When I started writing this article I knew people were going to say that I am biased considering I work for VMware (EMC owns a part of VMware), but so be it. It is not like that has ever stopped me from posting anything about potential competitors so it also will not stop me now either. After seeing all the heated debates on twitter between the various storage vendors I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try to provide my perspective. I am looking at this from a VMware Infrastructure point of view and with my customer hat on. Considering I have huge interest in Software Defined Storage solutions this should be my cup of tea. So here you go, my take on EMC ViPR. Note that I did not actually played with the product yet (like most people providing public feedback), so this is purely about the concept of ViPR.
First of all, when I wrote about Software Defined Storage one the key requirements I mentioned was the ability to leverage existing legacy storage infrastructures… Primary reason for this is the fact I don’t expect customers to deprecate their legacy storage all at once, if they will at all. Keep that in mind when reading the rest of the article.
Let me summarize shortly what EMC introduced last week. EMC introduced a brand new product call ViPR. ViPR is a Software Defined Storage product; at least this is how EMC labels it. Those who read my articles on SDS know the “abstract / pool / automate” motto by now, and that is indeed what ViPR can offer:
- It allows you to abstract the control path from the actual underlying hardware, enabling management of different storage devices through a common interface
- It enables grouping of different types storage in to a single virtual storage pool. Based on policies/profiles the right type of storage can be consumed
- It offers a single API for managing various devices; in other words a lower barier to automate. On top of that, when it comes to integration it for instance allows you to use a single “VASA” (vSphere APIs for Storage Awareness) provider instead of the many needed in a multi-vendor environment
So what does that look like?
What surprised me is that ViPR not only works with EMC arrays of all kinds but will also work for 3rd party storage solutions. For now NetApp support has been announced but I can see that being extended, and I now EMC is aiming to. You can also manage your fabric using ViPR, do note that this is currently limited to just a couple of vendors but how cool is that? When I did vSphere implementations the one thing I never liked doing was setting up the FC zones, ViPR makes that a lot easier and I can also see how this will be very useful in environments where workloads move around clusters. (Chad has a great article with awesome demos here) So what does this all mean? Let me give an example from a VMware point of view:
Your infrastructure has 3 different storage systems. Each of these systems have various data services and different storage tiers. Now when you need to add new data stores or introduce a new storage system without ViPR it would mean you will need to add new VASA providers, create LUNs, present these, potentially label these, see how automation works as typically API implementation differ etc. Yes a lot of work, but what if you had a system sitting in between you and your physical systems who takes some of these burdens on? That is indeed where ViPR comes in to play. Single VASA provider on vSphere, single API, single UI and self-service.
Now what is all the drama about then I can hear some of you think as it sounds pretty compelling. To be honest, I don’t know. Maybe it was the messaging used by EMC, or maybe the competition in the Software Defined space thought the world was crowded enough already? Maybe it is just the way of the storage industry today; considering all the heated debates witnessed over the last couple of years that is a perfectly viable option. Or maybe the problem is that ViPR enables a Software Defined Storage strategy without necessarily introducing new storage. Meaning that where some pitch a full new stack, in this case the current solution is used and a man-in-the-middle solution is introduced.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that ViPR is THE solution for everyone. But it definitely bridges a gap and enables you to realise your SDS strategy. (Yes I know, there are other vendors who offer something similar.) ViPR can help those who have an existing storage solution to: abstract / pool / automate. Yes indeed, not everyone can afford it to swap out their full storage infrastructure for a new so-called Software Defined Storage device and that is where ViPR will come in handy. On top of that, some of you have, and probably always will, a multi-vendor strategy… again this is where ViPR can help simply your operations. The nice thing is that ViPR is an open platform, according to Chad source code and examples of all critical elements will be published so that anyone can ensure their storage system works with ViPR.
I would like to see ViPR integrate with host-local-caching solutions, it would be nice to be able to accelerate specific datastores (read caching / write back / write through) using a single interface / policy. Meaning as part of the policy ViPR surfaces to vCenter. Same applies to host side replication solutions by the way. I would also be interested in seeing how ViPR will integrate with solutions like Virtual Volumes (VVOLs) when it is released… but I guess time will tell.
I am about to start playing with ViPR in my lab so this is all based on what I have read and heard about ViPR (I like this series by Greg Schultz on ViPR). My understanding, and opinion, might change over time and if so I will be the first to admit and edit this article accordingly.
I wonder how those of you who are on the customer side look at ViPR, and I want to invite you to leave a comment.