Canadian Web Hosting brings first VSAN private cloud to Canada

Matt McKinney, chief strategy officer, Canadian Web Hosting
Matt McKinney, chief strategy officer, Canadian Web Hosting

Canadian Web Hosting (CWH) recently claimed the distinction of the being the country’s first private cloud hosting platform to use VMware’s VSAN (Virtual SAN) Storage. It’s a move that the company’s chief strategy officer Matt McKinney believes will change the private cloud hosting landscape in Canada.

“All cloud is being pushed in that direction,” he said, adding that the company’s origins lie in conventional SAN storage. “One of the challenges of getting into cloud is that enterprise level storage is very expensive. So we made the commitment two years ago to move to a high-performance distributed storage solution. In order to have the cloud capacity needed today, shared storage on the back end makes more sense because it’s more flexible, scalable and brings with it a lower total cost of ownership.”

While the notion of distributed storage has been considered by enterprises and cloud providers alike for some time, McKinney said it took time for a system to become available that was reliable and robust enough to do the job; the go-to solution of choice has always been to go to large storage providers and pay hundreds of thousands per box. However, the company started testing VMware a year and a half ago with the launch of a new version of VSAN. “We just needed to wait to see it hit critical mass and deliver the reliability and performance we wanted. Now we can get high performance and reliability at 50 percent of the cost,” McKinney said.

A software-defined storage approach is especially helpful in the private cloud market amongst customers who are trying to resolve challenges in a way that is not conducive to a multi-tenant cloud environment. Healthcare, where ensuring data privacy requirements is paramount, is a good example: “that data can’t be housed in a multi-tenant cloud environment,” he added.

To describe how Virtual SAN works, McKinney explained that VSAN allows cloud providers to “stretch” clusters running in multiple locations so that they operate as one big cloud, allowing storage to be moved seamlessly from location to location as needed. Unlike traditional SAN hardware that utilizes RAID, VSAN leverages RAIN (Redundant Array of Independent Nodes) and can easily withstand disk or host failures to maximize uptime, he said. “At a base level, you take three servers at three locations. On each are six or seven hard drives. The VSAN software allows you to take those hard drives and put them into a pool so you can share data between the different servers, making it significantly less expensive – I would say about one-tenth the cost of SAN hard drives,” McKinney argued. Users can save considerable cost on hardware since scaling up simply requires that they buy disk drives and add them to existing nodes.

Specific VMware VSAN features include:

  • An embedded hypervisor-converged architecture within the vSphere kernel that delivers the most efficient data path while minimizing resource utilization, resulting in the consumption of less than 10 percent of CPU resources.
  • VMware Virtual SAN uses flash to deliver performance acceleration through read/write caching, to provision performance and capacity so customers can linearly scale their clusters on demand by adding nodes to a cluster or disks to individual nodes.
  • VMware Virtual SAN shifts the management model for storage from the device to the application. A single VMware Virtual SAN datastore can provide differentiated service levels based on individual VM policies, so administrators can avoid complex configurations and overprovisioning, as well as more easily change policies and meet Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
  • Integration with the VMware stack means the solution is easy to configure and deploy using the VMware vSphere Web Client, which enables data services such as backup, cloning, replication and snapshots as well as features such as Distributed Resource Scheduler, High Availability, vMotion and Storage vMotion.  Additionally, VMware Virtual SAN is interoperable with Vmware’s Horizon View 5.3.1, VMware vCenter Site Recovery Manager and VMware vCenter Operations Management Suite.

The advantages of the VSAN model are well illustrated in this blog from Insight UK’s Chanaka Ekanayake, a lead solutions architect specializing in public and private cloud, datacentre virtualization and enterprise storage. In his review, Ekanayake confirms that enterprise SAN storage tech solutions, while effective, are challenging to design, implement and size, as well as expensive to support. He estimates that support for VSAN costs run at 17 percent to 30 percent of the cost of legacy SANs. Other benefits of a software defined storage solution like VSAN that he pointed to include: the ability to procure commodity hardware at less cost; simpler setup and policy-based management; large scale out capability; high availability (no single point of failure); and the ability to automatically provision and maintain resource and data services without the risk of overprovisioning.

An added benefit is the level of control in VSAN enabled private cloud that is simply unavailable in public clouds, McKinney said. To deliver this, Canadian Web Hosting took the additional step of building a dedicated network to connect its three locations in Toronto and Vancouver. “What’s on the network stays on our network throughout the country so we know at all times where data goes, how it flows and all connection points in between. A lot of people come in to purchase one private cloud in Toronto, then a second, then they stretch to a cluster environment where everything can run simultaneously [using storage pools].”

While Canadian Web Hosting may be the first provider in Canada to bring the VSAN model to private cloud hosting, McKinney believes it will soon become a mainstay in the storage landscape. “Distributed storage will transform the industry and business,” he concluded.


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