I was digging through my blog for a link to a virtual volumes primer article and I realized I never wrote one. I did an article which described what Virtual Volumes (VVol) is in 2012 but that is it. I am certain that Virtual Volumes is a feature that will be heavily used with vSphere 6.0 and beyond, so it was time to write a primer. What is Virtual Volumes about? What will they bring to the table?
First and foremost, Virtual Volumes was developed to make your life (vSphere admin) and that of the storage administrator easier. This is done by providing a framework that enables the vSphere administrator to assign policies to virtual machines or virtual disks. In these policies capabilities of the storage array can be defined. These capabilities can be things like snapshotting, deduplication, raid-level, thin / thick provisioning etc. What is offered to the vSphere administrator is up to the Storage administrator, and of course up to what the storage system can offer to begin with. When a virtual machine is deployed and a policy is assigned then the storage system will enable certain functionality of the array based on what was specified in the policy. So no longer a need to assign capabilities to a LUN which holds many VMs, but rather a per VM or even per VMDK level control. So how does this work? Well lets take a look at an architectural diagram first.
The diagram shows a couple of components which are important in the VVol architecture. Lets list them out:
- Protocol Endpoints aka PE
- Virtual Datastore and a Storage Container
- Vendor Provider / VASA
- Virtual Volumes
Lets take a look at all of these three in the above order. Protocol Endpoints, what are they?
Protocol Endpoints are literally the access point to your storage system. All IO to virtual volumes is proxied through a Protocol Endpoint and you can have 1 or more of these per storage system, if your storage system supports having multiple of course. (Implementations of different vendors will vary.) PEs are compatible with different protocols (FC, FCoE, iSCSI, NFS) and if you ask me that whole discussion with Virtual Volumes will come to an end. You could see a Protocol Endpoint as a “mount point” or a device, and yes they will count towards your maximum number of devices per host (256). (Virtual Volumes it self won’t count towards that!)
Next up is the Storage Container. This is the place where you store your virtual machines, or better said where your virtual volumes end up. The Storage Container is a storage system logical construct and is represented within vSphere as a “virtual datastore”. You need 1 per storage system, but you can have many when desired. To this Storage Container you can apply capabilities. So if you like your virtual volumes to be able to use array based snapshots then the storage administrator will need to assign that capability to the storage container. Note that a storage administrator can grow a storage container without even informing you. A storage container isn’t formatted with VMFS or anything like that, so you don’t need to increase the volume in order to use the space.
But how does vSphere know which container is capable of doing what? In order to discover a storage container and its capabilities we need to be able to talk to the storage system first. This is done through the vSphere APIs for Storage Awareness. You simply point vSphere to the Vendor Provider and the vendor provider will report to vSphere what’s available, this includes both the storage containers as well as the capabilities they possess. Note that a single Vendor Provider can be managing multiple storage systems which in its turn can have multiple storage containers with many capabilities. These vendor providers can also come in different flavours, for some storage systems it is part of their software but for others it will come as a virtual appliance that sits on top of vSphere.
Now that vSphere knows which systems there are, what containers are available with which capabilities you can start creating policies. These policies can be a combination of capabilities and will ultimately be assigned to virtual machines or virtual disks even. You can imagine that in some cases you would like Quality of Service enabled to ensure performance for a VM while in other cases it isn’t as relevant but you need to have a snapshot every hour. All of this is enabled through these policies. No longer will you be maintaining that spreadsheet with all your LUNs and which data service were enabled and what not, no you simply assign a policy. (Yes, a proper naming scheme will be helpful when defining policies.) When requirements change for a VM you don’t move the VM around, no you change the policy and the storage system will do what is required in order to make the VM (and its disks) compliant again with the policy. Not the VM really, but the Virtual Volumes.
The great thing about Virtual Volumes is the fact that you know have a granular control over your workloads. Some storage systems will even allow you to assign IO profiles to your VM to ensure optimal performance. Also, when you delete a VM the virtual volumes will be deleted and the space will automatically be reclaimed by the storage system, no more fiddling with vmkfstools. Another great thing about virtual volumes is that even when you delete something within your VM this space can also be reclaimed by the storage system. When your storage system supports T10 UNMAP that is.
That is in short how Virtual Volumes work and what they bring. You as the vSphere administrator create policies and assign those to VMs, while the storage administrator manages capacity and capabilities. Easy right?!