASDAQ:SNDK), CommVault Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ:CVLT), Acronis, Actifio,
    Symantec Corporation (NASDAQ:SYMC), and many others. We continue to be interested in how VSAN will be positioned relative to EMC’s ScaleIO, as well as a being a solution well-positioned to complement (vs. replace) traditional storage deployments. In VMware’s event, we thought it was interesting to see how the company emphasized VSAN as being very well positioned for new workload environments such as Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and test/development environments – time will tell.