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New VM Snapshot Use Cases and Advanced Storage Efficiencies – Two More Ways HP 3PAR Optimizes Its vSphere Integration

Using array-based snapshots for virtual machine (VM) protection and optimizing storage efficiency are two sought after features in VMware deployments. However, this does not mean that all midrange arrays deliver on these capabilities equally. If anything, the differences in how midrange arrays support them may be quite substantial.

Today I take a look at how HP 3PAR F-Class Storage (the F200 and F400 models) differentiate themselves from other midrange array models in these two important respects. These midrange arrays offer the same operating system and software capabilities as the entire family of HP 3PAR arrays, thus the features discussed in this blog entry are available for all HP 3PAR Storage systems.

The HP 3PAR F200 and F400 arrays achieved the highest scores in the vSphere Integration category in the recently released DCIG 2012 Midrange Array Buyer’s Guide. However, even these high scores do not fully reflect all of the ways that midrange HP 3PAR systems differentiate themselves from other enterprise midrange arrays with respect to its VMware vSphere integration.

In every case, HP 3PAR systems optimize their levels of vSphere integration in ways that go well beyond what other midrange arrays offer. How the HP 3PAR platform has implemented snapshot technology and the steps it takes to preserve and reclaim storage capacity in particular set HP 3PAR systems apart from other enterprise midrange arrays. Consider:

  • Expands the use cases for snapshots of VMs. Using a midrange array’s snapshot feature to take snapshots of VMs is rapidly becoming a major reason why organizations use midrange arrays to host VMs. Snapshots offload the workload associated with performing the backups from the ESX/ESXi server to the midrange array.

The HP 3PAR platform’s snapshot feature (available with HP 3PAR Recovery Manager Software for VMware vSphere) again provides some distinct benefits over competitive midrange arrays. While I have previously commented in-depth on how the HP 3PAR platform’s underlying snapshot technology works and what makes it unique among array snapshot technologies, HP 3PAR systems also integrate with vCenter Server.

This integration allows VMs to first be quiesced from the vCenter Server management console prior to a snapshot occurring on the HP 3PAR array. Once application-consistent snapshots are created, they may be used as a source for recovery and/or other testing purposes.

HP 3PAR snapshots also differentiate themselves from snapshots created on other midrange arrays through their integration with a growing number of enterprise backup software platforms. These include HP’s own Data Protector as well as third-party solutions such as CommVault Simpana and Symantec NetBackup. Support for these products further ease the adoption and use of HP 3PAR snapshots by enterprises.

Further, when used with HP 3PAR Recovery Manager Software and HP 3PAR Virtual Copy Software, VMware administrators get an automated and integrated process for protecting and recovering Virtual Machine Disks (VMDKs), VMware Virtual Machine File Systems (VMFS), individual VMs, and even individual files within VMware vSphere environments.

  • Advanced storage efficiency and utilization technologies. One of the most difficult tasks associated with managing storage in virtualized environments is reclaiming storage capacity after it has been allocated to a specific VM. While the forthcoming VMware UNMAP command provides some needed functionality to reclaim storage after a VM is deleted, it does nothing to help organizations reclaim unused storage capacity from VMs that are active.

HP 3PAR systems already offer this capability via HP 3PAR Thin Persistence Software, which  works with the HP 3PAR Thin Built-In ASIC, which features zero-detection capability. The 3PAR ASIC uses this capability to analyze the blocks of data within active VMs on the HP 3PAR array and detects if zeros have been written to specific blocks of data within these VMs. These zeros indicate that the data has been deleted and that the blocks may be returned to the system’s general storage pool.

Using HP 3PAR Thin Persistence Software, organizations may further automate this storage reclamation process. This facilitates the efficient use of the storage capacity on HP 3PAR arrays, minimizes administrative intervention and enables the hosting of additional VMs on midrange arrays.

This feature particularly comes into play for organizations that use the highest-performing VMDK format, Eager Zeroed Thick. On other storage platforms, Eager Zeroed Thick virtual disks write zeros across the entire VMDK file at the time they are created, so the full size of the VMDK is reserved on the storage array before the VM is ever used. This may over time result in performance degradation and storage over provisioning.

Thin Persistence eliminates these concerns. The HP 3PAR system detects the zeros in Eager Zeroed Thick VMDKs so that, as the ESX host writes zeros to the VMDK file, the zeros are detected in-lineand no space is actually allocated to the VMDK.

Features like snapshots, thin provisioning and vSphere are now found on the majority of midrange arrays. However how efficiently and effectively these features work in concert with one another is where major areas of differentiation emerge and is an area where HP 3PAR stands apart from almost every other storage provider.

In my first blog entry in this 3-part series, I examined how midrange HP 3PAR systems take full advantage of vSphere VAAI primitives and increase VM density in vSphere deployments.

In my final blog entry in this 3-part series, I will examine how the HP 3PAR platform integrates with vCenter Server and VMware SRM.

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