Storage Arrays Do the Grunt Work in vSphere 4.1

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VMware has unleashed vSphere 4.1 with a slew of new storage features that bring storage hardware acceleration to the company’s virtualization platform.

The bulk of the storage upgrades in vSphere 4.1 have been made possible through the new VMware (NYSE: VMW) vStorage APIs for Array Integration (VAAI). Specifically, new hardware acceleration that allows VMware ESX servers to offload specific storage operations to compliant storage hardware.

With an assist from storage arrays, ESX servers can perform storage operations faster and consumes less CPU, memory, and storage fabric bandwidth.

There are three major new storage integration points in vSphere 4.1 that put the heavy lifting in the hands of the array: Block Zero, Full Copy and Hardware Assisted Locking.

Block Zero reduces server workload by offloading large, block-level write operations of zeros to storage hardware.

Full Copy allows the storage hardware to transparently manage large data movements, thereby minimizing host, network, and disk I/O activity. The result is a reduction in the amount of time required to perform common copy operations like virtual machine (VM) cloning and storage workload migrations using VMware Storage vMotion.

Hardware Assisted Locking prevents VMs from competing for the same resources by cutting down on SCSI reservation contention that can impact performance in large environments.

Storage Vendors Rally around VAAI

The initial list of storage array vendors with VAAI support for vSphere 4.1 includes 3PAR, EMC, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) and NetApp.


3PAR announced full support for vSphere 4.1 and the development of a new 3PAR plug-in for VAAI. The new 3PAR plug-in supports Hardware Assisted Locking, Block Zero and Full Copy.

3PAR support for VMware vSphere 4.1 is available now and includes the 3PAR InForm Operating System, 3PAR Recovery Manager for VMware, and the 3PAR Management Plug-In for VMware vCenter Server. The 3PAR Plug-In for VMware VAAI will be available in September and will be provided at no additional charge.


EMC will support all three of VMware’s new vStorage API’s including Full Copy, Block Zero and Hardware Assisted Locking, according to Chad Sakac, vice president of EMC’s VMware Technology Alliance.

EMC plans to make its VAAI support available on the Clariion CX-4 and “modern” Celerras (those based on the CX-4 array) in Q3 of this year as a no-charge update contained in the FLARE 30 operating software. Support on EMC’s VMAX systems will be available in Q4.


Hitachi Data Systems will also support the new features of vSphere 4.1 on its Adaptable Modular Series (AMS) 2000 family of storage arrays.

Hitachi’s Dynamic Provisioning technology allows for the creation of storage pools from which capacity can be used as-needed to improve performance and utilization and Hitachi Load Balancing active-active symmetric controllers distribute VMware workloads across all paths to ensure optimal performance by eliminating I/O path thrashing, which leads to performance degradation.


NetApp is supporting the new VAAI capabilities and has integrated its Virtual Storage Console with vSphere 4.1 for centralized management of all NetApp storage directly from the VMware vCenter Server console.

NetApp Virtual Storage Console employs both NetApp and VMware APIs with support for NetApp MultiStore, allowing customers, service providers, and cloud providers to secure multi-tenant cloud environments from within VMware vCenter Server, according to the company.

Also new in vSphere 4.1

VMware has packed vSphere 4.1 with a number of storage enhancements in addition to the VAAI features.

VMware vSphere 4.1 enables ESXi boot from SAN (BFN). iSCSI, FCoE, and Fibre Channel boot.

It offers better visibility into storage throughput and latency of hosts and VMs, and aids in troubleshooting storage performance issues through storage performance statistics. NFS statistics are now available in vCenter Server performance charts, as well as esxtop. New VMDK and datastore statistics are also included and all statistics are available through the vSphere SDK.

A new feature called Storage I/O Control provides quality-of-service (QoS) capabilities for storage I/O in the form of I/O shares and limits that are enforced across all VMs accessing a datastore, regardless of which host they are running on.

For iSCSI environments, vSphere 4.1 enables 10Gbps iSCSI hardware offloads (Broadcom 57711) and 1Gbps iSCSI hardware offloads (Broadcom 5709).

Pricing for VMware vSphere 4.1 starts at $83 per processor for SMB packages up to $3,495 per processor for full enterprise editions.

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Kevin Komiega
Kevin Komiega
Kevin Komiega is an Enterprise Storage Forum contributor.

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