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VMware VVOL's and storage I/O fundamentals (Part I)

VMware VVOL's and storage I/O fundamentals (Part I)

By Greg Schulz

VMworld 2014

Note that this is a three part series with the first piece here (e.g. Are VMware VVOL's in your virtual server and storage I/O future?), the second piece here (e.g.VMware VVOL's and storage I/O fundamentals Part 1) and the third piece here (e.g. VMware VVOL's and storage I/O fundamentals Part 2).

VMware vSphere beta

Some of you may already be participating in the VMware beta of VVOL involving one of the initial storage vendors also in the beta program.

Here is the quick synopsis of VMware Virtual Volumes:

  • Higher level of abstraction of storage vs. traditional SCSI LUNs or NAS NFS mount points
  • Tighter level of integration and awareness between VMware hypervisors (guests and management) and storage systems
  • Simplified management for both storage and virtualization administrators removing complexity to support increased scaling
  • Enable automation and service managed aka software defined storage management across application and storage tiers

Ok, now let's go a bit deeper, however if you want some good music to listen to while reading this, check out @BruceRave GoDeepMusic.Net and shows here.

Taking a step back, digging deeper into Storage I/O and VVOL's fundamentals

Instead of a VM host accessing its virtual disk (aka VMDK) which is stored in a VMFS formatted data store (part of ESXi hypervisor) built on top of a SCSI LUN (e.g. SAS, SATA, iSCSI, Fibre Channel aka FC, FCoE aka FC over Ethernet, IBA/SRP, etc) or an NFS file system presented by a storage system (or appliance), VVOL's push more functionality and visibility down into the storage system. VVOL's shift more intelligence and work from the hypervisor down into the storage system. Instead of a storage system simply presenting a SCSI LUN or NFS mount point and having limited (coarse) to no visibility into how the underlying storage bits, bytes as well as blocks are being used, storage systems gain more awareness.

Keep in mind that even files and objects still get ultimately mapped to pages and blocks aka sectors even on nand flash-based SSD's. However also keep an eye on some new technology such as the Seagate Kinetic drive that instead of responding to SCSI block based commands, leverage object API's and associated software on servers. Read more about these emerging trends here and here at

With a normal SCSI LUN the underlying storage system has no knowledge of how the upper level operating system, hypervisor, file system or application such as a database (doing raw IO) is allocating the pages or blocks of memory aka storage. It is up to the upper level storage and data management tools to map from objects and files to the corresponding extents, pages and logical block address (LBA) understood by the storage system. In the case of a NAS solution, there is a layer of abstractions placed over the underlying block storage handling file management and the associated file to LBA mapping activity.

Storage I/O basics
Storage I/O and IOP basics and addressing: LBA's and LBN's

Getting back to VVOL, instead of simply presenting a LUN which is essentially a linear range of LBA's (think of a big table or array) that the hypervisor then manages data placement and access, the storage system now gains insight into what LBA's correspond to various entities such as a VMDK or VMX, log, clone, swap or other VMware objects. With this more insight, storage systems can now do native and more granular functions such as clone, replication, snapshot among others as opposed to simply working on a coarse LUN basis. The similar concepts extend over to NAS NFS based access. Granted, there are more to VVOL's including ability to get the underlying storage system more closely integrated with the virtual machine, hypervisor and associated management including supported service manage and classes or categories of service across performance, availability, capacity, economics.

What about VVOL, VAAI and VASA?

VVOL's are building from earlier VMware initiatives including VAAI and VASA. With VAAI, VMware hypervisor's can off-load common functions to storage systems that support features such as copy, clone, zero copy among others like how a computer can off-load graphics processing to a graphics card if present.

VASA however provides a means for visibility, insight and awareness between the hypervisor and its associated management (e.g. vCenter etc) as well as the storage system. This includes storage systems being able to communicate and publish to VMware its capabilities for storage space capacity, availability, performance and configuration among other things.

With VVOL's VASA gets leveraged for unidirectional (e.g. two-way) communication where VMware hypervisor and management tools can tell the storage system of things, configuration, activities to do among others. Hence why VASA is important to have in your VMware CASA.

What's this object storage stuff?

VVOL's are a form of object storage access in that they differ from traditional block (LUN's) and files (NAS volumes/mount points). However, keep in mind that not all object storage are the same as there are object storage access and architectures.

object storage
Object Storage basics, generalities and block file relationships

Avoid making the mistake of when you hear object storage that means ANSI T10 (the folks that manage the SCSI command specifications) Object Storage Device (OSD) or something else. There are many different types of underlying object storage architectures some with block and file as well as object access front ends. Likewise there are many different types of object access that sit on top of object architectures as well as traditional storage system.

Object storage I/O
An example of how some object storage gets accessed (not VMware specific)

Also keep in mind that there are many different types of object access mechanism including HTTP Rest based, S3 (e.g. a common industry defacto standard based on Amazon Simple Storage Service), SNIA CDMI, SOAP, Torrent, XAM, JSON, XML, DICOM, IL7 just to name a few, not to mention various programmatic bindings or application specific implementations and API's. Read more about object storage architectures, access and related topics, themes and trends at

Lets take a break here and when you are ready, click here to read the third piece in this series VMware VVOL's and storage I/O fundamentals Part 2.

Ok, nuff said (for now)

Cheers gs

Greg Schulz - Author Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking (CRC Press), The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC Press) and Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier)
twitter @storageio

All Comments, (C) and (TM) belong to their owners/posters, Other content (C) Copyright 2006-2014 StorageIO All Rights Reserved

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More Stories By Greg Schulz

Greg Schulz is founder of the Server and StorageIO (StorageIO) Group, an IT industry analyst and consultancy firm. Greg has worked with various server operating systems along with storage and networking software tools, hardware and services. Greg has worked as a programmer, systems administrator, disaster recovery consultant, and storage and capacity planner for various IT organizations. He has worked for various vendors before joining an industry analyst firm and later forming StorageIO.

In addition to his analyst and consulting research duties, Schulz has published over a thousand articles, tips, reports and white papers and is a sought after popular speaker at events around the world. Greg is also author of the books Resilient Storage Network (Elsevier) and The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC). His blog is at and he can also be found on twitter @storageio.

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