Nuclear subs seek virtual SAN, says VMware

VSAN may get a gig on UK's Astute-class boats. And is definitely getting a filesystem

VMware says it's been asked to consider how nuclear submarines might use its virtual SAN.

Duncan Epping, the company's chief technologist storage and availability, told today's VMware User Group UserCon in Sydney, Australia, that Virtzilla's been asked to create “an architecture” for use in a such a sub, but couldn't offer any specifics other than to point us to “the internet” for more info.

A quick search later and The Register's virtualization desk found plenty of references to a Dell/VMware solution for targeting torpedoes aboard HMS Artful, one of the Royal Navy's Astute-Class fleet. If VMware's already aboard for that application, adding a VSAN is not going to torpedo the subs' schematics. VMware aficionados on the receiving end of a torpedo from an Astute-class sub will therefore at least have an inkling about the infrastructure behind their demise.

Epping also offered some hints about other imminent additions to VSAN. Some, we already knew about, like planned performance analytics.

Epping said VMware also has “three key pillars” VSAN. “We need to fix availability and security,” Epping said. “Data mobility” will also occupy VMware's attention. But management and monitoring will be Virtzilla's first priority.

To that end, Epping mentioned a forthcoming feature that will enable VSAN users to do things like upgrade disk firmware from within VMware's tools, rather than having to use a server vendor's management tools.

Easier installation for the vCenter Appliance is also on the cards, by making it possible to install it on a single-node VSAN even though VSAN requires three physical nodes. This enhancement will allow users to get vCenter up and running and then expand that implementation to cover the three or more nodes needed for VSAN.

Epping added that it will soon be possible to manage VSANs as a cluster, not just a host.

On the security front, Epping said VMware is working on encryption at rest. Improved snapshots are also on VMware's mind. Epping admitted that vSphere's implementation of snapshots is not well-loved. The VSAN team is building its own snapshots and allow users to set policies for their longevity and location. Epping said he wants snapshots to be able to go “on any type of storage”, be that a VSAN, a public cloud, a second site or wherever users want their data to land.

Epping said the one big thing left for VSAN to add is file services.

“We have lots of customers running legacy block and file services,” he said. VMware could satisfy them by running something like Nexenta or DataSphere as a VM and linking it to VSAN, but has decided to develop “a filesystem on top of VSA that you manage the same way as you manage VSAN we have a FS in the works.”

Epping said VMware is interested in this to make VSAN more useful for hosting containers.

He also made an interesting remark about VSAN often being used in the DMZ, because users are waking up to the perils of having in-peril apps on the same SAN as core software. VSANs, Epping said, are an easy sell as a cheap and entirely isolated source of storage that can take the heat of an attack without giving attackers a sniff of core systems.

Which sounds just like the kind of role storage could play on a nuclear submarine.

Epping said the features mentioned above should appear in VSAN over the next six to 18 months. He added that the cadence of VSAN releases will soon slow, as the heavy lifting has been done to get it to feature equivalence with physical SANs. The wider storage ecosystem is another reason for the slowdown: VMware wants storage management software vendors to have time to tune their wares for a settled platform, the better to make users feel they can replicate their current storage environments with a VSAN. ®


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