VMware storage protocol decision: Why not NFS?

Choosing the right storage protocol for VMware isn't a no-brainer, even though the file-based nature of NAS/NFS might make it seem so. Find out what the key considerations should be when guiding customers toward a storage protocol.

Your customer is likely overwhelmed by the number of storage protocol choices available to them for VMware, and in a recent article for SearchStorage.com, Marc Staimer builds an excellent case for using NFS.

What should the channel's take on this be?

Choices can be a problem, especially for the channel. In this case, there are three main storage protocol choices for VMware, which means you must know and understand three protocols and, more importantly, you have to help the customer navigate the decision process. The customer has an advantage in that once they decide on a protocol, they can focus on that one method and become an expert at it; you, on the other hand, have to stay abreast of all three.

In his article, Marc provides a great analysis of NFS' advantages in a VMware deployment. Probably the most significant and unique advantage is that NAS is optimized as a file manager. Since virtual machine images are essentially files -- VMDKs -- a match between VMware and NFS seems perfect. The grouping of VMDKs into folders by workload type, for example, is a very powerful organizational tool.

But the storage protocol choice shouldn't hinge on that one factor, especially since that grouping capability can be constructed for Fibre Channel and iSCSI-based systems. Software tools from Akorri and Tek-Tools, for example, can map LUNs to virtual machines, and those virtual machines can also be grouped by function. Adding a storage and virtual machine management application may be more efficient than switching protocols on the customer.

So how do you help customers sort through the options? The first step is to consider what they already have in place. If a customer has an investment in Fibre Channel or iSCSI and has built a solid understanding of one of those protocols, introducing NFS may not be a wise choice. Leveraging their current protocol investment, especially if they're happy with it, makes the most sense in that scenario.

If the customer doesn't have a SAN or at least a protocol preference, then the discussion shouldn't ignore any of the three protocols; none can be eliminated due to customer size or the type of applications to be virtualized. But instead of focusing on the protocol, you should focus on the storage system itself: What capabilities does it bring that will help the customer? Does the simplicity of NAS make the most sense? Does the customer already have a large NAS requirement that could be amortized into the project? Or does the speed and tried-and-true nature of a SAN make it a better choice?

Beyond the system capabilities criteria, there's also nothing wrong with leading with what you know best as long as you're upfront with the customer. If you have strong VMware Fibre Channel expertise and can point to numerous successful projects, there is value in being focused. Being able to implement a protocol and resolve problems quickly can go a long way toward justifying that solution."

Find more on VMware storage options in this story at Storage Switzerland; and here's what Mark Staimer had to say about the topic:

Pros and cons of using NAS NFS with VMware

NAS is incredibly simple networked storage. Its ease of use for implementations, operations and management is well documented and analogous to VMware Inc.'s VMware ESX. This makes NAS an excellent candidate for use as ESX's networked storage.

Using NAS with ESX requires the network file system (NFS) protocol (CIFS isn't supported at this time). A commonly asked user question is, "Why isn't NAS with NFS used more frequently in VMware ESX environments?" Conventional wisdom says Fibre Channel (FC) or iSCSI SAN storage is a much better fit for VMware ESX, but that might be incorrect.

The pros of using NAS NFS with VMware ESX

It's important to recognize that all ESX guests are stored as *.vmdk files. NAS is architecturally optimized to store, manage and deliver files, and managing files is documented as being much easier than logical unit numbers (LUNs). Therefore, it should logically follow that NAS is, by definition, a simpler network storage than storage-attached networks (SANs).

Read the rest of the story on storage protocol choice by Mark Staimer.

About the author

George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. With 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the United States, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, George was chief technology officer at one of the nation's largest storage integrators, where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection. Find Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement here.


This was first published in March 2009
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